What's the secret to figuring out how to choose running shoes?
Start your search with this in mind: There's no one-size-fits-all perfect running shoe.
More than likely, there's quite a few running shoes that will feel good on your feet and help you go the distance from the 5K to marathon and beyond.
If you've ever picked a running shoe this way, you're not alone. Maybe it worked out. Maybe it didn't.
You're in the right place. In this post, we're going to...
When you're trying to figure out how to choose running shoes, it's easy to get caught up in all the hype and aesthetics, like…
Been there, done that? Here's the thing:
No matter what stereotypes we may see in the media that try to fit runners into narrow boxes, the truth is that running doesn’t actually discriminate based on:
I’ll turn myself into a broken record on this one for as long as it takes until we dismantle these expectations in the running community.
As a runner, there’s nothing I want more than to share all the gifts of running with anyone else who could use a peek into the perspective on life that we only find in the time on our feet.
What does matter when it comes to finding success in running is figuring out the details that work best for you as an individual.
No two runners....
The training plan that took Molly Seidel to the Olympic marathon podium, for example, will look much different than the one that gets a new athlete to the finish line of their first 5k.
(Rant over, thank you very much.)
Individuality makes a difference when it comes to gear choices, too—especially when you're trying to figure out how to choose running shoes.
While you may be inclined to order whatever model’s on sale at the moment or take a friend’s word for it, taking care to find shoes that meet your needs can go a long way.
Our feet serve as our instruments for expression and our tools for motion.
In short, our feet play the most important physical role in our running efforts.
This means we need to prioritize and take care of our feet.
A big part of that involves recognizing that we each need to treat our feet differently depending on how they’re built and what exactly we’re asking of them.
It’s simple: Different feet need different shoes for things like:
Guess what? If you're trying to figure out how to choose running shoes, there’s a shoe out there designed for each of these ambulatory quirks.
Your specific running goals play into your shoe choice as well.
Road runners vs. trail runners
Road runners obviously need different shoes than trail runners, but even the more minute details of your training and intentions can determine what shoe technologies and constructions would best serve you.
There’s a big jump, for example, between a shoe made for comfort and stability over long distances and one designed for nimble movement in speedier situations.
Pick running shoes to optimize YOUR performance
Working through the process of how to choose running shoes for your feet and your training helps ensure that you make the most of what you’ve got.
For better or for worse, we don’t have control over our physical features—but we can take the qualities that we’re born with and optimize them by finding the shoes that best suit us.
There are a few methods runners can use to help them pinpoint their ideal shoes.
The wide range that we have to choose from can seem overwhelming at first glance, but many brands feature quizzes or filters that help to narrow down the astronomical number of options.
Here are a few runner-friendly online tools that can help you:
Most brands have resources like these to help navigate the options they offer. "Shoe finder” resources like these direct you to the most fitting models based on your answers to questions about things like:
Brooks even asks about recent injuries, body positioning, and your response to certain exercises to factor into their recommendations. Most other brands offer similar guidance.
When you're trying to figure out how to choose running shoes, these resources can be especially helpful for runners confident in their preference for a particular brand but want to explore various models.
Yes, I know; you came here because you're looking for help about how to choose running shoes. We’re getting there.
There's four primary ways to find running shoes that work for you.
And one reigns superior over the others.
Reading running shoe reviews on websites, like our very own WeeViews database, can help point you in the right direction.
Keep in mind that because of all the diversity in running we’ve covered here, one runner’s Cinderella shoe might not work the same for you.
The benefits of running-shoe reviews
Look for objective reviews: While brand websites include space for reviews on their products, these don’t always offer the most reliable insights because they are associated with that particular brand.
That’s a big reason why WeeViews exists..."To eliminate brand bias as an independent platform, where runners can feel comfortable sharing their honest thoughts on options from all corners of the gear world."
Online resources can also help you through the process of how to choose running shoes. Articles like:
…and specific brand briefings like:
Resources like these can give you a good idea of which features matter most depending on the terrain that you seek out most often.
Selecting shoes based on your foot shape and gait narrows down your options even further.
How? All runners come into this sport with their own unique traits and habits.
Each of these methods share a common flaw. They’re missing the power of the human eye.
The convenience of online tools is countered by their impersonal nature.
No matter how many questions that shoe finder may ask about your running habits or how close a twin you find in a gear review, nothing quite measures up to having a real live human being set you up with the perfect pair of shoes to bring out the best runner in you.
You won't find a better method for how to choose running shoes than this....
