Red-faced in a running store
April 26, 2012 1:44 AM   Subscribe

I find the running shoes I picked up a year ago at a sale uncomfortable, even though I run regularly in them. So I've been thinking of going down to a speciality running store - but as a 10 km a week beginner, I'm pretty nervous and embarrassed. What should I expect?

I like to run, and like many people find it stress-relieving most of the time. But I'd like to run in shoes that, well, pretty much help to make my run happy (like my since-retired older pair) and not make me feel like I'm battling them just to get ahead.

I'm also frequently guilty of buying things or abandoning purchases just because I feel uncomfortable with service staff or their questions. In particular I'm afraid that I'll feel judged for being a relative beginner and getting fancy schmancy shoes.

So - what might I expect there? Is it totally okay to run so little (with the intention of advancing) and invest in shoes? What will the staff ask, and what should I ask? (and might I have any luck at say, a Nike outlet, as opposed to a Real Running Store?)

posted by undue influence to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Go to a Real Running Store. Take your current pair with you, and explain the situation to them, eg, that you're a beginner, your running history, how often you run, how much you plan to run in the future, what your goals are, etc. They'll probably try you out in a pair of neutral shoes first and look at how you run, and how your feet and ankles move when they hit the ground. From there, they can make a judgement about what kind of shoes are most appropriate for your running style.

Go late in the afternoon, rather than in the morning, because your feet are larger then, and they expand when running.

Regardless of how much running you do, you'll feel better and more comfortable in the right pair of shoes.
posted by daveje at 1:58 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I agree with daveje. In addition, I think telling them about your old shoes that worked would be good (from those, they can maybe extrapolate what might work for you now as a starting point). But basically, some huge percentage of their job will be handling customers with the exact same issues as you.

I don't see why anyone would get all judgy in your situation. On the off chance that they do, they suck at their job and absolutely just go somewhere else.
posted by empyrean at 2:05 AM on April 26, 2012

Real running store. Real runners like to help new real runners, however much they don't think they're a real runner. Real running stores are NOT scary like music shops etc. I promise.

Do you have the Up and Running or RunnersNeed brands where you are? Both are excellent and being a chain can be a little less scary than the very small, independent shops.

Take your current shoes with you so they can see the wear.

If this helps, I started off going to Up and Running. I was late 30s, small, not obviously in good shape, running 3 times a week, 3 miles each time. One leg longer than the other, overpronator. Geek. With glasses. First pair I bought there< I was served by a lady who was a student at the time but already RUNNING FOR ENGLAND. She was great.

Good luck! And make sure you post how you get on and where you go, for other people in your situation!
posted by LyzzyBee at 2:11 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing the 'real running store' advice. The first pair of running shoes I bought, when I first started out, were probably just the same as your purchase: big chain sports store, enthusiastic but utterly unknowledgeable teenage shop assistant, came away with whatever was on sale and looked vaguely like it might do a job. Fast forward a couple of years, and I'm much more serious and the shoes have shredded away, and so I go into an 'Up and Running' with a vague sense of trepidation because I'm not like a marathon runner or anything, but I'm running 10k a couple of times a week. Anyway, the people in there were great because they're runners and they love running. They want you to love running too! So being snooty and supercilious is absolutely not what they're about at all. It goes against their ethos. And as they're all about running and loving running, then they want the best kind of shoes for you, no matter if you run 10k a week or 100K. So I went on a treadmill for 30 seconds with a neutral pair of shoes, they looked at the way my feet work, tried some different ones, rinse, repeat, 'til you've got the ones that work. And see, here's the big reason why you need to do this: bad shoes will fuck you up. If your feet roll in a certain way, hit the deck in a certain way, flex in a certain way, and the shoes you're wearing don't take that into consideration and protect you (or worse, encourage those dangerous movements), then you will eventually get injuries. Your knees will get all like fucked up and then you'll have to stop running (I'm sure that there are better physiological descriptors for this). Shoes, it turns out, are really important for this. So I came away with some sweet new Sauconys and I swear it's like running is completely amazing. I mean, it was good before, but it's so much better now. And all because of the guys in the real running store. So, I know it might be hard to get in there and talk to those chaps because they seem like they're high-falutin' in their lycra and their spandex and their special socks but they're not going to be all judgy: they're going to want to see you running happy. You won't regret it.
posted by hydatius at 2:40 AM on April 26, 2012

I'm not even a runner and I go to a Real Running Store. Every time I've gone they have been very nice and non-judgmental. And boy, do the right shoes make a difference!!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:47 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

What about all this talk about Barefoot / near Barefoot running and whether "running shoes" promote bad practice?

There was a spate of articles on this sometime recently but I can't really find them: see Mail Online .

