How to Save Money on Running Shoes

Every time one of these questions lands in my inbox, a runner trips in a pothole and loses a season from injury:

“What are the best shoes to help heal my plantar fasciitis?”

“I pronate slightly more than normal – can you recommend a good running shoe?”

“Do ASICS work well for middle-aged women in Nebraska who run 17.5 miles per week in corn fields?”

I had some fun with that last one… but the first two are real questions I get! I simply can’t answer these questions. I have no idea – and no coach does.

The decision of what shoes to wear is intensely personal – and when I write running shoe reviews, I always mention that the shoe “might work for you if ‘xyz’ is true.”

Every runner is an individual with unique needs. Just think about everything that differs from runner to runner:

  • Stride length
  • Foot strike
  • Weight
  • Use profile (volume, intensity, frequency)
  • Injury history
  • Biomechanical flaws

What works for me may be a terrible choice for you.

The best way to find what works for you is to test as many shoes as you can. You may find that a certain type works best on easy runs while you tolerate a very different style for faster workouts.

Ultimately, shoe selection is an experiment that requires lots of trials.

And you should always be rotating 2-3 different models of shoe to slightly vary the stress your feet and lower legs experience to prevent injuries. It’s science.

Not only will this help you prevent injuries, but it’s more fun (God, I love shoes) and will help you learn what shoes work for you.

Because shoe selection is an experimental process and it’s valuable to have several pairs in rotation, it’s helpful to save as much cash as possible when you’re buying shoes.

After all, shoes won’t make you a better runner. Hard work, consistency, ongoing education, support, and coaching will certainly help you run faster.

But not shoes…

Study: 183,911 running shoe prices analyzed

The folks at RunRepeat have pored over the prices of hundreds of thousands of shoes to tease out exactly how to save money on running shoes.

A total of 2,436 unique running shoes were included across 36 running shoe brands from 41 US retailers. This covers more than 99.99% of the total running shoe market.

Check out this infographic:

Running Shoe Prices Infographic

It’s always best to make decisions based on research – and it’s clear that there are some big lessons to draw from this research.

What can we learn from this running shoe study?

To me, there’s a basic lesson to be learned from this enormous body of research:

Buy your shoes online and do some research before pressing the Buy Now button.

There are also some smaller lessons that can be helpful for saving money:

  • Buy neutral or stability shoes instead of motion control shoes (As we learned from Pete Larson’s Tread Lightly, motion control shoes actually cause injuries too)
  • Less supportive shoes also cost less. Save $5.60 per ounce!
  • Amazon has the best prices (see here) and with a Prime membership, you get free shipping too
  • Amazon also has the best selection of any online retailer
  • Opt for last year’s model and save another 19%

It seems that if you buy last year’s neutral or stability shoe model on Amazon, you’ll get the best deal.

And the best selection by far:

Running Shoe Selection

In all my shoe reviews, I always send folks to Amazon because I had a hunch this was true.

But it’s not all about price…

Even though we now know the most cost-effective way to buy shoes, is that the best way to do it?

I don’t think so.

You may buy shoes for other reasons – say, to support your local specialty running store – and that’s fantastic but a topic for another day.

If you’re a new runner or a runner with a long injury history, it’s best to try your shoes on before you purchase them.

While this is impossible when buying shoes online, a specialty running retailer will allow you to run on a treadmill or around the block in shoes to gauge how they feel.

Because ultimately, that’s what matters: how they feel. Fit and comfort are the most important considerations when buying running shoes.

Here is a quote from Runnah that sums up how I think about running shoe selection:

BE COMFORTABLE – this is the most important thing, find a shoe that you run comfortably in – one that you put on and forget about. Get beyond brand marketing, the salesperson’s prejudices or preconceptions, the running store’s limited selection and find the pair of running shoes that feel comfortable to you when you are running.

No, this is not easy, yes you will try many running shoes and spend lots of money, before you find the style of running shoes that allow you to run comfortably.

I couldn’t have said this better myself.

So when you read any shoe review, keep in mind that it is most definitely biased. Be critical and take any recommendation with a large grain of salt.

If it’s one of my reviews, keep in mind I’m a whopping 127 pounds and fairly efficient. I can run in minimalist shoes and cushioned shoes without too many problems.

Bottom line: test, experiment, and try as many different models of shoe as you can.

You’ll learn a lot about shoes – and most importantly, yourself.

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Comments

  1. One part that is important to mention – if you are going to go to a run speciality store and try on shoes, buy them at the store. Don’t be the guy that says “Oh, I’m just going to take a picture and think about it.” We know you are just going to go on Amazon and buy them when you get home.

    At the end of the day, we (people who work in run specialty) don’t care – but it’s just bad ju-ju.

    • Yes, that’s bad karma! If you get great help at a specialty store, pay it forward. Shoes aren’t a commodity, especially if they come with top-notch service.

    • I was going to say exactly the same thing. Local running stores can be a wealth of knowledge no support for new runners, or runners new to the area, and it’s I,portent to support local businesses.

  2. Tried Amazon once, received returned shoes that had been previously worn (had dirt/mud on the soles), for the new price. There was no mention on the page that these were returns/refurbs (whatever they call it in the shoe business). Submitted a complaint with Amazon which was never followed up on.

    I do use Amazon for quite a bit of my general shopping needs, but now I tend to stick with the more established online retailers for running shoes, even if it does end up costing me a little more.

