How to Find the Shoe That’ll [Maybe] Make a Marathoner Outta You
When I moved to Nashville in 2009, it seemed as though everyone in the general vicinity was training for the St. Jude Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon and/or Half Marathon that takes place every spring. I was jobless, slightly out of shape, and struggling a teeny bit in the friend department in my new city (read: I had one friend, counting my landlord, at the time). So, naturally, I came to the conclusion that training for the big race would solve all of my problems.
Once I started running, though, I quickly learned several things: first, that I vehemently hated running; second, that there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to the perfect running shoe. (An important note: I did not end up running the marathon, but I did eventually get a job and even made some friends—two out of three ain’t bad, eh?)
Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran, the right running shoe can make a world of difference. Running shoes are designed for different types of feet, different strides, and different running circumstances. Therefore, finding the right shoe for you is a personal and ongoing challenge that might shift as your fitness goals and running characteristics change.
And [unlike me] if you’re planning to run the Marathon or Half Marathon in Nashville next year, your training starts now — so there’s no better time to upgrade your kicks.
Shoe manufacturers say that a good pair of running shoes should last between 400 and 500 miles (at that rate, if you’re training and running say, twenty miles per week, those shoes will only last you about 6 months!) which is why it’s so important to make sure you’re logging all those miles in a shoe that’s made for you.
“Your feet are your base, and everything is built from your base, so having a shoe that's right for you is imperative,” explains Megan Conner, a certified RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) run coach and personal trainer in Nashville. Conner has been training and teaching clients for almost 19 years, and she was voted Nashville's top running coach by Nashville Fit Magazine in 2018. After running a dozen marathons — including The Boston Marathon, twice! — Conner knows a thing or two regarding what to look for in a great shoe.
“My biggest piece of advice is to spend the money on GOOD distance shoes if you’re running [lots of] miles,” Conner stresses. “You need a shoe that is made for impact, as well as one that is sustainable and durable and able to support your particular foot for a LOT of miles.”
Conner says she used to run marathons in Nike shoes, until a salesman at Nashville’s Fleet Feet gave her the wake up call she didn’t even know she needed. “They told me my Nikes were like a Honda: a great car, a great shoe, but basic,” Conner says. “They told me for long distance, I needed to upgrade to a Mercedes, like Brooks shoes.”
On the flip side, Conner says if you’re looking to get serious about speed work for the track, then it’d be smart to invest in a pair of cleats.
Is exploring the great outdoors more your thing? Don’t assume your favorite pair of Adidas sneakers will get the job done. “In this case, it’s important to get a pair of trail shoes because they’re built much differently than road-running shoes, primarily because the soles of trail shoes are made to grip the earth,” Conner explains. If you hit the trails while wearing road shoes, “you can easily slip on muddy terrain or land on a rock wrong, resulting in a bad run or, worse yet, an injury.”
And if there’s a chance it might be wet where you are, look for a shoe that won’t retain water. Conner notes that most of the major brands make trail shoes as well, making it easy to find a pair you love.
“Everyone's feet are so different and unique, meaning your arches and points of contact will vary,” she explains. She suggests making a run to your nearest Fleet Feet (Brentwood, Green Hills or Hendersonville) to get a true fitting.
“Fleet Feet is an amazing resource for finding running shoes. They have a machine that will scan your feet to look at size, arches, points of contact, and more,” she says. “The associates will also measure you and watch you run. Based on this information, they can easily guide you toward the best shoe for you.” And if you’re still in need of more arch support, Conner suggests trying on some of the inserts the store has for sale.
Now, to address the elephant in the room: yes, you might have to sacrifice style or color when shopping for the perfect running shoe. “Sure, we all want to look cute while working out,” Conner says, “but save your cute designer shoes for walks around the neighborhood, and instead find the actual shoe that you need for your workouts. Trust me, it’s worth it long-term.”
It might seem like a no-brainer, but Conner has seen this mistake happen more than you’d think: “Never, ever get a new pair of shoes and then do a race or a long run in them!” she emphasizes. “Ease into them by walking around in them for a while first, or else you’ll end up in blister city.”
On the hunt for a new pair of running shoes but not sure where to start?
We’ve chosen a few favorites to get you started:
Best for: long distance running
Besides being winner of the Runner’s World Editor’s Choice Award, this shoe combines high-quality design and performance with DNA Loft heel crash pads for softer landings. Marathon runners love it for pounding out high-mileage runs with it’s quick, smooth ride.
Best for: trail running
This is the right shoe for tearing up even the muddiest paths, thanks to its trail-pounding tread and extra foot-cradling protection. The sole of the show is also much thinner than usual making for a lower profile that keeps you closer to the trail.
Best for: sprints/track running
These sleek shoes have a spike plate that’s designed for distances between 400 and 1200 meters, plus a breathable, woven upper part that wraps around your foot like a supportive sock. Additionally, the spike plate has a carbon fiber on the inside to help propulsion during your sprints.
Best for: extra support/cushion
This style shoe is the brand’s most cushioned shoe, showcasing a full layer of EVA foam on top of a thick midsole. You’ll get ultra-cushion for an ultra-supportive and plush ride, and the open mesh on top helps your feet breathe mile after mile.