Getting the right fit

Gear, Tips

Running is one of the most accessible sports on the planet. If you can walk, you can run. With the right clothing, and the right footwear, you can be off to the races.

Running gear and footwear has come a long way since the first Bonne Bell Road Race took off on Memorial Drive in 1977 (flip flops—no joke). And these days, there is no shortage of footwear options when it comes to picking your favorite pair.

We sat down with Reebok footwear project manager Jessie Petersen to talk through some basics when it comes to lacing it up with a pair you love, and finding the right pair that will love you back. Jessie is not only talented in what she puts on running sneaks, but she’s damn good at what she does in them. Before leading her weekly Reebok staff runs, she was a Division 1 distance runner for Syracuse, setting personal bests of 16:13 in the 5,000 meters, and 34:06 in the 10,000 meters. After college, she coached for a year at Hofstra and ran in the 2016 Olympic Trials for the Women’s Marathon in Los Angeles. Not a bad race to make your marathon debut!

Like everyone at Reebok, she’s pumped up for October 8. Here’s some of her guidance on footwear.

Why is it important to LOVE your shoes?

Jessie Petersen, Reebok Footwear Project Manager

JP: We look at running shoes as the only piece of equipment you’re going to need, ultimately. Sure there’s a hydration belt, Gu’s… but at the end of the day, your shoes are what keep you safe and what you’ll need for the miles ahead.

So, if you’re thoughtful about your shoe choice, and you’re putting the right amount of mileage into them, and changing them out when you need to, your shoes are keeping you safe, in a way.

I’m not saying they can prevent injury (because running is hard!), but the right shoes should keep you running. If you’re going to start loving running, you want something that keeps you running and something you don’t think of while running.

Abrasions, blisters, shoes feeling heavy—you don’t want to be thinking about these things. You want to think about running!

How can I decide what shoe is best for me?

JP: The first thing you want to do is to go to a running store—the pros there can analyze your gait cycle, and tell you what shoe you could or should be running in. Those guys and gals tend to be the most knowledgeable when it comes to telling you want you should be running in.

There are three different kinds of shoes, basically—neutral shoes, stability shoes, and motion control shoes. Most people fall in the neutral zone, which means that as you run, your knee sort of falls over your foot. If your ankles, toes, and knees are generally lined up while you run, you’re a neutral runner, and most running specialty shops will be able to help identify this for you. These shoes tend to be a bit more narrow.

In a stability shoe, you can get something at is medially posted, which means there’s a “post” on the inside of the shoe. The “post” is made with firmer foam—it’s a little denser rubber that stops you from over-pronating (having your ankle roll inwards upon contact with the ground).

Every runner pronates a little, naturally, but stability shoes will keep you from over-pronating.

And then on the other side of the spectrum are mobility shoes, and we don’t see many athletes wearing these, but they’re built for runners who “under-pronate” (sometimes called “supination”), and run almost entirely on the outside of their feet. There are solutions out there for this, as well.

Outside of foot strike, cushioning differs from shoe to shoe and athlete to athlete. There are more “every day” shoes can help with your runs of longer runs, – these tend to be a bit higher in cushion and they can help for a softer ride you as you go longer distances.

Then, down the chart, you have a more responsive ride, something that is faster, a bit lighter, and more responsive to the ground below. A lot of people will choose to run in these for shorter distances.

If you’re going for something fast like a PR or road race a lot, that’s when you’re going with a racing flat. You’re looking for the lightest shoe, or the lowest profile of foam that you’ll have—the stack heights are low (the height of the heel foam in relation to the height of the toe foam, and the difference, which is known as the “drop”), it’s super snappy and all about energy return (energy return is when a shoe’s material helps return some of the energy you put into each step—like a bounce, sort of).

You never want to try something new on race day, so if you’re unsure of using a lightweight racing shoe, don’t try it on race day. If you have only one pair of shoes that you like, wear those!

But as you get to that next level, you may expand to a second pair of shoes—maybe get something lighter for workout days, those tempo and speed days—that should be your racing shoe. When you’re comfortable in that, you can feel good about wearing it on race day.

How do you know when it’s time for a new pair?

JP: In the shoe industry, we say that between 300 – 400 miles are when you should turn over your shoes. You definitely shouldn’t wait until the upper structure of the shoe starts to diminish (don’t let them fall apart on you). You also want to listen to your body—maybe the foam isn’t as soft as it was, and it’s causing you some aches here or there.

And really, the foam should start to feel different from when you initially put it on—that’s when you want to change out your shoes. Usually it’s 3 – 6 months, or 300 – 400 miles, depending on how frequently you’re out there.