I was recently thinking of trying running in some of those old-school style athletics shoes - that are barely a thin strip of leather / plastic between your foot and the ground. Is this all rubbish or is there actual reason to avoid the well padded style of shoes?
posted by mary8nne at 3:13 AM on April 26, 2012

So - what might I expect there?

They'll ask you a little about your running history (how often do you run? are you having any problems with your current shoes?) and about your goals (do you want to run more? are you training for a race?). They'll probably ask you to run for them either on a treadmill or outside the store so they can watch your gait, so be sure to bring your current shoes with you and wear clothes you can run in. If you have a budget in mind, you might mention that here as the salesperson picks out some shoes for you to try on. The main parameters are going to be: size, how cushiony the shoe is, and whether it is designed to correct something in your gait like suppinating or pronating. Size may run a half size or a size larger than what you would wear in an everyday shoe, they'll be feeling your toes in the toe box to make sure there is some room. If you are more of a beginner, they will steer you towards a trainer - a shoe with a lot of cushioning. (Experienced runners might ask for a more minimal shoe or a specialty shoe like a racing flat). If you have a natural roll in your gait -- your feet tend to roll out or roll in -- there are shoes that address that.

You won't get any judgement; every runner is different and only you can tell what works for you. The sales person will bring out a couple of different models of shoes for you to try on and ask you to run a short distance in each of them to see how they feel. Maybe even the same models in different half sizes if they are still unsure of your size. So every time you try on a pair you'll either get on a treadmill or go outside the store to run for maybe 100 yards or so. You'll probably feel self conscious about putting on and taking off so many pairs of shoes and running while the sales person watches you. Don't be, you are going to be running many hundreds of miles in these things over their lifetime, make sure you get it right. So even after you've cycled through everything, I would go back to the first or second pairs and try them again. If you like a pair, hold them off to the side, if a pair doesn't work, give them back. The kind of things you are looking for are obvious faults: foot slides around too much in shoe; too loose or too tight in the heel or the toe. Make sure that when you do your little test runs that you go for a decent distance; again, people feel self conscious and only run a short way, I would try to go at least 100 yards if not longer to give you a chance to settle in to your actual running gait. Rinse, lather, repeat until you've narrowed it down to "the" pair of shoes that work best for you. This whole process will take about 30 minutes, maybe longer. A lot of runners will end up buying the same model again once they find something that works for them (I've probably owned 20 or 30 pairs of Nike Air Pegasus over my lifetime). Good luck with the shopping!
posted by kovacs at 3:22 AM on April 26, 2012

>I was recently thinking of trying running in some of those old-school style athletics shoes - that are barely a thin strip of leather / plastic between your foot and the ground. Is this all rubbish or is there actual reason to avoid the well padded style of shoes?

Your use of the word "old-school" is well-founded. If you look at photos of olympians in days past, you'll notice that everybody ran in leather shoes with thin strips of leather as heals. It was only after Bill Bowerman at Nike produced a shoe prototype from a waffle iron that the trend to thick soles began, culminating in the grotesquely thick shoes you see at running stores. The evidence that these cause injuries has begun to trickle in.

That said, this is definitely a case in which YMMV. Many minimalist or barefoot runners, including me, experience more injuries at first due to the adaptation required. And if you're looking for definitive science, you won't find it--it ain't here yet.

But some nutcases runners--I'm certainly one--absolutely relish the free-and-easy sensation of running in minimalist shoes, which feel like they're equipped with wings on the sides, a la Flash in the comic books, and make running a joyous, childlike experience again. If you run for exercise, they might not be for you. If you run for pleasure, they might be. But only with the above caveats.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:04 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: We need to stick to the OP's questions, guys, and not make this a general convo about running, or sideline with piggyback questions.
posted by taz (staff) at 4:11 AM on April 26, 2012

Expect them to be very friendly and find you the right fitting shoe.

Don't expect that shoe to be inexpensive-- good running shoes seem to cost (in US) $100+ (or up to $130) and much more expensive than the typically good looking, comfy shoes you see at a normal shoe/fitness shoe.
posted by sandmanwv at 4:23 AM on April 26, 2012

Yeah they'll be psyched to help you and you'll leave with shoes that suit you well. Happy feet, here you come!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:31 AM on April 26, 2012

When I first started running, I figured I'd save a few bucks and get shoes from a big-box store, because they carried the same brands, right? The shoes that felt right in the store turned out to be awful when I started running. Not only did I get the wrong type of shoes, but I didn't realize my running-shoe size and street-shoe size were different.

I'd guess that running stores actually see more beginners than experts, since the people who have been running for years have usually found a shoe that works for them and buy replacement pairs wherever's cheapest. The person who fits you will be familiar with working with beginners, and will talk you through every step and explain what works and what doesn't.

