If you’ve run a half marathon before, likely you already know what a difference the right running shoes can make. But if you are coming to the marathon from a shorter distance, it may be time to re-evaluate your shoes. If you don’t have the right shoes for your body and your stride, you can end up with knee, hip or back pain, shin splints, or blisters.
Socks are pretty important, too. I don’t really worry about having certain socks for most of my training runs, but I do use very fitted wicking socks for long runs and race day. These socks can make a huge difference as far as blisters and rubbing inside your shoe. My favorite socks right now are Swiftwicks. At $12 a pair, they aren’t cheap, so I only have one pair I use for long runs and racing.
I also have a pair of tall compression socks, which are supposed to help recovery during your run, and although they have never caused me problems, I’m not sure they do anything magical for my running. Compression socks and the sleeves you wear on your arms are supposed to speed the return of blood from your limbs, which means your body doesn’t have to work quite as hard to do that and can direct that excess energy elsewhere. But studies are inconclusive as to how much they actually help during a race.
As for shoes, what works for me won’t work for you. Everyone has a different body type, stride and arch. What I can tell you is what I have learned about buying running shoes over the years:
- If the sales person asks you what color or brand you are looking for, or what your size is, don’t buy there. A store with knowledgable employees will ask you what distance you are training for and how many miles you run a week before they ask anything else. That’s because they know that fit is the most important thing and that is what they have to deliver on. In addition, fit varies from shoe to shoe, so they should measure your foot every time to obtain the right size through different brands.
- Take your current running shoes with you. Many running stores will want to see the wear pattern on your old shoes. If they don’t ask to see your old shoes, they should put you on a treadmill and analyze your stride to determine the best shoe for you. Again, if the store employee is relying completely on you for guidance on the shoe you need, don’t buy there.
- Be prepared to spend $100-$140. Fit is the most important part of your shoe. The most expensive shoes aren’t necessarily the best. Shoes you find online or in big-box stores may be cheaper, but they won’t perform as well—believe me I have tried! There’s just no way I have found to shortcut around having an actual runner—most running store employees are extremely experienced runners—fit you with the right shoe.
- Get new shoes every 500 miles. One of the features I like about the Nike+ app is that you can enter your shoes and it will calculate miles run for you. Otherwise, just do that math, or replace your running shoes after six months of use. This really does make a difference! When your shoes are worn out, you’ll notice you feel more fatigued after runs and you may experience repetitive use injuries like knee pain or shin splints. I use my old running shoes for errands and other activities, and only use running shoes for running. Some runners use their old shoes for long runs. By keeping your old shoes around, you can easily compare the difference in worn-out shoes and fully cushioned shoes. Once you can’t really tell the difference, it’s time for new shoes.
- Have your gait analyzed after big changes in your body. This could mean pregnancy, weight loss, weight gain, knee surgery, a long time away from running, the start of weight training, or any change that could effect how you run. I wear vastly different shoes today than I did before my three pregnancies. Over the years my shoe size and stride have changed in response to my training as well as physical changes in my body.
So how do you find a reputable running store in your area? Look for running stores near you on Facebook or Twitter—they are likely very involved in the local running community and will be hosting group runs and other events that make them easy to find. Enter a local race–they will probably sponsor or run it.
You can also use the Running Store Finder from Runner’s World. It weeds out the big-box stores and will give you local places. You can also just look up your local running club and email someone to ask where to get shoes.