Sunday, February 14, 2016

Let's Talk Running Shoes

Only some of the shoes that I own. All of the above are mentioned down below.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a woman who reached out to me and told me about her experience going into a running store with the intention of getting a good pair of running shoes so that she could START her love affair with the sport. She hadn't even really begun her running journey yet.

She musters up the confidence to enter the store where she is then ignored. When she finally speaks with an employee and asks for help with finding an appropriate shoe, she is spoken to in a condescending tone and ultimately leaves the store with no shoes and a waning desire to even start her running journey.

Has this ever happened to you?

I have a few of my own stories that are similar--like the time I walked into a general shoe store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and asked to try on some running shoes. This was back in the mid nineties, before zero drop, minimal, Vibram Five Finger, and motion control shoes were even a thing.You either got a pair of ugly cross trainers with jet propulsion things on the bottom or whatever pair of running shoes that happened to be on sale.

I was feeling good after having picked up my first paycheck from my summer apprenticeship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had seen those folks running in the park, around the reservoir and on the bridle paths. I left work excited to buy my first pair of non-hand-me-down Nikes or (shoes that weren't some iteration of LA Gear.)

I walked into the store and went straight to the wall that housed the athletic shoes. An associate came over and asked if I needed help. I nodded and asked if I could try on some running shoes. How many miles are you running? I don't one or two a day?

He snickered.

I wish I could say that I turned around and stomped out of the store, or that I had some witty and excoriating retort to his obvious disdain of my (to him) non-existent mileage. But I didn't. I really needed some running shoes and despite this guy's condescending attitude I was going to by some. I got some blue and white Reeboks that I would use for the next two years, through my sophomore year in college. I was seventeen, just about to start college and at that point I didn't realize that it would be just one of many daily indignities that I would experience as a runner because I didn't fit into that young man's perception of runner.

ANYWAY, I didn't realize this post was going to go there, but it got me thinking about the shit I absolutely will not tolerate these days.

You need some running shoes? Go into a running store and tell the associates you would like to get fitted for an appropriate running shoe for someone who--

  • would like to start a running habit
  • is 10 years into running and would like to try a new style
  • on her fourth marathon
  • training for a triathlon
  • is getting back into running after having a baby
  • wants to get back to health and wellness
  • whatever your reason is--it's valid

You'll tell them you would also like to get your gait analyzed so that you don't inadvertently injure myself.

Hopefully, by YOU framing your store visit specifically, you'll get the service you need and want.
This is not to condone any sales associate's poor behavior as they are in the business of customer service. I DO condone letting them know you mean business, and that you have come to acquire the items you need for your health and wellness.

Here's what should happen when you get fitted:
  • They'll ask you a couple of questions about how many miles you do per week----if it's none yet,  let them know.
  • They also might ask if you run on trails, on the road, or on the treadmill mostly.
  • You'll have to take off your current shoes --(this is where the fun begins.)
  • The associate might get an imprint or print of your foot to determine whether or not you have a low arch, medium arch, or high arch. This will help them figure out what type of shoes to bring out.
  • They'll bring out a few pairs of shoes in a variety of styles--maximal cushion (the ones that look like clown shoes--Hokas, Altras, some Nikes etc), minimal cushion (Merrells, New Balance, etc), ones that have a medium thick sole, or ones that looked like some alien dropped off their latest shoe experiment (Newtons and Skoras)
  • You'll then be asked if you want to also try on a pair of socks (there will either be a variety or whatever the store is trying to upsell.) Then you'll try on a bunch of shoes and then either run on the store treadmill (and get a video of it!), outside the shopping center, or around a small track drawn onto the floor (that's always fun.)