  3. I love this! As a runner and fitness coach, one of my biggest pet peeves is to hear people try to give shoe advice and people actually order a pair of shoes because their friends wears them. Every BODY is different. We all run differently. We have different needs, etc, etc. You’re right. Trial and error. At least begin at a running shoe store where they can help fit you and then go from there. Often they get it right, but still there are times that it takes a couple tries to find your “sole mate” 😉

    • Sole mate! I love it.

      You’re so right that’s best to buy shoes in person at first. Once you know the type of shoe you like, you can then buy online. But learning what you perform and respond in best is the first step.

  4. I found a pair of new shoes I loved at Dick’s Sporting Goods last summer and paid full price for them. Then, this winter I bought two more pairs of the exact same shoe online at a super discounted price since they were on clearance by then! Win-win.

  5. I bought a pair of running shoes at my local running store. The first 2 weeks of running with them I had a lot of hip pain. I called and talked to them and made a return for a different brand and have felt great since. Would an online store do that? I don’t think so. That’s my worry about purchasing online.

  6. Nice article Jason. I’ve found certain brands and models of shoes that work well for me. I’ll periodically see them on sale, often last year’s model. I haven’t paid more than $60 for Skecher’s, Saucony or Nikes in quite a while. Another great place to purchase shoes is runningwarehouse.com. They have a 90 day return policy, even if you have worn the shoes. They also give a lot of good information about the shoes they sell. I’ve purchased shoes from a “local” running store and liked the experience. The issue for me is “local” is 45 minutes away. I just don’t have the time to get to the store.

  7. Michele Pettinger says:

    As a coach and someone who works in run specialty, I do care. I care about every athlete I fit and their running success, and I care about the success of the running store and brick and mortar. If we are not supporting our local running stores, which in my experience go above and beyond for the running community and beyond, then there won’t be somewhere to go to get a proper fit, not to mention find a running group or buddy, talk with other runners about fuel, gear, and everything In Between. It’s 100% worth the time and money to visit a run specialty store to get a proper fit and buy an up-to-date shoe that has not been sitting on a warehouse shelf for months. Your money is going to so much more than the right shoe.

  8. The other thing to keep in mind when ordering online is that manufacturers can change the fit of a shoe from one year to the next. a shoe that was perfect one year may not be so perfect the next.

    In the long run, my feet are too important to risk using shoes that I have not tried on. I like to touch and feel the shoes, and I like to have them in my hands when I leave the store. Just too many variables online. Price is not always the determining factor of what I buy.

    • I definitely agree with this. I have found my favorite brand and model of shoe several times only to be disappointed in the fit and feel of the newest version.

  9. I usually read your bog posts without commenting, but this one hits too close to home. I wanted to find a 10k for June to celebrate my new age bracket, and found this one: http://www.cornfieldcornfield.com/.
    Seriously, though I really appreciate the advice I get from a local store, and there is no substitute for trying the new shoes on for fit. I just tell the salesman what my preferences are for the toebox width, weight, cushioning, stability, etc, and they fill me in on all the latest developments.
    I lost a toenail last year because a pair I bought from Amazon were a half size too small.
    Jason, you should visit us for a run in these cornfields instead of poking fun. How else would you be able remind yourself about running in 90% humidity?

  10. Ken Hurst says:

    The only time I would buy a running shoe online is if I were buying the exact same brand and model and version I already owned, preferably even the same color! Otherwise I think it is far better to go to your local specialty running store. TBH price is just one narrow component of shoe buying and actually quite unimportant when compared to other considerations. BTW the best place to buy seriously discounted quality running shoes is at places like Ross, but that is only for those who are well versed in what to look for and willing to wait until they see the right shoe hit the shelf. Brooks Transcend retail for $170, but I snagged a pair for $40.

  11. I laughed at the third question. Here’s my answer: ASICS work well for this 30-something Nebraska woman who is slowly getting back into running. They fit my slightly high arch and narrower heel with a lot of cushion for my larger frame.

    I don’t usually run in the cornfields (sprained ankles and scratched arms, oh my!) but they are quite beautiful in the summer. 🙂

  12. lol – Great Article Jason!! I have actually done both, went to a running store for advise and purchased online through Amazon, and had a great experience with both. I am relatively new [2 years ish] to running so take it from a beginner, new runners need to get their gate analyzed at a Running Store, buy the shoes there, then they can test the market on Amazon. My wife says I’m obsessed [and she’s correct – I have been bitten by the running bug] as I now have over a dozen pairs of running shoes and a very nice variety of colors, not to mention running shorts, shirts…lol

  13. Ciaran Kelly says:

    What would you recommend for a new runner (I.e someone who’s never bought a pair of running shoes in his life and is running a marathon in a year and a half at the tender age of 16)?

  14. Teila Spring says:

    Runningwarehouse.com is a great place to order shoes online. They offer free two day shipping and free return shipping. They also have a unique return policy. Try the shoes and if they don’t work, you can exchange them (within 90 days of purchase). After two pregnancies and two running injuries, my running shoe needs have greatly changed. I purchased two pairs of shoes online (not from runningwarehouse.com) only to discover a few runs later they weren’t a good fit. (I’m convinced one pair even contributed to my current injury 🙁.) So I decided to give Runningwarehouse.com a try. Their shoes are a bit more expensive than some sites, but I feel I’ll save money in the long run because of their return policy. Just wanted to share, so far my experience with this shoe company has been very positive.