In order to determine your own "best shoe" you need to consider the three F's of shoe buying: "Function," "Fit" and "Feel." Function means picking a shoe that is designed to best suit your foot's natural motion as determined by your body's biomechanics and weight. "Fit" is making sure you are wearing the correct size, an easy, yet often misguided part of shoe buying. Finally, "feel" is the most personal part of the decision. It involves selecting the most comfortable shoe based on your individual preferences.
First, let's examine function. Running shoes can be grouped into three categories: neutral, stability, or motion control. A neutral shoe is worn by people who "supinate" or walk on the middle to outside portion of their feet. It offers superior shock protection in specific areas of the shoe where supinators need it most. Pick a neutral shoe if your soles are worn on the outer edge.
Stability shoes are for mild "over-pronators." Pronation is the rolling inward of the foot after it strikes the ground. Some pronation is healthy, but over-pronation occurs when the foot rolls too far. It can cause many injuries including shin splints and stress fractures. To combat over-pronation, stability shoes have a dense material called a "post" built into the medial (or inside) part of the shoe. This keeps the foot properly aligned after it strikes the ground. For people who over-pronate severely, a stability shoe might not have enough correction in it. Instead, they need to turn to a "motion control" shoe, which is heavily posted, and essentially a heartier version of a stability shoe. People in this category often are flatfooted and need significant medial support. A podiatrist or running specialty store can analyze the motion of your foot and help you decide which of these categories is best for you.
The final part of function to consider is body weight. Men who weigh more than 180 pounds or women over 150 pounds should consider buying an extra cushioned shoe. Each step taken while running puts a stress equal to 3.5 times your body weight on your legs, therefore heavier runners need more protection. Shoe companies make regular and extra cushioned models in all three shoe categories. You can find out which models have appropriate cushioning by reading the specifications on each brand's website or asking a staff member at your local running store.
Once you have determined what models will function correctly, you need to evaluate the "fit" of each shoe. The most common mistake people make when selecting a pair of shoes is picking the wrong size. The foot swells during exercise, and it is important to allow room for this when purchasing a new pair of shoes. The size should be long enough that you have the equivalent to roughly the width of a thumbnail between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Do not be surprised if you need to wear a half to full size bigger in your running shoe versus your dress shoe. The width should allow for your toes to spread, but not let your foot slide around. A specialty running store will carry special widths for especially wide or narrow feet.
Finally, and arguably the most important part of the shoe selection process is "feel." The shoe has to be comfortable on your feet. Try on shoes by a few different brands and compare them. Pick based on comfort, not style. Like a mattress or pillow, decide if you like them soft or firm. Compare the weight. A good running shoe store will even let you try the shoes out before you buy them, by letting your run in them a bit on the sidewalk in front of the store or on a treadmill.
Now that you have chosen a shoe, you need to make sure you take care of them. Shoes typically last 300-500 miles or one year before they should be replaced, whichever comes first. Chart your mileage, or make a good estimate based on your average weekly runs so you know how many miles you have ran in them. Remember to wear these shoes only for running. Follow these simple guidelines and be confident in knowing that you have chosen a pair of trainers that will keep you comfortable and injury-free.
Brendan Barrett owns the "Sayville Running Company" in West Sayville, NY. Learn more about foot analysis at www.SayvilleRunningCompany.com. Put your shoes to use in the Sayville Summer Series. See: www.SayvilleSummerSeries.com.