Even with all the tech tools out there, it still can't replace the value of walking into a local running store, chatting with staff, and getting fitted to find a good running shoe.
A link to the running community
Running stores were once the unquestionable centerpieces of their surrounding running communities. They served as the main hub for:
Tech won't replace running-store customer service anytime soon
Even now, the first thing I do when visiting a new town is stop at the closest running store for trail suggestions.
I could search around on apps like Strava, All Trails, or Trail Running Project, but I’ve learned that...
Nothing compares to advice straight from the mouth of one passionate runner to another.
Here's another reason to shop at local running stores: Sometimes I even meet welcoming locals who let me tag along on runs during my stay for an intimate tour of their stomping grounds.
Besides route recommendations and new connections, one of the biggest perks of visiting a running store is the opportunity for a personalized shoe fitting.
With a wealth of knowledge in their minds and resources at their fingertips, these experts make it easy to find your Cinderella running shoe.
A shoe-fitting expert at a local running store can:
The opportunity to try out multiple brands and styles in one go is worth the trip alone.
Think about it this way: How could you possibly recreate that experience online?
The hands-on help is the real boon here, though.
Not sure where to begin?
We sat down with a few of our favorite local running stores for some Q&A. Take a pit stop at one of these stores on the road, or find a store in your neighborhood to...
What: Morgantown Running
Where: Morgantown and Bridgeport, West Virginia
Who: Heather Cleary, owner
Q: Why do you love working in the running industry?
Heather: I love hearing about why people started running and what keeps them going! It brings so much joy to see how running has changed someone's life in a positive way.
Q: What kinds of running events does Morgantown Running help to promote in your community?
Heather: We put on many events throughout the year including the Kids' Running Club, Team Spike Nights, Sports Bra Fittings, the Summer Mile, 4 on the 4th, and the Turkey Trot. We love being involved in the community!
Q: What is the most valuable service that Morgantown Running offers?
Heather: We believe that the most valuable service we offer to our local running community is our 'gait analysis', combined with our knowledge to help customers pick out the best shoe for their feet. People also visit us for running advice from training plans to race selection and strategies.
Q: Why should even experienced runners keep running stores on their radar?
Heather: Advanced runners can be involved and connect with local running stores in many ways. Advanced runners’ needs and gait can change over time with life throughout the years… babies, surgery, injuries, and other physical developments of aging can change the way we run.
What: Wasatch Running Center
Where: Centerville and Sandy, Utah
Who: Glen Gerner, owner
Q: What is the biggest mistake runners can avoid by purchasing shoes in store instead of online?
Glen: I don't know how runners buy shoes without trying them on and comparing with other models. New runners and walkers usually do not know that their shoes should be a half size or full size bigger than their feet. We talk to customers about lacing techniques, insole options, socks and other foot comfort products for happy feet.
Q: What makes a visit to Wasatch Running Center worthwhile?
Glen: With our experience, knowledge, and expertise we help solve problems, even problems that our customers were not aware of.
Q: What led to your decision to open Wasatch Running Center?
Glen: I love running and the gear, and the area needed a running store! It's all about building the local community.
What: Independence Run and Hike
Where: Carbondale, Colorado
Who: Brion After, owner
Q: What’s your own most memorable run or running adventure?
Brion: Without a doubt my most memorable running event was running the 4 pass loop in the Maroon Bells Wilderness, it is a 27-28 mile run circumnavigating the 14,000+ foot Maroon Bell Peaks with four 12,500 foot passes to get over. I ran the loop 5 years in a row, and each loop was memorable in its own way.
The first circumnavigation was memorable because I ran with 2 close friends and forgot my running vest, ugh, but we laughed the whole way. Then there was the time we went too early in the season, with insane tree fall, mud, terrifying ice sheets and a crazy lightning storm, and of course the time with the incredible wild flowers, so beautiful! And finally there was the time when we took our time (a rarity for runners!) and sat on each pass and savored the day. What a great run! All great days!
Q: Why should runners visit Independence Run and Hike?
Brion: Our knowledge and time. We spend all our time figuring out the best shoes for our customers so you (they) don’t have to! People often say to me I really TRY to support you because you are a local store, my first thought is if we don’t do such a good job that you WANT to come to our store then we are doing something wrong!
All day, every work-day (and most non-work days) I am thinking about the store, the latest products YOU want. We have the advantage of letting you try on shoes right next to each other and on our treadmill while being videotaped, while having a knowledgeable staff member that has probably helped 1000s of people and met with multiple doctors and physical therapists at your side to help. Seems like a great deal I hope you want to shop by!
