How to Pick The Perfect Pair of Running Shoes
Expert advice from the owners of the best running stores in the U.S.
Mark Sullivan— Specialty running store owners pride themselves on finding shoes to fit every foot. They use a variety of techniques, some of which include the latest in digital technology, others are more akin to the old-fashioned notion of pinching the toe of the shoe to ensure there is ample room for your foot. We asked the owners of some of the 50 Best Running Stores about the most important part of the fit process in their stores. Here, a few store owners share the processes they put the customer through to achieve the proper fit.
Eric Johnson, Ultramax, Columbia, Mo.
“We operate based upon science rather than assumptions or preconceived notions. We have completely disregarded pronation as a method to determine the right shoe and we feel this sets us apart from most outlets that our customers can purchase shoes. Our fit process involves a detailed history, foot exam, strength tests and a video gait analysis. We find the video gait analysis most useful in troubleshooting injuries and making technique suggestions.”
Kirsten Pond, Dick Pond Athletics, Schaumburg, Ill.
“Footwear fitting is an art as much as a science. Without establishing a rapport with the customer, there is no foundation of trust, concern and expertise on which to build the rest of the fitting experience. Without establishing a dialogue with the customer and giving permission for feedback, no amount of objective measurement/analysis can bring the fitting to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.”
Carol Owen, Fleet Feet Sports, Davis Calif.
“No treadmills for us—our customers run on the sidewalk to test the shoes. We’re kind of old school, no frills and whistles, but we’re really good at what we do.”
Brendan Barett, Sayville Running Company, Sayville, N.Y.
“The more knowledgeable the sales associate, the more likely they are to provide options tailored to the needs or preferences of the customer. A good comfort level with everything on the shoe wall enables an associate to find niche models that turn a good fit into a great one.”
Owen Shott, Jacksonville Running Company, Jacksonville, Fla.
“We believe the video analysis is the most important part of the fit process. We believe you need to catch the foot and body in motion and under weighted pressure. We also always measure both feet because they can be different and they can change.”
Mel Diab, Running for Kicks, Palos Heights, Ill.
“We believe running shoes should feel comfortable from the moment they are slipped onto a customer’s foot. Should a customer experience any tightness or discomfort while run-testing a shoe, we discourage the purchase. Our staff would never tell a customer to break a shoe in.”
Greg Scott, Natural Strides Running, Woodstock, Ga.
“The most important piece is their foot shape. Every human foot is truly unique, so to find a shoe that matches their unique foot shape, we look at a customer’s feet without socks and with their toes spread out. Then we find as many shoes as possible that match that shape. After that it is completely up to the customer and their comfort in the shoes while running. We believe that the shoe should do nothing ‘for’ the customer, with the exception of providing surface protection. As such, we always find out what specific shoe the customer has been running in so that we can recommend a safe and gradual transition (into an unstructured shoe) as necessary.”
Eric Bartlett, The Run Around, Joplin, Mo.
“We map the foot to get arch type, size, shape, and key pressure points using a digital foot scanner. This allows us to make sure the foot can sit secure in the shoe and can properly operate. This is always the first step in our fit process. The number one issue we come across is footwear sizing. People are generally in a half to full size shoe too small, which does not allow the foot to properly operate.
Blaine Lewis, Fleet Feet Sports, Roanoke, Va.
“The most important part of our fit process is the customer interview. In order to properly fit someone we get to know the customer and find out what their goals are, what injuries they may or may not have had, and what products they have been using.”
Matt Helbig, Big River Running, St. Louis
“The most important part to our fit process is the education we provide to our customers. When a customer is being fitted for shoes, we talk them through the entire process. We explain what we are doing, what we are looking for, how different shoes are designed to address their specific needs and how going through the steps of our fit process will help them choose the right shoe for their individual gait, desired usage and fitness goals.”
Mike Shuman, Shu’s Idaho Running Co, Boise, Idaho
“We want to know what type of surface they run on, whether trail, road or treadmill. We ask various questions to get to know the customer and their running habits. While asking questions, we measure and run them through our 3D Foot Print system, which helps us determine what their feet do when standing and in motion. This process helps us to determine what type of shoe they need. Once that process is done, we then bring out a variety of shoes, explaining to the customer what to feel for to determine if the shoe does or doesn’t work for them.”
Garry Gribble, Garry Gribble Running Sports, Kansas City, Mo.
“In a friendly manner, we cover the five W’s—who, where, why, when and what. The five W’s help to best determine the runner’s needs and begin the fitting process.”
Eric Ade, Three Rivers Running Company, Fort Wayne, Ind.
“For first-time customers in our store who have having running- or walking-related injuries, we always have them run or walk on the treadmill and record about 30-45 seconds of video on our iPad. We review this video to analyze the customer’s general biomechanics and help narrow down possible footwear choices.”
Rich Wills, FITNiche Lakeland, Fla.
“By far, the most important part of our fit process is getting to know and understand the customer—their goals, current and future training regimens, aches and injuries they’ve had and successes and failures they’ve had. And even though we have a fairly regimented fit process, the most important part after we’ve ‘gaited’ them; it’s the assessment of how each shoe fits, feels, looks to our eyes as they walk away from us and what the customer’s feet think of each shoe.”