How to Choose Running Shoes: If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Wear It

How the hell do you choose the right pair of running shoes?

How to Choose Running Shoes

Beginner runners usually have no idea so they head to the specialty running store to get an “expert” evaluation. The specialist will look at the new runner’s arches and how they walk (rarely will they have them run down the sidewalk and watch) and make a recommendation based on three types of shoes: neutral, stability, and motion control.

That’s hardly the best way to choose running shoes among all the options. In fact, the wrong pair of shoes can often wreak havoc on runners and cause new aches and pains to pop up in otherwise healthy runners. Not cool.

I called on Ruggero Loda from Running Shoes Guru to write a bit more on this topic. There’s a simple way to choose shoes for the huge amount of individual variability in feet and running form. Read on to learn what it is…

Enter Ruggero:

Running injuries can be devastating and demoralizing to both experienced and beginning runners. When an injury occurs, you risk losing all of the progress you’ve made and can find yourself out of shape when you finally get healthy. That’s why it’s so important to take every precaution possible to prevent injury and stay healthy while you run.

In the running community, there’s a temptation to blame our shoes for all sorts of ailments, from foot pain to shin splints and even knee injuries. Truthfully, your shoes are rarely the cause of running-related injuries. More often, running-related injuries are a result of improper training or poor form.

Exuberance, Mechanics, and Other Reasons for Injury

For most runners, especially beginning runners, milestones and progress are keys to remaining motivated during a training cycle. Because of this, all too often they will push too hard, running either too far, too fast or both.

It’s vital to listen to your body and not overextend your abilities. Every runner feels some aches and soreness, but there shouldn’t be pain, especially in your feet. Don’t give in to the temptation to run farther or faster than you’re ready to go. If you find that you’re running through pain, try slowing down or taking a rest day.

One of the biggest sources of running injuries comes from poor running mechanics. The fact is, form matters. In order to reduce the risk of getting hurt, focus on your running form.

How your foot strikes the ground, how much you over-stride, and your stride cadence can all play a huge role in your overall running health. Here are a few quick tips (that don’t involve your shoes!):

  • Don’t lean too far forward or backward. Maintain a neutral posture with a slight forward lean.
  • You can avoid higher impact forces on your muscles by running on softer surfaces, like dirt trails.
  • Land with your foot underneath your center of mass, not far out in front of you.
  • Don’t crash down hard on your heels.
  • When in doubt, run slower or take a recovery day.

What should you look for in a shoe in order to help avoiding injury?

Too many people go to specialty running stores and purchase the most expensive pair of shoes, only to find later that the shoe doesn’t alleviate their running injuries. The latest technology and “guidance line vertical flex grooves” won’t necessarily help you.

To make matters worse, because of the significant investment some runners make in trying to ensure that they have the proper shoes, they become determined to stick with their shoes despite the pain. If you’re still feeling pain, then you’re not wearing the right shoe.

What matters more than the characteristics of the shoe itself is how it feels on your foot. As the saying goes, “if the shoe fits, wear it.” In contrast (and perhaps more importantly), if the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it. 

Why is Fit So Important?

An ill-fitting shoe can cause pain and injury because it’s just not right for the way your foot is shaped. A shoe that’s too tight will prevent your foot from expanding as it strikes the ground. This causes your foot to swell and leads to more pain and injury.

A shoe that’s too big will cause twisting, slipping, and blisters. Shoes that are too wide or too narrow keep your foot from striking the ground naturally and can ultimately cause even more problems.

When shopping for running shoes, don’t underestimate the importance of the fit of the shoe. Pay attention to the length, width and arch height. Most importantly, focus on how the shoes feel when you try them on. If they’re too tight or too loose, don’t buy them. They should be snug, but comfortable.

Making sure that your shoes fit properly is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to prevent injury, short of changing your mechanics and making sensible training increases. Spending $150 on the right shoe won’t do you any good if it doesn’t fit properly. Whether you’re a beginning runner or a seasoned pro, don’t take chances with your feet. Evaluate your stride and your gait and make adjustments to your mechanics as needed, and when it’s time to buy shoes, make sure you buy shoes that feel good.

Ruggero Loda is a triathlete and writes at Running Shoes Guru. He previously worked for some of the largest sports companies and knows a lot about running shoes. Ruggero and his team of runners spend most of their time reviewing the latest running shoes.


