What kind of running shoes should I buy?

Posted on March 10, 2011


Rest In Peace Cheap Running Shoes

Here lies a piece of running history…It is where running all began for me. They were my first pair of real running shoes (the label said so). You know what made them even more special? They were only a $40 pair of Saucony running shoes from Academy. Do you know why I bought them besides the price? They felt light. I didn’t know much about running then, and that was only two years ago. I would eventually run my first 5K in those Saucony’s and shortly after I would begin to realize shoes make a significant difference in running.

I ran in my Saucony’s for a few months before succumbing to shin splints and foot pain that I assumed were the result of running more than a mile. I never realized there were different types of running shoes built more specifically for under pronators or over pronators. In fact, I had no idea what that even meant, nor had I ever even heard of it. My only focus was to run as far as I deemed possible. Apparently, running in a $40 pair of shoes that lacked any sufficient cushioning and support was a bad choice, especially when they quickly began to fall apart. I will be honest, I even glued the bottom of the shoes back together a few times (I am a creature of habit). Obviously the shoes were not up to par, but I truly believed that as long as they were running shoes they were sufficient. They didn’t look too worn and they fit, well, wait, they kind of fit. Ok, ok, they were a bit tight, but man were they light. Like I said before, they were labeled as running shoes. After gluing the bottom of the shoe back together for probably the third time I finally decided to invest in a new pair of shoes.

I decided to do some research on “real” running shoes.  I am talking the over $100 kind of shoes (Not that more expensive means better, but it kind of does).  I had actually been to a specialty running store once to pick up my running packet for my first 5K, albeit just for a couple of minutes.  I remember looking at their wall of shoes and commenting to Rachel that, “I would never buy my shoes from a store like this.  They are just running shoes like you can get anywhere else.  They are probably more expensive because you are buying them from a running store.”  I’m an idiot, I know.  I never realized the vast amounts of knowledge the workers in a specialty store contain.

When I got the courage to actually go into the store and masquerade as a “real” runner after just one 5K I was still a bit hesitant.  I knew that it was possible that a new pair of shoes were in order, especially since I had been experiencing significant knee, shin and foot pain.  But, I still assumed the pain was the simple result of training and my inexperience in running.  Would a good pair of shoes actually fix the veritable cornucopia of pain I had been feeling?  I will just put it this way – Yes!  After the associate assessed my running gait, studied my old shoes and monitored my stance he came to the conclusion that I am an under pronator.  An under pronator is usually someone with a high arched foot that needs extra support (cushioning) from a shoe to ensure a more comfortable run that minimizes stress on the legs, feet and knees.  As you can see from the chart under pronation causes the foot to roll outside when running, especially when not wearing shoes with the correct support. 

The associate showed me the bottom of my shoes and it was very evident I spent most of my time running on the outside of my foot.  It was a sort of WHAT THE HELL moment.  Although it is common, you almost feel like you have some type of disorder when you are told that you are an under pronator. 


Here is a link to the runner’s world article where I got the video. 


The associate suggested I purchase a pair of shoes with maximum cushioning to act as an antidote to my pain and under pronation.  Thus, he brought out a few pairs of highly cushioned shoes and I immediately liked the Asics Gel Nimbus 11.  I will tell you why.  Ok, well, it’s pretty simple.  I liked the color.  Of course we know that’s not why you should pick a running shoe so I decided to try it on.  After the associate put me on the treadmill to see how it felt (Yes, they have a treadmill there.  Specialty stores I tell ya!) I noticed the shoes felt a bit too big (the one complaint with the Nimbus 11’s), but I decided to buy them.  After coming home and obsessing over whether or not I received the best shoe, I was comforted by the hundreds of reviews online.  It seemed as though I had bought the best shoe.

The Asics Gel Nimbus 11’s were with me on four 5K’s.  They were the shoes that allowed me to become a “real” runner, whatever that means.  Not only were they comfortable to run in, but they made my knee, shin and foot pain virtually non-existent.  I had found my one true love in shoes.  Who knew that a good running shoe would make running so much easier?

