Editor’s note: Original April 2011; updated Feb 2013, Dec 2017
Beep. Balance. Efficiency. Effort. Patience.
Beep — it starts with balance, and for a runner, that means the right shoe.
Your foot, depending on your arch type, will land flat or it will roll to the inside or outside. The roll is called pronation. Runners with high arches underpronate (also called supinate); runners with low arches (flat feet) overpronate. This affects wear on your shoes and can lead to injuries. So you want shoes that correct your tendencies and induce neutral motion.
The diagram sums it up. Your footprint will match one of the types below more closely, and you should get the type of shoes suited to your arch.
A specialty running store will have sales staff to assess your feet and put you in the right shoe. The chain athletic shoe stores more and more have pressure plates that will measure your motion as you walk, but you will want to do your homework if you’re not going to have that live expert you’d find in the specialty store.
Running shoes are meant to be ready to wear walking out of the store — no breaking in. If anything is the least bit off or uncomfortable in a few seconds walking in the showroom, consider how that will feel after 15-45 minutes of continued rubbing when you’re sweaty and stressed! Get new shoes at least every 500 miles — that’s about six months at 20 miles a week (and you should really start thinking about replacement after about 300 miles). The soles may not be worn out by then, but the gel/air/cushioning material will have been pounded into uselessness.
Fuller discussion of the topic is readily available on the Internet. A few good pages that I have visited (links verified Dec 2017):
http://www.sierratradingpost.com/lp2/shoe-guide.html#types — This is an excellent page with clear definitions, helpful diagrams and straightforward clinical explanations, with additional tips on shoe care and proper lacing techniques. (Yes, even the way you lace your shoes makes a difference when you’re running miles and miles!)
http://www.asicsamerica.com/sports/running/shoeFitGuide.aspx — Most of the major shoemakers offer similar pages that tell you how to pick the shoe suited to your foot, with selection tools to point you to those models in their inventory. Other brands include Nike, Saucony, New Balance (more products with additional widths than some others offer), Brooks, Mizuno.
Runner’s World shoefinder tool — The page helps you determine your shoe type and links to its shoe finder covering all the major brands. The magazine also presents a yearly buying guide with reviews of new shoe models, and the site is a great place for a broad range of articles and information on all things running, categorized for easy navigation and research.
http://www.womenrunarkansas.net/ also covers foot type and shoe selection. The Women Run Arkansas website notes that shops around the state offer WRA club members a discount. Other states and running clubs may have similar offerings. The right shoe can even reduce the pain in your pocketbook and make it easier to balance your checkbook!
Balance — that comes first. Beep.
Feel free to ask questions, demand fuller explanations or suggest topics.