You’ve decided to take up running — welcome to the world of the runner’s high and shin splints!
Those potential shin splints aside, though, running is pretty great — and perhaps one of the best parts is it doesn’t take a lot of skill or equipment to get started. You just need a comfortable pair of shoes.
The best beginning running shoes vary from person to person and depend a lot on your own foot structure and biomechanics. Not sure what that means? Keep reading, and we’ll give you the details you need to know to pick out your first pair of running shoes.
Why Do You Need a Special Running Shoe?
Running shoes don’t really look much different than tennis shoes or other specialty sports footwear on the surface, so why does it matter if you choose a shoe designed specifically for running? It all comes down to the subtle design of the shoe. Each type of shoe is optimized to a specific sport. Tennis shoes are meant to slide across clay and grass, for example. That’s not exactly what you want to do when you go out for a run.
Let’s break it down a little more with the specifics of why running shoes are so important:
- Grip: Unlike tennis shoes, which help you slide across surfaces, running shoes are designed to grip the ground for traction, whether you’re running on grass or pavement. That grip also helps with quick transitions between different types of surfaces and in different weather conditions.
- Protection: Running shoes are designed to protect your feet while you run. They are designed around the biomechanics of a runner for customized support and protection. Why is that important? It helps your feet stay healthy and reduces your risk of injury.
- Impact absorption: Running is a high-impact sport. Each time your foot hits the ground, your body feels the impact. Running shoes are designed with this in mind and help absorb some of that impact to prevent injuries and overuse issues.
- Gait support: Shoes designed for running support a proper gait, which makes running more comfortable.
- Comfort: If a running shoe doesn’t feel comfortable while you are running, you may not stick with your new activity. Finding a shoe that fits properly and feels great on your foot makes running easier and less painful, which encourages you to stick with it until it becomes a habit.
Parts of a Running Shoe
Now that you know why you need running shoes, it’s important to understand the parts of a typical running shoe. Each part is a piece of the puzzle in finding the best fit and support for your new running habit. The three basic parts of a running shoe are the upper, midsole and outsole.
The uppers of running shoes are the top parts that cover your feet. You’ll find a few different options, each with benefits in particular situations. Here are a few of the typical running shoe upper options:
- Synthetic leather: The synthetic material on most running shoe uppers makes the shoes lighter and faster drying, while remaining supple and durable.
- Nylon or nylon mesh: Even lighter in design, uppers made of nylon really let your feet breathe.
- Waterproof: Some running shoes feature a waterproof upper with a special membrane to keep moisture from entering. These types of shoes still have some breathability, but not as much as some shoes.
The midsole is where you get all of your support and cushioning, and it falls between the upper and the outsole. Midsoles come in many different designs with varying features that play in to how much support the shoe provides. Here are some things to look for in midsoles:
- EVA: This midsole material is one of the most common types of foam used in running shoes designed to cushion the feet. The foam comes in different densities, which can be used to support the foot in a particular way.
- Midsole cushioning devices: While EVA does a good job of cushioning the shoe, some styles include additional cushioning within the EVA midsole, such as encapsulated air or gel.
- Medial posts: Firmer sections within the midsole are called posts and are used for durability, to support the arch or to manage overpronation. They are often made of higher density sections of EVA or TPU. Stability and motion control shoes often include posts, which add weight to the shoe.
- Shanks: A stiffened section under the arch is called a shank. Some very lightweight and flexible shoes do not contain a shank but most do. They encourage bending at the toe instead of at the arch for proper foot positioning and striking.
- Plates: If you plan to do a lot of trail running, look for midsoles with plates. This thin material stiffens the forefoot area to protect the soles of your feet from rocks or other objects in your running path.
- TPU: This flexible plastic material helps stabilize running shoes.
The outsole is the outer portion of the shoe and is typically made of rubber. The types of rubber typically used include:
- Blown rubber: This type of rubber gives a cushioned feeling and is lighter in weight, making it common in road racing shoes.
- Carbon rubber: Often found in trail running shoes and on the heels of other running shoes, carbon rubber is more rugged for longer wear.
Check the Shape of Your Foot
The shape of your foot is also a deciding factor in choosing beginner running shoes. The three main types of feet are normal or neutral pronation, flat or overpronation, and high arched or supination, also known as underpronation. Not sure what type of foot you have? Try the wet test. Here’s how to do it:
- Wet the bottoms of your feet lightly.
- Step normally onto the floor or a piece of paper.
- Study the print left behind by your wet feet.
