My running shoe dilemma
A few months before the 2012 Boston Marathon I decided that my running shoes needed to be replaced. They were about six months old and based on the amount of training I do they would be due for retirement right before the Marathon.
For the past few years New Balance has been advertising that they make some of their shoes in the US and some are made in the US with all US materials. I like the idea of supporting local businesses and New Balance is based in Brighton Mass. Since I needed a new pair of shoes I thought I would give them a try and went to their outlet store in Brighton, which is at their corporate headquarters complex.
I went in wearing my Brooks Adrenaline shoes and started looking around. A clerk came up to me and asked if she could help me. I told her I was looking for the Made in USA running shoes. She said the model that would be a good transition from my Brooks was the MR993. I tried on a few pair to get a good fit. The MR993s looked different, felt different and sounded different than any of my previous shoes. I felt confident that I was getting the right shoe because anyone working in the corporate store must know what they are talking about.
I took them home and started the process of breaking them in for Boston. I went on some short runs and eventually used them for my Sunday long runs. My feet sounded like they were plopping on the ground, like I had huge clown shoes on. My feet didn’t feel great, but I figured it was just because they were new.
At the Great Bay Half Marathon in New Market, NH I decided to give them a test. Great Bay is a cool race that goes through the woods, on some dirt roads and along the coast. It’s just a nice race.
About half way through the race I noticed that my feet felt tired. After a few more miles they hurt. I figured I was still recovering from a 20 mile long run in my old Brooks shoes which also made my feet hurt. This was a week before Boston so I didn’t push for a PR. The hills on this course are notorious and I didn’t want to tear up my legs on them.
The next weekend, at the Boston Marathon Runner’s Expo, I stopped by the New Balance booth. I talked to one of the guys there and he rolled his eyes when I told him where I bought my MR993s and then he said “God Bless You” when I told him I ran a half marathon in them. He told me the MR993s were all wrong for a distance runner and he had me try on the MR860s. He had measured my feet and the shoes felt great. They felt right.
It was two days before Boston so there was no way I was buying a new pair of shoes with only two days to break them in. I had a dilemma. Should I run in the New Balance MR993s that made my feet hurt during a half marathon, or should I go with my old Brooks that I felt were too old for a marathon?
On Sunday I was signed up to run the BAA 5K and decided to try my old Brooks and see how my feet felt. I ended up running with an old friend and we took a very casual pace. Afterwards my feet felt fine. It was only 3.1 miles but I was convinced to go with the old Brooks Adrenaline.
While I was still breaking in the New Balance MR993s my club had our 20 mile long run. We started at the Marathon start in Hopkinton and ran to Boston College. Because the MR993s were not broken in I wore my old Brooks and my feet were killing me by the time I got to BC.
It was a difficult decision to go with the old shoes over the new ones to run Boston. But the MR993s made my feet hurt so bad I had considered seeing a podiatrist. The pain from the Brooks was caused more by impact than what felt like a structural problem with the New Balance. I could mitigate the discomfort from impact.
My first pair of running shoes
My first running shoes were Asics GT-2080 which I purchased at Runner’s Edge in Wakefield, Mass. Runner’s Edge was the local running store and my mentors said it was the place to go. The person who helped me seemed knowledgeable and I felt comfortable entrusting him with my feet. He asked a few questions, measured my feet and had me run on their treadmill for a few minutes to see how much my feet pronated. More on pronation below.
After a few minutes on the treadmill it was determined that I had fairly normal feet and needed a neutral or stability shoe. I ended up buying a pair of Asics GT-2080 which felt good on my feet. I wore these for my first half-marathon and the 2003 Boston Marathon. I had really bad blisters on my toes and lost three toenails after Boston 2003, so I decided I needed to make an adjustment.
I went back to Runner’s Edge and told them about my experience. The guy told me I needed a shoe with a larger toe box so my toes would have more room. He set me up with a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS shoes. They felt great on my feet and had the support I needed. I’ve run many races in this model shoe since then, and have been very happy with them. These became my shoe for the next seven years or so.
Why the change and things for you to consider
I changed brands because New Balance is a local company and they make their shoes here in Massachusetts. The people who made my shoes probably live within 50 miles of my house and I like to think I’m helping put food on their table. How often do you get to make the choice to support local workers these days? We used to make a lot of running shoes in Massachusetts but New Balance is the only company still doing it as far as I know.
While this is important to me you should buy the brand that has the best fit for you.
Buying Running Shoes
When you are buying your first pair of running shoes go to a running store. Do not go to a sporting goods store or a department store. You may save a few dollars but you will not get the expert advice you need when selecting your first pair of running shoes. If you’ve gotten this far in this blog take this one golden nugget of advice. You will not regret spending the extra $20 to get good advice from an expert.
Also, do not go to an outlet store for your first pair of shoes or if you are changing brands like I did. Another hard lesson that I pass on to you: an outlet store is an outlet store. It is not a running store. I assumed the outlet store right next to New Balance corporate headquarters would be staffed by runners who knew about running shoes. Au Contraire, this store is staffed by people who apparently know nothing about running shoes.
Once you find a brand and a style (model) that works for you, stick with them. I stayed with Brooks Adrenaline for about seven years and at least five pairs of shoes. There were times when I did not train between marathons so I did not go through a pair every six months.
