A Guide to Finding the Perfect Running Shoe


In running, the shoes you wear are everything. You could have the most endurance and stamina in the world, yet if your feet are sore from ill-fitting shoes, your performance will be negatively affected. Choosing your running shoes should not be a decision made lightly then. Instead, you want to take your time and do your research. What should you look for in the perfect running shoe?

To find your ideal running shoes, keep these tips in mind:

  • Get your feet professionally sized
  • Plan your shopping time around when your feet are the most swollen
  • Don’t only focus on the look of your shoe
  • Know the different types of running shoes
  • Understand how a running shoe should fit
  • Consider the surfaces you run on most often

In this extensive guide, we’ll elaborate more on the tips above so you’re equipped with all the info you need to find the right pair of running shoes for you. Whether you plan on doing short-distance or marathon running in your shoes, you’ll be confident in their fit so you can run further.

Let’s begin! 

6 Tips for Tracking Down Your Perfect Running Shoe

Get Your Feet Professionally Sized

You’ve been a size 10 for as long as you can remember, but is that really your shoe size, especially when it comes to running shoes?

The best way to answer that question is to go to your local sports shoe store and ask about getting your feet professionally sized. A store employee will have the right equipment for the job, including the Brannock Device, a shoe size measurer that’s been favored for decades. It’s that metal apparatus that pulls out to accommodate for your foot that you’ve surely seen at least once in your life. Maybe you’ve even had a store employee use the Brannock Device on your feet a time or two before. 

You might want to call around and ask if your sports shoe stores still do foot size measurements, because not all stores necessarily do. If you absolutely cannot find a store that will measure your feet, you can always take care of this job yourself. Well, you’ll need at least one other person’s help.

Make sure you also have a ruler, pen or pencil, tape, and several pieces of loose-leaf paper. Per one of our recent blog posts, hopefully you bought your running socks already, because you need to wear the socks you’ll have on when wearing your running shoes to take accurate measurements.

Here’s what you want to do to measure your feet at home.

Step 1: Take a piece of loose-leaf paper and, using your tape, attach the paper to the floor. One side of the paper should be up near a wall, so make sure you’re doing this indoors.

Step 2: Move your foot so it’s on the paper and your heel is as close to the wall as possible.

Step 3: Have your buddy grab a pen or pencil and draw around your foot, creating an outline. 

Step 4: Step off the paper. Grab a ruler to determine your foot’s width and length. 

Step 5: Follow steps 1 through 4 with the foot opposite of the one you just measured.

Then, take your measurements and convert them to centimeters and inches. When you go to the shoe store, you’ll have the info you need to better find your running shoe fit. 

Keep in Mind When Shopping That Your Feet Swell Throughout the Day

Speaking of fit, did you know your shoes might have a different fit depending on the time of day you try them on? It’s true! 

As soon as you wake up in the morning, get out of bed, and begin paddling around your house to get ready for the day, your feet will swell. The more you’re on your feet, the worse the swelling can become. Even if your daily activities leave you rather sedentary, such as an office job, your feet will continue swelling. 

At around 4 p.m., right when it’s quittin’ time for the day, your feet are the most swollen they’re going to get. They’ll stay that way until you crawl back into bed. Then, as you sleep, the swelling comes down and you wake up and do it all over again the next day.

If you have time in the morning to shop, you might try on a pair of shoes and find that your usual size doesn’t fit. This is because your feet have only just started swelling, so they’re a little slimmer than they usually are. 

This change can make you downsize your usual 10s to a 9. Pleased with your purchase, you go home and get on with your day. Later, you decide to try on the running shoes again, but suddenly, they don’t fit. Like, they really don’t fit. 

So you return the shoes the next morning and can keep repeating this same process, making yourself crazy.

Instead of shopping earlier in the day, you want to plan your shoe shopping for anytime after 4 p.m. Even if you go running first thing in the morning, all that foot action will make your feet swell quickly, so you want shoes that can fit on your feet when they’re fully swollen. 

