Posted by Karen Karnis
5-Fs of shoe shopping
It’s true: when I am not hard at work on iRun and iRun.ca, I can often be found helping runners shop for shoes at The Running Works, a running-specialty store in Guelph, ON. While store staff can help with your specific questions and concerns, I’ve put together a general list of a few things any runner will want to think about when shopping for running shoes.
The first thing to ask yourself is, what do you want the shoe to do for you? Are you running mostly on trails or roads? Do you want to encourage a mid-foot strike, or do you want a shoe that will work with your personal biomechanics? The answer to these types of questions will impact how store staff will fit you and what shoes they will show you.
Once you’ve decided on function, you have to consider your form. If you’ve decided to look for shoes that complement your current biomechanics, you need to know what your gait is, and whether you need a neutral or stability shoe. Don’t worry, staff in any running shoe specialty store should be able to help you with this if you don’t already have the answers. Similarly, if you’re just beginning to transition to a minimalist shoe, you have to take into consideration the time and effort required to make the switch, and what your body is already doing – again, staff can help you by assessing your gait and recommending appropriate shoes to facilitate the process.
What have you run in before? Telling store staff what you have tried before, and what you liked and didn’t like about them, can be a good jumping-off point. Be careful though: while loyalty to particular styles or brands can be perfectly justified, don’t let personal bias prevent you from trying on new things – you never know what you’re missing until you try.
Different people prefer different amounts of space in their shoes. A safe, middle of the road guideline on fit is this: your heel should stay put in the heel cup – no slipping up or sliding around, as this can lead to blisters; and your toes should not be bumping the front of the shoe, as this can also lead to blisters, as well as toe cramping, and yes, black toenails. Oh, one more thing: forget what you think your shoe size is. Different cuts fit differently, so don’t rule out a shoe just because your “typical” size seems too snug or too sloppy.
Nearly every day that I am at the store, I will have a person tell me that two pairs of shoes fit great, but feel entirely different; for example, one pair may feel cushier underfoot, and the other, springier. And a number of those people will ask the magical question: which is better? The answer is neither. Feel is one of those things that is a personal preference, and if you are looking at two comparable shoes that fit equally well, you are tasked with deciding which one feels better to you. Try putting on one of each to compare them side-by-side.
Finally…the best way to know if a shoe is right for you is to run in it. If there is nowhere in-store for a test-run, find out the store’s exchange and return policy. Many specialty running stores will allow you to try them out and return them if they are in their original condition – so make sure you keep the box!
You may have noticed there one F missing from this list – Fashion. That’s not an oversight on my part. The only time I recommend choosing a shoe based on colour is when you find yourself in the “feel dilemma.” If you are walking around the store wearing a shoe from two different pairs, and you genuinely have no preference between the feel of them, then you can take your pick of colour.