There are only a few things that you need to run, the most important of those things are running shoes.
The running shoe that you choose will have a real impact on the way that you run and could be the difference between feeling like your going to die feeling like you might actually like this "running" thing.
That's because every time you run a mile you take about 1,200-1,600 steps in those shoes. You multiply that by 10-15 miles a week and you're looking at 12,000-24,000 steps a week in those running shoes!!
And this is why you should put some thought and research into buying your running shoes...
So, with about 124 billion running shoes to choose from, how could you possibly choose the best pair!? Well, with a little understanding of how shoes work and how you run, you can start to narrow it down to the kinds of shoes that will work best for you. So...
Let's get into it!
First, let's address the elephant in the room...why are running shoes so damn expensive?!
You may not have been paying attention to the price of running shoes over the past decade but I have, and just like coffee and tuition...they are getting more expensive!
A newly released running shoe will generally hit the stores between $120-150. A year or two later that price will generally come down to $90-120 and if that shoe isn't doing well it might get down into the $70's.
These price tags might come as a shock to new runners who thought they could buy the $35 Fila's from their local department store and start crushing marathons!
When I bought my first pair of good running shoes I specifically remember feeling sick to my stomach. As a grad student who was literally struggling to pay for groceries I had saved up enough to buy a pair of Altra Torin's (I think they were the 1.5's). They were about $110. I knew I had made a mistake when I had to survive on the clearance rack bread from WalMart for a few weeks after that.
But I made those shoes last almost 18 months and I've been wearing Altra Torin's (among other shoes) ever since.
The point is, it sucks laying down big bucks for some running shoes, but your body will thank you later.
In this article we'll also talk about how you can find good running shoes on the cheap!
So, what makes expensive running shoes better than cheap running shoes?
Well, I'll start off by saying, expensive does not always mean better! You might be able to find a killer pair of shoes for $50 on clearance somewhere that will perform better than a $150 pair that you buy at some boutique running store.
But I think the general rule of thumb, especially if you stick to the performance-specific shoe companies, is that if you're paying more, you're getting more.
There are a few reasons why expensive running shoes are expensive...the type of material they use, the quality of those materials, the research that goes into running, and the time and money sunk into designing the shoes.
With a cheap running shoe the manufacturer won't put much thought into the type of material used, they'll just use the cheapest thing possible regardless of whether or not it's appropriate for a running shoe. They will also forego all of the research and testing that a good shoe goes through. Does it cause blisters? Who cares! Lastly, the design will be pretty much the same for all of their shoes regardless of whether it's meant to be a running, walking, casual or dress shoe.
With a high end running shoe, the cost of the shoe might represent 20% materials and labor and 80% research and testing.
Most of these premium shoes have gone through dozens of iterations before they create a shoe that is ready to be released to the public. Companies have come up with proprietary technology, new lacing systems, new materials, and new ways to support runners with irregularities in stride or foot shape.
Yes, it's always going to suck spending $100+ on shoes...but I think it helps when you know why you're having to eat stale bread for a few weeks...but maybe that's just me.
What should you pay attention to when buying running shoes?
If you've ever looked for shoes online you've probably seen the absurd amount of information listed about them. Believe it or not, this is a good thing! The more information, the better. But, if you don't know what you're looking at, it is super overwhelming!
So in this section we're going to talk about some of the most common terms you'll see when researching running shoes...
Uppers - This just means the top of the shoe. The part of the shoe that actually wraps around the top of your foot. These are generally made of a mesh or "knit" material designed to be light, ventilated, and comfortable.
Insoles - You might know what these are because you've seen them sold separately from shoes (think Dr. Scholl's). This is the thin layer of material that your foot actually touches and can generally be removed from the shoe. It should provide some level of support for your foot.
Midsoles - This is the section of the shoe that makes up the bulk of the "sole" in a running shoe. When you look at the side profile of a shoe it is the thick "cushion" that will squish under each stride. These vary greatly in thickness. Minimalist shoes have very thin midsoles, maximalist shoes have very thick midsoles.
Outsoles - This is the very bottom of the shoe, the part that actually touches the ground. When you think about the lugs or traction of a shoe, that is technically called the outsole. These vary greatly depending on whether the shoe is designed for road running versus trail running.
Lacing system - Just as it sounds, these are all of the components of the shoe that allow it to be tied including the eyelets, portions of the tongue, and the laces themselves.
Tongue - This is the part of the shoe that sits between the laces and the top of your foot. Some are heavily cushioned so you don't feel any pinching or rubbing from the laces. An "integrated" tongue means the sides of the tongue are actually attached the rest of the "upper" in order to create a more comfortable fit or to keep out dirt, debris, or water.
Stack height - This number tells you how tall the sole of the shoe is; the distance between the bottom of your foot and the ground. A maximalist shoe will have a much greater stack height than a minimalist shoe. This can be important because a greater stack height tends to be less stable than a shorter stack height. People who frequently rolls their ankles might pay more attention to this number. A highly cushioned shoe might have a stack height between 28-35mm. A less cushioned shoe might have a stack height between 16-24mm.
Offest or Drop - This refers to the difference between the height of the heel and forefoot of the shoe. Most shoes have a heel that is higher than forefoot. For example, if a shoe has a 10mm offset that means the heel sits 10mm higher off the ground than the forefoot. Remember this is a relative measurement; 10mm drop doesn't mean your foot is 10mm off the ground, it means the heel is 10mm HIGHER than the forefoot. Stack height will tell you how high off the ground your foot is.
