Making sure you have the right running shoes will help you run longer and prevent injury. Choosing a shoe is not just about picking the coolest pair of Nike's or your school colors but also about understanding your gait, pronation type, and foot strength. Take advantage of free gait analyses from running stores like JackRabbit, Marathon Sports, or Fleet Feet or running coaches like myself who can record you in action and observe your pronation, foot strike, and toe off. Buying the right pair of new shoes won't make you a better runner, but running in them will!
In short, pronation refers to the way your foot rolls upon striking the ground, with under-pronators landing on the outside of their feet and over-pronators landing on the inside of their feet. Runners with high arches typically under-pronate and those with low arches or flat feet tend to over-pronate. As a result, the shoes of under-pronators will show the most wear on the outside while those of over-pronators will show more wear on the inside part of the heel and big toe.
Normal pronators, or those who push off evenly and have less distinct rolling of the feet, have a similar amount of wear along their heels and forefeet. You should know that pronation is OK! It is a natural movement of the body but it should directly influence your running shoe selection.
Under-pronators need a "neutral" shoe with cushioning along the outside to encourage a more natural foot motion and avoid strong impact. Over-pronators need a "stability" shoe and motion-control to distribute the impact more effectively. Normal pronators do best in stability shoes that offer moderate pronation control. Foot strength will also be a factor to help determine the level of cushioning; for example, lighter shoes may require you to start with low mileage and only gradually increase to get used to lower levels of support.
When I tested the 6.5 oz Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% shoes, a big deviation in many ways from my Brooks 10 oz stability shoes, I noticed considerable wear and tear after 100 miles! As beautifully engineered and designed as they are, I needed more stability and regretfully returned them to the lab.
According to Strava, over the past 4.5 years, I've run just over 11k miles across 29 different shoes, with the most common being 6 pairs of Brooks Ravennas and 5 pairs of Brooks Adrenalines, both being medium-arch stability shoes that support my fairly normal pronation, which has allowed me to also experiment with more neutral shoes like the Brooks Launch and Brooks Ghost.
My top three other shoe tips:
- Feet swell when running, especially running distance, so go at least 0.5 to 1 size up. I go a full 1 size up from my dress shoe size. I learned my lesson the hard way when I raced shorter distances and developed a tibial stress fracture, very likely the result of a snug shoe!
- Replace shoes every 300 to 500 miles based on both the wear and cushioning of the shoe. Use a fairly new but broken-in shoe (~50 miles) for races. For beginner runners, wear your new shoes everywhere - it will increase your odds of running!
- Use a parallel or different lacing technique to increase comfort and relieve pressure from the top of the foot by not allowing the laces to cross over the middle of the metatarsals. Combine this with a pair of toe socks to help eliminate skin-to-skin friction and you are well on your way to being a shoe dog.