Running-shoe shopping is no easy task

It used to be so easy finding the perfect shoe as a kid: Get the right combination of color (would anyone make fun of you for having purple shoes?), brand (Reebok Air Pumps or Filas ring a bell?), and style, and you had found the perfect shoe. If the shoe made you feel like you could run faster and jump higher, you felt like you could take on the whole world — or the playground — the next day.

It’s funny to look back at how much shoes have changed. Gone are the flickering lights that glow with every step. Instead we have little wheels at the bottom of shoes causing us to do double takes when we see kids glide around the supermarket. A couple years ago, it seemed as though Nike used to monopolize the shoe industry, but now we have companies specializing in only running shoes, helping to progress footwear technology but also making it that much harder to decide which shoe would be the best fit. Which makes me wish that finding the perfect running shoe was as easy as it was when I was 10.

I hadn’t realized how out of touch I was with the ever-changing advancements in footwear until I took a trip down to Road Runner Sports in San Diego and learned just how much I didn’t know about picking a good pair of running shoes. Suddenly just running around the store a couple of times didn’t cut it; all the different foot types, how each shoe is constructed to fit your needs and what type of material the shoe is made of all show how important it is to get a shoe that fits you.

In the past, buying shoes was always the same routine. I’d try on pair after pair and walk around in circles in some store until I convinced myself, “Yes, these are it.” Forget the pain and blisters that came trying to break in the shoes afterwards. As long as it felt comfortable at the time, I figured that the shoes would break me in soon enough. Wrong. Running shoes should be comfortable from the get-go and shouldn’t require painful runs trying to break them in. If the shoes are a good match, you won’t have to worry about blisters and soreness.

Finding the perfect running shoe starts out with finding out what kind of foot type you have. Think of it like the three bears did in the story of Goldilocks; you test out different types until you feel comfortable enough to lie down and fall asleep without any worry that some girl is going to wake you up and tell you that you’re wearing the wrong pair of shoes.

The easiest way to do that is to look at an old pair of running shoes: Are your shoes worn on the outside of the heel and now roll inwards? Have you noticed that you have not had an effective shock absorber while running? Or is the wear and tear just on the outside of the heel?

If your shoe shows wear on the outside of the heel and then rolls extremely inward, then you have a pronated foot type — welcome to where the majority of the population hangs out. This means that you are flatfooted and should find a shoe with a straight last (the foot-shaped mold at the bottom, of which the shoe is constructed), meaning there should be no arch between the front of the foot and heel. The perfect shoe for you is a motion control shoe, which are the most rigid and control-oriented running shoes. They’re usually a tad heavier but compensate with their durability; motion control shoes are intended to control extreme inward rolling of the foot and ankle, which may lead to injury. If you overpronate, try shoes that lace up higher so that you can better tailor the fit of your shoe.

If that wasn’t you, I present to you bed No. 2: If you’ve noticed that your shoes have not been able to absorb shock as well and if your foot is rigid, chances are you have a high arch. Your remedy is a pair of shoes with soft midsoles and a semicurved or curved last. Runners with high arches will most likely do best in cushioned shoes, because they offer the least added stability and their semicurved or curved last encourages foot motion, which helps runners who have stiff feet, called underpronators.

Still doesn’t sound familiar? Then its time to try bed No. 3; looking at the bottom of your shoes, if you land on the outside of your heel and roll slightly inward, then let me be the first to congratulate you. You join the 10 percent of the population who have ideal feet. Stability shoes are the ideal shoes for you; they have a denser foam inserted into the arch-side section of the midsole to help support and regulate excessive rear-foot motion.

These are just the three main categories of running shoes, but it’s important to keep in mind that there is no “best shoe.” No matter what all the online reviews say, everyone has different requirements. Your weight, surfaces on which you run and the shape of your feet all must be taken into consideration before deciding. What might have worked for your best friend or mom doesn’t necessarily work for you.

It’s also important to make sure that you have a thumb of space between the tip of your toe and the top of the shoe. Any more space will cause your foot to slide around in your shoe and create blisters. Before you buy, try running on a hard surface (not just the carpet of the store) to put yourself in your natural habitat and get the feeling for how the shoe will feel on hard pavement.

Sure, it seems like a lot of information to buy just a pair of shoes, but take it as though you’re buying a car. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving and doing your share of the research first, so why would you equip your body without doing the research? It takes a bit of time and energy, but with the right help and exploration, you’ll be able to kiss those days of breaking your feet over a pair of shoes goodbye.