Tips for Buying Running Shoes

Labor Day Weekend is approaching, and that means it’s time for the annual tent sale at my favorite running shoe store, Blue Mile.  For several years in a row, now, we’ve scored some fantastic deals on fancy running shoes at the tent sale.  Good news, for a family that boasts a first-time marathoner in training (Bionic Man), two middle school cross-country runners (Endeavor and Justone), and one mom who isn’t currently doing much running but does take the family dog out for regular walks (me).

The bad news, though, is that I now live more than 2,000 miles west of the closest Blue Mile shop, and I have yet to find it’s equivalent.  (Or at least it’s equivalent tent sale.)  If there are any Northern Californian’s out there reading this who can tell me where to find a great deal on running shoes, speak up!  We are rapidly approaching the point of needing some new pairs, around here.

In the meantime, here are my tips for buying running shoes (a post I recycled from last year at this time).  FYI, Endeavor has grown so much in the past year, we could share running shoes if we wanted.  Ewww gross, we don’t want to, but we do want to share sandals.  Anywho….

How to Buy Shoes for Running

I’ve bought more pairs of running shoes in the past 10 years than I have bought pairs of cute high heels.  While that is not exactly reflected in my physique (ahem), I have learned a few things along the way about how to find the best deals on shoes for fitness, and why it’s important to spend more money on those shoes than any others.

Here are the shoes that Bionic Man, Endeavor, and I were wearing for running (Bionic Man and Endeavor) and jogging/walking with Hunter the Dog (me) prior to Labor Day.

Not bad, eh?  Still look like they’ve got some wear in them, right?  And they do, for things like mowing the lawn.  Not for exercising–especially running or walking for fitness.

Why is that?  Well, here’s a good explanation that I found at running.about.com:

Running in old or worn-out shoes is one of the most common causes of running injuries. Your running shoes lose shock absorption, cushioning and stability over time. Continuing to run in worn-out running shoes increases the stress and impact on your legs and joints, which can lead to overuse injuries. The easiest thing you can do to prevent those types of injuries is replace your running shoes when they’re worn-out.
Now, there are those out there who would argue that the best thing to run in is nothing at all–on your feet, that is.  Barefoot running is pretty trendy, but for those of us running on uneven sidewalks littered with goose poop, we’re going to keep our shoes on.  And here is running.about.com’s suggestion for how often to replace those shoes:
A good rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes every 300 to 400 miles, depending on your running style, body weight, and the surface on which you run. Smaller runners can get new running shoes at the upper end of the recommendation, while heavier runners should consider replacement shoes closer to the 300 mile mark. If you run on rough roads, you’ll need to replace your running shoes sooner than if you primarily run on a treadmill.
So, let’s take a look at Endeavor’s old pair of shoes.  We purchased these a year ago, at the start of her first cross-country season.  During the season, she logged about 10-18 miles per week of running.  She took a break from running until after Christmas, then partcipated in her middle school’s winter running club.  In the spring, she ran on the track team.  And over the summer, she kept running.  And hiking.  
And, since these New Basics quickly became her favorite shoe, she wore them for more than just runs.
See how the cushioned soles are starting to crack?
Check out the wear on the bottom of the shoe.  Note that it is uneven, with more wear towards the inner foot–we’re a family of pronators.  (For non-runners, that means our ankles tend to turn inward when we tread.)  More info from running.about.com on this:

Don’t use the treads of your running shoes to determine whether you should replace your shoes. The midsole, which provides the cushioning and stability, usually breaks down before the bottom shows major signs of wear. If you’ve been feeling muscle fatigue, shin splints, or some pain in your joints — especially your knees — you may be wearing running shoes that no longer have adequate cushioning.

Needless to say, Endeavor had started complaining that her knees hurt after her runs mid-way through this summer.  She was overdue for a new set of shoes, but we held out for the clearance sale at our favorite running store.  So we could bag shoes like this

that normally sell for prices like this

for the rock-bottom price of $40.

