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A Dummies Guide to Buying Running Shoes

Posted Mar 11 2013 7:49pm

One of the great things about running is that it is a sport where you don't need a lot of equipment, gear, or even formal training to get started. Most people can just hit the pavement (or the treadmill) and begin their journey into running.  The one thing that every running newbie needs to know before getting started is how to buy the proper running shoes. A good running shoe is the only big investment into the sport, and one that is well worth it. If you run in the wrong shoe you could risk injury and could be put out of commission before you really ever get started.

I am familiar with the feeling, you walk into the shoe store and the giant wall of shoes overwhelms your senses. The colors, the claims, the technology, the price tags, and the marketing are all fighting for your attention. Your head spins with confusion. How do I know which ones to buy?

I had the privilege of picking the expert brain of James Newsom Jr ., the co-owner of Fort Worth Running Company , which has been in business here in Fort Worth since 1998.  This is my local go-to running store. The owners are good people, they have a knowledgeable friendly staff, huge selection of running shoes and gear, and fun motivating training programs for all fitness levels. I was thrilled when James agreed to my interview.

James Newsom Jr. of Fort Worth Running Company

Running for Dummies:
When I buy running shoes, I tend to lean towards the prettiest of the bunch, but I know that is a running dummy move not a good strategy for buying running shoes. It can be overwhelming entering a running store for the first time. There are so many styles and types, how do I know what to buy?

James Newsom Jr.: At least for a first pair of running shoes, it is usually best to go to a specialty store whose employees are familiar with all the different categories of shoes and which models and brands would work best for you. Different stores use different methods to determine what category shoe would most likely work for you. We [Fort Worth Running Company] use slow motion video which we record using a treadmill and computer camera. Running shoes should feel very comfortable the moment you put them on and if they aren't then you should try others until you find some that feel as if you could go out right then and run in them. Color and style should be your last consideration when selecting running shoes.

RFD: (sigh) I know. OK, back to business. What is gait and why is it important to know when buying shoes?

JNJ: Well the term "gait analysis" is a bit misleading because what we really do is "foot strike analysis." Gait is quite a bit more complicated because it involves your whole body and how your lower body (legs/hips) and upper body work together to run or walk and is the subject of much debate over whether it can even be changed and to what degree. Foot strike analysis just looks at the interaction between your foot and the ground from the moment of impact until the moment of toe off and looking at what your arch does and what part of your foot hits the ground first to determine what type of shoe should work best.

RFD: What about sizing? Are the shoe manufacturers pretty consistent with sizing? Should I be buying the same size as I wear in street shoes?

JNJ: For the most part sizing is fairly consistent but sometimes varies 1/2 size between brands. Normally you should go up from 1/2 to a full size from your street shoe size. So say for example you wear a size 7.5 street shoe, you would probably need an 8 or 8.5 running shoe. The reason for this is that your feet tend to swell when running and you need a bit more room to keep from hitting the end of the shoe which doesn't matter so much in an everyday shoe, but matters a lot in a running shoe.

RFD: Does whether I run on the street or a treadmill make any difference in the shoes I should be buying?

JNJ: Unless you are running on very rocky or muddy terrain, you would buy the same shoe whether running on a treadmill or the road. Regular running shoes are fine for most trails also, with the exception of the more technical (rocky, steep, muddy) type trails.

RFD: How often do I need to replace my shoes? How do I know when my shoes have reached the end of their life?

JNJ: Normally between 300 and 500 miles you should look to replace your shoes. So it depends on how much you run per week as to how long your shoes will last. What happens is that the mid sole begins to break down and doesn't cushion the way it did when the shoes were new. Part of the trade off for lighter, more cushioned shoes is that they don't last quite as long. But if you are like most people and run around 9-10 miles/week then your shoes should last you around 8-10 months which is really not too bad and a pretty cheap investment.

RFD: There is a lot of talk and hype about minimalist running shoes, what is your take?

