Wear Running Shoes that Fit!: Don’t Be a Slave to Your “Size”

brannock deviceOne of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years is to buy shoes that fit my feet rather than making my feet fit into my shoes. I used to wear a size 10 in every shoe I purchased, unless they ran really short. I figured I’d been a size 10 since I graduated from High School, and I had stopped growing, so that was my size for life.

These days I buy shoes in a range of sizes from 10-11 depending on the brand. For example, I’m generally a 10 in Merrell shoes, 10.5 in Saucony (I recently bumped up), and 11 in Nike racers. My goal in any shoe is to have as comfortable a fit in the forefoot as possible, and I usually aim for about a thumb’s width between my big toe tip and the tip of the shoe.

This all might seem logical and obvious, but a couple of recent examples have hammered home to me the need to emphasize proper shoe sizing. First was a woman in the beginner 5K group that I coached in the Spring. She was a new runner, and came to our first several workouts wearing Nike Frees. Nothing wrong with that, but my co-coach and I both noticed that her toes were crammed up into the tip of her shoe causing the upper to push out. She was complaining about her feet hurting, and we took her aside and pointed out that her shoes were way too small for her feet. It’s amazing that something so obvious as a shoe being way too small could be overlooked, but she went out and got a new pair in a larger size and all went well from that point on. Easy fix.

My second example hits close to home – actually, it occurred quite literally in my home. I’ve written on a number of occasions about my wife Erin’s injury woes and how wearing Hoka shoes has helped her overcome foot pain due to what was diagnosed as a neuroma in her right foot. Well, the Hokas continue to work for her, but a few weeks ago she started to complain that they were causing abrasion along the inside of her right foot and big toe. It progressed to the point where the upper ripped with less than 50 miles on the shoes:

IMG_2301[1]

Hoka Bondi B with torn upper

No shoe should tear like this with only 50 miles on them, especially when they cost upwards of $150. I was puzzled by this, so I had her put the shoe on while I poked and prodded her feet to see what might be causing the upper to wear down. Erin has a bunion on this foot that pushed the upper out in the area of the tear, and the bucket-style sole of the Hoka creates a ridge of foam that sticks up in this area. I think her bunion was rubbing the edge of the upper on the foam and it gave way. But, the upper on her left foot was also starting to wear in this same spot, and she doesn’t have a bunion on that side, so it may just be a design flaw of the shoes (this has not happened in any other shoe she has worn). Interestingly, I found another blog review of the Hoka Bondi B reporting similar wear in this same spot.

Anyway, in the process of investigating this issue (and to Hoka’s credit, they replaced the shoe without question in a half size larger to see if that would help – great customer service!), I noticed that her toes were pushed way up into the front of the shoe. With all of her troubles, I’d never thought to check on how her shoes fit (I’m a bit embarrassed about this…). I thought maybe the Hokas ran small, so I ordered her a pair of Altra Torins in size 9 (her usual). Her toes looked like they were about to bust out of the front of the shoe! We sent them back and asked for a size 10 (a half size up would not have been enough). I had her try on her Altra Instinct 1.5’s (her favorite shoe), and sure enough she has very little room up front. She claims to have had her bunion her entire life, but now I’m beginning to wonder about the cause…

Now, I have no idea if wearing small shoes might be contributing to some of her running troubles, but it’s been interesting to watch her reaction to the news that she needs to be wearing larger shoes. “I’ve been a 9 since as long as I can remember…” was her initial response. She always “bought” a size 9 might be a more accurate way of portraying things. “I can’t be a size 10!” was another line I heard.

Erin’s new new Bondi B’s (size 9.5) and Altra Torins (size 10) have now arrived, and it’s been rather funny to see her reaction to wearing shoes that now fit. She’s already resigned that she can’t go back to wearing a lot of her old shoes, so a shipment to Soles 4 Souls might be on its way in the near future. I’m very interested to see how things go for her in the Torins – she likes the Hokas, but the abrasion in that spot is still an issue I worry about and I can’t shell out $150 repeatedly for shoes that last only 50 miles.

The point of all this? As my friend Mark Cucuzzella likes to say, we have a foot size, not a shoe size. Don’t be stubborn about wearing the same size in every shoe just because it’s what you’ve always worn. Find shoes that fit your foot, regardless of what the numbers on the box say. You’ll be much happier if you do!

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.

Comments

  1. I’m dealing with a morton’s neuroma, so have been alternating between Hoka Stinsons and Brooks Dyads. The Hoka sole seems to be working great, but the upper is really annoying. When my foot flexes, the upper creases and pushes down right where the neuroma is. Fortunately, after about 150 miles, it seems to have broken in enough that this is a less of a problem.

  2. Mark V. McDonnell says:

    I haven’t the patience to deal with the hassle of returns, which is why I’ll only buy from a brick-and-mortar retailer. I accept–reluctantly–the limitation in lines I can access as a result.

