Monday, March 11, 2013

Intel: What Brand of Shoes Do You Recommend?

Q: What brand of shoes do you recommend?

A: Oh my. If only you knew what a loaded question this is.

Here's the thing. It's not about the brand of shoes. Do some manufacturers make better quality shoes than others? Yes. But what's more important than how a shoe looks or holds up over time should be secondary considerations to finding a pair that's right for you. So, what's that mean and how do you do this?

First, here's what you shouldn't do. Do not walk into a shoe retailer and let them tell you what shoe you need. Chances are they're going to throw around words like pronate, supinate, cushioning and support. They may look at the soles of your current shoes to inspect tread wear, and they might even have you get up on a treadmill to watch you run. For decades these were commonly accepted methods for fitting people with running shoes. Problem is, there's little science to support the notion that how you run should determine what type of shoe you wear. You can thank the shoe companies for this, since most of their marketing and sales pitches are designed to get you to buy their products. Go figure.

So, what should you do? In my humble opinion, you'll need to become your own test subject. And it's going to take some time and patience. And you're going to have to take lots of notes. It's not enough to try on a pair of shoes in the store, walk (or run) around in them for 5-10 minutes and deem them "the ones." Sure, you might get lucky, but chances are you're going to need to run in them for at least 3-4 full-length workouts to get a true picture. But how can you do this when the retailer won't offer exchanges after you leave the store? Well, some (few) brick and mortar stores do provide this service. You'll need to ask this up front, and if they don't I'd take your business elsewhere. Is it an inconvenience? Yes. But your health is worth the investment.

Another option I strongly recommend is to order shoes online. You'll have to set aside your want for instant gratification, but I know of two sites that each accept returns for exchanges and refunds. Running Warehouse will do so for up to 90 days, and Road Runner Sports 60 days. I've shopped with them both extensively and can't say enough good things. They ship quickly, price their inventory competitively and have great customer service. The only drawback I can think of is the day or two it takes for them to show up on your doorstep. But when they do it's like Christmas!

As I said up front, this really is a loaded question. I've only touched on the overall approach I feel is best. I haven't even mentioned the laundry list of criteria that can affect how a shoe interacts with your foot. Things like stack height, medial post, arch height, mid sole, overlays, and lacing systems are just some of the attributes that can make or break a shoe for you. With an open mind and thoughtful experimentation you should, over time, be able to find the combination of factors that works best for you.

This post is one in series that addresses comments and questions I routinely hear from both new and non-runners. This series - posts will be tagged with the "Intel" label - is not intended to delve deep into running subjects, but simply to provide informative, concise responses that sometimes entertain. I am not an anatomy professorparticularly accomplished runner or legend of the sport. I'm just a guy that runs often, races frequently and enjoys sharing what he's learned. You can contribute topics by emailing me using the link on my Google+ Profile or by posting in the comments below.


  1. I like this idea for a series Drew - it will appeal to a lot of readers. And thanks for the kind mention. I think your points are spot on - frankly, every time I go to a shoe store now I come out with the wrong model. I have far better luck in relying on reviews from other runners I know and admire and, based on what I know about my own limitations and form challenges, finding the right shoes online.

    1. Thanks, Greg. I think there can be value in trying on shoes in store, but it takes a progressive management and sales staff to do more good than harm. There are more places like this cropping up, but until they're commonplace I think it's best to take responsibility for your own fitting.