How important are 'good' running shoes for a beginner?
September 13, 2016 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I want to try Couch to 5K again. Do I really have to spend $100+ on running shoes for this?

This would be my second or third attempt at Couch to 5K. I enjoyed it in the past, but for various reasons never finished the whole program. Despite never finishing, I did find it enjoyable and I want to give it another shot. The running shoes I used back then were a used pair gifted to me by a friend with the same size feet, but they've long since worn out and been thrown away.

So, the question: the internet would have me believe that if I'm going to try running again, I absolutely must go to a fancy running store and get a gait test and spend a ton of money on shoes, or else I might as well just smash my knees with a hammer right now and save myself the trouble. I have no sense of how accurate this is. It would be a serious stretch for me to spend that much money on something I know from experience I have a 50/50 chance of ditching within a month or two, but I also don't want to destroy my body because I'm a cheapskate.

So, is this fancy expensive shoe thing something that I can upgrade to in a couple of months if it seems like I'm actually going to stick with running this time? Or is it pretty much a necessity?

Possibly relevant info: I live in NYC and would have to do my running on pavement.
posted by showbiz_liz to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it matters very much.

Did you have problems with the shoes that were given to you? Did you have any pain/injury/etc the last time you did C25K?
posted by gregr at 8:04 AM on September 13, 2016

Not all running shoes are $100+. Running shoes get released on a year-by-year basis. My favorites are the New Balance Minimus series, of which there are a couple of types of soles. I KNOW I like this shoe, so when I see last year's model on sale (at, say DSW or on Amazon), I stock up.

The reasons why The Internet recommends you go to a fancy running store to buy a good pair of running shoes are:

A) they will asses your gate and set you up with shoes that match it. For example, are you an overpronator or an underpronator?
B) They will asses your running style and set you up with shoes that match it. Do you plan to mainly run on streets? Then you probably don't want a pair of trail shoes.
C) They will watch you run in whatever pair of shoes you try on. Sometimes they have a treadmill, sometimes they have a long pathway. They will make sure the shoes fit your need and your unique body.
D) If, for some reason, the shoes start to bother your feet after 2-3 weeks of consistent running, MOST running stores will let you bring them back and exchange them for something different. Try returning a pair of used running shoes to Academy or wherever.

One of the reasons I love running most is because it has a low financial barrier to entry. Plenty of people run in shitty shoes, or Chuck Taylors, or whatever. Also, it might take you a couple of trial-and-errors to find the shoes you like best. I still recommend you get a proper fitting, but once you find a style you like you'll know better when it's time to replace them.
posted by Brittanie at 8:05 AM on September 13, 2016

I used to run with a pair or $20 running shoes. Maybe I lucked out and got something generic that worked out fine for me, but other than finding something that provided decent cushioning on impact and support during the stance, I didn't have any problem with cheap shoes, and this was after fucking up a knee (partial ACL tear, I think) wearing more expensive shoes.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:12 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The odds of you doing serious, long-lasting damage to your body are pretty low if you're just doing a C25K, and most of the things that will do that damage have nothing to do with your shoes (e.g., tripping and breaking a leg). Go ahead and get some cheap shoes, run around a little with them, and see whether they work for you.
posted by Etrigan at 8:14 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

How many miles do running shoes last? Answer: Probably somewhere between 200 and 400, but it varies greatly, no one really knows, and there's no good evidence that using worn out shoes will lead to injuries.

Should you worry about getting shoes that are right for your type of foot? Probably not. "Where does that leave us? ... First, choose a shoe that feels comfortable to you; there's evidence that perception of comfort is actually relatively sensitive guide to how compatible a shoe is with your foot. Second, pay more attention to all the non-shoe factors that lead to running injury -- most importantly, training errors. In the end, the underlying cause of virtually all overuse injuries is still the simplest: too much, too soon."

So I would go to a real store where you can try shoes on and get the cheapest pair of shoes that feel comfortable, or if you're willing to risk having to mail them back to save $20-$30, mail order last year's model from a clearance site and send them back if they aren't comfortable. (I would stick to name brands and avoid Payless and brands you haven't heard of); I think the quality does start to drop off once you get to the really cheap ones.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:18 AM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Did you have any pain/injury/etc the last time you did C25K?