For a bargain shopper like myself, $40 seems like a lot for a pair of shoes.  After all, some of my favorite non-running shoes came from straight off the shelves at Goodwill.  So why am I willing to pay $40 or even $80 (only when I can’t find a great sale) for the right running shoe?  Performance and injury prevention.

I’ve run in poor shoes and I’ve run in good shoes. Good shoes just feel better.  The better I feel, the better I run.  And while I’m no athlete, feeling good while I’m exercising means I’m going to keep exercising.  So, saying my shoes improve my performance is another way of saying my shoes are helping me to exercise regularly.  As far as prevention goes, a single session with a physical therapist costs about the same as a single pair of shoes.  Which would I rather spend my money on?  And, truth be told, which one will I have to spend more on over time?  (Hint: not the shoes!)

When I spend more money than usual on something, it had better be good.  With shoes for any sport, how good they are has less to do with what brand they are and everything to do with fit.  When you choose a shoe for fitness walking or running, you want to make sure it’s the right shoe for your needs–and there really is a wide range to choose from.

One of the best investments you can make when it comes to a sport shoe is to buy your first pair from a specialty fitness shoe store.  A good store will have a sales staff made up of runners.  They’ll be able to watch you move, analyze your gait, stride, and strike, and recommend shoes based on what they see.  This helps narrow down the confusing array of shoes lining the walls of the store to the pairs that are going to be better choices for you.

Personally, my favorite store is Blue Mile.  I’ve taken friends and family members in for fittings, and every single time we’ve had awesome help and support–even if the person being helped wasn’t interested in running shoes, just walking shoes.  The sales staff has been fabulous at every location I’ve been in, and they have a great selection.

Granted, you definitely pay for that service and expertise.  I have found the same shoes I tried on at Blue Mile for less at other retailers and online.  But I’ve never found prices to beat Blue Mile’s annual Labor Day Clearance Tent Sale prices.

This year, a few minutes after we walked into the tent, a clerk announced that it was now “Happy Hour”, and all shoes were $40–unless they were marked with a blue sticker, in which case they were $20.  Yowsers!  That is how we scored 5–count them!–5 pairs of high-quality shoes for less than $200.

Bionic Man and I each got a pair, we found a pair for Justone, and I invested in two pairs for Endeavor.  Why did I get two pairs for Endeavor?  Simply because she honestly runs more than anyone else in the family, and I wanted to make sure she had good shoes until next year’s tent sale.

Fit is key with running shoes, so here are some things to look for:
  • plenty of room around the toes.  Tighten the laces as necessary to keep those shoes on your feet, but allow for lots of breathing room around the toes.  That’s why my size 7 foot wears a size 8 running shoe, and why Endeavor can fit in a women’s size 6.5 running shoe, but just barely fits into a size 4 regularly. Plan to try on at least a size up from your non-running size.
  • support for the way you run.  Very few people have a truly “neutral” stride–meaning they strike the ground with perfect balance and alignment.  Most of us either supinate or pronate–meaning our legs bow out or in when our feet strike the ground.  You need to figure out how you run and look for shoes with appropriate cushioning and stability enhancers.
  • comfort.  Exercising isn’t exactly a day at the spa, so make sure that the shoes you buy feel good.  Specialty running shops usually have generous return policies–they would rather have you run 5 miles in a pair of shoes, decide they aren’t the right ones, and trade them in for another pair, than lose your business all together.  Many runners are loyal to a specific brand–just because it has turned out to be the perfect fit for their feet.  (I’ve preferred Asics for quite a while, now, but have New Basics and Mizunos that work great for me, too.)
  • bargain shopping.  If you find a shoe that fits and that you love, make sure you keep a record of the brand, size, and model number.  Chances are, you may be able to find the same shoe for less online or at another store.  Don’t be afraid to ask specialty shops when their sales are, or to sign up for emails or newsletters.  Even if they only have one good sale each year, you can save up and buy several pairs at once, like we did.  However, I’ve learned from experience that it is always best to fork out the money for the pair of shoes that fits you best, not the pair with the most appealing price tag.
Okay, I think I’d better go sign up for my next 5K, so that I can practice what I’ve preached, today.  Happy trails, everyone!

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