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Selecting and Fitting a Running Shoe

by Stephen M. Pribut, DPM

Running shoes are key equipment for most of us participating in the sport of running. There are several factors that should be considered when you are looking for a new running shoe, but you must always keep in mind that fit comes first. A shoe must fit the shape and design of your foot before you can wear it comfortably or use if for your sport. Below, we'll take a look at fit and function.

Factors To Consider When Selecting A Shoe

  • Past experience with shoes
  • Current problems
  • Biomechanical needs
  • Running and racing requirements
  • Environmental factors

If you have been having no problems in running or racing, it would be hard to recommend a change of shoe. It is difficult, if not impossible to improve upon a situation in which all is going great. I would advise getting a few pairs of what seem to be your favorite shoes before the manufacturer changes the shoe. Historically, unannounced changes are often made by manufacturers. This can vary from a subtle change in the cushioning around the heel to a major structural midsole change. At times, manufacturers have discontinued a model of shoe, only to resume production a few years later with a line of shoes boasting the same name, but with completely different characteristics. On other occasions, a "classical" shoe reappears, but one is never sure of the relationship between the "classic" shoe and the original.

A good way to find information about running shoes is to locate a good specialty running shoe store with a good reputation in your local running community. The personnel there will usually be able to help you with both fit and analysis of the desired shoe characteristics for your foot type and be able to make accommodations for custom orthotics or Over the counter inserts if you use them. They can also alert you to changes that may occur in the manufacturing of your favorite shoe. If the soles of your shoes have been wearing too quickly they might recommend another model with better wearing soles made of a different sole design using alternative soling materials at key areas. All to often, you have likely worn your current shoe for too long. Failing to replace worn shoes is a major cause of running injuries. Estimates vary, as do individuals, as to when is the best time to replace your running shoes. The usual estimates place the mileage at somewhere between 350 and 500 miles. This means that many individuals should be replacing their shoes before they show major wear. In spite of the lack of wear the shoe will be gradually losing its shock absorption capacity as well as possibly starting to loose some of its stability.

Check Out Your Old Shoes

Examine the soles of your shoes. Note where wear has occurred. Most people seem to be amazed that their shoes wear at the rear outer corner. Most rearfoot strikers will wear at this part of the shoe. The reason for this, which someday, somewhere a funded study will prove, is that for most heel strikers it is the point of first contact of the shoe with the ground. Most people walk and run with their feet slightly rotated from center. Runners, however, also have what is called a narrow base of gait. A narrow

base of gait means that the feet contact close to the midline of your body. This creates additional varus (tilting in) of the limb. This results, for the rearfoot striker, in the first point hitting the ground being the outer corner of your shoe. Forefoot wear may point to an individual who is a sprinter, runs fast, contacts the ground with the forefoot first or all of the above. Uneven forefoot wear may show where one metatarsal is plantar flexed relative to the others or where one metatarsal may be longer than the others. In the presence of significant forefoot wear, you are at risk of stress fractures.

“...Failing to replace worn shoes is a major cause of running injuries...”

Next put your shoes on the table and look from the back of the shoe to the heel. If your the counter of your shoe is tilted in or bulges over the inner part of your shoe, you might be one who excessively pronates. If this is so, you may want to look for a shoe with more stability or replace your shoe a bit sooner next time.

If your shoe tilts to the outside, you may have a high arched foot. This in some cases can lead to ankle sprains and also increased transmission of forces to the leg and back. Sometimes individuals with this type of foot may have lateral knee pain, low back pain and outer leg pain. It will probably be important to make sure that your shoe has a fair amount of shock absorption and is not excessively controlling.

Looking at the top of your shoe, you should note if you can see the outline of your toes in the upper or either your large or small toe on either side. If you do and have discomfort in these areas or have had "black toe" you should consider wider or longer shoes or both wider and longer

If you have a flexible and pronated foot, you might do better with a board lasted shoe. But looking for a good counter and a sole that is rigid until the point where your toes attach is an easier empirical way to find a good shoe. This offers resistance to torsion and inhibits pronation. Slip lasted shoes are frequently good for high arched feet. Combination lasted shoes are supposed to offer the best of both worlds: stability in the rearfoot and flexibility in the forefoot.

Trying On The Shoe

Go to a running shoe store that has a good reputation. Make sure you try on both shoes. Most good stores will allow you to run up and down the block, outside a few times. This is the only way to experience what running will feel like. You should also keep the shoe on your foot for about 10 minutes to make sure that it remains comfortable. Make sure that nothing pinches and that you like the feel of the shoe and your stride.

Once you have purchased a new and comfortable shoe, don't put them to the test with a 12 mile long run or decide it is time for 7 miles of speed work around a track. Probably an easy 3 mile run will be sufficient. Run easily in the shoe and for only a short distance during the first 100 miles you spend in the shoe. Do not ever wear a brand new shoe in a marathon. You'll be doomed to sore feet, blisters and perhaps worse. It is amazing how many people make this mistake every year, no matter how many times this simple fact is stated. Just don't do it!

