Editor's Note: Brian Metzler has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of running shoes over the past 25 years. This is the first installment of Brian's recommendations on how to choose running shoes that are perfect for you and your goals. He is the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine and former editor of Competitor.com.
What the hell is up with running shoes?
Do you remember your favorite pair of running shoes from six or seven years ago? You probably wouldn’t buy them now, even if you had the chance. Why? Running shoes have gone through a storm of change over the past decade, a whirlwind that has included a minimalist revolution of lightweight, low-to-the-ground “barely there” shoes, and then an infatuation with high-off-the-ground, thickly cushioned maximalist shoes that look doped up on ’roids.
So where are we now that the squall has subsided? Well, we’re all better off for having gone through the storm. We’ve learned a lot in recent years, and the key learnings from the uprising are represented in the shoes you’ll buy this year. For starters, shoes are generally lighter, more flexible, more durable, and less built-up in the heel than they were 10 years ago. Gone is the three-point paradigm of motion control, stability, and neutral shoe construction.
Here is the first of six points to consider when you shop for your next pair of running shoes, no matter if you’re using them for training, a trail run, or your next Spartan race.
How to Choose Running Shoes:
Part 1. Fit
In part 1 of how to choose running shoes, we'll start with the most important element: Fit. The key is finding a shoe that fits the shape of your foot because everyone is different. And the best way to do that is to try on several pairs at a specialty running store before you buy. You can still purchase it online if that's your thing but go to a store to try some on.
“If you don’t have a good fit, you don’t have anything,” said Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running Company in Chicago. “It’s an individual process because every shoe brand and model will fit slightly differently. The best way to find out what works is to try on several models.”
Generally speaking, you’ll want the fit to be snug in the heel and midfoot area. But otherwise, it should fit or adapt to the specific size and shape of your feet. If you have a wide foot or narrow ankle, you’ll quickly learn that different brands have slightly different shapes.
The Big Toe Box Trend
One of the new characteristics to emerge over the last several years is the idea of a roomier toe box. Having that extra room not only gives your toes a bit more wiggle room but it also benefits your running form. First, it allows your transverse arch to flex properly. Secondly, it allows your big toe to remain straight and un-compromised. And thirdly, it provides room for the other toes to splay out naturally. These all contribute to your performance and the long-term health of your feet by providing better control and agility, more power, and a greater range of motion.
Several brands have made a roomier toe box part of their design DNA, but especially Altra, Topo, and Inov-8.
“Having the shape and space in the toe box means the shoe can accommodate the natural and preferred movement path of your foot,” said Altra founder Golden Harper. “And that’s the best way to get your feet—and the rest of your body—to move and perform most effectively.”
Keep reading our How to Choose Running Shoes Series with Part 2 at the link below.
Check out Part 2 of the series: Cushion in your running shoe: Good or evil?
BONUS: THE ULTIMATE OCR SHOE
Spartan Craft Pro RD
With Spartan’s unforgiving terrain and tough-to-beat obstacles, you need lightweight kicks with aggressive tread for solid traction in slippery conditions. Also on the wish list: a grippy upper to help race obstacles more efficiently. Consider cotton your enemy—after miles running on wet earth, every ounce counts. Enter, the Spartan Craft RD Pro by Craft — an obstacle course racing shoe designed & developed specifically for the rigors of a Spartan Race and is capable of attacking any obstacle course or trail in the world. Built for the OCR athlete by the OCR athlete.