As runners, it can be argued that the most important piece of equipment we will own is a good pair of running shoes. Whether we run track or trail, the Mile or the Marathon, our shoes connect us to the ground with every step. Since we spend so much time in our shoes, we should also spend some time finding the right shoes.
I did this (again) just recently.
Two years ago, I walked into RoadRunner Sports way overdue for a new pair of kicks. Fast forward to today…after wearing out 7 pairs of Saucony Guides. After two years of running in the same shoe, I needed to go back through the process again just to see if the Guides were still right for me, or if it was time to switch it up. So what does this process look like?
RoadRunner Sports has a fun “mascot” with the SHOEDOG computer system, who will fetch your right shoes. The Shoe Experts ask a series of questions (you can find a partial list on their website), including how many miles a week you run, on what surfaces, and if you have any aches or pains. The truth is your friend, here. If you DO have any issues, the Shoe Experts can help you find shoes or other equipment to alleviate those issues. For me, I’m running 30 or so miles a week on a mix of pavement and crushed gravel. I also have some achilles and IT Band issues.
This questionnaire is important because every runner has their own needs. A track sprinter wouldn’t necessarily take home an ultra-trail shoe, so this interview helps the Shoe Expert get to know the runner as an individual.
The Pressure Plate
The “3D Paw Reading” pressure plate is a simple device that shows what your footprint looks like, as well as where you carry your weight. The footprint helps the shoe expert (and you) determine your arch height — I have VERY high arches. The weight distribution helps the shoe expert figure out if the runner stands more over their toes or back on the heels. I definitely put my weight in my heels.
This step of the process helps the Shoe Expert narrow down some choices. Arch height can be supported by the shoe LAST — the mold around which the shoe is built. Some shoe lasts have higher arches than others. Looking at weight distribution is important for where the cushioning and support are built into the shoe.
The Treadmill run
Regardless of what we’ve learned so far, the rubber has to literally hit the road, or in this case the treadmill. The next step in the process is to try on a completely neutral shoe — no arch support, lots of flexibility — then run on a treadmill at whatever your average speed is. While you run, a computer captures video of your footfalls and alignment from the rear. The Shoe Expert then looks for a straight line from the knee, through the ankle to the bottom of the foot, and a perpendicular angle from the sole up the lower leg. In my case, my ankles break inward, which is called overpronation. The other thing the Expert looks for is how my feet land on the ground: do I turn my toes outward, inward, or do they land relatively straight? Do I land on my heels, midfoot, or my toes? My feet land straight, my soles are very flexible, and I land toward the rear of my midfoot.
Based on all this information gathered, The ShoeDog program “fetches” a category ranking of Stability 4, with Level 1 meaning a barefoot feel, and Level 5 is maximum cushioning. This means that I need a stability shoe that will support my arches and my overpronation. A Stability shoe basically holds up the inside of my feet so my alignment straightens out, relieving some stress on my ankles.
The New Insoles
Before I went over to try on some shoes, though, I was also in need of new custom molded insoles. Not every shoe store will have the equipment to custom fit runners for these, but if you have the chance to do so, I highly recommend it. Custom insoles make your best running shoe even closer to perfect. In this case, the Shoe Expert has the runner step onto a platform with a warm rubber pad. After placing the moldable insoles on the pad, the Expert places the runner’s feet perfectly onto the insoles. You stand there for a couple of minutes during which the insoles are forming to your feet. Once you step off the platform and the insoles cool, you have the perfect cradle. I’ve been getting these for the last two years, and I have to say, they have made a huge difference in my running. While you might be concerned about price, these insoles last for 1,000 miles or more, possibly outlasting at least 2 pairs of shoes.
The Stack of shoes
The Shoe Expert could then…finally…bring out a stack of shoe boxes: the Saucony Guide ISO, which is the next model from the shoe I’m already wearing, the Saucony Hurricane ISO, which is a bit more stable (Level 5), the Brooks Adrenaline, the Asics GT 2000 6, and the Adidas Solar Glide. I tried each shoe, running laps around the shop several times. I dismissed the Adidas (the toe box seemed to crunch down on the tops of my feet), and the Asics (I couldn’t put my finger on it, but they just didn’t feel all that comfortable). I was down to three: the two Sauconys and the Brooks.
It was at this point the decision got tougher. I had the Brooks Adrenaline on one foot and the Saucony Hurricane on the other, and without actually looking at them, I could feel no difference between the shoes! In fact, all three pairs were almost completely indiscernible from one another! After even more jogging around the shop, I ultimately decided on the Guide ISO. This was the most comfortable, probably because it was almost exactly like the shoe I’ve been wearing for 2 years, with only minor modifications.
Does that mean I would recommend this shoe for everyone who needs arch support and stability? No, actually, because that negates the point of going in to try shoes on. In the end, the shoe selection boils down to personal preference.
After an hour in the store, I walked out with my brand new Saucony Guide ISOs.
Not every running specialty store will get this involved in your shoe selection, but the more data you can gather and give your shoe expert, the better choice you can make in your equipment investment. Good fitting shoes = Happy running! For more shoe fitting tips, check out this video!