Whether you’re just getting started with some short jogs or looking to really go the distance, our handy guide will help you choose the perfect pair of sneakers.
For years, the thinking was that you should select a shoe based on your foot movement. Neutral? Go for neutral runners. Overpronator (feet roll inward)? Look for stability or motion control. Supinator (feet roll outward)? Seek cushion. But new thinking is that you shouldn't lock yourself into these boxes—it really just comes down to comfort. Pair that notion with the tips below to find what works best for you.
Go to an Actual Store
Online shopping is easy, but when you need a shoe that truly performs, hit a specialty running store. This way, "a trained employee can ensure the shoes are right for your gait, consider past injury history, and size you appropriately," says Robert Fay, an Asics merchandising manager. Things to make sure whoever is helping you knows: "average weekly mileage, length of your longest runs, and current injuries," adds Britt Olsen, On's general manager in North America.
Also, as we age, we lose some of the natural "padding" on our feet, which is why Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a podiatrist at City Podiatry in New York City, suggests that older runners consider more cushioning. The same goes if you carry extra weight. "The heavier you are, the more weight is being carried by your feet and is pushing down on them and your arches," she says.
Time of Day Matters
In the morning, your feet are at their smallest. So trying on shoes in the a.m. may actually be misleading. Instead, Miguel Cunha, DPM, founder of Gotham Footcare in New York City, recommends shoe shopping in the evening "when gravity has pulled all the fluid down and feet are most swollen." Running speeds this up; your shoes should handle this reaction.
Rethink Your Size
Your everyday shoes may not be the same size as your sneakers. A general rule: "Aim for about a thumb's-width distance from your longest toe to the front of the shoe to account for wiggle room and the swelling that naturally occurs when you run," says Fay. And make sure they are wide enough. Jon Teipen, senior manager of footwear product line management at Brooks Running, says the upper should feel snug but not tight. "If you start to feel tingling or numbness, your shoe is too narrow."
Forget Breaking In
Shoes should accommodate your feet and not the other way around. Translation: They should feel great right away, says Sutera. And if you do commit to a pair, but after a single jog you notice hot spots, slippage, or general uncomfortableness, give them the boot. FYI: Specialty stores often take back shoes with a few miles on them.
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Do You Need Insoles?
It depends. Regular insoles, which can be purchased over the counter, are for those looking for increased arch support or cushioning. Custom-built ones, or orthotics, alleviate pain and discomfort while maintaining proper body alignment. Made by a podiatrist and often pricey (upwards of $600), they involve taking a foot scan to determine where you need additional support.
When to Toss
Typically, sneakers last between 300 and 500 miles, though Asics merchandising manager Robert Fay notes that many factors can affect these numbers, including the type of surface you run on, how long your typical run is, your weight, how much time the shoes have to "bounce back" between runs, and the build of the shoe. So you may need to rely on other cues. Wear-and-tear signs that mean it's time for a new pair: crinkled lines through the midsole cushion, loss of comfort (think missing the soft pillow feel), a shoe that easily bends in half, and new aches and pains in the knee or shin.