My next pair of shoes were the offspring of the Asics Gel Nimbus 11 – The Asics Gel Nimbus 12.  When Rachel and I decided we were going to run a ½ marathon I knew a new pair of shoes were a must.  I felt compelled to buy another pair of Asics because I had such a great experience with the Nimbus 11’s.  Thus, I purchased the Nimbus 12’s and I was excited to find that they actually fit a little better than the 11’s and really made me feel like I was running on clouds.  My only complaint was the lack of colors to choose from.  At the time the best shoe was mostly covered in white with just a bit of blue.  I have never been a fan of white shoes.  But, I learned to get along with them.  They eventually got me through two ½ marathons with minimal to no discomfort.

I did, however, begin to wonder if it was time to switch to a new brand of shoes.  I had experienced tendonitis in my right ankle while training for my first ½ marathon and runner’s knee while training for my second, so naturally I wanted to blame the shoe and not myself (I’m human).  I took another trip to Luke’s Locker (specialty running store) and advised the associate I was interested in a new pair of shoes.  He looked down at my old Asics Gel Nimbus 11’s that I now use as everyday walking shoes since their retirement (never use your running shoes as everyday shoes) and asked how I liked them.  I told him they had been a great shoe and that I was now running in the Nimbus 12’s.  He told me that was the best shoe they had as well as the most popular.  Basically, he asked why I would consider another shoe when I have been running in a great shoe.  He could have easily sold me a pair of the more expensive Brooks shoe that I was thinking about, but he was more concerned about me as a runner.  He assessed my feet again and brought out a snazzy pair of the Asics Gel Nimbus 12’s. 

The laces were neon orange with black encompassing a large part of the shoe.  Mesmerizing was the best word for them.  I had actually seen them at my last ½ marathon and I had told Rachel I had never seen them in that color.  Of course the store had them and he brought them out in two different sizes.  He brought the size I had been wearing and a ½ size smaller.  He actually noted that I had been running in a shoe that seemed to be a ½ size bigger than I should have been.  I had stated that the shoes actually felt big at times, but I assumed that was just the fit.  Again, being a creature of habit I refused to go down a ½ size when I originally bought my first pair of Asics.  When I put on that ½ size smaller I felt more in control.  Was it possible I was running in the wrong size shoe?  It was very possible and likely true.

The associate advised me that the shoes did not cause my runner’s knee, which I had already suspected, but did not want to admit.  Runner’s knee is often caused by overtraining and running lots of hills (both of which I did).  I had actually gone from running 6 miles one day to 11 miles two days later, which I should have known was a big no-no after not running lots of miles for a while.  Plus, it happened after I had already run about 350 miles in my shoes.  I just didn’t want to believe the runner’s knee was my fault.  In addition, he said my ankle tendonitis was the result of repeated motions, in my case, running for long periods of time and not the shoes.  Also, it was likely a result of overtraining for my first ½ marathon.  I was doing way too much too soon.  Again, I didn’t want to admit that to myself.  The guy saw right through me.  I trusted him and so I bought the new neon orange Asics Gel Nimbus 12’s a ½ size smaller than I had been wearing and I headed home.

I ran on the treadmill with my shoes yesterday and there was a dramatic difference in fit.  Not only did they feel comfortable, which I expected since they are new, I actually felt more in control.  I was so hard headed that I had been running in the wrong size shoe for over a year!  The bigger shoe still did wonders, which is a true testament to the Asics shoe.

The moral of the story is that it’s important to find yourself a good pair of running shoes.  Seek out a specialty running store where the associates actually know what they are talking about.  The prices are comparable to any Foot Locker or Sports Authority, but you get better customer service and the associates are trained to custom fit a shoe.  It is imperative that you get the best shoe, especially if you are logging a considerable amount of miles. Plus, make sure you are buying the right size shoe.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.  Overall, a good pair of shoes can truly make a world of a difference.

Running Shoe Don’ts

Don’t buy running shoes before your gait has been analyzed.

Don’t buy running shoes just because they are cheap or you like the color.

Don’t buy running shoes you can’t take back if they don’t feel right.

Don’t expect the shoes to feel great the first time you wear them.

Don’t wear the same running shoe two days in a row.

Don’t use your running shoes as everyday shoes.

Don’t wear a new pair of shoes you have not practiced in to run a race (BLISTERS!).

Don’t blame your shoes for overtraining pain.