Here's where you have to be completely honest with yourself, asking the following
  1. Are the shoes comfortable?
  2. Is there any place on your foot that is rubbing against anywhere in the shoe?
  3. Are your feet moving around too much? Is there enough space to wiggle your toes?
  4. How do the bottoms of your feet feel? Anything getting sore, like your arches?
  5. Does the insole they're trying to sell you make you feel like you're running a marathon on a Serta Perfect mattress or that old mattress at your grandaunts' house that has one too coils sticking out?
  6. Do the shoes make you feel good?
  7. If you're into looks and fashion--do they match or enhance your own personal style? (I have to say that at the ripe old age of 40, I have finally developed a personal style--but only in running clothes. Other clothes, like work clothes I don't really care about...)
  8. Am I willing to spend upwards of 150 for a good pair of shoes that will last? (Note: If you shop around, you may be able to find an earlier, cheaper version of the shoe that you have just tried on. Good shoes may cost a lot of money. But there is hope on Amazon, Zappos, Running Warehouse, Backcountry, and Sierra Trading Post...)
When I was just restarting my running habit, I had a pair of New Balance something or other that were probably not even running shoes. I suffered from really bad Plantar Fasciitis from a combination of 1.Wearing the wrong shoe 2. Wearing the wrong size (they were a 12 and I wear a size 11, but hey, they were on sale at Nordstrom Rack) 3. Landing on my heel--a habit that I have worked to modify (and the last time I had PF was in 2008)

I would suggest that after you establish what shoe is the right type for you, buy two different pairs so that you can swap them every other day. I get that they are expensive. You are making an investment in yourself by purchasing the right kind of shoe. Trust me.

I hope the short reviews below are helpful to you as you either chose running shoes for the first time, or need a change in your current shoes. Let me know what you think!

Here are some of MY past and current favorites:

Asics Gel Kayano
Personally, I've only worn the men's version of the Gel Kayanos and I have never been disappointed. There is something about them that seem more sturdy--perhaps the construction of the shoe is just, um sturdier. The Kayano will give lots of support and stability for the most flat-footed amongst us. Heavy but cushioned. Great for a first half or full--or a year of 5Ks and 10Ks.
Pearl Izumi M2

Mizuno Wave Inspire
I haven't worn Mizunos since my last Marine Corps Marathon, but I remember them being very comfortable, and quite well suited for a heavier runner like myself. There is support, breathability, and ample cushioning in shoes that don't look and feel like Doc Martens on steroids. I also think they're quite stylish.

Pearl Izumi M2, and Trail M2
These may be by current favorites. I've only been running in these for two weeks, but man oh man do they light my fire. They are light, do not have bells and whistles, are sleek, and supremely comfortable for this big-footed gal. I also love the PI Trail M2s. I wore them for the third 15.5 mile loop of my latest ultra, the Javelina Hundred 100K. My feet were swollen and hurting from having done the first 31 miles in a more minimalist pair of shoes and they were exactly what I needed.

Hoka Stinson, Stinson Trail
Hoka Stinson 3, Skirt Sports skirt, tights,
Khaleesi jacket, Nathan handheld, Swiftwick
socks Merrell buff.
I love the Hoka Stinson. They are max cushion shoes that may take some getting used to, but they are supremely comfortable--that is, unless you have a really wide foot. They run a little narrower than most shoes. If you have a bunion, you may want to reconsider Hokas and maybe go for another shoe that has a wider toebox. I did my first mountain ultra (35 miles on an uphill both ways course) and finished with no foot pain. I was able to walk without a problem (footwise--not leg and other-parts-of-the-body-wise) the day after. I was sold on them after that!

Altra Olympus
So many shoes, so little time...I also am in love with the Altra Olympus. These are shoes that take a period of maybe a couple of weeks to get used to. They are zero drop, meaning that they force you to land on your forefoot/midfoot thereby placing a little more stress on the calf muscles than you are probably used to. These may not be the shoes to start out with, unless
you already land on your mid- or fore-foot.

Altra Olympus 2.0, TNF Capris, Nathan Pack, Swiftwick Socks
Adidas Energy Boost
I bought these on a whim after I realized that I didn't have any road shoes in NYC while visiting my family. I was surprised by the light weight, comfort, and sock-like fit of the shoe. The toe box is simultaneously snug and roomy. The sole offers cushioning but not so much that it hampers your stride. The ride on the concrete sidewalks of Brooklyn felt easy and effortless. I would not use these on a gravel road or trail (unless it is a well groomed one with no branches or rocks) but they are perfect for your urban runs.
Adidas Energy Boost, Under Armour tights,
Adidas tank, Swiftwick Socks, Nathan Vapor Cloud pack

Merrell All Out Charge Trail 
Merrell All Out Charge, Skirt Sports GTD Tights
I was a little skeptical about these shoes when they first arrived in the mail. They looked too small and I thought, well I'm going to have to send these back. But alas! They fit, and comfortably so. The toebox is actually large enough for my Flintstone feet, and I can even wiggle the toes around with no discomfort. I've run trails, dirt roads, and pavement with these and they are also very comfy. The lugs on the bottom don't get in the way of a smooth ride on the road, but they help you maintain an upright position (NOT FALLING) even on highly technical trail. (Full disclosure: I am a Merrell Ambassador. I truly love these shoes.)