Thanks Ruggero! This is a good reminder to every runner: the most important aspect of your new pair of shoes is that they FEEL GOOD when you try them on. If they don’t fit right, you need a new pair.

For reviews of running shoes that I wear and like myself, check out the shoe reviews page here.

Reminder: I’m giving away a month of 1-on-1, personal coaching to one lucky reader. If you want to work closely with me to help you be a better runner, enter the giveaway here: Free Coaching for a Month. The deadline to enter is Monday, 11/7 at 11:59pm Eastern.

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  1. Big Thumbs up for this!!!!
    I spent several years running in severe motion control shoes, as it turns out after a long (3 hrs) eval with a great fitter/athlete, I’m a very neutral runner with flexible ankles….
    Until my recent surgery, I wore the same shoe for 4-6 years in a row. Not the same pair, but the same shoe. When they came out with a new “version” I’d go get it fitted… It amazes me when people say “My shoes are getting old, any reccomendations on a new pair?” and then proceed to tell me that they really liked the shoe they were in, but “want a change” If it isn’t broke don’t fix it.
    I will admit utter sadness, as I, “Mizunogirl” had to go into a pair of Saucony Mirage, my Gait had changed so significantly after having the hip roto-rootered that no Mizunos in my price range were there for me….
    Nice informative post.

  2. Oh Yeah!

    one more thing. If the shoe is not right, you should take it back, especially if you bought it from a quality running store.
    I had one pair of that I ran about 15 miles in one day and all my toenails went black. ALL of them. I did decide it was the shoes. The store manager immediately took them back, and refitted me in a new pair for free. Since then I’ve brought her about 6 of my friends for shoes. If the store is quality, they will help you even weeks after the sale.

  3. Re: what mizunogirl mentioned, I have found people to have that tendency as well: wanting to get new shoes even though they are happy with their current shoes. I can’t explain it. And it’s not like they’re considering a new pair of the make and model they’re wearing–which still wouldn’t make sense since their current shoes aren’t worn out. Instead, they’re looking at getting something completely different.

    On the topic of shoemakers changing the formula from year to year for a given model, my solution has been to stock up on a specific shoe. Right now, Mizuno Wave Universe 3 is making me really happy, so I haven’t even looked at version 4, which is out. I know they added at least an ounce going from 3 to 4…not sure why.

  4. Thanks Ruggero! I am always amazed at how different the fit of each and every shoe is, even amongst different shoes from the same running manufacturer.

    • Hi All – Ruggero here,

      thanks for the nice comments! One thing to notice about different fit from different manufacturer (and within the same one) is about how running shoes are built. The upper and the sole are built completely separated. The bottom is a molded piece, the upper is “wrapped” around the shape of an ideal foot (called “last”). They are then glued together, by hand, usually by the most skilled workers of the factory.

      If we are talking about _upper_ fit, it really depends on the LAST used. You can see it as the “ideal” foot that the shoes are supposed to fit in. And now enter THE COST. Developing a new last (which really means a different one per each shoe size) costs a lot of money. So usually when a company gets one right, they stick to it for dear life. That’s why many people swear by one brand: theirs shape of foot fits exactly the last the company used. Chances are, the brand will use that last in a lot, if not all, their running shoes. Don’t forget that you need different lasts for each kind of shoe: the last for a comfort walking shoe will be very different from the last of a football booth even though they are supposed to fit the same person.

      Anyway, it is a major investment for a company to develop new lasts (newer, smaller companies usually just buy “old” lasts that other companies have discontinued). So that’s why when you find a brand that fits you well… it’s not that they have a secret formula… simply their lasts are very similar to your foot.

      Now the difference between big and small companies… Nike (just as an example) can afford to launch a completely new model, develop new lasts test them and produce them and even discard them if they are not right. They can actually have different lasts for men and women (doubling the costs… small companies can’t dream of doing that) and so on.

      So, I am not saying that big companies are better. Just that within their ranges, you can find the right shoe for you. If you are perfectly fit in the shape of another (smaller) brand, you can be comfortably sure that other models or newer models will fit you as well.

      Then there is a million other things that influence the fit (overlays, seams…) so my suggestion is try try try and when you find something that fits you… don’t change just for the sake of changing.

      Unless you are like me 🙂 I think i run in at least 12 different shoes a year – but I do my high mileage and my races always in the same shoes.


  5. So is that free month of coaching a yearly thing? ‘Cause I would so love to get some one on one advice on how to overcome some of my lingering issues…


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