And running shoes are not like cameras or violins, where you only benefit from high-end models once you reach a certain skill level. Good running shoes help no matter how far or fast you run.

I'm a slow runner, and often shy about asking for help in stores, but I've never had an uncomfortable experience in a Real Running Store. Not even when I came in with my totally-wrong shoes.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:43 AM on April 26, 2012

The people at my Real Running Store were nice and non-judgy even when I was 45+ pounds heavier than I am now.
posted by anaelith at 5:16 AM on April 26, 2012

Yeah, the Real Running Store people will more than likely be psyched that you are starting to run, and they may try to coax you into weekly "fun runs" and other Super Psyched Runner things! If you can and if they let you, definitely go outside to jog rather than inside on the treadmill; I like trying to turn and stop quickly and it's much harder to modulate your pace on the treadmill. Shoes can be really important, and it's the worst when you know the things you have strapped to your feet are holding you back! It's true that they may have a lot of questions but it will be to judge what kinds of shoes you really do need, based on your need, where you run, your feet, your gait, etc. Don't go after a day where you've been standing around a lot; you'll want shoes that can accomodate swelling, but if you buy them with tired puffy feet, the fit will always be slightly off. (Okay, I'm picky about a tight fit...) They may also know different ways of tying and lacing them to accentuate a different fit level.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:18 AM on April 26, 2012

I'm crazy fat. Like, over 350lbs fat. I clearly can't run at all -- I get fairly out of breath just walking briskly, and no one who looked at me would think otherwise.

But I buy my walking shoes in a running store, along with my gym socks (and socks for my Dad, who has probably never been inside a gym in his life but likes the double-walled cold weather running socks for every day winter socks). A Real Running Store. Not only are they not at all judgmental, they are highly encouraging and very helpful. And they remember when I come back to get new shoes or more socks.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:30 AM on April 26, 2012

I am not even a beginning runner, but I won a gift certificate to a real running store. My usual strategy is to wear sneakers well past their expiration date, then find something reasonable comfortable and not too garishly colored in an outlet store. The Running Store person was more than happy to help me out even though I would not really be running in them and trying not to spend much more than the gift certificate. They asked some questions, had me walk around a bit, then we tried three options and narrowed it down to the final choice. It turns out I walk/run a certain way (something to do with "pronation", but I forget what exactly) and he brought out sneakers based on that.

They are definitely the most comfortable sneakers I've ever had! Very comfortable for walking and hanging about and when I have used them for running they work well.
posted by mikepop at 5:56 AM on April 26, 2012

They will not be judgy. I went in while all doughy and bloaty from recent childbirth and obviously not in any kind of running shape. I'd had terrible plantar fasciitis when I was pregnant and could barely WALK for several months, and I was building back up strength just to WALK half a mile after several months of having to mostly sit around or hobble. They are not judgy at all; I told them I was building back up walking stamina and I wasn't sure if I'd make it to running or not, realistically, in the next year, so I wanted something lightweight (I hate the heavy feet feeling!) but supportive and fit properly so I could build up stamina and not re-aggravate my still-healing plantar fasciia. They were awesome and helpful and helped me find weenie-walker shoes and some supporting SOCKS (!!! which actually help a ton, I love them) and spent as much time with me as with a "real runner" ... more, in fact, since I was a low-level new person in need of help and the real runners already know which shoes they like. The clerks even held my baby when he got fussy about being in his stroller and I was trying on shoes.

I have not yet made it up to running, but I'm walking all over the place now, and when I happen to run into the store owner around town, he always asks me how big the baby is these days, because they remember you!

When I was there they were also helping an old lady who mall-walks find mall-walking shoes she liked that were both appropriate athletically and as bright pink or yellow as possible because she wanted to stand out in her mall-walking group!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:20 AM on April 26, 2012

Hi! I might be partial because i run a little running shoes website ( but I think running shoes are very important, especially for beginners.

Running stores are happy to help a new/beginner runner (you are obviously new and hopefully repeat business for them). But also because then is when their help is most useful. An experienced runners most likely knows what he/she likes already and what works for them.
posted by madeinitaly at 6:31 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been to running stores in 4 different states across the country and never had a bad or judge-y experience, but there may be some questions involved because they're trying to help you find the perfect fit. It's the difference between buying a suit off the rack at a mall store and going to one of those stores where the guys know their stuff and can talk about cut and fit and threadcount and things you've never thought of. Or whatever the equivalent for women is.