  1. Great post, thanks for the info! I bought my first real pair of running shoes about 3 1/2 years ago when I decided to start running. I'm happy to say that the staff at my local running store was very helpful and not at all condescending. I bought a pair of Saucony Ride 5s, and I've been sticking with the Saucony Ride model ever since. Lately I've been dabbling a bit in trail running (so far so good in those shoes as far as I can tell) and I'm running a trail half marathon this Saturday. Is there a shoe you would recommend that is good on both trails and roads? The Sauconys are the only type of shoe I've run in, and I'm a little hesitant to try new ones because I like those so much! :) Thanks!

    1. Thanks! I really love the Pearl Izumi Trail M2s to switch between road and trail. The lugs aren't so aggressive that you don't have a comfortable ride of the road, but they're big enough to keep you upright on the trail. I have also used my Hoka Stinson Trail on both road and trail. However, the lugs on the Hoka Stinson trail shoes in my opinion aren't aggressive enough for a really technical trail--although I have used them in that capacity.

  2. I hate to hear of people having a bad experience when purchasing running sneakers. I always advise people to forgo a "typical" sporting good store like Sports Authority and to go to a running specific store like Fleet Feet. I always find the staff to be super sweet and smart.

    I'm a big fan of the Mizuno Wave Inspire sneakers. I have 4 pairs of the wav inspire 10s and 2 pairs of the 11s. I consider it "my" running sneaker :)

    1. I agree with not going into a big box shoe place UNLESS you have already tested and loved a shoe and it happens to be on sale or something. They will try to push ANYTHING on you'll end up with VANS.

  3. Why do you suggest switching out your shoes every other day?

    1. It takes the foam in your shoes about a day to recover from usage, so having another pair will eventually help you out bio-mechanically. It's like rotating your mattress so that your back doesn't start hurting from the imprint that your body has created.

  4. First of all, I would have LOVED this advice back when I was starting to run. So thank you for putting it out there - the good and the bad (janky sales people at running stores, what is UP with that??). And now I want to try those PIs!

    Secondly, OMG Mirna, you are killing that hill!!! As an avowed hill-hater, I am super impressed at the joy on your face as you are running up it. I should take a page from your book on hills.

    1. Thanks Shelley. (BTW, I love your blog!) The Pearls are one of my faves. I love it when shoes run true to size, are made of high quality materials, and are high performance. Where can you go wrong? OMG, that hill was the last .005 of a mile of the Helen Holiday Half down here in one was expecting it and instead of being mad, I tried to embrace it. Hills are our friends. Hills are our friends....someday, I will believe this!

    2. Thank you, and back atcha with the blog love! OK. If you can embrace the hill at the end of a half marathon, surely I can do better. I will channel you next time I encounter a friendly hill. :)

  5. I've been running for 5+ years and still feel anxious about going into running stores. Love my Altra Olympus 1.0s like you have. If I could marry a shoe and have its little rubber babies, it would be that shoe. Unfortunately, they also cause ITBS for me, where the 1.5 does not. But the 1.5 causes by big toes to get hot spots and they feel too big and just not quite right. Really hoping the 2.0 is "juuuuust right" for ol' Goldilocks here (after 2.5 comes out and the 2.0 gets cheaper, of course). Good write up!

    I don't remember if it's mentioned but many running shoe stores will let you return shoes even if you've worn them outside, so that's a nice thing to take advantage of if you're working to find the right shoe.

  6. Good advice here! I work in a running store and we would NEVER treat someone with disdain for anything- much less the amount of mileage they run! We support everyone- new to veteran runners, young and old, skinny and overweight. Everyone can run and no one should ever make someone feel bad about it! That actually really irritates me as a customer service associate.

    I'm glad you've had experience with so many shoes since then! I've worn Mizuno for two years now and have just recently switched over to Asics (not completely I still have Mizunos).

    1. I love your comment! What's the name of your store so we make sure people go THERE to be treated as human beings? If there's a website, I'll be sure to link it.

