5 Ways to Tell if a Running Shoe is a Good Match for You

SU12KR1066_1How do you know when a running shoe is right for you? I’ve often contemplated this question, and for me at least, I can usually tell after a single run if a shoe is going to work out for me. In this post I’ll try to articulate what it is that makes me know that a shoe is going to be a good match for my body.

This week I’ve gone for first runs in two new pairs of shoes. First was the On Running Cloudracer. On is a new company from Switzerland that makes shoes with unique “shock-absorbing pods” on the outsole. It’s an interesting concept, and the shoes are decent, but for some reason they just haven’t clicked for me. There’s nothing particularly wrong with them – they fit fine, they’re comfortable, and they feel reasonably well-cushioned – they just lack that magic something that makes me want to pull them out when it’s time to head out the door (I’ve now run in them three times, and still feel the same about them – review coming soon).

Contrast that with the shoes I wore today. I can’t reveal what they are since they are pre-production wear-test samples (I’m on an NDA), but I knew the moment I put them on that they were going to be fantastic. Perfect fit, crazy comfortable, and the sole cushioning was just right. Took them out for 4.5 miles on the trails behind my house, and am now in love.

So what is it that lets me know that a shoe like the one I wore today is the right one? I’ve tried to think about this scientifically, but sometimes subjective impressions are good enough, or even better when it comes to individual impressions. Here are 5 subjective things that let me know a shoe is a good match:

1. It causes no pain. No abrasion, no hot spots, no unusual aches in my legs or feet. No pain is good. Note: sometimes pain may be present as your body adapts to a given shoe, and it starts to feel better after a few runs, so this may not always be a perfect indicator on your first run in a shoe.

2. It disappears on my feet. If I weren’t concentrating on how it feels, the shoe would go completely unnoticed. It doesn’t make me think about my form, it doesn’t force my feet to move in ways that they don’t want to, and it doesn’t get in the way while I run. When I run in a shoe that’s a good match, I feel strong and as if my body is in complete control. A good shoe works with my body, not against it.

3. Ground contact simply feels “right.” This is something that is extremely difficult to verbalize but very easy to feel the moment I start running in a shoe that’s a good match for me – a good shoe simply feels right when it hits the ground. Unfortunately, it may require running in a lot of shoes before you get a sense of what the “right” shoe feels like for you. After you get a sense of the variation among several shoes, you begin to notice that some shoes feel dead on contact, and they feel like they rob your legs of energy. A good one feels responsive and like it’s helping you progress forward on your run.

4. It makes you want to run fast. Sometimes a shoe feels so good that you simply want to cut loose and run wild. It’s an incredible feeling to have everything clicking and hit that moment when you start cruising down the road or trail with reckless abandon – it’s like I imagine sitting behind the wheel of a sports car might feel (I drive a Prius…). A good shoe makes you want to move, and move fast!

5. A good shoe makes you long to run in it again. This, for me, is the number one sign that a shoe is a good match. When I finish a run in a good shoe, I simply can’t wait to run in it again. In fact, it may motivate me to get out the door simply so I can put it back on my feet. As I sit here writing this, I have the shoes I wore on the trails this afternoon on the floor next to me, and I have half a mind to go out for an evening run in them just to put more miles on them. On the other hand, it takes willpower to run in a shoe that just doesn’t feel right to me – it’s like a wasted opportunity to get maximum enjoyment from the time I spend on the run. When you want to run in a particular shoe even though you have 50 to choose from, you know it must be a good one :)

These are 5 signs that a shoe is right for me – anything I missed that help you determine if a shoe is right for you? Leave a comment!

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

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  1. […] do you buy the right running shoe for you? Pete Larson over at RunBlogger has a good post on five different things to look for when trying out a new running shoe. Following this advice is a […]

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