Although non-essential shops in England and Wales are allowed to reopen, some things remain easier to buy than others. Take running shoes, for instance: finding the right pair usually involves spending hours in store, picking up and trying on several pairs before moving over to the shop’s treadmill for a quick burst of running. Even with lockdown easing, this is not ideal. Buying a pair online is more convenient, but it can also feel like taking a stab in the dark.
However, that needn’t be the case. To take the fear out of buying running shoes online, here is an array of expert tips.
Do a gait analysis online
Gait analysis is usually the most tailored part of buying running shoes. It is how the retailer learns where on your foot you tend to land and how much your feet roll inwards upon impact. While it is tricky to do this online, it can be done. Steve Paterson, a product trainer at Runners Need, points out that the chain offers online gait analysis. “Shoppers simply provide us with videos of themselves running and answer a short questionnaire,” he says. “Run experts can help shoppers to find the right shoe, as well as providing advice on their running form, injury prevention and ways to get the most out of their running.” It is more of a palaver than in-store analysis, but it could stop you injuring yourself.
Do the squat test
The website Sporting Feet has a handy do-at-home test for prospective runners. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then bend your legs. Where are your knees pointing? If they point in, you are likely to be an overpronator; if they point out, you might be an underpronator (also known as a supinator). If it is the former – as is the case for 70% of us – look for a shoe with built-in stability.
Check the returns policy
This is common sense, but still worth bearing in mind. Trevor Prior, the in-house podiatrist for the footwear and orthotics specialists Vionic, says: “Make sure you pick a brand with a good returns policy, as you will need to try on a range of shoes and opt for the one that feels the best.” Lots of brands have a 28-day policy, but beware the ones that don’t accept shoes that have been worn, especially outside.
Look for heel height
One often overlooked aspect of running shoes is the difference of sole thickness between heel and toe, especially if you are new to running. A higher heel-to-toe drop may reduce stress on your calf muscles and achilles tendons, so if you have tighter calves, perhaps due to a lack of experience, it is thought to be good to go for a higher drop. Prior says 8-10mm is a good start point: “This can reduce load to the calf muscle while you adapt, so taking time to find out the heel drop is worthwhile.”
Consider your distance
When you buy a pair of running shoes in a shop, you are likely to be asked what sort of running you will be doing. A pair of track shoes will be useless for a trail runner, for example, while someone who competes in marathons will need a different set of features from someone who wants to run 5km twice a week. Marthe Solberg, the technical representative for the running shoe brand On, says: “For longer distances, your body will take more impact from the ground and your muscles will work harder to absorb these impacts and utilise the energy for forward propulsion. Therefore, looking at more cushioned shoes may be beneficial.”
How experienced are you?
A mistake I made as a running newcomer was buying a pair of expert-level shoes that my body wasn’t prepared for. This happens a lot, says Solberg: “If you are a new runner and your body has not been conditioned to cope with the impacts from running, you might want to consider a more stable shoe.” She says “comfort plays an important role in preventing running-related injuries. In other words, runners may be less likely to get injured when wearing footwear that feels as comfortable and natural to them as possible.”
Pick the right size
Prior says most people buy shoes that are the incorrect size. If you are trying on pairs at home, he says, “there should be 1cm between the end of the longest toe and the shoe when standing. If the shoe is the right length and your foot is slipping when the laces are tied, then the volume or width of the shoe may be too big for your foot, so look at a different model.” Good laces also help more than you would imagine. “Remember, your foot will move forward in the shoe when running, so having adequate length and laces to hold your foot in position is important and may help you avoid blackened toenails,” Prior says.
Don’t equate price with suitability
As Paterson says, “the most expensive pair isn’t necessarily the right pair for you, so don’t be tempted into thinking that a higher price always equals a better shoe”. Instead, focus on the fit and feel, and the features most likely to help with the type of running you plan to do.