How to Pick the Right Running Shoes and Surfaces (and how to start running)
My running shoes disappeared from my garage last summer. Don't ask. They really were not very good ones
anyway, but as I started to think about getting a new pair I realized that I was having a difficult time making a
decision about the type of shoes that would be best. The first thing I did was to go to a shopping mall. Every store
I went into had the best types of shoes all for their own reasons and at about the same prices. They all looked the
same to me, even though in the past I have had quite a bit of experience running. I felt like I needed really good
shoes as I was starting to run more than I had in the past to get in better shape and to help with cross training,
aerobic capacity, and endurance and to meet the new standards for fitness for the Air Force. Perplexed I decided
to talk to some really good athletes (on the U.S. Olympic Team). Most of them were sponsored by one company
or another and they half kiddingly recommended their own brands, saying that there were other good brands as
well. I received no recommendations on the “nuts and bolts” of “running shoe decision-making”. What I was
looking for was a “how to recipe” that would enable someone with any amount of experience to select shoes in a
relatively scientific fashion. So I decided the best thing to do was to sit down and make a lost of goals.
Are my current running shoes good enough?
How do I even tell if they are good enough?
What symptoms should I look for to determine if the shoes are the cause?
Are there shoes designed for shorter distances and longer distances?
If there are what are the pros and cons of each, why not just use longer distance shoes?
How do I know what type of arch support to get, bigger, flatter?
Should I have extra shock absorption in the heel?
Should the shoes be more rigid or more flexible?
Lighter or heavier?
Which brand of shoes is better for me? How do I decide?
How do I analyze the different brands, such as Fila, Puma, Saucony, Adidas, Nike, New Balance, Reebok, Oasics,
According to the University of Calgary, Human Performance Laboratory, the three most important design factors
for sport shoes are injury prevention, performance and comfort.
Surfaces to choose from: These are listed in order of hardness.
Ultimately, I did get some advice from some of the running coaches at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista
as far as what brands they liked. One of them recommended looking at the Runner's World site on how to select
shoes and this was the best thing I ever did. This first link takes you directly to shoes 101. http://www.
runnersworld.com/category/0,5034,s6-52-167-0-0,00.html Right next to shoes 101 is the shoe finder. Most of my
questions listed above were answered as I filled out the runner's profile and I have been running pain free three
times per week since last year. This is good since the last time I was running on a regular basis was 20 years
ago. I don't have any relation with Runner's World. It is just a great site for free information.
I would highly recommend running on softer surfaces as you start as it will allow your joints to get used to a new
activity. Also, just start out slow and for short distances, even one half mile is good enough and gradually build
up. Do not start out running every day. When you first start running it might only be twice a week or even once
every five to six days. When I first started running again last year, my muscles were so sore that I had to rest
about five days at first between each running session. I now run very other day. Make sure you warm up for about
five minutes, then stretch. A warm up could consist of walking one quarter mile or slowly jogging the same
distance. I prefer walking for a warm up. Stretch the calf, quad and hamstring muscles. Also stretch your lower
back and iliotibial (IT) band. If you don’t know how to stretch these just go to your local gym and ask the fitness
experts for advice. They are always happy to help out. Of course, do not ever start a new exercise program
without first consulting your doctor, the idea is to stay healthy, not to discover an unknown medical problem while
out for a jog.
Mark D. Hopkins, M.D.
Board-Certified Orthopedic Surgeon
Park City, Utah