Looks Aren’t Everything

If you’re going to get up at 5 o’ clock in the morning for a practice run, you at least want a little pick-me-up when you go to reach for your shoes. Their bright colors, vivid patterns, or overall awesome stylings should inspire you to want to get out and run, even if the sun isn’t up or it’s a drizzly, overcast day.

We’re not saying you’re stuck with only the ugliest running shoes on the market, as that would be ridiculous, but you have to remember to not only focus on the looks of your shoes. If you drop several hundred dollars for a chic pair of running shoes you know will make your fellow running buddies jealous but then find that the shoes squeeze your feet or lack the support you need, you’re going to be quite disappointed. 

After a while, it doesn’t matter how nice the shoes look. If they make you miserable wearing them, then you’ll detest each step until you finally cave and buy new running shoes.

The right running shoes that both look and fit well are out there, don’t get us wrong. You just can’t get obsessed over the looks of a shoe and buy them only for that. You also definitely don’t want to skip trying the shoes on or ignore their issues just because they look appealing. That will make you infinitely unhappy in the end.  

Learn the Different Types of Running Shoes

We’ll talk shortly about how the surfaces you run on can impact which type of running shoe you get, but so can your running style. What do we mean by that?

Whether you’re a casual, long-distance, or performance runner usually requires different types of shoes. Here’s an overview. 

Casual Running Shoes

As a beginner, you might start with a pair of casual running shoes. You’re not necessarily losing out on necessities such as padding, support, and cushioning, but these aren’t the most durable running shoes by far. Since they’re not meant to last forever, you can typically pick up a pair of casual running shoes for a low price.

If you practice running several days of the week but not every single day, casual running shoes are for you. The same is true if you plan on participating in some smaller racing events, such as 5ks or even 10ks, but nothing more than that. 

Long-Distance Running Shoes

Once your practice runs begin going longer and longer, like 25 miles every week, then it’s time to think about retiring the casual running shoes. By this point, they’re probably falling apart anyway, because these shoes are certainly not designed to run miles upon miles every day.

When that time comes, you’ll want to upgrade to long-distance running shoes. These shoes can handle your 10-mile daily runs because they’re more durable, although they’re still not the most durable type of running shoe out there. In fact, you might notice your shoes begin wearing down around mile 300, but this is normal. The general life of a good pair of running shoes is up to 500 miles.

To keep your long-distance running shoes around for longer, you can always buy two pairs of the same type of shoe when you go shoe shopping. If you like the shoes that much, then purchase a second of the same pair. Otherwise, it’s okay if the shoe brand is totally different for the first pair, as long as the fit is right.

Performance Running Shoes 

As you prepare to compete in the big half-marathon or full marathon, then it’s time to once again rethink the running shoes you wear. At this point, performance running shoes with a lightweight profile are your best bet, as they can promote aerodynamics that will make running quickly feel easier. 

Ensure the Right Running Shoe Fit

As you begin your quest to find the right running shoes for you, you’ll come across a lot of terms that might confuse you. In this section, we’ll tell you everything you need to get a whole-foot fit.

Wear Patterns

Depending on your wear patterns, you might gravitate more towards one type of running shoe over another. Under-pronation or supination causes wear to occur at the small toes and the outer sides of your heels. Your feet get some shock impact when you step, but not the entirety of the impact, which leaves your body more prone to the effects of shock. You could develop bad knees, IT bands, and shins.

A neutral wear pattern means the wear is focused on the middle toes and the outer sides of your heels. You should buy running shoes that have some support, but not too much extra, as you get the full force of the impact as your feet hit the ground.

The third type of shoe wear pattern is overpronation. The big toe gets the brunt of the impact here, as does the outer side of your heels. Your feet actually roll with your current running shoes, which can cause pain in the ankles, hips, knees, and shins if not addressed through better-fitting running shoes.

Arch Support

Another area of fit when buying running shoes is the arch of your foot. Depending on how your foot arches, you’ll want differing levels of support. For instance, if you have a low arch, then your feet are more prone to rolling during your runs. This could lead to issues with the joints and muscles as you put stress on your feet and legs. Make sure your running shoes include motion control.

