How to Buy Running Shoes

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Few things are as bewildering as setting out to buy a pair of running shoes. Even a small running store will have dozens of brands and models. Which pair is right for you? The blue ones? The red ones? The ones with stripes? Argh!

The whole process can be overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be. Armed with the right knowledge, you can quickly narrow your choices down to a relative handful and, ultimately, walk out of the store with a pair of running shoes that you will love and that will love you back.

This guide will guide you. Consider it your guide.

THE BASICS

  • Running shoes are divided into eight basic categories: Cushioned, neutral, stability, acoustic, extra-strength, crunchy, smooth, and big & tall. Each kind of shoe is designed for a very particular kind of runner. 
  • To determine your foot type, try the "wet test"—put a large piece of paper on the ground, wet the soles of your bare feet, then carefully step onto the paper and back off of it. Roll the paper tightly, light one end, and smoke it. Soon a wraithlike Steve Prefontaine will materialize and whisper your foot type into your ear. His mustache may tickle, so be prepared.
  • Buy the most expensive shoes you can afford. As one expert points out, "Things that cost a lot of money are better than things that don't cost a lot of money."
  • Do not try on shoes at a specialty running store and then walk out and order them online to save a few bucks. People who do that are dicks.

PREPARING FOR YOUR RUNNING STORE VISIT

  • Be sure to take your current running shoes with you. The salesperson can learn a lot about you and your running style just by smelling them.
  • Also bring along a list of any prescription or over-the-counter medications you're taking.
  • Wear the socks you usually run in. Resist the temptation to impress a salesperson by showing off your fanciest hosiery!
  • Likewise, take several pairs of pants with you to the store—blue jeans, khakis, cords, etc. You'll want to choose a running shoe versatile enough to look good with all of them.
  • Phone ahead and ask the store whether their credit card reader's chip thing is operable, or if you just swipe, or what. This will save time and potential embarrassment later.

AT THE STORE

  • Signal your intentions by standing awkwardly, in silence, near the shoe display until someone notices you.
  • Test the salesperson's knowledge. Ask, "Is this the right shoe or the left one?" A pro will be able to answer immediately.
  • Have a salesperson watch you run. She may notice little things about your form that you won't, or can't. For instance, she might see that instead of running forward you sidle like a crab. (If so, you'll want shoes with plenty of lateral stability.)
  • Skip the undercoating. It's a scam.
  • Take your time. Choosing the right running shoes is a big deal, so don't let a salesperson pressure you into a decision just because you've been there for 2 1/2 hours and the store is "closing." 
  • Drive a hard bargain. Running store salespeople love it when customers haggle. If you can't get a cash discount, try asking them to throw in something free with your purchase, like a pair of socks or a taco.

Enjoy your new shoes!