When it comes to your health as a runner, nothing matters more than your shoes. This single piece of equipment can affect your physical health throughout your body, preventing--or, in some cases, causing--injuries in the feet, ankles, legs, knees, hips and even your back. Running shoes endure severe punishment with each step you take in them, and it's important to find a pair that will continue to perform over time.
But the right shoe can vary for every person. It all depends on how your feet are built and how they contact the ground. Some points on one person's foot may endure much more pressure than the same point on another foot, and vice versa. Many running shoe stores have high-tech equipment that can be used to examine your footfall and make recommendations based on the specific shoes that are the best fit for your foot's profile.
Whether you use one of these machines or not, here are a few key categories you need to keep in mind when choosing running shoes.
The height of your arch
Every shoe differs in the kind of arch support it provides, and everyone's foot features a different degree of arch. One of the first steps in finding new running shoes is determining the arch in your foot and finding a shoe that offers the required support. High arches will need much greater curvature in the middle of the shoe, or you can use a supportive insole to supplement the support provided by a different pair of shoes.
Account for any irregular footfalls
We'd all like for our feet to strike perfectly on every stride, heel-to-toe and perfectly balanced. Unfortunately, that's rarely the case. You might strike the ground slightly earlier at the inside of your foot than the outside -- a problem known as overpronation. It's a common malady, and it's easily corrected with the right shoe. But, by contrast, if you choose a shoe that corrects irregularities opposite to what you need, you could easily create complications that lead to worse, more complex injuries. Careful observation of your footfalls should make any irregularities evident.
Accommodate basic foot shapes
You might have longer toes or wider feet that make a seemingly ideal shoe uncomfortable and even painful. Be mindful of the shape of your foot and steer clear of footwear that is uncomfortable when you try it on. With so many miles ahead of you and your new pair of shoes, comfort will be a growing problem, and it could be an early warning sign of friction resulting in blisters and foot pains. Comfort is always necessary.
Choose additional features as needed
If you will be running in rainy weather or on wet terrain, water-resistant shoes may be your preference. Similarly, long-distance runners typically prefer the lightest shoes available, since even the difference of an ounce can be noticeable over the course of several miles. Review these features and choose ones that best fit your style of running.
Often, it's not the most expensive shoe that is best. Shoes need to fit the needs of the foot, and your perfect shoe might be found at any price point. Whatever the case, it's important to remain uninfluenced by the style of a particular shoe in order to remain focused on the details that matter. Pretty designs are nice, but they'll be of little relief when your arches hurt, your toes are bleeding and there's a blister developing on your heel.