If you stay with the same shoe then it is safe to buy shoes on-line and save a few dollars. I’ve purchased close out Adrenalines that were last year’s models for $69.00 on line. In a running store they go for about $119.00. So you can save a lot of money once you figure out what works for you.
More on Buying Running Shoes
When you go to a running store to buy your first running shoes they will put you on a treadmill and check your gait for Pronation.
The definitions below were compiled from an article on runnersworld.com and information from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
Pronation is the normal motion of the foot from the outer edge to the inner edge as the foot strikes a surface. With normal or neutral pronation the outside (lateral) of the heel hits the ground first. Then body weight is passed along the arch toward the outside of the foot and upward to the ball (metatarsus) of the foot.
The foot rolls inward about 15% during this motion until the entire foot makes contact with the ground. This motion acts like a shock absorber for the body. As the foot moves forward the bones lock so that it can push-off in a forward motion. With normal pronation the foot moves from the lateral side of the heel, rolls forward and pushes evenly from the front of the foot.
People with normal arches usually have normal pronation. You should look for stability shoes that offer moderate pronation control. 60-70% of people have normal or neutral pronation.
Some people over pronate. The outside (lateral) of the heel strikes the ground first but then the foot rolls in more than 15% as the foot rolls forward. This condition makes it more difficult for the foot and ankle to stabilize the body. When the foot pushes off, the pressure is mainly on the big toe and second toe. This puts additional pressure and strain on these toes. The motion also twists the foot, shin and knee which can cause pain in those areas.
If you have excessive wear on the inner side of your shoe, you may over pronate. If you put your shoes on a flat surface they will tilt inward.
Over pronation cannot be cured, you are born with it. To compensate for this you will need stable shoes with proper arch support and cushioning.
Underpronation or Supination Other people under pronate, or supinate. This means that the feet roll in less than 15% and most of the shock is absorbed by the outside (lateral) of their feet. When they push-off the smaller toes do most of the work. This puts extra stress on the foot and can cause iliotibial band syndrome of the knee, Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis.
If you have high arches or tight Achilles tendons then you may underpronate. Your shoes will wear more on the outside edge and the side may be overstretched. If you place your shoes on a flat surface they will tilt outward.
Determining your arches
An easy way to find out what type of arches you have is to use the wet foot on pavement test. You can use a dry cement surface or other dry surface. All you need to do is get the bottoms of your feet wet and step onto the dry surface and then step away. Looking at the foot prints left behind you can get a good idea what type of arches you have.
Here are some other tips for buying running shoes:
Let the sales person recommend a shoe for you based on their analysis, do not go in set on a specific shoe. In a running store you are getting expert advice, so take it. You can discuss your likes and dislikes with the sales person and they may be able to fit you with a shoe you have your heart set on. Oh, and don’t buy shoes because you like their colors. Color has no impact on your running, but the wrong shoe will mess you up.
- Shop for running shoes late in the day because your feet swell during the course of the day
- Measure your foot while standing.
- Try on both shoes with the socks you will wear.
- Have both feet measured and buy for your larger foot (feet are rarely the same exact size).
- Allow a thumbnail’s width between the shoe and your big toe.
- Choose shoes that are comfortable immediately. If they hurt in the store, don’t buy them.
- Look for a moderately priced shoe. Price is not necessarily an indication of quality. Research has shown that moderately priced running shoes work just as well as expensive ones.
- Make sure the shoe matches your foot type and running style. Having a shoe that suits your foot type is the best prevention for injury and pain.
- Wear new shoes around the house before using them on short runs.
- Don’t do a long run in new shoes. Start out with a short run and stop if you have any hot spots, which are a warning sign that a blister is on the way.
- Consider having an evaluation by a doctor, physical therapist, or podiatrist to learn your foot type.
Run well my friends!
© anagelin 2012
4 thoughts on “Buying Running Shoes”
This post was great, very informative! I totally agree with the statement about buying a shoe that is a brand that fits you. I have tried Asics, Reebok, New Balance, and Nike. The first 3 all gave me blisters and didn’t seem to fit ‘right.’ Then finally, I went to a running store (just as you mentioned– best place ever) and got fitted for a pair of Pegasus Nike shoes. I love them. I have been buying this kind of the past 2 years and never had any problems.
I did not know anything about pronation and a few other words you threw out there… thank you for the insight!!
Thanks for a great post! I just got my gait analysis at a running store yesterday and was shocked to find out, I was in a similar situation as you…I was running in the wrong shoe. I’m now in some Brooks Glycerin and I can’t wait for my short run Tuesday!
That is fantastic. It is amazing how much difference the right pair of shoes can make. With the right shoes you should be able to avoid some blisters and aches and pains you may have experienced with your previous pairs of shoes. And, without those issues you should be able to run faster, longer and harder. I wore an old pair of shoes for Boston because they hurt my feet less than my new incorrect shoes. If I had the correct shoes that were properly broken in, I might have come in 10 minutes better.
New Balance has a great shoe selection tool on their web site. Nothing is better than going to a running store and working with an expert like you did, but you might find their shoe selection tool interesting. I can post the URL for the tool if you have a hard time finding it.
Thank you for ready, and good luck with your running.
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