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how to choose running shoes

Being active is vital to self-care and staying healthy, but many people are hesitant to visit a gym these days. One of the best ways to exercise while social distancing safely is to run or walk outdoors. Before you start, though, make sure you’ve got the right shoes for your feet, as well as the type of running/walking you’d like to do.

Your Feet

Feet are incredibly complicated, say the certified clinicians at Foot Dynamics. This studio in Boise, Idaho makes custom orthotics and sells shoes designed to keep your feet comfortable. Owner Jeff Jacobs, BOCPed, says, “We generally recommend shoes with a low drop, where the heel is only minimally elevated. This provides a more stable and neutral foundation that encourages the foot to move naturally through the gait cycle.”

how to choose running shoes - plantar fasciitis

Get it on Tophatter for around $5

There are 52 bones in your feet (almost a quarter of all the bones in your body), along with many tendons and muscles. Your feet absorb the shock of walking or running and propel you forward. Sometimes, usually through overuse, runners can develop creeping injuries like plantar fasciitis, shin splints, or knee pain. You might be over-pronating, where your arch collapses and your foot rolls inward as you walk or run. Pronators can also develop soreness around the inner ankle bone. On the other hand, if your arch remains rigid and you don’t pronate enough (over-supinate) you could develop tiny stress fractures in your feet or hip or lower back pain from striking the ground too hard.

Evaluate Your Gait

Think about the way you walk or run. Can you tell if you over-pronate? Before beginning a running program, you might consider an appointment with an orthotics specialist or podiatrist who can evaluate your feet and gait. As my Foot Dynamics clinician explained, “Supinators need a lot of cushioning and shoes with a curved last. Pronators need a shoe to control that rolling motion: a straight last, firm mid-sole, heel counter, and good arch support.”

how to choose running shoes - orthotics

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You might not need orthotics, just the right type of shoe—for example, I’m a super-pronator and have worn orthotics in my workout shoes for 30 years. And don’t forget, shoes don’t last forever—about a thousand miles for an average pair of running shoes. Any time the tread wears out, the support breaks down, or the air or gel cushion deflates, it’s time to buy a new pair.


Trail Running

how to choose running shoes - trail running shoes

Get them on Tophatter for around $38

Running shoes are great for running and walking, but where will you run? There’s a big difference between running on a smooth sidewalk or on an uneven, dirt trail. Trail running shoes need tread on the bottom so you don’t slip on the dirt. They also need extra support for stability, but they need to be nimble, not clumsy. The expert testers at Backpacker magazine put over 400 miles on the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 for men and women and found it held up over all kinds of terrain, while providing cloud-like cushioning in the sole and a secure upper structure.

how to choose running shoes - hoka running shoes men

Get these Hoka running shoes on Amazon for around $257

If you want more ground-feel on the trail for precise steps, Backpacker testers also rave about the Topo Athletic MTN Racer for men and women. These shoes have a wide toe box for comfort on long-mileage days, a narrow waist for support, low drop as recommended by Foot Dynamics, and lugs to hold onto terrain. They also feature smartly-placed ports along the mid-foot that allow your feet to breathe and dry out yet don’t let in much dirt and dust.

Road Shoes

how to choose running shoes - prophecy running shoes

Get these Prophecy running shoes on Amazon for around $135

I asked former British track star Joanne Lee Cornish for her choices in running shoes. After retiring from track events, she became a world champion bodybuilder, a successful fitness and nutrition coach, and now an author. She exclaimed, “Gosh, I’ve run in them all and I always come back to Mizuno.  I wear the Prophecy, a very solid shoe that limits foot movement and gives more than enough support. You don’t bend this shoe!  But what makes Mizuno so great is that they make shoes that are so specific to a sport or to a condition. Motion control – there’s a shoe, pronation – there’s a shoe, mileage – there’s a shoe, wide foot, and so on—and they are very different shoes!  My husband Kevin has so much hardware in his ankle and has spent a lot of money trying different shoes. Because of the motion control in the Prophecy, he won’t wear anything else now. Second to Mizuno I do like New Balance to train in, but even the best NB is like wearing slippers compared to Mizuno.”

Try Them On

Get them on Tophatter for around $19

A final piece of advice: try them on! How they feel is much more important than how they look. Try your shoes on in a store, and take a little run around the store, to see if the shoes work for your feet. If you buy shoes online, be sure you can return them (don’t wear them outside of course) if they aren’t comfortable. Get the right shoes, start slow, and increase mileage gradually—your feet and body will thank you. Now, get moving!

Shop for your feet:

Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.


Crista Worthy writes about aviation, travel, wildlife, and more from her home in Idaho.

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