To avoid running into pain or an injury, here’s a list of things you’ll want to know before you get fitted for your next pair of running shoes.
(1) First things first, socks. Believe it or not, technical running socks are a great place to start. If you’re not already wearing technical socks, your feet don’t know what they’re missing.
By choosing the right socks, first, you’ll change how your feet experience the ride.
Your local walk-in specialty running shoe store should have a nice selection of technical socks.
If you aren’t familiar with the technology that’s built into socks that are designed with running in mind, besides being much thinner than your average athletic sock, the most important thing you’ll want to know is that they aren’t made of cotton.
Unlike the cotton athletic socks that you’ve most likely worn in the past, technical socks are designed to be form-fitting.
When you try these socks on, one of the first things you’ll notice is that they aren’t going to slip or cause your feet to sweat as much as cotton socks tend to do.
Which means that as long as you get the right fit for your running shoes, along with a pair of technical socks that fit properly, you’ve increased your chances of avoiding blisters.
If you decide to try technical socks on for size, be sure to include a pair of Injinji toe socks.
If you’re aren’t comfortable with how toe socks feel between your toes, Feetures is a brand of technical socks that’s worth trying on as well.
[ Sidebar: Feetures also makes a support sleeve for plantar fasciitis (PF). Since it’s only capable of addressing the symptoms, I don’t recommend it. Not to mention that PF has more to do with what’s going on above your feet than where you feel the pain. ]
If you’re already wearing technical socks, and you’re still dealing with the occasional blister, consider adding Bodyglide into the mix.
(2) Getting the sizing right. It’s not uncommon for one foot to be longer than the other. If that’s the case for you, a good rule of thumb is to fit the longer foot.
Much like the ground and gravity, swelling of your feet isn’t something that can be avoided.
When you get fitted for running shoes, you’ll want to factor in what your shoes are going to feel like when you get deeper into your mileage.
In other words, imagine what your feet are going to feel like after continually punching the ground over many miles.
To avoid a bunion or even a black toenail, you’ll want to run in a shoe that leaves a thumbnail width of space between the end of your longest toe and the front of the shoe.
[ Sidebar: Morton’s Toe would make the second toe longer than the first digit. If you know that your second toe is longer than your big toe, you definitely want to allow for enough space up front.
Bunions aren’t hereditary. If you work in an environment where you know that you’ll be wearing dress shoes with a narrow toe box, giving your toes room to spread out in all of the other areas of your life will pay off.
If we’re being honest, I think it’s safe to say that every women’s dress shoe is going to be narrow up front.
Over the years, I’ve had men and women tell me that their bunions are hereditary. Then, I find out that they’ve been wearing a running shoe that’s a 1/2 to a whole size smaller than what their feet are measuring.
And more often than not, they’re working in a profession where they are expected to wear dress shoes. Dress shoes that just so happen to force their big toe in the wrong direction.
*If you spend a good part of your work week wearing dress shoes, that’s all the more reason to choose a running shoe that gives your toes the opportunity to purchase more from the ground.*
When you’re going through the process of choosing a running shoe, remember this: It’s *never* a good idea to choose fashion over function.
Even when it comes down to options on color, try as hard as you possibly can to resist the urge to choose running shoes that are more fashionable.
Over the long-haul, your feet, knees, and hips will appreciate you choosing a running shoe that compliments how they function.
Never forget this fact: Wearing a running shoe that’s the appropriate size for you is something that’s within your control.
“Technology changes who we are as humans, which causes us to adapt and evolve accordingly.”
– Martin Lindstrom, author of SMALL DATA
Since you want your feet to explore a wide range of territory throughout your life, this is worth thinking about: Just because your body is capable of adapting, doesn’t always mean that it’s a good thing.
By changing the angle at which your big toe is being forced to interact with the ground, like it or not, a running shoe that doesn’t allow for adequate space up front is going to impact the angle at which muscles have to pull.
Said another way, since your muscles are being forced to pull from an angle that’s far from what could be considered normal, it’s safe to say that punching the pavement in this fashion is far from optimal.
[ Sidebar: Your big toe consists of 3 bones. If you were to look at all 3 of these bones in order, you would see that each bone (read: lever) makes up what ends up being an entire lever.
To put this in perspective, we’re talking about your big toe serving as a lever.
But in order to serve you well, it’s your muscles that are responsible for pulling your big toe to the ground.
