“Running is simple—all you need is a pair of shoes.” If only! Get to know these sneaker basics before you shop.
Newbie runners often ask, “What’s the best running shoe money can buy?” The answer, unfortunately, is “All of them.” But that doesn’t mean every shoe is the best shoe for you or that every shoe is right for every workout.
“If you’re buying your first pair of running shoes, head to your local running store and have an honest conversation with the salesperson about your goals and your limitations,” advises Melanie Kann, a New York City–based running coach and self-professed sneaker addict (her closet currently holds about 30 pairs). “When you start trying them on,” she adds, “ignore the price tag and the color. Choose the pair that you’re least aware of when you’re running—so you’ll be free to focus on your workout.”
Neutral Vs. Stability
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned marathoner, your shoes fall into one of two categories: stability or neutral. The difference has to do with the way your feet move when they hit the ground, and a knowledgeable salesperson can analyze your gait to determine which category best suits you.
If you’re a pronator, your foot tends to roll inward between landing and takeoff. Stability shoes are probably a good bet. Many stability shoes incorporate posts into the midsole to counteract pronation, and these can add weight.
If you naturally land toward the front part of your foot, neutral shoes are an excellent choice. They typically don’t have posts to correct rolling tendencies, which makes them lighter. Neutral shoes are great for runners who like to feel the road.
Pick The Right Kicks
If you’re getting serious about speedwork or training for something different (like an obstacle race), you might want to consider expanding your shoe arsenal. Choosing the right shoe for the workout or the terrain can actually help to make you faster.
Racing flats are built for speed. These minimally cushioned shoes are extremely lightweight, which can save crucial seconds in a race (that’s why all the pros wear them). But be advised that the lack of cushioning in a racing flat will mean more pounding on your legs, so save them for race days or speed sessions on the track. And if you’re going to be on your feet for several hours, you’re probably better off racing in a lightweight trainer.
For off-road adventures over roots and rocks, trail shoes offer added stability. They have thicker, heavier soles with big treads for traction. But the features that make trail shoes great for uneven terrain mean they’re not great for road running: Stiffer midsoles can help to keep you from rolling an ankle or slipping on a wet rock, but they don’t offer enough shock-absorption to keep you safe while pounding the pavement.