JNJ: I think minimalist shoes are fine to run in for short runs once or twice a week but I don't suggest that people run in them full time. Until I start seeing world class runners training full time in minimal shoes, I don't think it is a good idea. Changing how you normally run by wearing a shoe that forces you to run differently is a recipe for inviting injury in my opinion.

Is there anything else we need to know about buying running shoes?

JNJ: Don't think that there is one magic pair of shoes out there that is going to make the aches and pains of running (especially beginning) go away. Beginning running is going to be tough at times and most folks go through quite a few minor aches and pains before their bodies adjust to running. If you are going to be running more than 3 days/week then it is best to get 2 pair of shoes and rotate them so that your body isn't subjected to the exact same stresses each time. You will still get the same miles out of the shoes, just with less chance of injury.

Thanks so much to James for his time and expertise. Armed with this knowledge, I made a trip down to Fort Worth Running Company to purchase a new pair of running shoes.

2401 West 7th Street, Fort Worth, TX 76107

I entered the store and was immediately greeted by friendly and knowledgeable Melissa Bere and we were off to try on some shoes.

The first thing Melissa did was measure my feet. I haven't used one of these foot sizer things since Mom took me to Payless as a kid. After all, I thought I knew my shoe size, but it turns out I was completely wrong. All these years, I have been cramming my big feet into size 7.5, when I am actually an 8. I also learned that my foot is a little on the narrow side. It is a great idea to start with the basics. Before you get into all the technical aspects of buying a running shoe, make sure you know your shoe size first, then remember James' advice to buy 1/2 size to 1 full size bigger than your street shoe size. This means I should be buying size 8.5-9 in running shoes.

Once we figured out the correct shoe size, Melissa gave me a pair of shoes to run in so she could do a foot strike analysis.
I ran on the treadmill for 30 seconds while a computer camera filmed.  Melissa played back the film in slow motion to examine my foot strike. They examine from the knee cap to the ankle to see if it stays in alignment. When the shoe rocks to the left or right it is called pronation. She said I stayed in alignment, therefore I do not pronate and should buy neutral shoes. Everyone is different so it is a good idea to get this analysis done, so you can be certain you are buying the correct shoes for the way you run, to reduce chance of injury.

Words of Wisdom: Never use a fish-eye lens on a close-up shot. It will make your butt blow up like a balloon.

Here is a quick video of Melissa reviewing my tape and talking through her analysis.  This is so cool!

After the foot strike analysis, now we were ready to try on some shoes! Melissa brought me a few options. I tried on a couple until I found the pair that felt most comfortable and then hopped back on the treadmill for a quick test run.

Melissa explained to me some of the different cushioning options.

I found my winner! I ultimately decided on the Mizuno Wave Rider because they felt the most comfortable and they were a good match for my narrow foot and running style.
I know I am not supposed to care but...they are pretty too!

I am so happy with my purchase. I am extremely grateful to Melissa for her first-class customer service. This is what I have come to expect of Fort Worth Running Company: Knowledgeable, friendly people who are passionate about running and willing to help educate the running community.

I am a huge believer in supporting local business. Sure, you may be able to find a pair of shoes that are less expensive at a big box store, but you will never get this level of selection, service, or expertise. Besides, I'd always rather spend my money and support a local, family-owned business that gives so much back to our community.

When you are in Fort Worth, please stop by the store at 2401 West 7th Street, Fort Worth, TX 76107 to say hello (and buy some shoes).

If you live outside the Fort Worth area there are plenty of ways to check out Fort Worth Running CompanyVisit their website
Like their Facebook page (yes, please, click like)
On Tumblr
On Pinterest

Where do you go to buy running shoes? Do you have a local favorite or do you shop big box? Do you have any other tips to share for buying running shoes?

Special thanks to Fort Worth Running Company for sharing their expertise with us and to hubby for being my official Running for Dummies photographer, although I am not sure I forgive him yet for the the fish-eye lens thing.

Keep Running,


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