A Professional Explains How to Select Running Shoes

Running Shoes
Buying the right shoes can prevent foot injuries. The main factor determining what a foot needs is the arch, which can be high, regular or flat. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki/II Marine Expeditionary Force)

Every time I speak with an expert or professional, I like to ask them a few basic questions. When I go to my dentist, I ask him what toothbrush and toothpaste he uses. When I meet professional or college athletes, I ask them questions about their training regimens or what gear they prefer.

This week, I talked to a Navy classmate and veteran who ran track in college (Navy '91) and still runs in her 50s. Marty Shue Broerman and her husband, Scott, own a running shoe and gear store called Fleet Feet in Annapolis, Maryland.

Naturally, I had to ask her what she was wearing on her feet. Here are her answers to several questions you should consider when buying running shoes.

Marty, what running shoes do you use now, and how has that changed since you were running competitively in college?

"I tend to change my shoes every few years or so as the shoemakers will make subtle changes to the shoes that may or may not work like they did in prior years. My shoe of choice now is the Brooks Glycerin."

This explains a lot. I have spent decades finding shoes that work well for me, only to eventually "grow out" of them as the shoe changes annually.

I have also found different terrains might require different types of shoes. I like Hoka on paved hills and for longer distances, but not on trails where a pair of military style boots or zero drop (Xero Shoes) shoes work well for me.

I am wearing On Cloud shoes for this current running cycle and like them for medium distance and goal-pace running.

What do you recommend for a runner who weighs more than 200 pounds?

"It still depends on the running style of the person, but bigger runners typically need more cushion and may or may not need a stability shoe. Hoka brand offers extra cushion, but the runner may also feel like it is too much cushion and can handle less cushion, but maybe add in support insoles like Superfeet, either as over-the-counter or custom versions."

As a heavier runner, this makes sense. Thicker soles and supportive insoles have been helpful with warding off typical overuse injuries such as Achilles' tendon tightness, plantar fasciitis and knee tendinitis over the years and decades of regular running.

Any advice for military timed runs?

"For military members who do not run often and must pass a test every six months, it is best to get a pair of new running shoes 3-4 weeks prior to testing day. Practice with goal-pace running and basic conditioning so you can achieve the time you need. This takes some time and progressing from not running fast or at all."

Nice, goal-paced running has been helpful for me and how I coach as well.

How does a gait analysis determine what type of shoe someone should purchase?

"A trained eye can notice if someone over-pronates or over-supinates. Over-pronation [ankle bends inward] requires a supportive shoe and/or inserts to make the correction. The over-supination [ankle bends outward] can also be corrected with similarly supportive shoes and/or inserts."

"The FIT ID 3D Foot Scanner and the TrackPad we use in the store offer an even more in-depth analysis of gait, pressure points of the feet at impact, pronate/supinate/neutral and arch height [high arch or flat feet]. This information is then used to determine what type of shoe is best for you [and] if you need an insert or a more customized insert, as some feet have different dimensions, angles, arch height, etc."

Of course, there are a wide variety of gait analysis softwares used by shoe stores. The technology has become fairly commonplace, and even your local, non-chain store likely has a system available. If gait analysis isn’t available, old-school shoe experts can likely do a manual assessment and help you pick a shoe type for best fit. The key is to get the proper support and not just buy the shoe in the color you like the most.

What style of running do you recommend, or does it have a name (Chi, POSE, barefoot/minimalist)?

"I am not a fan of any one style of running. The goal is to find an efficient running style that allows a smooth transition from step to step. Unfortunately, many people who make changes to their stride or shoe options after reading about a different style or type of shoe often injure themselves in the process. Unless you are running loud (and can hear your feet hit) find a stride that works best for you."

Thanks so much for this helpful information regarding running shoes and the differences between the hundreds of choices we have as consumers. As you can see, there is not a "one size fits all" answer when it comes to the selection of running shoes. You do get what you pay for, so before you buy a pair of shoes online, get your gait analyzed and your feet scanned to narrow down the overwhelming options to what fits you the best.

One of the most important reasons to have a good pair of shoes for any level of runner is because how you run and what you wear when you run can be the determining factor in whether you get injured. As you progress to a higher number of miles per week or if you are preparing for future military training where running is a major part of the conditioning, what you train in now can make the difference in your success or failure. Find a FIT ID 3D Foot Scanner near you or check your local running store.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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