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How to Find Marathon Running Shoes


WRITTEN BY: Sports Medicine
Thursday, March 12th, 2015

The first step of any full or half marathon training should be finding proper support for your feet. Running is a high impact sport. Without the right footwear that fits your feet well, you may injure yourself before you even start your marathon. From blisters to foot strains and sprains, there are a number of obstacles to runners as they train for a marathon. Whether you’re training on a road, trail, or at the gym, it’s important to support your movements and help you avoid injury.

Jonathan Greenawalt, PT, DPT, of UPMC Sports Medicine, offers his suggestions to help you support your perfect pair.

Why Wear Running Shoes

The demands of distance running require a more specific shoe than you may wear for other athletic activities like cycling, hiking, or court sports. The right shoe can help reduce your likelihood of developing common running injuries such as:

How to Find Running Shoes

The key to finding your perfect running shoe and kick starting your marathon training is to know your feet. Different styles of shoes are recommended depending on your gait, which includes factors like your arch, motion mechanics, and the part of your foot that strikes the surface on your run (heel, toe, mid-foot, etc).

Many of the major running shoe brands, as well as running information groups, offer online evaluations. These questionnaires begin with basic questions like height, weight, age, and gender, but lead to more specific gait questions. Some runners, especially new ones, may be unfamiliar with these terms and therefore unable to fully utilize these resources. To get you ready for your marathon training, read on for our breakdown of these running-specific shoe-fit terms.

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Runner’s Gait

A runner’s gait refers to a runner’s style. It is a common misconception that a gait analysis only involves your feet. In actuality, gait depends on your individual foot, running preferences, and training frequency. It is determined by a holistic view of your running movement. Prior to choosing a new running shoe, consider a professional gait analysis from a licensed shoe-fitter or retailer.

Gait analysis can help you identify your arch, motion mechanics, and what type of striker you are, which all play important roles in running. Types of gait analyses vary by retailer but can involve computerized software to film your running style and measure your feet.

There are also a number of at-home gait analyses focused on particular characteristics which can help you learn more about your feet prior to figuring out what shoes to buy.

Arch

The foot’s arch is the anatomy of your foot’s bones and tendons which support the body. Arches are broken down into:

  • Normal
  • Flat
  • High

The wet test helps identify your arch type by marking where your foot contacts the ground. Simply wet your left foot and step on a brown piece of paper. Examine the water mark to learn about the positioning of your foot.

  • Normal- If your footprint shows a curve on the inside.
  • Flat- If you see the full sole of your foot with little curve on the inside.
  • High- If the mark shows a dramatic curve on the inside, almost connecting the ball of your foot and heel with a thin line.

If using your right foot for the wet test, the above characteristics will be reversed. For example, a normal arch will show a curve on the outside of your footprint.

Learn how to use the wet test to identify your foot type.

Motion mechanics

Motion mechanics are measured by pronation, or the inward movement of the foot, which also can be tied to arch type. Pronation occurs when the feet roll toward to the inside while running. Pronation is normal, but cases of over and under pronation can leave runners susceptible to injury and may require additional cushioning and support. Under pronation is known as supination and causes the feet to roll to the outside. When cushioned and supported with running shoes, these motion mechanics don’t have to inhibit your training.

A simple way to determine your level of pronation is to look at your shoes for areas of wear. If the inside or outside of your left shoes are worn down, you may run with under or over pronation respectively. For your right foot, wear on the inside of your shoes may indicate over pronation while wear on the outside can indicate under pronation.

Some shoe fitters recognize a correlation in arch type and types of pronation. Because of this, the wet test can be helpful for some runners to identify pronation. Generally, the following arch types are associated with pronation type:

  • Normal arch-normal pronation
  • high arch- under pronation (supination)
  • flat arch-over pronation

Striker

Your striker refers to the area of your foot that hits the ground in your stride. Most runners have strikers in one of the following regions of the foot:

  • Forefoot
  • Midfoot
  • Heel
  • Extreme Heel

Additional shoe padding around your striker can reduce injuries, cushion your feet, and reduce some of the pain and strain from the impact of your stride.

How to Get the Right Fit for Running Shoes

Most specialty store employees are trained to help you select the best shoe for your foot. Based on your gait and other influencing factors, these employees can help you try on a variety of running shoes to find your perfect pair. As you browse, look for styles with additional cushioning around the areas where your feet need support. Always try on shoes while you are wearing the type of sock you plan to run in.

Remember that running shoes should offer a snug but not tight fit. Leave 3/8 to 1/2 inch, or roughly a thumb’s width, between your longest toe and the front of the shoe. Your heel should rest on a supportive back but not feel forced or pressed. Be sure to take a practice jog around the store to make sure these requirements are met with movement.

Running shoes should be replaced with wear. Experts suggest every 6 months or 600 miles. If you’re considering a new pair of shoes, be sure to give yourself ample time to break them in based on your preference.

If you’re training for a marathon, schedule an appointment to make sure you’re in peak physical condition as you take off for the finish line. Visit the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine online or call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678) to make an appointment talk to an expert.

Sports Medicine

UPMC Sports Medicine is the region’s largest and most experienced program dedicated to treating, training, and inspiring athletes at levels, in all sports. Our physicians, surgeons, physical therapists, athletic trainers, sports nutrition, and sports performance experts are dedicated to helping athletes and active people recover from injuries, and even prevent them. Read More