Sometimes a runner’s biggest challenge isn’t finishing a race or sticking with a training plan. For many runners, the biggest challenge is finding the right shoe.
The perfect shoe doesn’t come in a “one size fits all” mold. Every runner is different, and the perfect shoe for one person won’t be the perfect shoe for another.
“Every person has unique biomechanics and that’s how you move,” said John Moloznik, the senior vice president of sales and marketing at Fleet Feet in Chicago.
A person’s biomechanics involve not only their feet, but all of the muscles, joints and bones that contribute to their movement. An understanding of your own biomechanics can greatly improve your athletic performance and reduce injury.
Although biomechanics extend beyond the feet, Moloznik says the feet are a good place to start. They can reveal a lot about how the rest of the body moves. In a sport like running, making sure your feet cooperate with your shoes is vital to overall running performance and health. Without a good fit, shoes can work against your body. A bad fit can cause injury to the shoulders and neck, strain in the muscles and misalignment of the body.
“A lot of times you can tell what’s happening to someone’s biomechanics by looking at their feet,” Moloznik said.
Ideally the right pair of shoes will help your knees align over your foot and your body to stabilize.
At Fleet Feet, shoe experts measure a person’s foot in the most neutral position – without weight. Then they measure their foot using a standard shoe to see how the foot impacts the ground. Understanding how your foot works is the first step in finding the right shoe.
The next step is to stay up to date. Moloznik says runners should buy a new pair of shoes after 350-400 miles.
Working out without a lot of foot movement, such as lifting weights, can also wear out a shoe. These kinds of workouts can deteriorate the cushion on the inside of the shoe.
“What you’re left with is kind of like a flat tire on a car,” Moloznik said.
For some, the perfect fit might be no fit at all. Barefoot running is becoming more and more common, and many of those who do it say it’s the best way to run.
Moloznik says that barefoot running is just fine, as long as you do it right. Running without shoes on asphalt or concrete can be damaging. Softer grounds, like golf courses, are much better.
If you’re planning on making the change from running shoes to no shoes, Moloznik advises against ditching the shoes completely right away. Instead, buy shoes that gradually decrease in heel drop – the distance between the height of the heel and the height of the toe. If you do it this way, you will slowly build the muscles in your foot and reduce your chance of injuring yourself.
Lastly, Moloznik suggests getting a new fitting every time you purchase a new pair of running shoes. The stronger you become, the more your gait changes. Even positive changes may change your foot enough to require a different fit.
Before you hit the course during race season in Chicago this year, make sure you’re not settling for anything less than the perfect shoe.