I'm a walker transitioning to running and about to buy my first pair of running shoes. Where do I start?
Selecting shoes is one of the most important choices you'll make as a new runner. With each running stride, your lower body bears the impact of about two to three times your body weight. Finding shoes that can help absorb that shock, as well as facilitate (or correct, if needed) your gait, will not only make running more comfortable, but also help improve performance and prevent injury.
Buy shoes—especially your first pair—from a running specialty store, where experts analyze your foot type to help you find the right shoe. Ask more experienced runners to recommend a store. Some pros may analyze your gait by watching you run, either on a treadmill or around the store.
After determining your foot type and gait, a fit expert will decide which of the three main running shoe categories is appropriate for you—support (sometimes called "stability"), motion control or neutral-cushioned. Each is designed to address pronation, the foot's natural inward roll, which helps your body better absorb the shock of impact. However, overpronation (rolling inward too much) produces extra stress on the inside of the legs and feet, which can cause injuries such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis. Long-term overpronation can also result in chronic knee, lower-back and hip pain.
Most runners are moderate overpronators, usually with arches of average height, and fall into the support shoe category. A support shoe has a stability device—an area of thicker and denser material at the center and/or heel to counteract excessive inward roll. A motion-control shoe is best for severe overpronators, often flat-footed, who have extreme inward movement of the feet, ankles and arches. Motion-control shoes have extra stability on both sides of the shoe to ensure a more stable gait.
The neutral-cushioned category is for normal pronators with an efficient gait, typically with high, rigid arches. They don't need stabilizing devices to correct their already good gait, so choosing a comfortable level of cushioning is the main concern. A neutral shoe also is necessary for the rare runner who underpronates. Some runners with high arches roll toward the outsides of their feet and should avoid stability devices that would encourage this movement.
Often, the type of foot arch—low, average or high—dictates the type of shoe required. But there are plenty of exceptions to this rule—another reason to get an expert's assistance, instead of assuming a certain arch automatically calls for a specific shoe.
Also remember that feet swell a bit while running, so allow about a quarter inch of room at the tip of the big toe. It's normal to wear running shoes that are one size or more larger than your street shoe size. Run in shoes too small and you risk bruising or even losing toenails.