    • bob baks says:

      The Running Warehouse makes returns pretty easy. They send a prepaid UPS label with your shipment. Just slap it on the box and drop it off at a UPS store. I often order the same shoe in two different sizes, then return the size that doesn’t fit as well. I just received my first order from RunningShoes.com, and their return procedure seems only slightly more complicated, requiring that you call and request a return label, I think.

      • Mark V. McDonnell says:

        No, I’m going to “out” myself as a Princess-and-the-Pea kinda guy. I go into a store, try every racing flat/minimalist shoe they carry, and either conclude “OK, there’s one pair that’s waaay better than the others, and it’s possible they’ll work for me,” or “No luck today.” I’d have to order 30 pairs (amalgamating Bob’s and Pete’s advice here)–10 pairs, “bracketing” each for size.

        Then end up returning 29 of ‘em. Won’t endear me to a retailer.

        At least at a local store, I can get it all done inside of 45 minutes. (I can judge in about 5 strides whether a shoe is a “potential.”)

      • Pete Larson says:

        Yep, that’s one of the many reasons why I love RW!

        —-
        Pete Larson’s Web Links:
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  3. Lindsay Knake says:

    Interesting. I have short but wide feet, so I’ve always had to fit the shoe to my foot rather than stick with one size. The good thing is because I have to fit the width of my feet (especially the left one that still has a bunion), my toes always have plenty of room.

    I had the right bunion surgically removed in 2007 because it was causing other troubles. But why did I have two sizable bunions at 18? I do think it goes back to genetics for one, but also because for many years I wore very narrow boots with pointy toes. For several years I rode horses and those are style of typical riding boots. No matter what we’re doing, we’ve got to be aware of the shoes on our feet and the potential consequences.

    • Christine Chung says:

      After about 2 years of running with a forefoot stride, I have also noticed over the winter that my feet have also gotten larger. My Saucony Type A5, Kinvara 3, and inov-8 trailroc 245′s are too short and too narrow now to continue running in them.

      Fitting my feet have been difficult because they are slightly smaller than a 6.5 but wide. So instead of a 7, I now have to buy 7.5 for my running shoes and I put the LRS owner to the test with my Princess and the Pea search.

  4. LindsayOnTheGo says:

    Ha, your wife’s story sounds exactly like mine. Size 9 – always. Except with running shoes. I ended up with a size 10 for my first pair of Hokas. I’m not totally sold on that size, but I just picked up a new pair (size 9.5) from REI. Also, 9.5 on any of Brooks shoes, and I would probably be a 10 in Nikes if they ever created a shoe that fits high arches.

  5. bdizzlefizzle says:

    Pete – I recently went through a similar realization. I’m a 9-10 now, depending on model and brand (though not consistently across a brand), and I stopped caring because I see and feel the benefit. It was a mental shock to buy 9s when I’ve been a 10 for so long (and shoe size has, ahem, social connotations). I used to be quite obese, and was a 12, so I’ve gone through this shift before.

    I am really thankful for shoefitr and use it extensively on the running warehouse website before buying. I scrutinize gaps and overlaps between shoes I know and love and something new. It’s been spot on consistently for me.

    Great piece. As obvious as it is, too many people don’t follow it!

  6. Shari Morehead says:

    Street shoe: 7.5.
    Asics Gel Nimbus: 8.5.
    Hoka One One (Stinson Evo): 8.5.

    As much as I adore my Hokas for cushioning, they’re shredding blisters onto the inside of both big toes and the tips of my toes to the point of black toenails. It’s excruciatingly painful on long trail downhills or sprints where I’m really digging. I have about 250 miles on my Stinson Evo’s.

    Asics never gave me blisters or black toenails. Is my foot moving too much in the Hoka 8.5′s or should I think about a bigger size? I don’t feel “squished” in them, but I’m trying to figure out if I should go bigger or smaller on the next pair.

  7. Seems really obvious, as you say, but yeah, something that people tend to forget. I actually just went shoe shopping with one of my friends. She ended up with a pair of Road Gloves in half a size smaller than she originally pulled off the shelf. Not only that, but it was the second pair she tried on in that exact size…the first pair, the right shoe fit her and the left did not (yes, they were both labelled the same size, and no, it wasn’t the normal one foot slightly bigger than the other sort of mismatch). Don’t know if it was a labeling error or if the machine cut it just a little bit differently. I actually went and tried them on afterward too (somehow with all the shoes I’ve worn, I haven’t worn any of Merrell’s), and also needed a half size down (and the left shoe of the wacky mismatched pair didn’t fit me either), so it wasn’t a matter of her just being unfamiliar with sizing running shoes. Good post.

