When you consider that in running you hit the ground at a force equal to about three to four times your body weight, it’s little wonder that your footwear is so important. But finding a running shoe that fits, feels comfortable and won’t fall apart a month down the road requires some shoe smarts.
ALL FEET ARE NOT
For years, women’s running shoes were simply scaled-down men’s products. These shoes often fit fine in the forefoot, but felt loose in the heel. And for good reason: Women’s feet are usually narrower at the heel than men’s.
Today, most major footwear companies offer at least one women’s running shoe designed on an anatomically correct last. (A last is a plastic form that gives a shoe its shape and proportion.) Although you may see many styles of women’s shoes in running shops, most companies make just two women’s models-one recreational and one elite-and then vary the cosmetics of these models. The bigger running shoe companies, such as Nike, New Balance, Asics, Saucony, Brooks and Reebok, which can put more money into research and development, all provide several different types of running shoes made on women’s lasts. New Balance and Nike are the only companies whose shoes come in different widths-an important consideration for women, whose feet are often narrower than men’s.
Another difference between men and women is how we hit the ground when running. Because women’s hips are wide, we have a different center of gravity than men, and we adjust our balance accordingly. “As a result, women have a tendency toward pronation,” says Sue Brill Ryder, a footwear designer at Reebok. (Pronation occurs when your ankles roll in, and you land on your rearfoot. The opposite situation, when your ankles roll out, is called supination. Supinators usually have rigid feet with high arches and tend to land on their forefoot.)
KNOW THY STRIDE
A stride analysis is one way to determine if you pronate or supinate. Tests are performed at biomechanics labs and are usually reserved for elite runners. However, if you’re not likely to win the Boston Marathon, there are other ways to analyze your stride. Take a run on the beach or put a wet foot on a piece of paper and then study the imprint. “A full-foot shape indicates pronation, a print of just the edges of your foot suggests supination and a normal-looking print means you have a no-problem gait,” says Saucony marketing associate Art Rogers.
Or you can simply “read” your current pair of running shoes. The wear on the outsoles (the part of the shoe that comes in contact with the ground) will indicate pronation or supination. In addition, badly torn uppers mean you are hard on shoes and should opt for a model with a sturdy nylon fabric across the toe and arch.
The kind of shoe you buy also depends on your injury history. “If YOu have tendon or ankle problems, you’ll probably want a shoe with good cushioning and energy return,” says Karen Hartmann, women’s product manager at New Balance. For shin splints, try shoes that have rearfoot control and good impact properties. But if You have serious physical problems, you likely need to be fitted for custom orthotics by a podiatrist, An orthotic is an in-shoe device designed to correct body alignment.
in general, most women are best off in a cushioned, controlled shoe, advises Kate Bednarski, director of product marketing at Avia. “You want a shoe that’s comfortable but not so floppy that it won’t support you-a shoe that’s stable, but not overly stiff.”
IF THE SHOE FITS, BUY IT
Once you’ve done some footwear homework, head to a specialty running shop or a sporting goods store that has a reputation for outfitting runners, and take your old shoes with you. Expect a knowledgeable salesperson to quiz you on your mileage, the type of surface you run on and any running-related injuries you may have. He or she should be able to answer all your questions about types of shoe lasts and cushioning properties, as well as be able to accurately “read” your old shoes.
“If you say to a salesperson, ‘I pronate,’ and they give you a strange look, find a better store,” says Paul Coughlin, owner of Run’in Gear in Waterford, Michigan. And don’t fall for the line “the shoes need to break in a little.” Today’s athletic shoes are designed to be comfortable from the first step; so-called break-in-time is a myth.
Try on the shoes with the socks you normally run in, and take a test jog around the store or out on the sidewalk, if the salespeople will let you. Check for a snug heel fit and plenty of room in the toe box.
Finally, don’t be too swayed by a shoe’s cosmetics. Purple and teal may be your favorite colors, but you want a shoe that’s built for your running style. A shop specializing in running will have plenty of great-looking shoes to choose from.
Expect your shoes to last between 600 and 700 miles. If you don’t count mileage, your best bet is to go by how the front of the shoe feels, not by how the outsole looks, advises Bednarski. “The material under the forefoot breaks down long before the outsole wears out. It’s time to go shopping for new shoes when the forefoot feels less resilient, or dead.”