Suggestions for buying your first pair of running shoes!
Alright, now we get into my personal opinions on buying your first pair of fresh new kicks.
Suggestion #1 - Buy your first pair of running shoes from a real running store
Don't go to Dicks. Don't go to Macy's. Don't go to some other department store. Yes, they probably have some good running shoes...but that's not why you're going to the running store. You're going to your local running store because the employees there live and breath running. (Shout out to my local Runners Alley, check them out if you're in New Hampshire!)
One of the shoe experts there will generally watch you run a short distance to analyze your stride and make shoe suggestions based on your foot strike, how you pronate, and your running form. They may also have a special machine that can assess your arch and any pressure points you have on your foot.
You can ask them a million questions about running shoes and they'll be able to answer them. You can learn about local running groups. You can check out all the other running gear that you had no idea existed (NipGaurds, they're real). And, you can figure out your size in a bunch of different brands so that you can shop online with confidence when the time comes!
Another benefit of buying locally is that the return or exchange of shoes will be easier in most cases. Almost every running store has a great return and exchange policy, which is important for beginner runners. As many shoes as you try on at the shop you just might end up hating the ones you buy. If you're buying local you should be able to pop in, exchange them for another pair and start running the same day...no waiting a week for shipping.
You're going to pay more for your shoes at a local shop, I promise. But for your first pair of running shoes, it will be worth it.
Suggestion #2 - Don't go minimalist or maximalist with your first pair of shoes
In case you don't know, minimalist shoes are those that try to get as close to "barefoot" running as possible. They have super thin soles. Maximalist shoes are the exact opposite; they have massive soles and were originally designed for people with injuries or joint pain, but now lots of people wear them.
Both styles of shoes have benefits, but they also have drawbacks. The main drawback of a minimalist shoe is that it doesn't have much cushion or support so your feet can get really beat up from running. The main benefit is that you can feel the ground really well which results in fewer acute injuries like rolled ankles, as well as less stress on your joints because you don't have such a heavy foot strike (because it would just hurt your foot too much!)
The main drawback to a maximalist shoe is that because you have so much cushion under your foot you tend to land harder which can lead to joint pain and damage. The benefit of all that cushion is that it makes running much easier on your feet.
As a beginner, you don't want to fall in either camp just yet. My advice is to find a shoe that you like that has a moderate amount of cushion. This will allow you to feel the ground well enough to improve your form, but provide enough cushion to allow you to go on longer runs without beating the hell out of your feet.
Suggestion #3 - Don't endure foot pain or other physical discomfort
Pain in your muscles is normal when running. Pain in your feet, ankles, knees, or back is not. Often times new runners push through pain because they think it's just a part of running. The reality is, if you're having pain in your toes, your heel, your arch, your achilles, or the balls of your feet, your shoes could be the problem!
Remember, you're going to be sore from running...your calves will probably be aching and you'll be holding back tears while going up stairs. But it's important to identify what is muscle pain and what is tendon/ligament/joint pain. If you are experiencing muscle pain...welcome to the club! If it's something else, you should stop running and find out what the issue is.
Yes, there is usually a short break-in period with shoes but this process usually causes some blisters bruised toenails, not serious joint pain. If you're experiencing real pain or discomfort, especially in your feet or joints, talk to other runners, talk to the employees at your local running store or talk to your doctor!
Suggestion #4 - If you find a pair of shoes you love, buy a few pairs
We're about to talk about the best kept secret in running...it's ok to buy old and ugly shoes!
I know, it's some taboo stuff we're talking about here.
Just like cars, there are new pairs of shoes released each year with new tech., less weight, and just all kinds of amazing improvements compared to their predecessors. Only...not really.
Most of those improvements are fluff, most of the new tech. is just re-named old tech. and the 20 grams of weight savings doesn't compare to the 20 pounds of body weight we need to lose!
Buying older versions of shoes is just damn smart if you ask me. You're buying really good shoes at a fraction of the cost as the new releases.
Another reason you'll find really good shoes for really cheap...ugly colors.
Hey, I get it...you gotta look good to play good. But if I can find shoes for 25% less because they are bright green, yeah, I'm buying 'em!
You'll see this all over the web. The black shoes are $120, the puke-green shoes are $89. Obviously it's up to you on how stylish you want to be in your new kicks, but I'll be saving my money for another pair!
Oh right, so back to my suggestion... The problem with these cheaper shoes is that because they are either older or uglier, they are not being re-stocked. This means those cheaper shoes that you love will be impossible to find in a few months.
Buy a few pairs now and alternate which pair you wear when running. This will not only save you money in the long run, but it is also beneficial for your feet...let me explain...
After you run, the foam midsole in your shoe gets compressed from all the pounding. By alternating which shoes you wear for each run you give your shoes more time to rebound, or for the foam to expand back to it's original shape. Any elite runner will be using several pairs of shoes at a time for this reason.
With these suggestions in mind, I've compiled a list of some shoes that I think are well-suited for beginner runners. Because these deals come and go (for reasons I talked about above) it might be more effective to just search online for these shoes to find the cheapest prices at the time. I'll try to link to the best deal I can find, but I can't guarantee it'll still be there when you're reading this!
(Amazon Affiliate links may be used in this article. As an Amazon Associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. This will not change how much you pay.)
Are you a new runner? Have any questions running questions you'd like answered? Ask them below in the and I'll be happy answer!
As always thank you so much for reading!
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