If the answer to this question is no, and you otherwise don't have potentially problematic health things (do you have a kind of jankety knee that's usually fine? have you gained a ton of weight since the last time you ran with your jankety knee?), as a non-doctor, I think you'd probably be fine to go ahead and start.

Just pay close attention to what your body is telling you (especially once you get into the weeks with the 5 and 8 minute runs). And, to be honest, by the time your'e running for appreciable lengths of time (weeks 4 and 5ish), you'll have a decent idea if you're going to stick with it, and if you are maybe you deserve a reward.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:20 AM on September 13, 2016

I started running again and was thinking of getting fitted with some pricey running shoes at a dedicated store, but so far my $70 Under Armour trainers from Academy have been great. What you need to discover is your running style and foot strike patterns, and work from there. A nice light pair of trainers will be fine to get started. Maybe do some light jogging around the aisle in the store to make sure they aren't too loose around the heels. But otherwise to get started it's more important to start moving than it is to have some high end custom shoes that maximize pronation or whatever.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:22 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

What sparklemotion said, I think; if you didn't have pain on your previous attempts you can probably give it a shot with the shoes you have now.

Anecdote in favor of spending a bit of money on shoes: I tried doing C25K in a pair of cheap crappy shoes and hurt my knees by week 2. I went to a running store after that and spent about $90 on a pair of shoes that suit my gait, and it was a night and day difference for me. There was no way I could have continued with the cheap shoes, no issues since upgrading. (Also, having made that investment provided extra incentive to stick with it.)
posted by usonian at 8:29 AM on September 13, 2016

How old are you? I have needed more frequent changes of shoes as I have gotten older.
posted by kerf at 8:36 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been running all my life in cheap shoes. I have flat feet but never worried about arch support. I made it to 48 years old with no problems, then got plantar fascitus while training for a half marathon in expensive shoes that I bought at a fancy running store.

In my opinion the fancy running shoe stuff is all a load of crap. If the shoe feels comfortable when you try it on, most likely you will be comfortable running in it. If you get out there and you experience serious discomfort or pain, do not continue to run in that shoe. Return the shoes if you can, but even if you can't return them, get another pair. Ross stores sometimes have nice running gear including shoes for deeply discounted prices.

Have fun and enjoy running!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:43 AM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

You don't need new shoes if you are free from biomechanical weaknesses and inefficiencies in your feet and ankles or are lightweight and strong or run on soft flat trails or ...

So, it depends.
posted by zippy at 8:44 AM on September 13, 2016

That said, get last year's model on sale for $60.
posted by zippy at 8:45 AM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

So I started C25K last a couple years back with just some regular cheap puma sneakers and ended up with plantar fasciitis. Went to jackrabbit running store, did a gait test, got the cheapest option they provided me and haven't had a problem since. Also on NYC pavement.
posted by greta simone at 8:56 AM on September 13, 2016

I also like the new balance minimus line. I haven't paid more than $65 for a pair and I have a pair of the trail version I got for $38. Figure out what makes your feet happy. My feet are happiest in minimalist shoes...including Chuck Taylors. You do not have to drop major $$$$ on shoes. If $10 generics work for you then that is what works for you.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:58 AM on September 13, 2016

Seconding find shoes you feel comfortable in, then get last year's model for 50-70% off.

I've never spent more than 70 euros on a pair of running shoes, but new? They're worth 140-180 apparently.

I grew up in the hometown of Nike and know what goes on behind the scenes, so have no compunction about buying athletic shoes cheap. Markup is crazy on them and new models of the same line have (usually) very little difference. You do want to read Amazon reviews just in case though, helps avoid bad surprises. Like a zero drop line suddenly no longer being zero drop.
posted by fraula at 9:13 AM on September 13, 2016

Good runners have good form. Poor runners often don't. Shoe companies try to turn the latter into the former by promising that their shoe will fix your form. That's how they convince you a shoe is worth $150 and must be replaced after 6 months of wear. But you need to listen to your body, not the marketing folks.

My personal experience - NOT my advice, but what I discovered about my own running form: I overpronate. Shoes that tried to correct that made my knees hurt. I switched to shoes that don't try to fight my natural gait, and I've been fine ever since. "Stability" shoes for overpronators are big, heavy, bricks. They are expensive and, for me, not fun to wear.

