If you are a first time running shoe buyer it can get confusing. Each brand claims to be the best and to have the latest, and of course best, technology. Reading reviews can often lead to more confusion as the shoe wonks go into the minutia of engineering, foot strike, running style and many other details.
Running shoes are a highly engineered product with a lot of science and research behind them. Many people get distracted by the pretty colors and cool looking designs of running shoes. Runners need to focus on what they need and buy the right shoe regardless of the color.
Your local running shoe store associate is the expert that you want to consult. These people are running shoe experts. At a good store, they know all of the details and most associates can explain what the technology means to you. Sometimes they can give you too much information which is no more helpful than reading too many reviews on-line.
Tip: always buy your very first pair of running shoes at a running store
All of the “Shoe Talk” can get confusing. A good sales person will know when you have reached information over load and get right to having you try on some shoes.
Tip: always try on several pairs of shoes from several brands
There are several categories of shoes such as “neutral support”, “flats”, etc. A good sales associate will ask you about your running and do a basic assessment of your feet and running gait. Then they will bring out a few pairs of shoes for you to try on.
Most stores will let you go for a short run in the shoes before you buy them. This is the shoe test drive. Don’t skip this step!
Shoe Talk Decoded is an article from “Women’s Running” written by Kara Deschenes. She explains some of the details that the running store sales associate will probably discuss with you. The more you know before you go into the store the less likely you are to get confused with all of the details.
A little knowledge will also help you ask better questions and make a better choice for your feet.
The basic gear for running is inexpensive. If you are new to running, you probably have most of the items you need to run all ready.
What do you need?
Shoes. Good running shoes are essential and you should go to a local running store for your first pair. They will fit you properly and keep you from buying the prettiest pair on the wall. Bright and pretty colors do not always mean the best pair of shoes for you.
How to save money on shoes. Good quality running shoes will cost around $100.00, but there are ways to save. At the running store ask if they offer any discounts. Many stores offer a 10% discount for members of local running clubs and they may provide this discount to you if you ask. They may give you a discount for being a new runner or a new customer. Just ask.
Some running stores also have special discounts for club members at certain times of the year. Marathon Sports offers the Melrose Running Club a 20% discount shopping night a few weeks before Christmas. 20% on a $115 pair of shoes is a $23 savings.
Fit2Run, a running shop with 10 locations in Florida, offers a 10% discount to local club members and additional discounts to their Club Fit2Run members.
In addition to saving 10% on your shoes, you can also save 10% on clothes and nutritional items by joining a local club.
There are also on-line stores such as Road Runner Sportswhich offer 20% discounts with membership. Membership is often free and they have frequent sales with higher discounts.
A little secret is that many of these on-line stores offer big discounts on close-out shoes. Running shoe companies change their models every year. If you keep your eyes open and search the web you can find last year’s model at a steep discount.
Once you are properly fitted by a local running store, you can look for great deals on your shoes when they are on close-out. I bought two pairs of Brooks Adrenaline 9 for $69.00 a pair a few years ago. Full retail was around $109, so I saved a ton and had shoes for the year.
If you wear a popular model, ie Brooks Adrenaline, in a common size, it can be difficult to find your shoe on close-out. Don’t buy a different size or width just to save $40. It’s not worth it. When you do find a great deal at a reputable site such as RoadRunnerSports.com, go for it.
Clothes. When you are starting out, comfortable shorts and a t-shirt are about all that you need. As your mileage increases you will want to buy running shorts and at least one high quality shirt from the running store. As mentioned above, many running stores will give you a 10% discount if you join a local running club.
You can spend as much as you want on shoes and clothes, but you do not have to. Spend your money on good shoes, use what you all ready own for shorts and shirts and get started. Many races give shirts to runners and your collection will build quickly.
How to save money of running clothes. Adidas, Road Runner Sports and other sport clothing companies have sales all the time. Much like high fashion, every year there are new shirts, shorts, sports bras, socks, fabrics and materials. Last year’s sweat wicking shirt will work fine even when it has been discontinued by Asics.