If the foot shape left behind has a distinct inward flare near the arch while still leaving a broad section that connects the heel to the forefoot, you likely have a neutral foot shape. A neutral shoe or a stability shoe with moderate control is ideal.
If you can see almost the entire sole of your foot with little to no curve or inward flare at the arch, you likely have flat feet. Choose a stability shoe with high control or a motion control shoe.
If the print shows a wide flare with little or no connection between the heel and forefoot, you likely have high arches. Neutral shoes with cushioning and flexibility work best.
Another way to tell what type of foot you have is by looking at the soles of well-worn shoes. The wear patterns on the soles give you clues. Neutral pronation shows wear in a centralized location over the ball of the foot and a small portion of the outer heel. Overpronation shows through wear on the inner edge of the shoe, both in the ball and heel areas. Supination is just the opposite, with wear concentrated on the outer edges of the soles.
Still not sure what type of foot and running gait you have? Many running stores offer gait analysis to give you specific shoe recommendations. This typically involves running on a treadmill or running outside while an expert watches your gait.
Basic Types of Running Shoes
Running shoes are organized into a few different categories, each with pros and cons. Understanding the different types of running shoes and how they fit different types of foot shapes helps you narrow down your options, but you’ll find a wide range of features and fits within each category. Once you determine the basic type of shoe that’s best for your foot, look at the specific features and pay attention to the fit to find the best pair of shoes for you.
Here are the main types of running shoes:
- Stability: A stability running shoe works well for runners with mild to moderate overpronation. This style typically features a balance of support and cushioning with post on the arch side to counteract the impact of overpronation.
- Neutral: Neutral running shoes are ideal for runners with a fairly neutral gait. They offer lots of cushioning without a lot of arch side support.
- Motion control: These running shoes work well for runners with moderate to severe overpronation. These shoes often feature stiff heels.
- Minimalist: A minimalist running shoe is very lightweight with very little if any arch support. This type of shoe allows for a more natural running motion with some cushioning. Beginning runners may find this these shoes difficult to run in. Most experts recommend gradually easing into minimalist shoes and alternating runs with more supportive shoes, as the muscles and tendons need time to strengthen for minimalist shoes.
- Barefoot: Barefoot-style running shoes offer only a very thin layer of protection between the foot and the ground to give the sensation of running barefoot while still providing protection. These shoes don’t offer any cushioning and have no heel-to-toe drop.
Finding the Proper Fit
The best running shoes for beginner runners are those that fit properly. If a shoe doesn’t fit well, it will rub and cause major discomfort, which could eventually discourage you from running. You’re investing a lot in shoes, so take your time in choosing a pair that fits well.
How do you know if a shoe truly fits, though? It shouldn’t be “too” anything — too big, too small, too wide, too narrow, too tight, too loose — you get the picture. The shoe also should not rub or pinch anywhere. If it feels uncomfortable trying it on for just a few minutes, imagine how that rubbing or pinching sensation will feel after running a few miles.
Trying on the shoe is the only way to determine how well it actually fits. Waiting until the end of the day gives you the best sense of how the shoe will feel, as your feet tend to swell throughout the day. A shoe that fits well in the morning may feel too tight by evening.
Here are some fit tips to ensure the shoe is just right:
- Get your feet measured. You already have a general idea of what size you need, but getting measured gives you a more accurate sizing approach. Feet change in size over the years, so you may need a different size than you once purchased.
- Try on running shoes with any orthotics you plan to use while running to ensure the shoe you choose can comfortably accommodate the extra insert.
- The upper should feel snug but not tight. Pressure points will rub and cause irritation when you run.
- Note the width of the shoe. Some side-to-side wiggle room gives you a comfortable fit. Your foot shouldn’t hang over the insole, nor should your little toe rest on the edge.
- Toes should not be crowded or rubbing against the end of the shoe, nor should they be swimming in extra space. Aim for about ¼ to ½ inch of space to give your toes some wiggle room and to account for swelling while you run.
- Your heels should not rub, and the shoe shouldn’t slip off your heel. Sometimes the lacing can prevent slipping, but if the heel slips because the shoe is too large, try a smaller size.
- Tie the shoes to ensure the laces give you a snug but not too tight feeling.
- Move around in the shoe. Run up and down the aisle. Some specialty shoe stores have a treadmill you can use to actually run a few steps in the shoes. Standing still won’t give you a complete picture of how well the shoes fit.
