How to Pick a Good Running Shoe

Call me a sucker if you want, but after four trips to the shoe store and hundreds of dollars later, I’m a believer. No more will I ever think I have enough know-how to just walk into a Famous Footwear and pick out the most comfortable running shoe in the $80 range. Ever since Bella, Chad, and I bought our new running shoes last weekend, old prickly ailments like blisters, ankle aches, and twinge-y calf muscles have disappeared.

I hate to say this, but apparently the trick to getting a good running shoe is to go to running shoe store, where the sales clerk is a runner. In the county of product consumption hyper-specialization (need a memory foam pet bed in the shape of a velvet sofa? come on down!) I am trying not to become a picky southern cali consumer freak, but there it is.

In a recent post, I listed the only three approved stores at which Bella can buy her running shoes. All three are very close to where I live, but just by the name, I would have chosen A Snail’s Pace to visit first. Didn’t happen that way, though, because Bella’s friend Dawkins needed shoes the last time she was in town, and Runner’s World seemed easiest to find. Bella accompanied Dawkins and was impressed by heat-detection monitor that assesses the way you stand, the treadmill with a video feed of your feet running, and the somewhat geeky, but knowledgeable sales clerk, Rob. Dawkins also walked out of there with not just running shoes, but insoles, synthetic wicking socks, a massage roller, and $20 VIP card, which then allows you to buy everything else for 10% off.

So, the next day I went back with Bella. No Rob. Just another poor sales clerk, who was trying to help everybody in the store by himself. He got Bella on the heat-monitor and treadmill – we even got as far as trying on shoes, but Bella was sullen and uncooperative. She wanted Rob! and nobody else would do! Fine. I wasn’t about to spend $100 on shoes that she didn’t feel great about, and it’s true, the dude was stressing and overwhelmed. We decided to come back another time.

But on the way home, I thought we’d swing by the Snail’s Pace – a locally-owned shop managed by runners just sounded good. The Snail’s Pace didn’t have any computers, but they did have excellent sales clerks. John started Bella out in a “try-out” shoe – just a plain old pair of Brooks, and then he had her run down the sidewalk outside to assess her running stride. He pronounced her “neutral,” and Bella caught my eye with a meaningful look: the guy at Runner’s World had said Bella needed a “stability” shoe. John, explained to us that basically, 70-80% of runners need a stability shoe because they pronate when they run, or more simply said, they land on the outside edge of their foot and roll slightly inwards as they land. A stability shoe has differing amounts of stiffer, usually gray, foam under the arch, which prevents the inward roll. The ultimate goal is for the foot to land lightly on the heel and roll forward and toe off, without rolling to either side. If the soles of your shoes wear unevenly, you may need a stability shoe.

In any case, John started bringing shoes out for Bella to try on. He would put a different shoe on each foot and have her run in them both. Then he would eliminate them by asking questions about arch pressure and comfort. Finally, she ended with a pair of Saucony Triumphs. I was ready to buy, but then Bella did that thing with her eyes, begging me to pleee-ase wait and see Rob at Runner’s World, and I cracked.

Despite the fact, that Bella would have to run for three more days in the blister shoes, she was willing to do it to wait for Rob at Runner’s World, so wait we did. Bella called several days in a row until Rob was there. And true, he was very knowledgeable, pulling out a flexible foot skeleton and having Bella do balance exercises… And it was gratifying to see Bella’s feet on the heat-monitor and video cam…and Rob also said that Bella needed a neutral shoe – one that just has soft cushioning throughout. He also recommended insoles ($26) and synthetic wicking socks ($22), but having been traumatized by the sight of Bella’s grotesque and ever-growing blisters, I just waved my hand towards the cashier, sure, just get ’em. So much for scoffing at Dawkins’ moms lack of willpower – we walked out of there with a VIP card too.

Bella’s feet recovered beautifully.

And then of course I felt that Chad and I needed new running sneaks as well, but I had a dilemma: go back to a store that Chad would hate, but where I had a 10% discount or go directly to The Snail’s Pace?

We did both. We went to Runner’s World and let Rob analyze my feet. I needed a stability shoe and ended up with a Asics Kayano. I had been running with Asics for the last four years, but always with a neutral shoe. I ran with the Kayanos just once, and voila, the pain in my left arch was gone. I could literally feel the firm wedge under my arch preventing me from rolling inward.

Then, because Chad didn’t like all the glitz, we headed over to Snail’s Pace and Chad got a pair of stability shoes also: New Balance 858. His strange shin pain also disappeared after just one run in his new shoes. Granted, we all paid a pretty penny for high-performance shoes, so they might all feel good – but I think there is something to this “stabilty” and “neutral” shoe business.

And, I might as well admit, I got a second pair of running shoes for Bella. All three sales clerks told me the same thing: it takes about 40 hours for the foam in running shoe to completely decompress and regain its original shape – if you alternate between two pairs of shoes (one pair lasts 400 miles) then both pairs will last longer.

I really am a sucker!

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