A medium arch is considered normal. Your feet can support the weight of your body, but you still want to ensure your running shoes feature a firmer midsole to boost support. The lasts, which are the sole shape, should be somewhat curved.

If you have high arches, then your muscles and joints are the most prone to stress and strain. You’re also lacking foot shock absorption, meaning your body is likely to be in a lot of pain. Your ideal running shoe should have a last that’s very curved as well as plenty of cushioning.

Instep

The instep isn’t a shoe feature, but rather, a gauge of how well your shoes fit all the way from your foot’s top to the arch at the bottom. The higher your arch, the more of an instep you need. Otherwise, your feet could become numb or at least chafe in your running shoes.

Heel Counter

Another word for heel fit is the heel counter. The counter describes the security of the fit of the running shoe at your ankles and heels. If your heels have too much room, your feet could pop right out of your shoes. Too little room at the heel will allow your feet to rub against the shoe, leaving you with painful blisters. 

The heel counter should be firm and unmoving if your running shoes fit properly.

Shoe Width and Length

How wide should your running shoes be? The sides should sit securely against either side of your foot. They shouldn’t be completely unyielding, as that can be painful, but the sides shouldn’t be too roomy or again you could fall right out of your shoes. 

If you need wider running shoes than average, you’ll have to do a bit more digging around at your favorite sports shoe store, but you can track them down. The same is true of narrower shoes.

As for the length of your running shoes, you need space in the toe box. The toe box is the front of your shoes. If your toes brush right up against the toe box, you’ll find the shoes are very uncomfortable to walk in, let alone run in. Too much space though is not good either.

Envision how wide your thumb is. Do you have about that much room in the toe box? Then you’re good. 

Shop for the Surfaces You Run on 

Depending on what kind of running you plan to do, the running shoe you need will vary. Shoe manufacturers make different types of running shoes for treadmill, trail, road, and everyday running. You can also buy lightweight running shoes.

Let’s talk about each type of running shoe now.

Treadmill Running Shoes

 Before you ever hit the pavement, you might practice stretching out both your stamina and endurance by running on a treadmill. Having treadmill access at either your home or the gym is convenient for those rainy or snowy days when practice running isn’t always possible. 

Since a treadmill can be hard on your feet, especially if you’re on it long enough, you must ensure your running shoe has lots of extra cushioning. Skip shoes with overly long laces (or reduce the lace length), as these can get caught in the treadmill. 

Trail Running Shoes

When you run on a trail, it’s typically a dirt path. Most trail running shoes feature a toughened upper as well as bottom lugs so you get plenty of grip, even if the dirt is dusty and loose. Traction is a must here, especially if the conditions are wet and muddy. 

Road Running Shoes

If you’d prefer to keep your runs to hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete, you’d switch to road running shoes. These shoes contain more than adequate cushioning, as each time your feet collide with the pavement, you’re creating impact that could hurt the rest of your body. 

Also, your road running shoes must be quite durable, especially the bottoms. Avoid softer sole materials like foam that can rip apart when you run on hard concrete trails day in and day out. 

Everyday Running Shoes

As the name implies, an everyday running shoe is very versatile. You can take these shoes on the treadmill, a path, or run in them down the street and they can handle it. Thus, everyday running shoes are also quite known for their durability. 

Lightweight Running Shoes

The fifth type of running shoe you might come across is the lightweight shoe. These sacrifice durability for a lighter, more comfortable fit. In the spring and summertime heat, lightweight running shoes are an especially favorable choice to control foot sweating. If you’re competing in a race and you want to reduce drag as much as possible, lightweight running shoes are the right choice for you. 

Final Thoughts

Picking the best pair of running shoes is about fit more than looks. You must also take into account the type of surfaces you run on and the distances you race. It’s also good to know more about your foot arches, how your feet sit flat on the ground, and the width and length of your feet so you can size your running shoes the right way.

Now that you have all this info handy, it’ll be much easier to buy the perfect running shoe. Best of luck!  

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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