First thing you'll want to do is tell them all the stuff you told us. Tell them what you dislike about your current pair and what you liked about the old one. Then they'll probably want to see how you walk/run, sometimes on a treadmill, sometimes with a fancy machine that shows how your foot lands when you take a step, and sometimes it's just the eyeball test. They may talk to you about your stride and how you land, which influences the kind of shoe you'll want (unless you want to go minimalist, that's a whole different ball of wax). Then they'll go and probably pull a bunch of different pairs for you to try on. The most important thing you can do here is communicate what you're liking and disliking about each. When you get one that feels good, ask if you can run a little bit in them to try them out. They may have you hop on the treadmill or they may let you run around the block, they'll figure something out. If you think you like them, you're set. If you don't, repeat previous steps until you find a pair you like.

If it seems like a lot of work, it kind of is, but you'll get a lot of important information: How your foot lands, what brand you like, and what you want in a running shoe. Most of the stores I've been to will keep your shoe information on file, so you can just walk in when those wear out and say "I need a new pair", they'll look you up and hook you up, or they can say "Oh, the company changed those to be more (whatever) but the (whatever) is very close to it".
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:52 AM on April 26, 2012

Proper running shoe companies like New Balance are pretty good about keeping shoe lines consistent over years even as the model numbers and style are updated. So I've found it works well to buy the first shoe at full price (maybe $125) at a proper running store that will fit you, then order subsequent ones online. Just buying last year's model can cut 50% off the price, and makes me much more likely to retire shoes as you are supposed to.
posted by smackfu at 7:04 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

It has been my experience that running store employees love to help new runners.
posted by mskyle at 8:39 AM on April 26, 2012

I went to a specialist running store in the UK - I'm definitely a beginner at running.

They asked what I ran in already. So I think it might be helpful to take in your current shoes - you can point out what bits are bad, so they can factor that into their recommendations.

They popped me on a treadmill and looked at how I was running. Then they asked me what kinds of surface I run on normally. Very nicely they also asked if I had a particular budget in mind.

Then they told me my running style (which I promptly forgot) and recommended about 3 sets of trainers. I tried them on and they felt my toe area, and said I needed slightly larger shoes, they picked out some more and I got a lovely comfortable pair.

At no point did I feel like I was being judged for being a beginner. But they were happy to answer my questions and they spent a lot of time with me.
posted by SuckPoppet at 8:54 AM on April 26, 2012

Yes - real running store will help you. I talked to folks in a running store near me and they say that most of their customers are not hardcore runners but rather newbies.

One caveat - they will try to help you find the best fit. But your best friend is still you and how comfortable you are in your shoes. No bells and whistles (pronation correction seems to be the rage when I tried to buy mine) can subsitute for your common sense. If you don't feel right in a pair, no matter what they say, don't get it.

Real running store will allow you to try out a pair, either in treadmill in the store or around the block. Take advantage of it.
posted by 7life at 9:12 AM on April 26, 2012

A suggestion you may try, its a newer idea in running world.. and I am a beginner runner (at it for 4 months, can do about 5k but no more than that)

A company called Vibram makes the "5-Finger" running shoe, which is a minimalistic shoe that is super thin / light and separates your toes. Its the closest feeling to running barefoot while having a hard rubber protection bottom.

I didnt like traditional shoes because they'd feel like cinder blocks after I ran a couple miles, and I'd literally trip and fall flat on my face. These you don't even feel the weight. The technique for running in these differs from traditional running shoes, I did research into developing the technique (info is all Googlable, look for "barefoot running technique").

I want to note that I have HEARD that the traditional running shoe industry HATES this new barefoot running movement, because theres no profit in it for them. So a traditional running shoe store, who wants to custom mold you a pair of $300 running shoes, may not suggest a non-traditional, $60 pair of shoes that could be right up your alley if your current shoes and style is not fitting.

Also, running in these makes muscles in your feet/legs hurt that you never even knew existed... proper technique and practice builds these muscles up fairly quickly. For the record, I run on 99% concrete.
posted by el_yucateco at 10:52 AM on April 26, 2012

Oh, and I bought mine at REI, the sales staff were knowledgeable and supportive of the 5-Fingers, and were happy to work with finding me the proper fit. All of their customers are flabbergasted when they see the odd 5-fingered shoe, so they are used to explaining the concept/technique/etc. without any judgement.

Also, I do not frequent real running stores, so maybe they've adopted these shoes as well.
posted by el_yucateco at 10:54 AM on April 26, 2012

TL;DR every word above, but I want to chime in and suggest you also wear or bring the socks that you will likely run in as well. That may help with proper fit. Also, I have found some of my best runners at price ranges from $50 - $120. I went in prepared to pay because my criteria is, along with that they fit well, that I feel as if I'm walking on a cloud - other words, you do NOT need to "break in" running shoes. They should be good to go and you should just "know" as soon as you put them on. If ANY kind of slight rubbing, tightness, etc. - do not purchase! That's been my personal rules as far as runners go and I haven't been let down once in over 15 years!
posted by foxhat10 at 7:08 PM on April 26, 2012

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