They're everywhere: runners on neighborhood streets, in parks, on treadmills, in gyms. All following through on their yearly get-fit-and-lose-10-pounds resolutions.
If you're thinking about joining them, make sure you get off on the right foot.Shoes are an important - and often overlooked - factor in the success of any running program.
"Getting into a shoe that's not made for your running style might lead to an injury right from the get-go because it over-corrects or emphasizes a problem," said Guy Perry, owner of Sporting Soles, a Salt Lake running specialty store.
In fact, the shoe you wear may contribute to the onset of certain "overuse injuries," according to Terry P. Smith, a podiatrist and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Utah. Such injuries include tendinitis, shin splints and fascitis (a painful heel condition affecting many runners). And, more than acute injuries like falls or sprains, they are the reason most runners quit the sport.
What to do? For a beginning runner, choosing the correct shoe may seem like an impossible task. Just walking into an athletic shoe storecan be intimidating, because of the sheer number of styles and brands available.
However, there are ways to find the perfect shoe.
The most important factor is the fit. Though many people may be swayed by the lure of flashy marketing or celebrity endorsements, experts warn against it. Comfort, cushion, and durability - not the brand name - are the keys.
"I wish I could blindfold people when they come in," said Perry. "It's so easy to get caught up in brand names and marketing schemes. But, if people can not get caught up in the advertising hype, it's to their benefit."
Many shoppers also feel tempted to buy the cheapest shoe (or the most expensive), or the shoe with the quirkiest gimmick. Resist, says Perry. Plan to spend about $85 dollars for a good shoe; the $30 pair probably won't give you adequate durability or fit, and the $150 pair offers more than the average runner needs.
Find the pair that suits your style of running, as well as the shape and curve of your foot, Perry says. He suggests the "Wet Test": Wet the bottom of your feet and make a footprint on a flat, dry surface. The resulting impression will show the shape of your foot and indicate which shoe type to choose from.
Basically, there are three types of foot shapes, said Smith, who is also a fellow of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. Each is a reflection of the height of the arch and shows in what direction the foot tends to roll after the initial heel strike. The pronated foot rolls inward after the heel strikes and the wet test usually indicates a flat foot.
The underpronator foot continues outward, and the foot stride continues along the outer edge of the foot heel. The wet test will show the heel and ball of the foot, with little in the middle. The normal gait rolls slightly inward, but not to the extent of the pronated foot.
When you've determined your foot shape, you've automatically narrowed the field. The pronated foot needs a more rigid shoe which wraps snugly around the heel and keeps the arch from collapsing. The underpronated foot requires much more cushioning and shock absorption, Smith says, because the foot generally can't absorb shock well on its own.
Smith's other tips:
- Shop for shoes late in the afternoon. The foot swells as the day progresses, and imitates the swelling that occurs during exercise.
- Make sure there's a small finger's width between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Shoes that are a little too large are better than those that are too small.
- It's just as important to fit the heel to the ball of your foot as it is to fit heel to toe. The widest part of your foot should correspond with the widest part of the shoe. Some shoe companies, such as New Balance, offer different width sizes to choose from.
- Wear appropriate socks when trying on shoes. Buy them if you have to, but do not try on running shoes wearing trouser or dress socks.
- Pick a knowledgeable salesperson. "Pick a runner, someone that knows the sport," Smith says. "That's not necessarily the youngest, most good-looking salesperson, but the one that has been running for a while and knows what's going on."
- Also, if you can, bring a pair of your old shoes in with you. A good salesperson will be able to get a lot of valuable information about your needs by seeing the wear and tear on an old pair.