Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Learning to Run, Step 2a: First Pair of Shoes.

This is important, OK?  So pay attention...  One of the most oft-repeated pieces of advice I received as I started running was that getting the right shoes would be an effort repaid a thousandfold.  And I can't fault it.

So here's my quick guide to getting your first pair:

Running shoes do a lot to help you but they come in many types.  The array is bewildering and the makers claims are a blend of real benefits and snake oil.  The right shoes will:
  • Fit your feet, not force your feet to adjust to them
  • Work with your running style, not against it
  • Protect your feet, not injure them
  • Provide the right amount of cushioning
Running shoes are technical things and selecting the right ones needs experienced advice so don't buy your first shoes from an ordinary shoe shop or on the web.  Go to a specialist store.  If you can't get to one, go to the running department of a sports store. 

If possible, go mid-week avoiding lunchtime and evening.  By going outside peak hours, you will be more likely to get the staff's time to make a good choice.  Oh, and wear the socks you will be running in.  You'll also need to be wearing clothes you can run a few paces in.  Not full running kit but trousers that let you move freely.  Maybe jogging pants or a track suit?

If things go as expected, you'll be asked (as a minimum) the following questions:
  • What size shoe do you take?
  • Where do you intend to run?  Road, trail, mixed?
  • What kind of distance do you aim to run per week?
  • How much do you weigh? (Maybe)
You should also be asked to take off your shoes and run a little so they can see how you move.  It is only at this point that they should begin to bring shoes to try.  You will probably be asked to run up and down in one or two pairs of these as well to assess the way your gait responds to the shoes.

If they try to sell you a pair of shoes on just a fitting, leave.  Go somewhere else.  If they don't ask you to run up and down at some point so they can see how you move, leave.  Really.

When you're seeing how the fit is, you need to keep the following in mind:
  • General fit should be a little on the loose side.
  • Reject anything that doesn't feel wide enough or is tight over the top of the foot.
  • Make sure there is plenty of room for your toes to move.
  • Check that the heel height is good for you.  Not going to rub (too high) or move around (too low).
The main reason for allowing some room in the shoe is that, as you run, your feet swell.  Most people gain a size when their feet are warmed up fully so don't buy shoes that feel like a perfect fit in the shop.  Go up a size.  Toe room is essential for longer distances especially if you like to end the day with the same number of toenails as you began it.

At this point, you should be presented with a few recommendations to choose from and you can pretty much go with the most comfortable or best feeling pair of the offering.

You may have noticed something missing from the usual process of choosing footwear.  You don't select by manufacturer, style, colour or (heaven help us) fashion.  Let the shop staff recommend and see what they bring.  If you end up with two or three pairs that all seem to be as good as each other, you can choose the one you like best.  My experience has been that there's usually a clear winner.  If the shoe of choice comes in a range of colours, go for it.  But this is absolutely the last thing to worry about.

Actually, this didn't really turn out to be a quick guide after all.  A good pair of shoes will be keeping you company wherever you run for between 500 and 1500km depending.  It's an important choice so make sure you let the experts help you make the right choice.  Me?  I go here...