Finding the Right Running Shoes

Finding the Right Running Shoes

Lisa Jhung
Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
June 27, 2023

I’ve been testing, reviewing, and writing about running shoes—both road and trail—for a decade and a half (or more!) for magazines like Outside, Runner’s World, etc.

Over that time, I’ve run in, researched, and read my team of testers’ reviews of a LOT of different shoes. I’ve learned the ins and outs about what makes a great shoe, the best shoe, the fastest shoe, etc.

I stand by this: The best pair of running shoes are the ones that fit your specific feet, your running style, and your running needs the best.

There is no magic bullet shoe that makes you faster (without you doing the work, aside from certain carbon fiber-plated super shoes, but that is a whole other topic). There is no perfect shoe that eliminates injuries (unless it is the perfect shoe for your individual anatomy and running gait). And there is no all-time-best marathon shoe (or 5K shoe), unless—you got it—that shoe suits you perfectly for your marathon (or 5K) running needs.

The best shoes are the ones that feel like they were made for you, and that make you look forward to putting them on and heading out the door for a walk-run or run of any distance, at any speed.

Here are a few tips on how to find that perfect pair for you.

Firstly, I highly recommend visiting a specialty running shoe store with knowledgeable salespeople who will talk to you, ask you what you’re looking for/what kind of running you hope to do, etc. They’ll look at your feet, then put you in shoes and watch you run, maybe on a treadmill, maybe outside.

But on top of tapping into their knowledge and help (and considering the price tag of whatever models they recommend), here’s what you should know:

How to find the right fit

The right running shoes based on your running style

What are your running needs?

Running Shoe Fit

The primary factor for finding the right shoe is fit. Does it fit your specific feet in length and width?

Does it feel right on the foot as far as volume? (Some fit shallow, top-to-bottom, some with more volume).

If the footbed has a noticeable arch support, does that arch support hit your foot in the right place?

Is the toe box (area around the widest part of your foot, from left to right) wide enough without feeling too wide?

Is the heel cup (the area that should hold your heel in place) secure for your feet?

Does the heel collar (opening of the shoe) rub your Achilles, or anywhere else on your feet/ankles?

Do the shoes flex at the right spot on your foot (where your toe joints naturally bend)?

Running Style

Some running shoes are constructed to suit a certain type of runner.

For those who are heel-strikers (land on their heels), the cushioning is more built up under the heel than in the forefoot.

For those who land on their midfoot, or, want to because it’s considered a more efficient running style, the cushioning is more even, while generally still having a bit more under the heel than in the forefoot (there are some “zero drop” shoes that have completely even cushioning, meant to mimic a human’s most “natural” footstrike).

Other things to consider as far as running style, amounts of cushioning, and support:

  • How heavy is your footfall, either due to weight or running gait? (If heavy, opt for more rather than less cushioning.)
  • How much support/stability do you need, meaning, do your feet roll inward (pronate) or outward (supinate), or do you have knee or hip pains that indicate either? (Seek “stability shoes” and the help of a good running shoe store employee). Do you like the feeling of a lot of cushioning underfoot, or a little?

Running Needs

Where you run, and what kind of running you do, is also a factor.

If you’re running only on a treadmill (which is cushioned), you don’t need as much cushioning from your shoe.

If you’re running solely on asphalt or pavement, you’ll likely want a decent amount of cushioning—some shoes achieve a soft feel in their cushioning without a massive amount of it.

If you’re running trails, seek out trail running shoes for the traction, durability, and added support.

If you’re running on a range of surfaces, find shoes that strike a happy medium between these things.

No matter how far/long or short you run, or run walk, you want a pair of shoes that are comfortable on your specific feet…ones that make you want to put them on, head out the door, and feel like a runner.

Hope all of this helps you find your next pair of running shoes!

Related posts: How to Buy Running Shoes

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