    You also have sizing inconsistencies, not only from brand to brand, but within a brand. I wear a 6.5 T7 and Mach, 5.5 Green Silence, and 6.0/7.5W in all other Brooks shoes. While it’s possible my foot size is actually ~6.2 or something, that 5.5 is an outlier for Brooks shoes. Also, I’ve gone from wearing a 6.5/8.0W most of the time to a 6.0/7.5W most of the time (and other than the T7, Mach, and Universe, if I’m not a 7.5W, I’m a 7.0W). I don’t know if I just didn’t know how to size my shoes for the first 8 years of my running career, or if we’ve gone to vanity sizing in shoes, or what.

  8. Nick Bradley says:

    I also wonder if people are going to the other extreme … wearing their shoes too large? Phil Maffetone has a pretty strong opinion on sizing shoes – stand on the insole and make sure nothing hangs over and there is a good thumbs width in front of the toes. Makes sense! But a few guys at my running club have well over an inch clearance at the front of their shoes and still minimal heel slippage … especially in certain brands (eg. Inov8). Some have two inches on one foot because they have odd sized feet and have had to buy shoes for their larger foot. I wonder if shoes that are too large start to cause other problems?

    • Pete Larson says:

      I’d think shoes to large could also be a problem. I shoot for the thumb width in all of my shoes.

      —-
      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
      -My book: Tread Lightly: link to ow.ly
      -Blog: http://www.runblogger.com
      -Twitter: link to twitter.com
      -Facebook Page: link to facebook.com
      -Discussion Forum: http://www.runblogger.com/forum

    • Michael Anderson says:

      An *inch* … wow, too much room for movement there! I mean, you should have space for the normal motion and also how your feet swell and shrink over the course of a run, but I didn’t get my kids shoes that over-sized when they were still growing!

      But it IS hard because no two brands seem to have the same concepts of length and width. I am somewhere between a 12 and 13 depending on brand, sometimes dictated by length, sometimes by width and sometimes both!

  9. Steven Sashen says:

    We sell Xero Shoes by foot length, not shoe size, for this exact reason.

    When people complain and say, “Why can’t you just send me a size 10?” I reply, “Do you have any shoes in your closet that are a 9.5 or a 10.5?” They always say, “Yes.”

    “That’s why I can’t send you a 10. You’re not a 10, you’re a something-between-9.5-and-10.5.”

    Sadly, no matter how much we say “To make sure you get the perfect fit — for shoes your buying over the Internet — please measure your feet,” some people will insist on ordering by shoe size.

  10. Steve Tremblay says:

    It would be great if my LRSs rent shoes. The fit could be excellent in the store, but running 8 miles and more with the same shoes is another story.
    My LRSs accept the exchange for another shoes, with same price tag or higher, but refuse for the refund. For this reason, I never buy a new model (too $$$$).
    I’m ready to pay $10 for two days rental and I’m sure this could be win-win situation. With this, I can try all size or type of the shoes I want without ruining myself, and I’m sure they will make lot of money with the rental.

  11. Dr. Erson Religioso III, DPT says:

    Pete, what an easy thing to look for! Definitely assume my patients are wearing shoes that fit. Thanks for the tip!

  12. I bet your wife loves how you repeatedly mentioned her bunions in this article! What was it… 3 maybe 4 times?

    I unfortunately have a shoe size of 14 despite a foot size of 14.5ish. It’s difficult to find any minimalist shoes that fit, though the Merrell Barefoot line is an outlier as they come in a 15. Maybe I could try zero dropping a Brooks Beast with an exacto knife?

  13. Pete – I get measured on those silver foot measuring devices and electronically and it comes in between 7.0 and 7.5, when I wore running shoes, it would typically bump up to an 8.0. However, this spring, I was having mega problems with the fit of 8.0′s especially the Altra’s and moved up to 8.5 or 9.0′s in running shoes, which has solved most of the issues (the EE feels too wide on the left foot). Come to find out that I have a Tailor’s Bunionnette on the outside of my right foot and from what I am telling developing the same thing on the outside of my left foot.
    It almost seems that running shoe sizing is getting too hit or miss to do without actually going to the store and trying the darn things on to see what fits comfortably.
    BTW thank you for your previous reviews of the Skechers Go series they seem to have solved more than a few of the issues that I have had recently and I have found them to be some of the best running shoes for me that I have bought in a long time.
    Thanks again.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I’ve always been a 10 on the Brannock device, but that means little if brand sizing is inconsistent I guess. Trying on is the way to go. Glad you like the Skechers! Solid shoes and reasonably priced.
      Sent from my iPad

  14. M.V.S.R.MURHTY says:

    Hi, every one Iam a middle distance runner. I have a doubt to clear.My two feet are of different sizes.Left foot is Size 9 and right is of 10. Can anyone suggest how can I get a pair of nike or Adidas shoe of two different sizes.

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