Running shoes: How to buy, what to try


Rule number No. 1: If the athletic shoe fits, wear it. Play, run, jump, walk, have your best time.

Rule number No. 2: If your athletic shoe doesn’t fit - if the tread’s gone, the upper’s shot, if it no longer provides proper support and cushioning - don’t wear it. Not for athletics. Find a local donation box, be happy to recycle, and buy yourself a new pair of athletic shoes.

SHOES REALLY MATTER. Why? Because, over time, playing in worn-out ill-fitting shoes can cause pain or injury to your feet, ankles, knees, legs, hips and other body parts.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR OLD SHOE NEEDS REPLACING? Look for signs of wear. A heavier person who is hard on shoes may get 500 miles out of a pair that some 110-pounder can run in for 1,000 miles. Set your used shoes on a flat surface and look at them from behind. Is the seam on the back no longer vertical? Are the uppers overly stretched? Are the midsoles and wedges brittle?

Check the soles. If there’s significantly more wear on one part of the shoe than another, that’s another sign to go shopping. And don’t forget to bring your old athletic shoes with you. Your wear pattern can tell a savvy salesperson a lot about how you run and what kind of shoe support you need.

WHAT’S THE BEST RUNNING/WALKING SHOE? This is a trick question. Yes, there are consumer guides that evaluate running shoes and may be helpful in general terms, but when it comes to choosing the best shoe for you, you must consider your individual needs. How far do you run/walk? How often? What kind of terrain? Do you want a shoe for several sports (cross-training), or just a single sport? Do you pronate when you run? Or supinate? (See below.) And remember: Don’t ever buy a shoe that isn’t completely comfortable. Sure, a new pair of shoes may need a bit of breaking in, but if the shoe rubs, pinches or presses anywhere, don’t buy it. It’ll only get worse.

Here are some more guidelines to help make your next shoe-shopping experience a walk in the park:

  • If your shoes are worn down toward the outside heel and inside of the toe area, you pronate. That means you hit the ground with the outside of your heel, with your ankles rolling inward so you push off your big toe. If you pronate severely, look for a shoe that offers solid arch support and a stable heel area. (If you supinate - a less common foot motion - you’ll see wear on the outside edge of the shoe.)
  • High arches? Flat feet? There are shoes for every situation. Take your time, ask questions and don’t give up until you’ve found the shoe that fits your own biomechanics.
  • Never buy a shoe that feels too small and squishes your toes. You want about a thumbnail of distance between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe.
  • For stability, your heels should fit snugly in the shoe and feel supported and cushioned.
  • If you have high arches, look for extra shock absorption. People with flatter feet will usually do better with shoes that are still in the middle and have a supportive interior liner.
  • Do a hands-on inspection of the pair you decide to buy. Quality control can be slipshod even in the high-price brands. View the shoes from behind and make sure the upper part is aligned with the lower, that the arches are firmly in place and that both shoes flex in the same place when you press down. Also, run your hands along the inside seams, checking for rough spots. If you find problems, don’t be shy about asking for another pair to inspect.
  • Buy shoes with breathable uppers. Avoid sweaty feet.
  • Shop for shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are most swollen. Wear the same sort of socks you’ll wear working out.
  • Never, ever, ever buy a shoe based on media hype, brand name or celebrity endorsement. Choose comfort over color every time.

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to