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How to Find the Perfect Running Shoe

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Woman putting on running shoe, sitting on the track

Whether you're a weekend warrior or a seasoned marathon runner, the right running shoe can mean the difference between hitting the pavement and staying on the sidelines. These tips will help you find your perfect pair of running shoes.

Get Your Gait:

  1. It's all in the foot: Most running injuries stem from over-pronation, an excessive inward roll of the foot, or under-pronation (also called supination), an insufficient inward roll of the foot. Your local specialty running or sporting goods store may offer complimentary gait analysis services to determine your foot strike.

  2. Wet-foot test: No running store nearby? Use the wet-foot test. Simply dip your bare foot in water and take a quick run outside on the pavement. Based on the imprint of your foot, you should be able to determine whether you under-pronate or over-pronate, or have a neutral gait.

  3. Check your soles: The answer is also on your soles. Check the bottom of an old pair of athletic shoes and take note of where the shoe is most worn. A shoe worn heavily on the instep indicates over-pronation. Worn on the lateral side? You under-pronate, or supinate. If the sole is worn evenly all over, you likely have a neutral gate.

Meet Your Match:

  1. Neutral: Ideal for the efficient runner, these shoes offer basic support and cushioning for those with a balanced stride.

  2. Stability: A versatile style for every type of runner, these shoes offer extra instep support to help your feet transition smoothly from heel to toe and alleviate the effects of mild to moderate under- or over-pronation. Neutral runners can also benefit from the added support.

  3. Motion control: These shoes provide rigid control for runners with severe under- and over-pronation. Many other runners will likely find them to be too restrictive.

  4. Cushion: These shoes are best for neutral runners who may need a little extra support. The design also offers good general support if you switch from sidewalk to trail or other uneven terrain during a single run.

  5. Trail: If you prefer the trail to the sidewalk, opt for a shoe designed specifically for off-road terrain. These shoes offer more traction and support for uneven surfaces. If you typically pound the pavement, trail running can offer a refreshing change of scenery and ease strain on your joints.

  6. Minimalist/Barefoot: Recent studies have debated the benefits of barefoot running versus shoe running. However, many running enthusiasts have embraced the trend of minimalist running shoes -- thin, lightweight shoes that embrace each toe and mimic barefoot running. These shoes offer less support for the feet and more connection with the ground and are better suited for well-conditioned veteran runners. Start out slowly and gradually increase your time and distance to allow your feet and joints time to adapt.

Choose Substance over Style:

  1. All that glitters is not gold: Beware of buying a shoe based on popularity alone. Your shoe is a work horse; make sure it works for you.

  2. Don't compromise: It's never a good idea to sacrifice fit, and running shoes are no exception. A good rule of thumb is to buy running shoes a half-size up from your regular shoe size to provide room for the natural swelling of your foot during a run. Shoes that are too large will not provide enough support. Shoes that are too small will result in blisters, injury, and black toenails.

  3. Weigh in: Certain shoes are made specifically for ultra-lightweight runners. Others offer more impact-cushioning for the heavier runner.

  4. Find your favorite: Once you find your perfect pair, or your favorite brand, stick with it. Brands and models are constantly evolving, so plan to test-drive new versions of your standby before purchasing to make sure they still work for you. Plan to replace your shoes every 400 to 500 miles.

Remember, Socks Matter:

  1. Protection: What's inside your shoe matters, too. Socks offer protection from blisters and, depending on the type of sock, provide an extra layer of support and cushion.

  2. Breathe: Opt for socks made of synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, and Coolmax that work to wick away moisture. Avoid pure cotton socks, which rub and cause blisters in the summer and provide insufficient insulation in the winter.

  3. The right socks: Be sure to try on your running shoes with the socks in which you'll most often be running to ensure a perfect fit.

Prolong the Life of Your Shoes:

  1. Make the investment: Avoid buying cheap knock-offs, which only look like well-engineered running shoes. Stick to well-known brands, backed by years of research and reviews. Those inexpensive running shoes may be cheap now, but they'll cost you in injuries later.

  2. Keep them cool and dry: If they do get wet, remove the insoles and allow them to air out in a cool, dry place. Never place your shoes next to direct heat, which can cause the shoe to crack and the sole to break down.

  3. Give it a rest: While they may be comfortable, you should only wear your running shoes while you're running. Placing constant weight on the sole will cause your shoe to wear out more quickly.

  4. Unlace first: Always untie laces before taking off your running shoes. Removing them by pressing down on the heel can stretch out the shoe, compromising its fit.

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