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Fit Foodie: How to Buy the Right Running Shoes

November 14-16 marks the next Fit Foodie 5k Race Weekend in San Diego, California. To get you ready for your next race, I’m tackling one of the most basic, but also important parts of running—shoes.

When the Nike Flyknit Racers came out in 2012, they promised to revolutionize the running shoe world. Built with as little material as possible, the Flyknits screamed speed—Time magazine even named them one of the best inventions of 2012. I impulsively ordered them online, cringing at the $150 price tag, but feeling confident that they would make me lightning fast. Unfortunately, this was not the case. During my next race, I experienced excruciating pain on the bottom of my feet after the first mile. Discouraged, I brought the shoes to a local running store. As it turned out, the Flyknits were by no means bad shoes, they were just not the best shoes for my feet.

The moral of this story? Instead of relying on fads and Internet articles, I should have gone to the professionals. To save you from running shoe woes, I talked to self-proclaimed "shoe geek" Jeff Martinez, manager of The Trak Shak running store in Birmingham, Alabama. Here’s what he had to say:

CL: Say you’re new to running—what types of shoes should you be considering or avoiding?

JM: All too often, beginners decide to start out with a cheap pair of shoes just in case, a few weeks down the road, they decide they don’t like running. That is a big mistake! Get fitted properly first and avoid choosing a shoe based off of color or looks.

CL: What about for the more experienced runner?

JM: Trust in the traditional running brands—Asics, Brooks, Saucony, Nike, New Balance, and Mizuno—and avoid fads, which can be difficult at times considering there seems to be a new one every few years. If you do want to try something new, seek the advice of a local running retailer first.

Getty Images; Blend Images/Jeremy Woodhouse

CL: Why is it so important to run in a shoe that fits you correctly?

JM: There are several reasons, but I think this one tops the list—consider that a runner takes anywhere from 1,200 to 2,000 steps per mile on concrete or asphalt surfaces and the impact created is four to five times the person’s body weight. In other words, your foot needs protection!

CL: What are some of the most common problems runners experience from poor-fitting shoes?

JM: Bunions, blisters, black toenails, ingrown toenails, calluses, hammer toe, and foot numbness just to name a few, and these are all caused by shoes that are too small.

CL: Zero-drop, minimalist, barefoot, energy-return—there are all sorts of shoes out there that claim to make you a faster, more efficient runner. Buzzwords set aside, what do you think matters most when it comes to buying running shoes?

JM: It’s all about the fit. There is nothing more important than making sure you are in the proper type and size of shoes for you!

CL: Over and underpronation—what’s the difference? How do they affect the type of running shoe you should wear?

JM: Pronation refers to the natural heel to toe motion of the foot while walking or running, the body’s form of shock absorption. Overpronation is the tendency for a hyper-flexible foot to roll inward or more toward the big toe, while underpronation is the tendency for a rigid foot to roll outward or more toward the little toe. Underpronaters need a neutral shoe with flexibility in the midfoot area, while overpronaters need a support or stability shoe with less flexibility.

Getty Images; Richard Newstead

CL: Many runners train in more than one shoe. Is there a benefit to this?

JM: There are two trains of thought for training in more than one pair of shoes—durability and injury prevention. Running shoe midsoles are made with foams similar to memory foams in that they will actually regain their “memory” if allowed to rest. So, if you can alternate shoes every other day or two, they will last longer. At the same time, changing up your shoes works different muscles in your feet and lower legs, helping to improve the overall strength in those areas.

CL: What shoe (or shoes!) are you running in right now?

JM: Wow! I like shoes. This could go on for a while—I just finished a training program for a marathon I recently ran. During the 20-week period, I ran in approximately a dozen pairs of shoes! My favorites were the Brooks Glycerin 12 for the days I was feeling especially beat up, the Nike Zoom Pegasus 31 for the majority of the easy miles and long runs, and the Nike Zoom Elite 7 for race day.

CL: What advice can you offer future running store customers?

JM: Come prepared to talk about your running or walking history, particularly if you’re having foot, lower leg, or injury issues. Forget the looks and color of the shoe and make your selection based on advice and comfort. Lastly, trust your running retail specialists!