I have pretty flat feet. Many shoes have extensive arch supports. They push up on my arches and that hurt me and I didn't like it. Plus, it seemed stupid, the more I thought about it. From an engineering perspective, an arch is a self-supporting structure, right? So... why do we support it? Arch supports hurt my feet so I needed shoes that didn't have any supports.

My eye-opening moment was when I tried a minimalist shoe. Running stopped being something I did and became something I actually liked doing. Sometimes it was even FUN to do. I tried a lot of different minimalist and semi-minimalist shoes and have found a happy place for my feet.

I'm a convert, but I'd also warn you NOT to buy an ultra-thin, uncushioned shoe and expect to feel as good as a 5 year old running in the grass. It took a long time to adjust, you're fighting X number of years of poor form and too much support. But a lighter shoe, one that doesn't try to work too hard to force you into a specific running style? Sure, that's a good starting point. And the newly-redesigned (and no longer minimal) Minimus might be that shoe for you, now that they bulked it up. But whatever you try - remember: The shoe is not right. It is never right. Your BODY is right. If the shoe hurts your body, it's the wrong shoe for you.

Several people upthread mentioned the New Balance Minimus. The Minimus was a great shoe. I liked it, then over time, the marketing geniuses at New Balance turned it into a standard (if fairly lightweight) shoe. No more ultra-thin sole, no more rounded heel, no more zero drop, no more extreme flexibility. The sole is stiff, it has a noticable arch support, the heel is flared and wide to guide your landing... I can't wear a shoe like that comfortably for running, the flared heel forces my feet to land in a way that is wrong for me. So I stick with truly minimalist shoes - Vibram FiveFingers, mostly, or my older Minimus versions (e.g. 2012-era Trail Zero MT100), because Vibram seems to be the only company (Merrill aside) that still makes truly minimalist shoes. Funny thing about the minimal shoes - with no padding, there's less to wear out, so you replace them less often... which has convinced the shoe manufacturers that no one is interested in buying them any more. Unfortunate, for me anyway. I haven't had to buy a new pair of running shoes since 2013. Minimalism isn't dead, it's just being ignored I guess. Too bad for our feet.

PS: What many people have left unsaid is that there's a secret, the real reason you go to an actual running store to buy running shoes. Here it is: They'll accept returns. That's it. Buy them, try them, hate them? Trade for another pair. You can't do that everywhere. Some places won;t accept returns if shoes have been worn at all! Running stores are staffed by people who run, generally, and who understand that your choice of shoe is a deeply personal and person-specific thing. You cannot know what works for you until you've tried. So, try, and try not to be a heel-strike runner: Your knees will thank you. (Your calves won't, not at first though! But it's worth it!)
posted by caution live frogs at 9:33 AM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you have any kind of MSK vulnerability, which for some reason I have the impression you might, I think it would be advisable to take every precaution. Which still might not save you if you're made in a funky way, I dropped almost $200 (CAD though) and still ended up with chronic tendinopathy and neuropathy. On C25K.

If you *know* you're footloose and fancy free, take your chances, I guess.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:03 AM on September 13, 2016

The research is mixed about whether matching shoes to gait is helpful. There are only two large-scale studies done on civilian populations. One found that it didn't matter; another that it did.

What does seem to make a big difference is rotating two or more pairs of shoes.

My advice? Go to a running store, try on discontinued or other inexpensive shoes until you find a pair that feels comfortable, then buy those. Work on your running form while doing C25K. Don't run too fast; keep all the running intervals at a conversational pace (makes running more fun and reduces risk of injury).

Then, if you finish the program and keep running, buy a second inexpensive pair of shoes from a different brand, and alternate runs in each pair. Not only will you reduce the risk of injury, but each pair will last longer if it has a chance to completely dry out between runs.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:03 AM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Nope. Not at all. I went through C25K in 2012 using a pair of $35 clearance Puma Faas 300. They're super lightweight, and otherwise have no defining features, bells, or whistles. I likes them so much that I'm on my third pair of the current Faas models, and they're about $60-70 unless I time my purchase with seasonal sales.