After your careful and wise selection of your brand new running shoe. Bring it home, put it on and enjoy your run! Don't forget to stop and change your shoe, before you've gone too far though.


Shoe Wearing & Buying Tips

  • A shoe's midsole only lasts so long. It degrades from use and the resultant useful life of a running shoe is 350 to 550 miles. This means that if you are running 20 miles a week, you should consider changing by approximately weeks 20 to 25. The shoe may still serve a useful purpose; casual wear for walking. Replace the initial sock liner fairly quickly, it is likely designed to be comfortable and cushy when you first wear it. After that it loses shock absorption capacity quickly.
  • Sole wear does not necessarily reflect the loss of shock absorption by a shoe. Even with a new looking shoe, adequate shock absorption may be lacking. Use the 350 to 550 mile guideline instead of trying to guess how worn your shoe should look.
  • Length:
    • Make sure there is about a finger's width at the front of the shoe. This will help prevent runner's (black) toe. The shape and depth of the front of the shoe also have an effect on this problem.
    • Buy your shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are somewhat larger from the day's walking.
  • Width:
    • The widest part of the shoe should be at the widest part of your foot.
  • If you have had no problems while running in a shoe, you should probably try to obtain another pair of the same make and model.
  • Don't even dream of running a marathon in a new pair of shoes. Your shoe should have at least 100 miles on it to be broken in well enough to run a marathon.
  • Lacing:
    • Make sure you carefully lace your shoe before running. Too tight a shoe may make parts of the top of your foot sore or squeeze your metatarsals too tightly. Too lose a shoe may make your foot move excessively and be less stable, resulting in more than normal pronation.

Shoe Wear - What Can It Tell You?

Shoe wear is often taken to hold much meaning. So also, might be the reading of tea leaves, or the casting of yarrow sticks, to determine what Trigrams will be present in the current reading of the I Ching. While it may tell you much, there is much ambiguity present also. While some would disagree, I would rather examine a foot and watch your gait. It will tell me more about how your shoes will wear, than examining your shoes will tell you about either your feet or your gait. With that said, I'll describe some things you may learn from looking at shoe wear. One of the things to look for is asymmetry in wear. This will reflect asymmetry of function. There may be a leg length difference, one foot may pronate more than the other, muscles may be tighter or weaker on one side, or a rotational deformity may be present.

Sole Wear

Outer Heel - Rearfoot striker. The point of initial contact with the ground is usually the place showing the most wear. This could be normal wear. Most people have wear here. This can occur with a slight outtoe and the increase in the varus foot position that occurs in running because of the narrower base of gait (the distance from the midline that the foot strikes the ground).

Inner Heel Rearfoot striker. Possibly intoe gait, which would make this area the initial point of contact with the ground. Could also be severe pronation, if the heel counter is bent inward and the medial part of much of the sole shoes wear. The best way to tell is really looking at the foot in addition to the shoe.

Forefoot Wear
Much forefoot wear and little heel wear, usually indicates forefoot strike, which the shoes of many faster short and middle distance runner's will show. Uneven wear, or wear below a second or third metatarsal area may indicate a Morton's foot (short first metatarsal) and excess pronation. The indicated metatarsal may be at higher risk for a stress fracture. Middle of the Sole
Lateral sole wear in general, may reflect a high arch, excessively supinating foot. Medial sole wear, with a bent counter and a medial shift of the upper, probably indicates severe excessive pronation.

Heel Counter

The heel counter may be bent inward with excessive pronation and tilted to the outside by a high arched foot.


The upper may likewise tilt inward with a hyperpronating foot and tilt outward with a supinated (under pronating) foot. It may exhibit holes by the toes, or by the big toe alone. This means it may be too shallow or too short at the front of the foot. There should be a fingers width at the front of the shoe in front of the toes. If the toes make a big bump in the shoe less than 1/2 inch from the tip of the shoe, the shoe is probably too short.

Oversimplified Guide to Shoes

Low Arch Needs much support. Stable shoe needed with good rearfoot control.

High Arch Needs more shock absorption. Better with a narrower heel A wide heel may make the rearfoot, which in a high arched foot, may be restricted in inversion and eversion, move too much and too fast at heel contact.

Normal Foot Whatever you've been doing, keep doing. Probably best with a combination of control and shock absorption.

Post Stress Fracture Don't forget to change your shoes frequently (350 to 400 miles) and get a shoe with adequate shock absorption.

Achilles Tendinitis See above discussion. Avoid air soles and excessively spongy heels. Use a heel lift. Avoid shoes that are too stiff in the sole. It should bend where the toes attach to the foot.

Tips On Selecting An Athletic Shoe

1. Sport Specific Shoe. Plan to select a shoe specific for the sport in which you will participate. While some have suggested that if you participate in a sport more than 3 hours per week, a better suggestion is to always make sure that you use a sport specific shoe. It would not be a good idea to play soccer in tennis shoes or to jog in football cleats? Get a sports specific shoe for each sport you participate in.

2. Specialty Shoe Store. It is best to use a store that specializes in athletic shoes and has a good reputation in your community. If you are a runner, make certain to ask local runners clubs and runners that you know where they recommend you purchase your shoes. You might also call the office of a local sports podiatrist for suggestions.

