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Jun. 22 2010 - 10:48 am | 787 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

5 Common Misconceptions About Buying A New Pair of Running Shoes

Despite persistent efforts of running marketers, runners don’t really need all the overpriced bells and whistles. We don’t need Fuel Belts or Spi Belts. We don’t need performance apparel or shoe wallets.

Indeed, without the constraints of teammates and opponents and field specifications that limit other sports, the only thing a runner truly needs to “play” is a good pair of high-end running shoes. They are a reliable training partner to prevent injuries and endure for hundreds of miles.

When seen through this scope, $100 doesn’t seem so steep to pay for a pair, but just because a shoe is displayed at a specialty running store doesn’t mean it’s automatically okay for you. All first-time or beginner runners should, first and foremost, get fitted for a shoe with proper gait analysis, which most stores offer for free. In addition to this however, there are several misconceptions customers have during the shoe-buying process. Since working at the New York Running Company, a specialty running store in Manhattan, I’ve observed customer buying habits, spoken to a bunch of shoe tech reps and taken notes. Here is a list of five indispensible misconceptions that buyers should be aware of of before purchasing their shoes.

1. Beware of Brand Loyalty

The running boom has resulted in fierce competition among athletic brands for the money of affluent participants. This is a benefit to all runners, however, because it has forced companies that want to have a legitimate stake in the market to invest heavily in research and development. The result is the largest variety of high quality running brands ever available to runners.

And here’s the thing: With only a few exceptions, they’re all making very, very good products. Customers ask me all the time ‘What’s the best running shoe?’ as if there’s just one shoe we pull from the shelf with a wink and crooked smile. In fact there are literally dozens and each brand delivers a host of good shoes. I’ve personally trained in nearly all of them and been satisfied each time.

The bottomline is, there’s no reason to get hung up on trying on shoes from only one brand or refusing to try on shoes from another brand. Doing that will only limit your ability to make an informed purchasing decision.

2. Beware of gimmicks

Just because it’s a running shoe store doesn’t mean that it exclusively carries shoes ideal for running. They are a business first  and foremost with an interest in making a profit. To an extent stores account for styles and trends that the masses desire.

Every couple of months, a brand comes out with an odd-looking shoe and markets it to runners. The current shoe to fit that mold is the Reebok Zig Tech, which became a viral marketing sensation when Chuck Liddell and Chad Ochocinco were “caught” working out naked in them.

(Although it’s somewhat obvious that these were carefully placed spots filmed with the athletes’ approval, it didn’t stop mainstreamers from covering it like legitimate news….to the extent that naked athletes is news at all.)

Anyway, the Zig claims to absorb impact by spreading out shock over the length of the shoe’s sole, which resembles a tumultuous day of company stocks on Wall Street. Unfortunately it lacked any and all support for even the mildest pronators and proved to be just a bad shoe to log miles in.

Before the Zigs, there were (and still are, really) the Nike Shox, which were a case study in how far Nike had ventured from their legacy as a running brand. The initial Shox, which were elevated in the heel by four spring-like columns and nothing else, were marketed directly to runners as a high performance training shoe. Serious runners soon found that they were borderline defective, falling apart within in the first month of use. Worse, many runners began complaining of an array of painful running injuries.

Point is, if you see a new, different-looking running shoe being advertised to the masses on national television, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a good shoe. In fact, you should probably stay away altogether.

3. Beware of price

Logic follows that the higher the price of a product is, the better quality it should be than one that costs less, right? Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth for running shoes. The most expensive shoe at New York Running Company, the Asics Gel-Kinsei ($180), is also one of the last I’d recommend for a serious runner. While legitimately good shoes like the Asics Kayano and Mizuno Nirvana run as high as $140, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a “better” shoe for you.

For one, all shoes are built for a specific kind of foot and arch shape, as well as for the physiological functions they make in association with the rest of your body.

The best-selling shoes, year-in and year-out, are the ones in the $90-$110. In our store that includes the Asics 2150 ($100) and Brooks Adrenaline ($100). They are beloved not because they have a crapload of cushion or support, or even because they cost less. Rather, they’re built around a last that wraps well and simply fit’s the foot well. The comment I always hear from customers when they try these shoes are “I don’t know how to explain it, but it just feels like it fits my foot.” .

4. Beware of Out-of-box comfort

A recent trend for neutral shoes, which are shoes for high-arched runners who don’t overpronate and tend to strike on the midfoot, are building up the sole with lots of soft cushioned foam/gel/air, etc. It creates a feel that, upon trying on for the first time, is irresistibly comfortable.

Unfortunately softness isn’t necessarily a positive for running. For one thing, some runners who pronate need firmer foams under them, specifically at the heel where most runners strike upon landing. For another thing, cushioning isn’t a lightweight material. More minimal neutral shoes (which are also cheaper) are going to be lighter weight, and more flexible. For performance purposes, it’s beneficial to feel the surface beneath you. The soft pillowy effect that max cushion provides makes you feel like you’re running on, well, pillows. Soft, sinking, energy-absorbing pillows.

A couple of shoes in particular that have ton of cushioning are the Asics Nimbus and Nike Vomero. While neither are necessarily bad – in fact, they’re quite good for the neutral runner that genuinely prefers more cushion – they can feel so good out of the box that they mislead a runner into thinking it’s the best fitting shoe.

5. Beware of vanity

This sort misconception almost speaks for itself, but in the vanity-driven world of New York City, you’d be surprised at how many legitimate runners refuse to try a pair of shoes because it’s not the right color or style.

Look, running shoes aren’t ideal for walking around the Meatpacking District on a Saturday night, but they’re fine for Central Park on a Tuesday evening. Although shoe designers continue to tweak colors and styles to appeal to larger audiences, even they understand it’s a relatively futile effort: For every person who likes their shoe white, there’s another who wants pink and another who wants blue and another who wants black. So if you’re a fashion-conscious person in life, make this the one aspect in which you give in to health over image.


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  1. collapse expand

    Great article! My compliments to you!
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    You may add your initials, add unlimited text and photos to the shoe.
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Running Shorts is a part of the True/Slant network specializing in Running News, Trends, Insights and Perspectives. This blog is maintained by Megan Kretz (megan [dot] kretz [at] gmail [dot] com) and Geoff Decker (geoffreydecker [at] gmail [dot] com). Email either us with tips, suggestions or feedback. And thanks for reading!

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