Good luck!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:06 AM on September 13, 2016

I used to run 3 miles a day, 4-5 days a week in $30 running shoes from Target that were a little on the small side. Never had a problem. Y(literal)MMV
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:15 AM on September 13, 2016

What are your feet like? I have flat feet and need to wear special stupid ugly thick running shoes designed for people with flat feet, or I will absolutely feel the difference. They are unfortunately not only hideous, they are also expensive.

I also got a knee injury after running on crappy old worn out running shoes for too long.

On the other hand, if you have feet and joints of steel and have never experienced problems with this stuff, yeah you're probably fine running in whatever.

The other reality is that the first few weeks of C25K only involve running what amounts to a few blocks. You can probably start the program in whatever shoes you have and spend money on real running shoes around week 3 or 4, which is where you start running real distances.
posted by Sara C. at 10:21 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Some people need fancy running shoes or they'll injure themselves while other (e.g. me) don't. I don't know which category is yours.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:35 AM on September 13, 2016

Get good cushioned shoes with strong support if you are not a neutral runner. Then add an insert in the shoe. Done. Do not go barefoot and do not buy neutral shoes unless you are absolutely sure you are a neutral runner. And mostly ignore the shoe store advice-why? Because first, they are not podiatrist and are going by what they "think" has worked for those whom they sold the shoe, second if they don't stock the shoe they will not recommend it as a salesperson ( there are always exceptions like everything however those are exceptions).
Most stores do Not refund your money for a used shoe, they give you store credit which means you don't get your money back.
Try Hruska guide to shoes..I did tons of research and ran by them..who knows how good they are but I liked their advice
posted by metajim at 11:39 AM on September 13, 2016

Hi, welcome to the wonderful world of running where there's a lot of advice, much of it conflicting.

Along the lines of studies linked about that "gait-matching" shoes have little/no/inverse correlation with injury, there's similar studies saying that expensive running shows correlate with increased injury chance. I've unfortunately had injuries requiring 2-6 weeks of little to know running (and mid-level pain for just walking around as life requires) 1-2 times per year for my 2.5 years running. I also tend to buy shoes which would be $100-130 in the US. I keep meaning to just try looking at a walmart, but usually even at the running stores I need to special order because of foot size (14, or 13 for wide toe-box brands).

Re: discount/last year's shoes - be aware that aging is also bad for the midsole of the shoe (at least according to the manufacturers - I'm unaware of any studies indicating the comfortable mileage one can put on a shoe, versus one that sat in a warehouse for 2 years).

Personally, unless your body is telling you differently, I think that when you're under 30miles per week you don't need to think too seriously about shoes. I've seen a few studies that seem to indicate when people are increasing their mileage up around 40+ per week is when injury is most likely to occur.

Possibly the best way to avoid injury is to find where you're week and inflexible (do you sit a lot? Your hips and glutes are likely week, and your hips are inflexible. Do you wear heels? Your calfs are likely inflexible). Don't do static stretching before running.

Once you're running more than every other day, probably more important than what shoes you have is to have 2-3 pairs (not all the same model) and never use the same ones back to back. I don't recall ever seeing a study indicating shoe rotation had any correlation with injury, which given my opening statement might show the importance of shoe rotation.
posted by nobeagle at 12:27 PM on September 13, 2016

Get good cushioned shoes with strong support if you are not a neutral runner.

I literally have no idea how I would go about determining that!
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:40 PM on September 13, 2016

In theory getting gait tested at a running store will tell you if you're a neutral runner. Alternately, you can put your phone somewhere in a bush on record, and run past it a few times. Get yourself coming head on, running away, and running to the side. Compare that to youtube videos you find searching for over pronation and under pronation.

It's very easy to tell that I'm an over pronator. But neither the sports doctor, nor the two physiotherapists I've been to have recommended motion control shoes (for reasons that brianogilvie pointed out). My current physio asked if I'd ever tried any, and I said that it felt really bad when I first tried them out way back when when I went to a running store and was told that I needed motion control shoes.

Of course, as noted I've had multiple time-outs for injuries; but all of these are related to being a leg-day skipping swimmer in highschool, and sitting like it's my job for another 20 years after that.
posted by nobeagle at 12:52 PM on September 13, 2016

@showbiz_liz Go to a running store and have someone watch you run.

If you have any shoes you wear regularly (even walking shoes) that are worn down, you can look at the soles to see if they're worn unevenly.

