How to buy the right running shoes

Kit out your feet with these tips

Getting your footwear right is essential if you want to enjoy your running and achieve your goals. That said, given the choice of shoes on the market, it isn’t always easy to find the right ones or be confident in your choice. But if you’re clear on what you want your shoes for and go to a specialist running store, you are definitely on the road to success.

Think about it. We are all different shapes and sizes and all have different types of feet. Flat feet, neutral feet or feet with high arches, will all have a bearing on what kind of shoe you need. Plus, you need to factor in your running targets in relation to the types of shoe available. Are you looking to concentrate on racing, trail running, speed work, daily training, long distance, endurance or just fun?! All of these types of running will dictate the kind of shoes that will be required for you

Flat feet

Some runners with flat feet need more support than others because they tend to over-pronate. We all naturally roll our feet from the outside inwards. In other words, we land on the outside of our foot and then roll inwards to establish stability in our walking/running stride. Over-pronation is where that inward roll exceeds a healthy limit, the arch tends to collapse, and the effect can then lead to knee, ankle, shin and achilles tendon problems. These runners will need motion control or stability shoes, which contain extra cushioning to limit the impact of over-pronating. Sometimes they will also need to invest in some orthotics, which are specially made inserts, customised for your feet, to help to correct over-pronation.

High arches

By contrast to the overpronators with flat feet, runners with high arches tend to roll the opposite way; inside out. This is known as hyper or under-pronating or supination. It can add additional stress to the workload of the leg muscles, especially the shins, knees and thighs. Runners with this issue can appear bow-legged, as they place the weight on the outside of their feet. If you fall into this category, you will need a shoe that has maximum midsole cushioning, to support the landing area and the arch. Look for shoes that have cushioning and flexibility as their key attributes.


If you’re not flat-footed or high-arched, then you are deemed to have neutral or normal feet and won’t need a correctional running shoe. In that case you should benefit from a wide choice of shoes, but avoid stability or cushioned shoes, as you probably won’t need them.

The fit

Assuming you have followed sensible advice and taken yourself off to a specialist store, there will be specially trained assistants to help you. Ideally they will have a treadmill in house, so they can examine your running gait and identify any potential problems.

What are you looking for when you try on your shoes? Well the length and the width of the shoe are critical. Bear in mind that your feet will expand when you run, so you will need a little space at the end of the shoe for your feet to move into. Blisters, bloodied toes and toenails that disappear, will result if your shoes are too small.

In terms of width, again you need a little space for your foot to move into when it expands. Your feet may be wider or smaller than most, but don’t despair. You can get shoes with a wider or narrower fit. Again, if you choose shoes where the friction between the side of your foot and the shoe is too great, blisters will be the inevitable and painful result. The overall fit should feel comfortable and snug, but not too tight. Remember that any discomfort you feel in the store will be amplified by a factor of about a thousand once you hit the road.

Avoid mistakes…

So you’ve identified your running gait, analysed your foot type and now you have been let loose in a running store with a credit card burning a hole in your pocket. What could possibly go wrong now? Sadly plenty. It is awfully easy to have your eye taken by an attractive pair of shoes that look fantastic on the shelf. That may well be the case, but don’t be fooled. Just because they look great doesn’t mean they will be great for you.  

Take your time and don’t rush. If these shoes are right, they should carry you 4-500 miles (640-800km) in training, so it’s a major investment. Never ever guess your shoe size, always have them measured and please bear in mind that the major manufacturers all size slightly differently. If you can, go shopping later in the day, as feet tend to expand and swell as the hours go by. And don’t forget to ask for a discount, especially if you decide to buy two pairs. This is a great idea if you are planning to run a lot and if you can afford it, because it means you can then alternate your shoes.

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