Part of getting ready for a race is carbo-loading, which helps with stamina.

Expert Advice for Choosing the Right Running Shoes

Unlike other sports, running really only requires one vital piece of equipment to keep you going, and that is your shoes. Your training shoes will be with you from your first three mile run-walk until you toe the line for your first 13.1. And choosing the right shoe can also make a big difference in whether you’re able to maintain a consistent running routine, or find yourself hampered by injuries. And if you’re training for the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon, 10K and 5K, buying the right running shoes can make a big difference in the success of your training.

Running is a high-impact activity, and running shoes are designed to absorb some of that impact so your body doesn’t have to. Running shoes can help you avoid injury in a few important ways:

Cushioning: Most running shoes have an EVA (foam) midsole with a proprietary shock-absorbing substance embedded in the EVA for added energy return. This means energy is absorbed by the shoe, instead of your body, and that energy is utilized to propel you forward into your next stride.

Stability: An often misunderstood term in reference to running shoes, stability does one thing, and that is correct for over-pronation. What is over-pronation? When you run, your foot rolls through the motion of ground-contact to toe-off through each stride. This rolling-through is called pronation, and nearly everyone does it as a natural shock-absorbing mechanism. Over-pronation occurs when your ankle rolls in excessively and creates angles at the ankle, knee and hip that are not ideal for efficient shock absorption. Over-pronation often results in pain or injury if not corrected.

Most running shoe companies embed a wedge of high-density foam into the shoe, called the medial posting. This is designed to prevent over-pronation by redirecting the excessive inward-roll toward the outside of the body, helping you to achieve the optimal amount of pronation without over-correcting. Some manufacturers correct pronation through other means, but the goal is the same: to keep your foot landing centered, resulting in proper alignment of the joints and back.

Arch height: There is a correlation between arch height and degree of pronation, but arch height alone is not enough to determine what you need in a running shoe. If you have a high arch, you are less likely to over-pronate, but you can’t assume this is so. Many people believe flat feet automatically means over-pronation, but you may be surprised to discover you don’t over-pronate as much as you thought.

Running vs. Walking Shoes

Running shoes are great for walking, too (though not the other way around). Because they are designed for the impact of running, they offer more cushion, support and stability options than traditional walking shoes. They’re also more breathable and flexible, so they’re more comfortable over long distances.

How Do I Know What’s Right for Me?

Everyone is built differently, and your personal biomechanics dictate your body’s efficiency in absorbing shock. For this reason, you want a trained eye to analyze your running or walking gait. Every running shoe company manufactures shoes of all stability types from neutral to motion control, so you want to be sure that you’re fitted for the correct stability type before trying on different shoes from a brand you like.

Where Do I Shop for the Best Running Shoes?

Many experts advise buying your running shoes from a running or sports store because trained sales staff can perform a gait analysis before helping you choose shoes. This analysis helps them determine your degree of pronation and decide which stability category you belong in.

When Do I Need a New Pair?

Whether you’re running or walking, the shock-absorbing midsoles in most running shoes are only effective for around 300-500 miles, depending on how you wear them. That means if you run 20 miles per week, you will most likely get somewhere between 3 and 5 months out of your shoes. Running in worn-out shoes or using your running shoes for other activities puts you at greater risk for injury. If it’s been close to 300 miles and you start noticing pain or discomfort, it could be the shoes.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.