You can also do the paper bag test.
posted by Brittanie at 12:57 PM on September 13, 2016

I'm a former serious distance runner doing C25k right now, post-pregnancy. I went out in good, expensive running shoes that were a little old -- 200-300 miles on them from before. And I managed to screw up my foot within the first 3-4 weeks of the program. It might be a stress fracture, ruining my hopes of running a half marathon next January.

So I vote for good new shoes. I'm blaming my foot problem on a combination of weight and old shoes.

Come to think of it, the very first time I did C25k, like, 8 years ago, I got a stress fracture of the tibia. I don't remember what my shoe situation was. But don't believe people who say you can't get injured running short intervals -- you certainly can.
posted by liet at 2:01 PM on September 13, 2016

I've been running in Converse, universally hailed as the worst-ever running shoe, for like two years. Buy a crap shoe that fits you well, then apply the money you saved to a running coach who can critique and improve your form.
posted by fritillary at 2:50 PM on September 13, 2016

I lean towards the "as long as it feels comfortable" school. Since you're in NYC - the Paragon warehouse sale is now; it's usually unpleasantly crowded, but they tend to have nice running shoes at good prices if you have the patience to sort through the bins. Might be a way to split the difference.
posted by yarrow at 3:18 PM on September 13, 2016

Be wary of minimalist shoes,especially when running on cement or concrete. The forces involved are stronger than you might think, and pavement has even less give than bitumen. Got will be slamming the equivalent force of twice for body weight or more on to a very small area (your foot). Supporters of minimalism tend to be quiye evangelical, I was too until my minimalist shoes have me an injury that took ten months to recover from and now flares up any time I push too hard - and whilst that was at far greater distances and speed than you're proposing, it was predominantly in a treadmill. Stories like mine are very common in running forums.

That being said you don't need to spend more than sixty bucks or so. The real key is not going too fast, too long, too hard, especially on pavement. Best of luck!
posted by smoke at 3:35 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another C25k'er here. IME unless you have underlying issues or old injuries then it wouldn't make much difference, especially in the early weeks where you're really only running 2 minutes at a time. The main way to avoid injury seems to be not to overtrain ie never run 2 days in a row, don't get ahead of the program etc.

Having said that, when I upgraded to "proper" running shoes I could really feel the difference as they were much lighter on my feet. They would probably be less than $100 in the US though (we pay the Australia tax here), so I don't think you'd need to shell out big bucks for some improvement over a basic shoe. It's not like you're racing and a tenth of a second counts!
posted by pianissimo at 9:59 PM on September 13, 2016

smoke: "Supporters of minimalism tend to be quite evangelical"

Less preaching on the street corner and more reminding people that running shoe technology is relatively new, largely marketing, and deeply personal. Science on form, cushioning, etc. is all over the map. Every study has a contradictory counterpart. And far too often we think that the shoe can compensate, forgetting that any use of a body part that did not see heavy usage before must be taken slowly.

Running (using any shoe, with any level of skill or form) will dramatically increase the loading forces on your feet, knees, hips, etc. Force is increased by speed. If you run slowly, the forces aren't that horrible and you can get away with more. If you get faster, you increase the force and thus increase the chance of injury. Get faster slowly. Listen to your body. If something hurts, back off. Also remember that force is increased by weight: If you weigh less, you aren't imparting as much force on your feet. Exercise OUTSIDE of running will help that - which is the whole point of cross-training. On your non-running days, lift some weights or ride a bike.

For me, the minimalist thing is as much about feedback as anything. I can feel when my feet hit the ground. Over the past 6-7 years of running in shoes that allow me to feel the ground, I've become used to that biomechanical neural feedback. When I've tried running with cushioned shoes again, it was like trying to spend all day wearing oven mitts - the tactile feedback was missing, and it really bothered me. The only consistent finding I've seen with shoe research is that too much cushioning dampens the feedback, allowing runners to push harder than they should before pain (which is supposed to be a warning signal!) builds up enough to warn the runner that backing off could prevent an injury. Too much cushion is thrown out as the "solution" to foot pain when running, when we really ought to be looking at the pain as a signal that the foot is either being overused or overstressed. Runners don't want to take time off. Some times we have to, or risk a greater injury.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:54 AM on September 14, 2016

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