If you join the mailing list for a variety of companies, your in-box will be full of specials and discounts. It costs nothing to join these lists and you can save a lot.
Food and Beverage
As a new runner you do not need any of the high tech and high price nutritional supplements. If you are running a 5K, or for less than an hour, a bottle of water is all that you really need. Your body will not run out of electrolytes in an hour, under most conditions. When you get home have a glass of chocolate milk and a banana and you should be all set.
As you run longer distances or under more extreme conditions you may want to look at
sport drinks like Gatorade or PowerAde. You can usually find the G2 Gatorade at a grocery store.
G2 is the beverage to drink during a long run and which is handed out at most race aid stations. This stuff was not made to be drank like coffee or soda.
Many running stores do not carry sports drinks. There are many brands and carrying more than a few would take up too much space. Gatorade 01, pre-race, and Recovery 03, post-race, beverages are not available at most grocery stores.
To save money, look for local grocery stores that carry the drinks you like and look for sales on these items.
There is a dizzying array of food/nutritional products made for runners. There is GU, Hammer GEL, PowerGel and PowerBar, and New Grounds Coffee Bars to name just a few. These do not taste like a Snickers bar. These are not candy. These are highly engineered nutritional products made for athletes.
Just like Gatorade, you shouldn’t be eating these as snacks. They are loaded with sugars that hit your blood stream rapidly.
These are referred to as “High GI” foods. On the Glycemic Index these foods are probably 90+. Table sugar, sucrose, has a GI of 100. As a distance runner looking to re-fuel rapidly, this is great stuff.
If you are going for a walk or short jog after dinner, you do not need these. They are not desert.
When I run a marathon I often consume 3-5 GU/GEL packets. I also eat a nutrition bar before the race and have started drinking a recovery beverage after a race. These cost about $15.00 all together. During a marathon I’ll burn close to 4,000 calories. My body needs these energy foods.
For races shorter than a half marathon I skip all of this. You can also.
How to save on nutritional food and beverages. If you need these items, your local running store will give you their 10% discount, just like they do on shoes. Often at a race or race expo you can get free samples of nutritional foods and beverages. Sometimes you can get several bars or drinks. The best way to save money on nutritional food and drinks is to only use them when you need them.
Buying a box of bars or gels is another good way to save. The per unit price is usually cheaper than individual items.
Again – you do not need any of these unless you are running longer than 1 hour.
Race Entry Fees
You can find 5K races for $15-35 all over the place. Marathons can be $70-150 easily. To register with an invitational number for The 2014 Boston Marathon is $325.
If you run a bunch of races during the year it can add up to $1,000 very quickly. I spent close to $1,200 in 2013 and will probably spend more than that in 2014.
A simple way to save on race entries is to register early and on line. For a 5K you may save $5 with an early on-line registration. For a marathon you may save $30-40 with an early on-line registration. Race day registration has the highest price and causes the most amount of stress.
Coolrunning.com is a great resource to look for races. If you plan your season ahead of time you can take advantage of early registrations. The key is to register early.
If you sign up for more than 20 races each year, you may want to look at Active.com’s ActiveAdvantage. For $64.95 per year you can sign up for races on active.com without any processing fees. Processing fees can add 5-10% to the cost of registration.
I saved about $60 last year and essentially broke even. Other ways to save with active are discounts on race registrations and FREE registrations. You have to watch the site closely to get in on these deals as free entries go fast.
ActiveAdvantage also offers discounts on clothing and gear. Again, you have to watch the site to find discounts on brands and items you want. Saving 50% on an item you do not need is not saving money.
Many races do not use Active.com to handle their registrations. But there are race management companies do not charge processing fees. The price you see is what you pay. Local Y’s, gyms or Chambers of Commerce sponsor races and often have low registration fees.
For new runners
Save your money for shoes and race registrations. Only buy the high tech food and beverage when you need them. Look for races sponsored by local civic groups and register early!
Pick up extra PowerBars, etc. at races, try ordering close-out shoes on line, look for races sponsored by local civic groups, and sign up early.
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.