From various angles and from different points at which muscles attach to all 3 of these bones, your big toe is going to find the leverage. It’s just a matter of where and how it’s going to gain the necessary leverage. ]
(2) (Sizing continued:) Bunions can change your lifestyle. If you don’t believe that, the next time you find yourself in a specialty running shoe store, notice what’s going on around you.
Believe it or not, it’s not uncommon to see people of all ages crying because their painful bunions have forced them off the road. I’ve witnessed this scenario before and after a surgical procedure was performed.
The experts will do anything and everything to avoid taking the time that it takes to address muscles. Orthotics are one of the most common ways to drive your feet away from the pain.
With all the bells and whistles that come along with conventional running shoes, a running shoe is capable of doing the very same thing.
*Although there aren’t many practitioners that are willing to stand up and admit that chasing the pain is an ongoing practice, the case could be made that if somebody was to improve how muscles throughout your core are contracting, your big toe wouldn’t have to take on so much.*
One way or another, your big toe has to touch down.
How much force your big toe is punching the ground with is a whole story in and of itself.
I think it’s worth mentioning this part of the story. Because without any thought for how well the bigger muscles throughout your core are decelerating motion, I’ve had many clients tell me that surgery was the only option that was recommended to them.
Since your muscles are a big piece of the puzzle, when ignored, you have no other choice than to come into your big toe much harder.
(3) Fitting a narrow heel (and avoiding bigger problems down the road). Truth be told, a narrow heel doesn’t allow for as many options. If you have a narrow heel, you’ve undoubtedly had to deal with running shoes that don’t hug your Achilles tendon or your heel bone (read: calcaneus).
Although tying your running shoes with a ‘runner’s loop’ or ‘loop lacing lock’ has been known to help with heel slippage, it’s not always enough. (See image above)
[ Sidebar: If you want to avoid shoe laces that regularly come untied, flat laces are better than round laces. ]
Certain brands of conventional running shoes accommodate for a narrow heel with a form-fitting heel tab that’s designed to hug your Achilles tendon.
The downside: If you were to go with a conventional running shoe, it’s possible that you could find one that can provide you with a nice fit for your narrow heel; the problem is, you’ve solved one issue while taking on a narrow toe box and all kinds of other issues that come right along with a shoe like that.
If you want the best of both worlds, you could look into a brand of running shoes that you aren’t likely to find at most stores.
Depending on how much cushioning you need, Topo’s Ultrafly has a wide toe box, a good amount of cushioning throughout the midsole, and a wide toe box.
To accommodate for a narrow heel, you’ll notice that Topo’s Ultrafly does a nice job of bringing the back of the shoe in more than many brands. (Here’s another review.)
As an example, the Altra Intuition has many of the qualities that you’ll find with the Topo Ultrafly. Besides the fact that they look very different, one major difference is that the heel tab on the Intuition isn’t going to hug your heel as well.
That said, rather than settle for all kinds of things that you don’t want from a conventional running shoe, if you like the feel of the Altra Intuition, you could try the runner’s tie that’s shown in the image above. If at the time that you go to try on the Intuition, your feet have swelled up enough, the runner’s tie might be enough to prevent the shoe from slipping off of your heel.
If at the time that you go to try on the Intuition, your feet have swelled up enough, the runner’s tie might be enough to prevent the shoe from slipping off of your heel.
[ Sidebar: If you know that you land on the front of your foot or mid-foot, you won’t find a more durable running shoe than what Newton has to offer. In sticking with right around the same amount of cushion et cetera, take a look at the Newton Fate ll. ]
(4) Categories of running shoes (a.k.a., marketing): The running shoe companies want you to believe that running is all about which category of running shoes you fit into.
These categories that you have come to know (and trust) have been defined by the companies that aim to sell more running shoes.
The categories aren’t based on reality. Not the reality of how your feet actually function.
But yet, you’re supposed to fit into one category or another – regardless.
*Having spent most of my professional life as a licensed massage therapist, I can tell you that marketing has the power to screw up all that’s good about something.*
Running shoes aren’t the exception. (emphasis added)
[ Sidebar: Since I just shined some light on how marketing has the power to ruin everything, I think you’ll want to be aware of this: If you’re standing on a relatively thick pad at a standing desk, you’re not only dealing with gravity in heels, you also have an unstable environment underfoot.
Even though your company has been sold on the idea that a standing desk is better for you than sitting; if you’re aren’t allowed to take your dress shoes off in the workplace, the only way to make the environment more conducive to how well your body opposes gravity is to remove the unstable environment that’s under your feet (read: base of support).
