10 Steps to Shoe Heaven
The perfect pair of running shoes should be at the top of your shopping list when you start marathon training, but sourcing the right option when there is such a massive array of makes, models and technologies on the market leaves many of us feeling baffled and ready to run out of the shoe store empty-handed.
To help you to make smart choices next time you’re in the market for a new pair of running shoes, we asked the experts at New Balance, official clothing and footwear partner of the Virgin Money London Marathon, for their 10 top tips on what to wear for the 26.2-mile challenge ahead.
1. Ask an expert
Liz Ellyard, Senior Merchandise Manager at New Balance, has worked in the running-shoe industry for 15 years, fitting shoes and advising marathon runners. Her number-one piece of advice for any runner looking to update their footwear is to seek professional help.
“It sounds obvious, but the best place to start is a specialist running shop,” says Ellyard. “Try on a variety of different makes and models to get a sense of what you like and don’t like, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the sales staff on the different types of shoes available.
“The key thing to consider when buying a new pair of running shoes is cushioning, which is what essentially leads to comfort – crucial for marathon training.”
2. Get the fit right
Start by asking yourself whether the shoe feels comfortable. Consider the following: heel, instep, width, length, flex and feel. There should be a thumb’s width at the end of the shoe, which might mean going up a size or half a size bigger than your everyday shoes.
“I’ve fitted hundreds of pairs of shoes and found that people usually wear their shoes too small,” says Ellyard. “Your feet expand when you run a long distance, so you need the extra length to accommodate that.”
You should also plan your shoe-shopping trip for late afternoon, when your feet have expanded to their largest size to ensure you buy the right size.
3. Find your style
As well as comfort and fit, your running style will dictate your choice of shoes.
The most common way for sales staff to assess this is by watching you run on a treadmill in store. By analysing your gait, they will be able to spot any biomechanical issues you might have and suggest the best shoes to accommodate this.
If your ankles roll in when your feet hit the ground, for example, you may need to run in stability shoes that help to prevent excessive inward rolling (or over pronation).
Once the sales staff have assessed your gait, they will be able to recommend a variety of shoes for you to test for comfort and fit.
4. Embrace technology
At New Balance’s flagship store on London’s Oxford Street, the sales advisors offer a two-pronged approach to finding your perfect running shoe. They’ll start by filming you doing a few strides so they can assess your running style, then they’ll take a laser scan of your feet.
It takes just three seconds to build a 3D image of each foot, which you can view on an iPad, with its exact measurements – including the width, length and arch height. The sales staff will use this 3D image to give you advice about what type of running shoe you need.
5. Shoe trends
With so many running-shoe companies creating innovative new designs and technologies, you will always be able to find a running shoe to suit your style. That said, there are broad trends that the majority of manufacturers tend to follow, so it’s a good idea to be aware of these when shoe shopping.
Several years ago, when ‘barefoot’ running was all the rage, running shoe companies met the demand by creating minimalist shoes. But while you might still see the odd person running in shoes that look more like gloves than footwear, the market is broadly moving towards more cushioning in shoes.
Treat Your Feet
Black toe nails, blisters, rough skin… Marathon training doesn’t have to mean bruised and battered feet. Follow these simple ways to avoid common foot problems and put a spring in your step…
Blisters are caused by heat, built up by friction or pressure or both, and result in layers of skin separating and filling with fluid. You can avoid blisters by wearing clean, comfortable socks that fit your feet snugly and wick away moisture as your feet start to sweat.
Steer clear of 100 per cent cotton socks as they don’t wick sweat as effectively as synthetic socks. If you are prone to blisters, tape the area or apply some petroleum jelly to prevent rubbing before putting your socks on. Small stones, grit and gravel can also cause blisters so it’s worth stopping to remove debris if any gets into your shoe.
This fungal infection, which is caused by tiny parasites, loves warm, moist conditions and often results in a red, itchy rash. Avoid it by washing and drying your feet carefully after a run, especially between the toes, and pulling on clean socks. If you do develop the symptoms, using an anti-fungal cream should clear up any rash in a week or two.
It is possible to run a marathon and not develop black toenails – honest! Keeping your toenails short will help, but you also need to make sure your shoes fit – if they are too small you’ll squeeze your toes every time you take a step, and if they are too big your feet may slip around within the shoe, with the result that your toes hit the end of the toe box. When you do cut your toenails, be sure to cut them straight across to avoid ingrowing toenails.
Corns tend to develop between, or on top of toes, when they’re squeezed together too tightly. If you feel a hot spot forming, protect it with a corn cushion to redistribute the pressure and consider buying a shoe with more room in the toe box.
6. Keep it simple
In shoe-buying terms, that means running-shoe manufacturers are putting their efforts into perfecting shoes that provide just the right amount of cushioning for your specific needs.
“The way we design shoes, and the knowledge we’ve built up about the movement of the foot, means we can create more simple shoes – with fewer parts – but they’re also more intelligent shoes that work with your foot better and provide more support through different technologies, like New Balance Fresh Foam,” says Ellyard.
“Future running shoe innovations will be all about intelligent geometry,” she continues, “using different shapes and materials within the mid-sole to provide that stability and cushioning rather than using lots of different components. Our focus will be on simplifying the shoes while also working with your foot and your body.”
7. The right price
So, you’ve found a shoe that’s a great fit and perfect for your running style, but you’re not sure how much to spend. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to running shoes.
“Budget shoes tend not to be as durable as more expensive models because of the manufacturing methods and materials that go into them,” explains Ellyard. “If you are running every day and putting in high-mileage weeks, you’ll need certain materials in your shoes to give them durability and cushioning over a longer period.
“From a UK perspective, the price point for these shoes will be around RRP £85. You can run in cheaper shoes, but for the best experience I’d recommend performance running shoes.”
“We’ve found that marathon runners tend to favour a couple of New Balance shoes,” she says. “They are 800 series shoes – the 860 and the 880. They’re a popular choice because they offer great cushioning, great stability and great durability.”
8. Track your miles
Once your new shoes are out of the box, try to track the number of miles you run in them by making a note in your training log. It’s also a good idea to rotate your shoes if possible, so you’re not always wearing the same pair. The minor differences between pairs will encourage your body to adapt and become stronger.
Ellyard suggests replacing shoes after you’ve run 400 to 600 miles – an industry standard – as the shoes will lose their cushioning after that. Look out for signs of wear, such as creases on the sole, holes in the mesh upper and worn insoles and replace shoes if you spot any of these tell-tale signs.
9. Ask other runners
If you can’t get to a specialist running store, or you want to do some research before you set off on your next shoe-shopping trip, the internet offers a variety of resources you can tap into. Runner’s World magazine produces a shoe buyer’s guide twice a year with its October and April issues, or check out the shoe reviews online at runnersworld.co.uk.
You can also take a look at running-shoe manufacturers’ sites to find out more about the shoes they offer. And if you’d like advice from runners who have already tried the shoes you’re thinking of buying, head to a running shoe forum and pose any questions you have to other runners.
10. Shop smarter
Shopping for new shoes may seem daunting at first but if you work through this checklist on what to look for, where to buy and how much to spend, you’ll be able to make smart choices next time you invest in a new pair of trainers.
By learning from the experts at a specialist running shop, you’ll gain great insights into your running style and improve your chances of arriving on the Start Line of your next marathon injury-free, fighting fit and ready to take on the 26.2-mile challenge. Happy running!