Having the perfect “sole mate” can really change a runner’s experience. Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or beginning runner, finding a pair of proper fitting shoes could be the difference between an enjoyable training and racing experience and a painful one.
No two people have exactly the same gait, the same stride or the same body alignment. That’s why companies make shoes that fall under three categories each offering a different level of support. Neutral cushion shoes are made for those whose ankles either roll slightly to the outside or do not roll at all; stability models are made for people that tend to pronate, meaning their ankles roll in, to some degree; motion control shoes are best for individuals with severe pronation issues that need more help controlling their movements.
“By making sure that you have the right support, you’re going to keep your body in alignment, making it more efficient and also making sure you’re not putting additional stress on different areas,” says Nick Hurley, store manager at Dick Pond Athletics in Hoffman Estates.
Hurley says running is a repetitive sport and injuries can occur if improper movement and lack of support while running happens continuously. Studies show that with each step, runners feel like they’re carrying three times their body weight. If shoes don’t fit properly, that feeling of extra weight can be even more uncomfortable.
Staff at Runners High ‘n Tri in downtown Arlington Heights have been fitting shoes to match individuals’ specific biomechanics and activity levels for over 25 years. Founders Mark and Pom Rouse can identify when customers’ hips, knees and ankles are out of alignment and recommend shoes that can help correct that. Pom says finding shoes that fit properly is one of the first steps people can take to avoid injury.
The Shoe Fitting Process
Finding the right shoes can take as little as fifteen minutes with help from staff at specialty running stores. Shoe fitters at Dick Pond and Runners High ‘n Tri first ask individuals about their training regiment, past injuries, how many miles they typically run, and what types of activities they engage in. Then they start assessing individuals’ biomechanics. Mark and his team ask customers to walk barefoot across the store to get a sense of how they move. Dick Pond uses Dartfish technology to analyze customers’ movements.
“The first thing we want to look at is the overall structure of the person,” Mark says.
Often times, changing customers’ shoe size is necessary to improve their comfort level. Mark said first-time shoppers at Runners High ‘n Tri often find themselves purchasing shoes a half-size to full-size larger than what they normally wear. Hurley suggests runners size up by a half or full size to accommodate for swelling that occurs while running.
“As soon as we get them [shoes] on their feet we always watch them run,” Mark says. “We really like to watch people run on the surface they’re going to be training or running on.”
A good fitting shoe should hug the heel and the rest of the foot, but gives a thumbnail’s room in the toe, while supporting a runner’s body and unique biomechanics.
“The one that feels most slipper-like, that feels most like it’s working in concert with the foot, that’s the one we want them to go with,” says Hurley, who looks for that moment when runners express that a specific shoe feels “made” for them.
Breaking in and Wearing out Shoes
When runners find the right pair of shoes, Mark says there shouldn’t be much of a break in process; they should feel great from the start. He encourages runners to wear new shoes for workouts and at least one longer run before a race just to be sure there are no manufacturing defects.
Active individuals that exercise regularly should expect to invest in two pairs of shoes per year. For marathoners, Mark says to budget for three to four pairs each year, as shoes most likely need to be replaced every 300 to 500 miles.
“If you’re not very good at keeping track of your mileage and you’re very active, flip your calendar about six months ahead and put, time for new shoes,” Mark advises.
Running shoes eventually show signs of wear and tear and break down. If the soles of the shoe are worn down and flattened, it might be time for them to be replaced. Wrinkles on the midsole also indicate that it could be time for a new pair.
“A lot of times people wait for their shoes to physically break down before they go for that next pair, but nowadays the materials that are being used are structurally very sound,” says Hurley. “There’s not rubber coming off the bottom, there’s not big holes in the upper, but where that cushioning and support is internally, that tends to get broken down beforehand.”
When it comes to running shoes, it’s all about fit, support, and comfort. It won’t take long to find the perfect “sole mate” and enhance your running practice.