Today, I’m talking.. you guessed it.. shoes!
Running shoes, specifically. Often, I get asked which shoe is best. That’s a tough question to answer because there are a myriad of criteria we use to evaluate a shoe and for each person, those criteria are going to be different. It isn’t just color, though color is a fairly common criteria, but also widths, widths in different parts of the shoe, heel-slippage, toe-room, shoe volume, heel height, cushioning, weight, durability, function, the height of the shoe’s collar, abrogated tongues, general fit, and much much more. For each one of those criteria, every person will have a slightly different preference. My preference in shoes is to have something that fits like a slipper; loose and slipping on the heel is fine with me, secured on the mid-foot and plenty of room for my toes. Someone else would find my preferences uncomfortable or even painful on their own foot.
That’s why I tell almost everyone, that the best shoe for you.. now remember this when you go shoe shopping because it’s really the most important thing.. the BEST shoe for you is the shoe that you can put on your foot and forget about. There is nothing about the shoe that is drawing your attention to itself or distracting you in any way. You should be able to put the shoe on, step out the door and get your workout in, easily slipping into that zen flow-state that we runners love, where we think about whatever it is we want to think about – so long as what we’re thinking about isn’t ‘hmm.. why is my ankle feeling sore’ or ‘is this shoe going to cause a blister where that hotspot is forming under the ball of my foot’, or.. whatever.
That isn’t to say, that you shouldn’t listen to your shoe guy and just start picking shoes willy-nilly. A good shoe salesman is going to find out what kind of shoe will work for you based on your preferences but also based on your unique stability needs. We kind of interview customers to know whether we’re looking for a road shoe or trail shoe, if there are any injuries we need to be aware of, what your goals are, and what has worked for you, or not worked for you, in the past.
What do I mean by ‘Stability’? When we use that term, we’re talking about pronation or, the foots natural shock-absorption system where the arch flexes in order to absorb shock. While almost everyone uses this biomechanical movement when they walk and run, some arches collapse to varying degrees (or collapse completely = flat-footed) and the ankle rolls inward. Often, this inward roll or pronation causes the person to also point their toes out (“Duck Walk”) to reclaim some of the balance lost with that inward roll.
Depending on a person’s specific needs, we would recommend differing categories of shoes.
- Pronated: Stability shoe, or even a Motion Control category for severe pronation.
- Neutral: Neutral shoe.
- Supination: Neutral shoe, most likely something with high-cushion (to allow the foot to sink into the supporting footbed) or possibly an insert with arch support and a deep heel cup to corral and secure the foot so that the ankle does not roll outward.
Shoe size can be a tough pill to swallow for some customers. Ideally, you want there to be about a thumbnails-width between the end of the longest toe and the end of the shoe. Typically, this means that good running shoes will run a full size higher than what you’re used to wearing with boots, heels and casual or dress shoes. The main reason for this is to allow enough space for your feet to swell when you are training. It isn’t enough to be comfortable with your toes just off the end of the shoe because, when you do that long run, and your foot swells, you could run out of room quick and have problems: sore, black or missing toenails, pain or numbness between your metatarcels, blisters and calluses.
It’s important to remember too, that just because you’re an adult now, you likely won’t be in the same size shoes you wore in high-school or even college. Most people can expect to go up a size or even two sizes during the course of their adult lives. Women experience not just changing shoe sizes, but also changing foot shapes and types – especially with each pregnancy. Injuries too, can change the size of one or both feet as well.
Heel-Drop: What’s that?
Heel-Drop is the difference between the stack-height at the front of the shoe as compared to the stack height at the back of the shoe. On average, most shoes run between 8-10mm higher toward the heel versus the front of the shoe. When we are barefoot or in flip-flops and converse shoes, we are what is called, “Zero Drop”, meaning, there is no difference between the front and back.
Depending on an individuals preference and unique bio-mechanics, certain heel-drops will work better than others. It’s going to be a matter of experimentation. A couple of things to think about would be;
- What kind of heel-drop have you been running in and how has that worked out for you? If you are using something along the lines of 10mm or 12mm, and it’s been injury-free running, you might not want to change it up.
- Going from a high-heel drop (10-12mm) shoe to a zero drop shoe is actually lengthening the calf and the achilles as the heel is lower down and the foot/heel angle is a smaller angle. Bear this in mind when you decide to go for a more minimal or lower drop shoe – if your calves or achilles are feeling aggravated, then either take a break and alternate into a more comfortable shoe for the rest of the day, or avoid them altogether. Bottom line is to listen to your body.
- Just because a minimal shoe or zero-drop shoe worked wonders for you does NOT mean it will work for everyone. Be glad you found something so awesome but try not to apply what worked for you as a once-size-fits-all solution to everyone else. Conversely, when someone swears by a specific brand, and ONLY that brand, or model or heel-drop or whatever, listen politely, maybe even try it out for yourself, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work out for your unique foot-shape, -strike, -stride.
Where to get your shoes?
So listen up, take some notes and decide for yourself. I’m pretty biased toward local businesses – not to be confused with ‘locally-owned national franchises’. A lot of places like to borrow that phrase – “Locally Owned”, when they really aren’t, because they want to capitalize on “Local” branding while maintaining the national franchise connections, with all the brain-trust advantages that come with it (Advertising, inventory management, uniform branding, POS and CIS systems, etc, etc.). Next time you see someone claiming to be “Local” when you know they’re actually a national franchise, think about McDonalds and ask yourself if there’s really anything local about that?
These kinds of places can always retreat to the clarification that they are locally-owned and that’s what they meant all along, but when you have people coming up to you telling you how they ‘..like shopping at such and such a place because it allows them to shop local’, when you know they aren’t technically ‘local’.. it strikes me as purposefully dishonest and misleading. That said, you shop wherever you want, whether that be online, at a national-franchise, or a truly local outfit – the bottom line is that you need someone experienced helping you and most of these locations can at least offer you this.
Now, a good shoe-fit specialist can tell a lot about your shoe and stability needs just from watching you walk. The treadmill and video are great for showing the customer what’s going on and why the fit-specialist is leaning one way or the other, but any good shoe salesman is able to evaulate all of this without the use of a treadmill. As a matter of fact, I find myself checking out people walking and what they’re feet and ankles are doing – ALL the time. Tumumoc is famously the home of Nike Free’s and pronation as far as the eye can see!
The advantages of going and seeing someone is that a customer can usually rely on that person to know what category of shoe would be good for them, what specific shoes across brands address their specific needs, and the customer actually gets to try the shoe on – AT the location. That’s the power of brick and mortar stores. Sometimes the prices won’t be what someone might find online, but getting to try the shoe on and getting great service is almost always worth the difference they might save in savings.
I hope this little guide has helped you in finding the right shoe. Along with everything else here, remember that finding “the Perfect Shoe” is like searching for the Holy Grail. It’s an ongoing experiment where, with each shoe purchase, you learn a little more about the shoes out there and a little more about your own preferences. Remember too, that shoe sizing differs from model to model at times, but our feet don’t stay exactly the same shape or size either – don’t insist on staying in a size 8 because you’ve always been in a size 8 and your horrified at the thought of being in a 9 and a half. Don’t do that.
Good luck, have fun, and if you have any questions – please ask them in the comment section here or on Facebook.