  7. Thank you for this post! My challenge is my unusual foot size (6.5 D). I can't even go into a store and shop for shoes because most stores don't stock the wider widths. As soon as I ask for wide width shoes, the sales person's eyes glaze over and they're done with me. I do all my shoe shopping online, and have found some good fits. But my choices are severely limited. I'm pretty much stuck with Brooks Ariel or Saucony Stabil CS3 which is what I have now. I like these shoes, but it's boring to not have more choices. My podiatrist insists I wear motion control shoes, which further limits my options. Sorry to whine, I really wanted to put this out there to see if anyone with wide feet has found success with other styles I may not know about. I did notice that the Asics Gel Kayano is available in a wide width but the price is ouchy. I'm also intrigued that you wear some mens' shoes. I doubt that anyone makes mens shoes small enough for my feet, but maybe I'll look into it.

  8. It's definitely important to have a fitting and get the right pair of shoes no matter what your level is. If you don't feel as though the salesperson has listened to you or met your needs, I see no problem walking out and going somewhere else.

  9. Wow--what a dilemma. Anybody else have this issue? May I suggest looking at Altras? Their toe box is really generous. Treksta shoes also have a wide toe box--and they're also really cute. Let me know if you find any other options.

    1. Well, today I found Mizuno Wave Inspires in my size, so I just ordered a pair. The reviews and description sound like they are just what I need. I'm psyched!

  10. I switched to the Asics Cummulus and LOVE them! :-) So important to get the RIGHT shoe!!

  11. My life changed when I discovered Merrell Pace Gloves! But now they're on version 3 and I'm running out of my stockpile of version 1. Version 3 looks very different, but I don't have much choice but to try them. Man, I wish I had hoarded even more of the old ones than I did.

  12. Thanks for this post. I just stumbled across your blog after a friend of mine posted your "mighty girl" profile. I've always been athletic, but have stayed away from running because I (sometimes unconsciously) have assumed that I'm too fat to run. My brother and dad and cousins and other relatives all run, but they're fit so I just figured "not for me." I've needed to find a way to burn off energy this year (and work out while trying to lose some weight) so, one day, I started running (treadmill, slow). I'm doing it and I love it. I'm so glad to find someone else with a similar body type running. Thanks for the encouragement.

  13. Hello! I'm a newer reader to your blog, so here I am commenting on an older post.

    I've worked at running specialty stores since 1996, so running shoes are near and dear to my heart. When you say that in the mid 90s, running shoes were not really a thing it's probably got more to do with the internet. Someone just getting started with running pretty much only had the phone book to go off of in the 90s, that and talking to friends or family. Running shoes and running stores have been around as a specialty since the 70s, although there were only 3 or 4 models, none came sized for women, and they were pretty basic, but they've been around! I'm so glad for the internet, we are all able to connect, find one another and offer support.

    As someone who loves running shoes, selling them and helping others find a great fit, I also get mad when I hear people have negative experiences in run specialty stores. It's not about how much someone weighs or how fast or slow they run, or if they walk or if they use their fancy new shoes to sit around watching TV on the couch. It's about welcoming someone to a community and helping them find the tool (shoes) they are looking for. If someone has a bad experience, please do contact the store owner/manager.

    I'm also wondering if you are implying that people go get fit at a run specialty store and then try to find the same shoes for cheaper on line. You don't flat out say it, but the hint is there. This can be really hard on run specialty stores and the person who just spent a bunch of time helping you. Plenty of running stores discount prior season models right in the store, or might have a selection of clearance shoes. If you want good service, and want to save some money, just tell your sales person that you can't spend over a certain amount - at a good store, they will work with you! I've helped tons of people find the shoes they love, at or under budget - you've just got to find great store, and be willing to work with them!

    All the best, and happy running!

  14. OMG, I love your webpage. I just found your site and this review. I can't wait to take a look at all your other stuff. I am 46 now and just took up running a few years ago. I never thought I could be a runner and growing up, all the runners from school were very thin and on TV, all runners were thin. I just assumed this was a prerequisite. I'm thrilled to see all your achievements and knowledge of all things running. Thanks so much for inspiring me.

    I have to admit that I have not gone to a professional running shoe store but I've gone twice to smaller shoe places. One merely pointed at the shoes on the wall. I then just picked the most affordable pair of Nike running shoes. The second place helped more by asking me questions and looking at my foot and current shoe, but I didn't really know what to ask. In short, I haven't gone the direct route of getting my gait analyzed or shopped the correct way for a great running shoe because I was afraid I would be treated as a non-serious runner. After reading your comments, I will make a point to do this now.

