by Tobin Villalva, GH Sports Team Member
I’ve worked at GH Sports for about three and a half years and have helped fit countless people (okay, maybe not countless, but a lot of people) in the right pair of running shoes perfect for them. During the fitting process, customers love to pick my brain about their running, walking or hiking shoes. Questions vary in regard to colors, weight or popularity of shoes, but one question seems to be asked consistently: “What shoe is the best shoe?”
The facts are that every person is different (their running mechanics, arch depth, foot width, etc.) so the interplay between shoes and a person’s body is going to vary person to person. This means that you have to find the shoe that is best for you, and not just “the best shoe.” Since running shoes can be expensive, customers want to be sure that the shoes they are about to purchase are the right ones.
Gait analysis can be a great tool to help narrow down the hundreds of options and guide people to a starting point for their ideal shoe. Be mindful of this as you venture out to find that “perfect” shoe for yourself. You will hear myths and rumors about running shoes and how to pick them, so I hope this article will help you think about what makes a running shoe perfect for you.
Here are a few interesting questions and the accompanying literature to consider on your quest for the perfect shoe. I always have to remind myself that research does not necessarily prove anything, but it can show relationships or trends. So next time you read an article telling you to jump on the next running shoe fad, stop and think if that fad is for you.
More expensive running shoes are better than less expensive shoes, right?
This is a tough notion to dispel for a retail store. In most retail or service settings, when you pay more money you hope to receive a higher quality product or service. With running shoes, this is accurate up to a certain point. To clarify, stores like GH Sports stock “running-specialty shoes.” Running-specialty shoes are high-quality shoes made for runners, and are almost exclusively sold in running-specialty stores (occasionally you might find a pair at Ross or Goodwill). When you go to the local sporting goods store and pick up a pair of Asics for $50, those are not running-specialty shoes. The materials used in those shoes are different than running-specialty shoes, which is why they cost less.
One study done in 2008 showed that shoes manufactured by the same brand with varying prices provided similar cushioning properties(1). The shoe with lower and medium cost provided as much cushion as the higher priced shoe. This means that if you are looking for a shoe with good cushioning properties, paying more doesn’t necessarily mean that you will automatically absorb impact more effectively. So what can be learned from this? Don’t let price dictate what shoe you pick, concentrate on your feet not the price tag.
How long can I use my shoes before I need new ones?
You will hear variations in the answer to this question, but most running experts will say between 400-500 miles or 6 months. When I first started running as a freshman in high school, this was the answer I got and you will still hear the same answer today. The problem with this answer is that it is too simple; there are simply too many factors to consider when telling people how long shoes can last. Personally, I can’t go 500 miles in a pair of running shoes because my point of impact degrades the outsole of the shoe so much that eventually I have nothing between my forefoot and the ground (the heel of my shoe is usually immaculate when I recycle them).
While you can use the “400-500 miles or 6 months” approach as a rule of thumb, get to know your shoes and develop your own program. I “go off of feel” when determining if I need new shoes, but I also have a set time span that I wear shoes for. I know that when rocks start poking up through the forefoot of my shoe, it’s time. If you are running a good amount (about 20 miles a week), 6 months might be a good timeline. You need to figure out your own timeline and stick to it.
Does running in old shoes mean that the shoes are no longer supporting your running mechanics?
Depends who you ask. A study done by researchers Kong, Candelaria, and Smith showed that runners subconsciously adjust their mechanics as running shoes degrade (2). My main takeaway from this study is that worn running shoes do affect how your running mechanics look, but do not influence the forces experienced by the foot. Using old shoes doesn’t necessarily mean you will experience higher impact forces (forces that are often associated with higher rates of injury). Do note that the study only looked at shoes worn for 200 miles of running compared to the typical guideline of 400 – 500 miles.
My friend runs in one particular shoe and he/she says it is the best shoe. Should I try it?
If you had a pair of favorite jeans, could you let any one of your friends borrow them and they would fit perfectly? Probably not. Running shoes are no different. They should be selected on an individual basis, determined by your personal needs and preferences. Research has shown that comfort is extremely subjective for running shoes (1). It’s okay if a pair of shoes that fits your feet best happens to be different from the shoe your coach told you to get or the pair your best friend has and swears by. If you are purchasing shoes at a running-specialty store, all of the shoes there are high quality and right for somebody out there. This goes for all of you internet shoppers too. Online reviews are helpful in many circumstances, but don’t let joe shmoe tell you what running shoe is best and which one is worst. Try them yourself!
Steps to find your perfect shoe…
People may be discouraged when they are told that finding the perfect shoe doesn’t necessarily have a perfect formula. They shouldn’t be since there are steps you can take to help expedite the process and get in the right shoe.
- First, having an open mind is key. Forget all the preconceived notions you may have about a certain shoe or a certain brand; you can and should have preferences for the characteristics of a shoe but don’t pigeonhole yourself into one particular brand.
- Second, get to a local running store that does gait analysis. It’s the best way to get an idea of the type of shoe you should be in. The alternative is to endure a potentially painful process of trial and error when buying shoes. Plus, generally the employees doing these analyses are knowledgeable and can give you great advice on what shoe may or may not work for you.
- The last thing everyone should do before buying shoes is to be a smart consumer. Don’t believe everything you read and hear about every running fad. Make sure you try shoes on and make decisions for yourself.
Tobin is a recent graduate from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a Masters in Kinesiology. He also attended Cal Poly as an undergraduate and competed for their cross country and track and field team for 4 years. Currently he is working on getting a teaching credential while coaching cross country at Righetti High School and working at GH Sports.
- Clinghan, R., Arnold, G. P., Drew, T. S., Cochrane, L. A., & Abboud, R. J. (2008). Do you get value for money when you buy an expensive pair of running shoes?. British journal of sports medicine, 42(3), 189-193.
- Kong, P. W., Candelaria, N. G., & Smith, D. R. (2009). Running in new and worn shoes: a comparison of three types of cushioning footwear. British journal of sports medicine, 43(10), 745-749.