Even still, gravity and the ground are still bringing the same amount of force. Which means that you’re still dealing with what gravity and the ground have to offer in heels.
“When we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other.” — Unknown
[ Book credit: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. ]
Ultimately, when it comes to avoiding work related pain or an injury, standing at a desk in heels isn’t as good as it has been made out to be. ]
(3) (Categories continued:) Throughout the years, I’ve had many people tell me that they love going barefoot at home. And then when they go to be fitted for a running shoe, they’re fitted for a shoe with way too much cushioning or even worse a ‘stability’ shoe.
[ Sidebar: Most of the following conventional running shoes include a built up heel.
Which means that prior to your lead foot touching down in the running gait cycle, all of that cushioning throughout the heel is throwing off the starting position of your foot.
When your lead foot does make contact with the ground, due to the built up heel, the timing of how everything else moves is also thrown off. (e.g., your knee).
Since the time that Christopher McDougall’s book, Born To Run gained a ton of momentum, the amount of drop from the rear-foot to the front-foot has decreased. ]
Neutral Running Shoes: When it comes right down to how your foot is supposed to interact with the ground, ‘neutral’ is not realistic.
If I had to take a wild guess as to how the running shoe companies came up with the term, neutral to describe this category of shoes, I’d say they took it from the field of podiatry.
(For more information on neutral running shoes, hover over the image above.)
Stability Running Shoes: If you aren’t familiar with this category, that’s a good thing. Imagine a running shoe with an orthotic built right into the midsole cushioning.
The stability piece of this type of running shoe is made from a more dense material that’s built right into the midsole cushioning.
Much like an orthotic, this unnecessary shoe is recommended for people who over-pronate. The problem with this thought process is that pronation is normal.
Normal meaning, the motions that make up pronation are occurring in three different directions, and that’s how your foot absorbs shock.
Here’s the rub, with an orthotic built into the side of your running shoe, you’re unable to pronate.
*Since storing elastic energy is essential to how muscles overcome gravity, taking away your ability to pronate is far from optimal.*
Having fit running shoes for two years, I can tell you that when a running shoe specialist knows what they’re doing, nobody should walk out the door with a stability shoe.
Motion Control Running Shoes: Try to visualize a stability running shoe on steroids.
I recently had a client come in wearing a pair of shoes from this category. He came in with plantar fasciitis. As I went through his history, he told me that within the last year, he purchased orthotics and a pair of sandals that have arch support built into them.
He went on to say that since he’s had all of this artificial support for his feet, he still has on again off again pain from plantar fasciitis.
Meanwhile, his feet can no longer tolerate walking barefoot at home.
Unfortunately, this is a story that’s all too common.
Maximalist Running Shoes: This category of shoes is the farthest from minimalist shoes.
To say the same thing in a slightly different way, if a motion control shoe is a stability shoe on steroids, then, a maximalist shoe is cushioning on steroids.
To believe it, you just have to see a pair for yourself. It’s not uncommon to hear people that run in maximalist shoes say that they can’t run in any other shoe.
Minimalist Running Shoes: This is a flat, lightweight, and flexible shoe that has a wide toe box.
A shoe that’s truly in this category will not have any arch support and it will get the bottom of your feet closer to the ground.
To be even closer to being barefoot, I take the stock sock-liners out.
Since it’s not realistic for most people to run in minimal shoes, at the very least, consider wearing this category of shoe for walking or for workouts in the gym.
[ Sidebar: If you think back to how a heel is going to throw off the starting position of your feet, it’s impossible to do a lunge properly.
Make the switch to a minimal shoe, and performing a lunge will be a whole different experience. ]
(5) Prevention (via more feedback from the ground): The little things are the big things. Since you spend more time walking than running, what you put on your feet for the majority of the time is worth taking into consideration.
Meaning, if you want to prevent pain or an injury, don’t wear your running shoes for anything other than running.
This is also the case when you retire a running shoe. If you’ve committed to retiring a running shoe that has any of what I mentioned above, even mowing the lawn or casually walking around in them is detrimental to your feet. It’s accumulative.
Throw away your old running shoes. Or, check into seeing if your local running shoe store has a recycling program.
No matter how you frame it, the more material that’s between the skin on the bottom of your feet and the ground, the more unstable the environment.
Since walking doesn’t require as much effort or cushioning, a phenomenal way to prevent pain or an injury is to regularly give your feet a strength workout.
Your feet will thank you for it.
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