    My favorite shoe was the Mizuno Elixir 7, which isn't made anymore. I have tried a few others but been disappointed. I weigh more now then ever and even these shoes aren't comfortable anymore. I have pretty normal feet and they are on the narrow side, so I don't have to look for wide shoes or ones for over or under pronators but I was told to choose a shoe that doesn't bend or flex in half in the middle. Any thoughts?

    1. Have you tried the Mizuno Wave Inspire? I really dig those shoes. There is no bending. At all. Or the Aspics Gel Nimbus--they're equally sturdy. OR the Pearl Izumi Road shoes. They're fantastic. If you want to run trails however, that's a whole other conversation which I can totally geek out on if you want, because trail running is my favorite!

  15. Thank you soooooo much! I have not tried the Mizuno Wave Inspire. I tried the Wave Sayonara and the Wave Ride 16 but they weren't for me. I will definitely try the ones you suggest. I also want to check out the other two. I just tried a pair of Saucony Guide 6's (first day) and although I didn't run, I was on my feet all day and they were very comfortable.

    I would love to hear your advice on trail running. I ran one last Christmas with a girlfriend, because I love trails, and fell in love. I bought a pair of Salomon trail running shoes and fell in love with these also. I would love to do more trail runs but these babies have only been used once. Trail runs don't seem to be as popular in my area but I would love to do more!

    Thanks for the tips and thanks for the inspiration!!!

  16. Thank You!!!...Somehow,someway, I am going to get back in shape. My first thought was, I need new shoes. As a single mom, shopping can be somewhat stressful. So I would much rather enter a store with a plan. You gave amazing advise! I now feel confident knowing what to look for and questions to ask.

    I don't think you were "implying that people go get fit at a run specialty store and then try to find the same shoes for cheaper on line." (previous comment).. It seemed more like another tip for somebody that may not be able to buy 2 pairs of $150 shoes at the same time. So, again, Thank you!!

    1. Thanks for your comment Mary. I think my intention was a bit misconstrued as well...but anyway I'm glad you heard the advice in that. I'll word it a bit better next time. What are you looking for in a shoe?

  17. Thank you *so* much for this article! I'm currently on the hunt for shoes as I train for my first half marathon and I'm having a heck of a time. This article really encourages me to keep trying.

    1. Keep on keeping on Kristen! When is your half or did you do it already? Looking forward to hearing all about it!

  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  19. Hey,recently released couch potato here. How do I subscribe to your blog?

    1. Hey there Lisa! There should be a button that you can click on that says "FOLLOW" on the top left of the page. Thanks!!

  20. Great post, thanks for the info! I bought my first real pair of running shoes about 3 1/2 years ago when I decided to start running. I'm happy to say that the staff at my local running store was very helpful and not at all condescending.
    GCLUB Casino
    GClub casino

  21. Any suggestions for short wide (think Fred Flintstone) feet? By the way, I have been to specialty running stores. I normally get one of 2 reactions. The wave of the hand toward the shoe wall or the degrading eye roll. The last time I told a clerk that I needed running shoes, his face (if not his mouth) said, "yeah, right".

  22. Hi Lorna! I wish I could just take you with me to purchase my first realpair of running shoes. I own ONE pair of sneakers, and my heart loves the idea of being healthy but my feet hate it. I believe it's the shoes. I'm definitely flat footed, and y eaterday I danced for 30 minutes in my sneakers and my feet were killing me at the end. Any suggestions?

  23. I am arriving late to this party but the post reminded me of the first time that I ever went into a running specialty store. I had been training for my first half marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training when plantar fasciatis hit both feet really hard. The TNT Coach suggested a shoe check and referred me to the store. The employee who assisted me was completely exasperated by my presence and told me directly that I was "better suited for a tractor pull than for a half marathon" and wondered where the coach keeps finding "these people". Fortunately for me, the employee said that the store did not carry anything suitable for my needs and referred me to a competing store. The good news is that his attitude did not deter me and I completed my first half marathon and am still running years later. That was a very well-known and respected store in my area and I wondered if the owner knew that this employee was a complete condescending jerk. I did not go back there but have been treated very well at other running stores that have opened in my area since that time. I only wish that I had told that guy that in my opinion, tractor pulling is just as awesome and honorable as distance running!