When it comes to shoes, the right choice can save you time and pain

Gone are the days when a pair of Chuck Taylors could get you through any athletic endeavor  Credit: Markus Boesch/Allsport
Mollie Wieser ran the Boston Marathon last April for the first time.

She ran it in tremendous pain.

Halfway through the race, the 25-year-old Phoenix runner thought she had torn a tendon, but she still finished. Afterward, she discovered that her tendons were fine. Her shoes were not.

The pain was due to "light shoes" shoes without sufficient structure to absorb the grueling pounding of the hilly marathon.

Fitness experts agree that proper athletic shoes are critical to a healthful workout, whether you're a marathon runner or a stairstepper. Blisters, calluses and pain can happen at any level of exercise to anyone who is wearing inappropriate athletic shoes.

But serious runners are especially susceptible to shoe-related injuries because of the relentless stress on feet, knees and lower legs.

Dr. Joseph Dobrusin, a podiatrist with the Arizona Medical Clinics in Peoria and Sun City West, said he's seen his share of shoe-induced foot and leg trauma. He said the average person is confused over what shoe to buy for his or her particular workout. Dobrusin said shoe manufacturers are partly to blame because of commercials that bombard the public with products that might not be appropriate.

"I think you have to ignore what your friends are wearing," he said. "No two feet or strides are exactly alike."

Dobrusin, himself a marathon runner for over 30 years, said runners especially need shoes fitted to their needs.

"Go to a store where experts will fit you with the right shoe, then allow you to jog in their parking lot," Dobrusin said.

Phoenix orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Dr. Russell Chick also recommends staying away from cheap running shoes.

"In principle, we recommend a shoe with a good arch support and a nice heel counter," he said.

Craig Davidson, a longtime employee of Runner's Den in Phoenix, said a common mistake runners make is thinking they need more cushioning in their shoes to protect their knees.

"Where in reality they may need more structure," said Davidson, who's run more than 130 marathons.

Davidson said that if a shoe is too soft it could force your foot to roll to the inside or outside too much. That may have happened to Wieser in the Boston Marathon, he suggested.

But even after having a professional fit, finding that perfect running shoe is mostly trial and error, according to Davidson.

Bob Oliva agrees. The 59-year-old Paradise Valley graphic designer began running in 1976. He said that when you finally find the perfect shoe, you should buy several, before the manufacturer discontinues the line.

"And after 600 to 800 miles, don't wear them any longer," Oliva said. "That's when the inside will go and the tread wears down."

Davidson said the surface you run on helps determine the type of shoe you need. The majority of shoes that work on roads will also handle canals and sidewalks. But if you're running or walking on trails, you need a trail shoe, he said.

"Trail shoes have leather uppers and toe guards to protect against rocks," Davidson said. "There's also a more aggressive tread pattern so you won't slip as much."

He said a waffle-type sole is best for running on gravel.

Dobrusin said walkers should also consider buying a running shoe because of its added support and structure. For the multidirectional sports like tennis, basketball or racquetball, he said, it's best to buy a basketball-type shoe, which has more lateral stability than a unidirectional running shoe.

For health-club workouts in which you're doing a little bit of everything, Dobrusin said cross-training shoes are "excellent."

And don't forget about socks. Wieser said the thicker Thorlo socks are fine for tennis and the other multidirectional sports, but for runners she recommends thinner socks that wick away moisture and keep feet cool.

Davidson and Dobrusin said you can expect to pay $75 to $120 for good-quality running shoes.

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