3. Bring Useful information to the store. What injuries have you had in the past and what if anything is your current problem? Bring your old shoes in to the store. Which shoes have been successfully used in the past and which ones caused problems? What is your general foot type and foot shape? How have previous shoe models worn?

4. Have Your Feet Measured Each Time You Purchase Shoes. As you age, you'll find that your foot size may gradually change also. Each manufacturer often changes where their shoes are made and the last that the shoe is made will vary from one manufacturer to another. The measurements should include sitting, standing and heel to toe, heel to ball and width.

In spite of obtaining a number from the Brannock measuring device, you'll still have to actually fit the shoe to your foot. The measurement itself is only a general guide.

5. Wear Socks You Plan To Use And Don't Forget Your Orthotics. If you wear an insert, an orthotic or an orthotic with a flat insert underneath it, bring these along to the shoe store. And be sure to wear the same type of sock when you are fitted for your shoe as you will wear when participating in your sport.

6. You need a fingers width between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. The shoe should be fit with your index fingers width between the longest toe and the end of the shoe. The toe box should have adequate room for your toes. The shoe should bend at the ball of your foot where your toes actually bend. If the heel to ball fit is off, then the break of the shoe will not match your foot and abnormal forces will develop in your foot and in the shoe. The heel should be stable and not move in and out of the shoe. Wear the shoe for at least 10 minutes in the store, and if allowed do a brief short jog outside of the store to see how it feels.

7. Check the shoe for defects. Examine the exterior of the shoe for tears, improper stitching and other blemishes and defects. Place the shoes on a level counter and make sure the shoes line up evenly, stable, that the heel is straight, and there are no obvious defects.

8. Check the wear of your shoes regularly. Make sure you examine and replace your shoes regularly. Most running shoes last for between 350 miles and 500 miles of running. Checking and changing your shoes is one of the best ways to avoid the doctor's office. With a careful training schedule that avoids over training and doing too much, too soon, too quickly and too often, you can reduce your risk of injury markedly. Be sure to check all aspects of your shoe for wear. Make sure the outsole is not worn through. Make sure that the heel counter is not tilted in or out. Check for holes worn by the pressure of your toes.

9. Don't wear a new shoe in a race. When you go off to run a marathon, bring your old friends along. Wear shoes and socks that you've broken in thoroughly.

10. Select appropriate socks. Cotton socks are available everywhere, but are not often appropriate for your sports activity. The best sock is often one made of synthetic fibers that wick moisture away from your feet.


Watch Out For Shoes That May Contribute To Your Foot and Leg Injuries

Achilles Tendonitis Shoes that have inflexible soles cause the calf muscles to work harder and can contribute to the development of achilles tendonitis. The mechanical reason for this is that the looking at the shoe and leg as a fulcrum and lever system, they make the lever arm function over a longer distance and make the tip of the shoe the location of the fulcrum. The shoe should flex at the point where the toes join the foot, which also happens to be the widest part of the shoe. The shoe should also have a slight heel lift, which most running shoes do.

Shoes that have too much heel cushioning, including some of the more flexible cushioned models can also contribute to achilles tendonitis. After the heel strikes the ground, it continues moving, as the shoe's cushioning continues to absorbs shock. This continued motion can stretch a susceptible achilles tendon excessively.

Plantar Fasciitis Shoes that are too flexible in the midsole or that flex before the point at which the toes join the foot result in forces that can both directly cause a stretch in the plantar fascia and contribute to excess pronation in the foot (subtalar joint). The lack of stability that exists in a shoe with this characteristic occurs not just at the transverse plane of the shoe where the shoe actually flexes, but also in a longitudinal plane, reducing the effectiveness of the shoe in controlling pronation.

Basic Definitions

  • Last (two different entities are referred to by this term)
    • The template or model upon which the shoe is built. Different manufacturers use different lasts.
    • The shape of a shoe's design:
      • Straight last
      • Curved last
      • Semi-Curved Last
    • The method of construction:
      • Board lasted
        • Uses a board to attach upper and lower elements
      • Slip lasted
        • Upper sewn directly to the sole. Stitching often visible.
      • Combination lasted
        • Board lasted rearfoot, Slip lasted forefoot.
  • Outer-Sole:
    • The outermost part of the sole, which is treaded. On running shoes the tread is designed for straight ahead motion. Court shoes and cross trainers have their tread optimized for lateral or side-to-side stability.
  • Upper
    • Uppermost part of the shoe. Encompasses your foot and has laces.
  • Midsole
    • The part of the shoe between the outer sole and the upper. The major contribution of this layer is shock absorption. It is most often desirable that the shoe exhibit flexion stability to the point at which the toes bend.
  • Sockliner
    • The liner inside the shoe which often has a combination of cushioning features and some contour to fill the space between your foot and the shoe.
  • Heel Counter
    • A supportive structure at the back of the heel, often rigid, provides some support. Some shoes are constructed with an "extended" counter.

Other Sources of Running Shoe Information

Commercial Shoe Pages


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