Q: How can local running stores benefit advanced runners that already know their way around shoe brands, features & fit needs?
Brion: Running stores are often full of serious runners & running “geeks” so it is a great forum for “advanced” runners to learn more about products that they might not be fully aware of and to keep up on the latest trends and ideas, try on some of the products you researched, find running buddies at the store group runs and spend time talking about the sport you love.
It is hard to keep up with all the latest styles, fits and products on your own. I am also an avid “advanced” golfer, and I always spend extra time in the pro shop before or after rounds talking to the pros and asking about courses or products, etc. Running stores are the pro shops of the running world!
What: Vertical Runner
Where: Hudson, Brecksville and Wooster, Ohio
Who: Vince Rucci, owner
Q: How did you choose the name Vertical Runner?
Vince: It's my initials. When I was in college I was in a marketing class and came up with Vertical Runner as a trail running brand. This was before it became a hot button word for people to use like "how much vertical is in that race?". We've been running trails and doing hills for a long time. In 2003 the idea for the store came around and the name fit.
Q: Do you have any of your own personal stories or stats around running vertical?
Vince: During Covid I did an elevation challenge where I did 100 days in a row with at least 1,000 feet of elevation gain. There were like 20 hills that I would torture myself on. One of the hills is called Initiation Hill, in 2020 I did that hill 400 times. The hill is .4 miles and it has 210 feet of elevation gain. I did it 20 times one Saturday.
Q: What makes your running store unique that you pride yourself on?
Vince: Our passion for trail running. Road running is great but what's in our DNA is the trails. Any time we can let people know that the trails exist, that's a win. Some people come in and don't even know that we live by a National Park (Cuyahoga Valley). We have the park maps here in the store and share our favorite trails to run.
Q: Can you share how Vertical Runner is involved in connecting runners locally?
Vince: Vertical Runner is a sponsor of Western Reserve Racing (a NE Ohio trail running company). We also have four different trail running groups. We learned that you get some fast people and some slower people. We point people towards the group that will fit them best. All the groups are free too. Then we do some special event runs, where we bring in brands and do product demos.
Q: What’s one fact about your business mindset that runners should know?
Vince: You don't have to come in to the store with the intention to buy something. Whether you are an experienced runner or new to the sport, just come in and see what the environment is like. We don't mind people window shopping and trying things out. Of course, if they decide to buy, we would love for them to buy from us.
What: Lucky Road Run Shop
Where: Richmond, Virginia
Who: Jeff Van Horn, owner
Q: What are some of your most memorable running moments?
Jeff: Running through the woods on a rainy day where the only sounds come from the drops hitting the leaves and my footsteps with each stride. Running a well known route late at night, to avoid the summer heat, in complete silence when the euforia kicks in and the pace increases to a level of effortless flight. These are memorable running events that belong to me and can not be measured.
Q: What advice do you have for runners on the hunt for their perfect shoe?
Jeff: Don't believe everything you hear. Don't believe the manufacturer's marketing hype. Don't believe the salesperson's pitch. With big corporations opening stores across the country, understand that not everyone in this business is looking out for your best interest. You have to look out for yourself. Ask questions. Don't just accept any answer. Experts who care will eagerly answer your questions until you are satisfied. The pseudo-expert may become frustrated. That's when it's time to find another store. The single most important factor to consider is your perception of comfort.
Q: Why do you enjoy working in the running industry?
Jeff: More than 30 years ago I discovered my purpose in life is to help others. I love owning a run specialty store because it allows me the opportunity to combine my love of running with my degree in sports medicine and my passion/purpose for helping others.
Q: Why did you choose to open a running store?
Jeff: The thought first crossed my mind while tossing a football back and forth with a friend from high school, and I never let it go. When the time was right I left my position as the athletic trainer at a local high school. I spent the next three years managing two different run specialty stores where I learned a lot of what and what not to do before opening my own. My goal was to make a decent living doing what I love, serving my community and raising my family.
Running shops offer a host of unparalleled benefits for runners of all backgrounds, styles, and levels.
Transform the way you run
From services to personalize your run by matching you with the best shoe for your unique foot, to opportunities for building connections with a knowledgeable community, running stores have the potential to transform the way you run.
The interactive experiences and helping hands that welcome runners in these environments simply don't translate to HTML. The expertise that these running stores share requires your physical presence to absorb.
Taking the time to visit running stores, in your own community or on the road, will reward you for the effort with resources that only pay off in person, and you'll go home with the perfect pair of running shoes to go the distance.