- Pay attention to how your arches feel as you walk or jog in the shoes. If you feel cramping in the arch, the shoe may have too much support. Look for a shoe that complements your arch structure rather than trying to change it.
Tips for Picking the Perfect Shoe
Buying running shoes may sound complicated, but if you go in with some background knowledge and these tips, the process is a lot easier. Keep these things in mind when shopping for running shoes:
- Focus on the fit of the shoe, not on how it looks. With so many bright, flashy designs, it’s easy to get caught up in choosing your favorite color or a fun design, but those shoes won’t get much use if they hurt your feet.
- Forget about the size on the label. Running shoes are not a time to be vain. Get the size that fits, even if it means you have to go up a half or full size over your normal shoe size.
- Remember that your size in one brand of running shoe might not be your size in another. Some brands or even a particular style within a brand may have a looser fit or a different upper shape that affects how the shoe feels on your foot. Start with your normal sizing, but try on each specific shoe to see if you need to go up or down for the perfect fit.
- Try running shoes designed for the opposite gender, especially if you are a man with narrow feet or a woman with wide feet. You may find a more comfortable fit, and both men’s and women’s running shoes come in a variety of styles and colors, so you can find something you like on either end of the store.
- Don’t get sucked in by fancy features or extras you don’t really need. Choosing a comfortable, lightweight shoe that supports your stride helps you run efficiently is smart, but no special features or gadgets in the shoe make you faster.
- Price isn’t the only factor. A high price tag doesn’t necessarily mean that shoe is better than a lower-priced option. Choose a shoe that fits your foot and your budget.
- One brand isn’t necessarily better than another. Every brand has a wide range of shoe options, so don’t limit yourself to one brand because you think it is the best. Not all shoes made by a particular company are equal, so test out different brands of shoes.
- There is no one best running shoe for everyone, so don’t worry too much about those “best running shoe” lists. The best shoe on one person’s list may be completely wrong for your foot shape and gait.
- Don’t get caught up in choosing a particular type of shoe. A stability shoe with high control may be an ideal option for your situation, but you might also find a motion control shoe that does the trick.
Tips on Getting Started With Your Running Routine
A properly fitting pair of running shoes is key to your running success, but your footwear isn’t the only indicator of success for a beginning runner. Put your new running shoes to good use with these tips for starting your running routine:
- Start slow. You’ve got your new pair of running shoes, and you want to put them to the test. But don’t rush out of the gate too fast. Pushing yourself too hard in the beginning may increase your risk of injury. Build up your distance and speed as your endurance increases.
- Walk and run. There’s no shame in starting out by alternating walking and running. Walking between short bursts of running helps you catch your breath and build your endurance. Gradually increase the amount of time you run as you decrease your walking periods.
- Schedule runs. When you’re first starting, putting your runs on the calendar helps you stick to your routine until it becomes a habit. Pick a time of day when you feel most energetic and motivated, or run first thing in the morning to get it out of the way.
- Prep. You’ll find lots of excuses to get out of a run if you don’t plan head. Set out your clothing and gear the night before. Also, prep your pre- and post-run snacks ahead of time for quick refueling.
- Route selection. Find a place to run that makes you feel safe, comfortable and inspired. Maybe you like the competition of running faster than the person on the next treadmill at the gym. Perhaps you feel at peace in nature and prefer running on paved trails. Beware of hilly terrain when you first begin. Flat routes help you ease into your running routine without frustration.
- Comfortable clothing. Shoes aren’t the only important part of outfit. Choose comfortable clothing with stretch and moisture-wicking properties to keep you cool, dry and comfortable. For women, a supportive sports bra is a must before heading out for a run.
- Motivation. What keeps you running? For many people, upbeat music helps keep the pace and the ability to keep going when a run gets tough. Create a playlist that inspires you to sweat it out.
- Hydration. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is essential for hydration, so keep a water bottle nearby to sip from all day long. Staying hydrated will make sure you’re ready for your run whenever you are able to fit it in.
- Eat to run. Your body needs energy for all that running you’re going to do. Fuel up on complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein to keep your body strong and energized.
- Think long term. Running won’t be easy right out of the gate, especially if you aren’t already physically active. Give your body time to get stronger and leaner. Don’t focus only on losing weight or getting faster. Look at the whole picture, and give yourself time to change.
Get Your First Pair of Running Shoes
Now that you know what goes in to choosing running shoes for the beginner, it’s time to search through all those colorful styles to choose the support and fit that keeps your feet happy on a run. Check out our selection of men’s and women’s running shoes to help you put your best foot forward.