12 mistakes marathon runners make when buying their shoes

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Whether the Virgin Money London Marathon is your first 26.2 or you’re gunning for a new PB, a good pair of running shoes is a must. But with so much choice, finding the best-fitting shoe for your feet – and your running style – can be confusing. Which is why we’ve asked our seasoned experts for their tips, tricks and things to avoid, to make sure you hit the Mall with happy feet on April 22.

Mistake 1: Not stepping into the comfort zone

Experts have been rethinking their advice when it comes to buying the right running shoes. “If we were discussing buying shoes three or four years ago, we would probably be going through a list of questions that includes things like gait specialisms, motion control and over-panning,” says Kerry McCarthy, Runner’s World’s Shoe Buyers’ Guides editor. “But really over the last few years the thinking has changed a lot.”

In 2015, one of the leading experts in biomechanics – Dr Benno Nigg – released a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that debunked much of the popular thinking around pronation control, stability and cushioning. One piece of advice stood out: wear what feels right for you and you’ll be more efficient and have fewer injuries.

Nigg’s research found scant scientific evidence to connect pronation and running injuries or evidence linking cushioning to injury prevention. Instead of focusing on correcting your stride, it went on to recommend that running shoes should support each runner’s “preferred movement path”. More importantly, it claimed the best way to see just how a shoe fits with your personal running style is the subjective filter of “comfort”.

Nigg’s advice should make shoe-buying more simple, says McCarthy, because it boils everything down to one simple concept: go by comfort.

Mistake 2: Choosing fashion and jargon over feel and fit

Go-faster stripes and technical innovations are all part of the running shoe landscape. People can get very overwhelmed with the idea that buying a shoe is incredibly technical, says McCarthy. But that doesn’t mean you should be swayed just by how a shoe looks. Comfort should always come first.

“When we do our research, comfort comes out as the number one thing people are looking for,” says Liz Ellyard, senior merchandise manager for running footwear at New Balance. “You can look at all the science but at the end of the day you’re the one that has to choose what’s right for you – the shoe that feels the best on your foot.”

Mistake 3: Buying shoes at the wrong time of day

Believe it or not there is a best time of the day to buy a pair of shoes. It’s in the evening. This is because your feet can swell up during the day as a result of natural Oedema, whereby the forces of gravity cause fluid to get trapped in your feet, making them a little larger as the sun dips. This is particularly the case if your job requires you to be standing all day. The result is that a shoe that felt snug at 9am might be too tight come 5pm.

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Mistake 4: Not giving yourself enough wiggle room

It’s no exaggeration to say that blisters can blow a race, and one surefire way to bring on the foot blight is to buy shoes that are too tight. Luckily there are measures you can take to buy your toes enough wiggle room.

Your feet will expand when you run, so for a start, McCarthy suggests buying shoes one half size bigger than you would wear your normal shoes. If you’re a UK 10, buy a 10.5 in your running shoes and always do some simple checks.

“When you’re trying shoes on, you need to kick the heel down so that it’s at the back of the shoe and make sure there is a thumb’s width between the end of your toe and the end of the shoe,” he says.

It’s also important to pay as much attention to width as you do to length, says Ellyard. “Definitely make sure your foot isn’t spilling over the side of the midsole when you’ve got the shoe on. Be sure that the sole of the shoe is as wide as the widest part of your foot.”

Mistake 5: Assuming all sizes are made equal

Just as you’d expect when buying a pair of jeans, different brands and different styles of shoe fit differently. A size nine in one make and model won’t be an exact match for a size 9 in another, so you should expect to sample slightly different sizes before you find the right fit.

If you have wide feet or high arches, there will also be some shoes that might not suit you at all. Even though these might come highly recommended, don’t be tempted to squeeze into them and hope for the best.

Mistake 6: Buying before trying

Online shopping has made it easy to get a dose of instant running gear gratification without having to leave the comfort of your sofa. But the temptation to order new running shoes online, without having slipped them on in real life, is probably best avoided.

“You can always get some interesting ideas online, but I’d never buy untried. Go to a shop and see how they feel before you buy them online,” says McCarthy. “Online shopping can be good if you are buying repeat versions of a shoe that is already tried and tested, and that is much loved. But if it’s an update to the next generation of your favourite shoe, make sure the updates aren’t significant and haven’t fundamentally changed the way that the shoe rides before you buy it.”

Mistake 7: Not doing your homework

With hundreds of new running shoes hitting the shelves every year, the choice is vast. Specialist running shoe shop assistants are trained to help you whittle away the options until you find your perfect shoe but it’s a good idea to go into the store armed with some ideas of your own to give them a little help.

“As well as going in and saying generally ‘I want help’, ‘what would you recommend?’ it is also advisable to go in with a few names written down and saying ‘I've heard good things about this shoe, this shoe and this shoe – what do you think?’” suggests McCarthy.

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Mistake 8: Only buying one pair

Instead of battering one pair of shoes for three months in training, it’s smart to invest in two pairs of shoes: one for training and one for race day. For a start, two pairs of shoes will tend to last longer, because you can be wearing one pair of shoes whilst the other is recovering from the battering you gave it the day before. This gives the insole cushioning time to decompress and return to its normal shape, extending the lifespan.

“You want to buy two slightly different pairs of shoes,” says McCarthy. “A high-mileage, long-run, Sunday shoe, that should be more cushioned, and all about comfort. Along with one that's a little bit lighter, a little bit more stripped down for your faster sessions.”

Mistake 9: Taking too much advice from friends

It’s instinctive to ask friends, family and fellow runners for shoe recommendations, but this can be counter productive. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for the next.

“Everybody is different, everybody runs differently, and even if you have a dozen friends who have all bought the same shoe and say it's wonderful, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be right for you. Try not to be influenced by marketing hype and the idea that you have to have the very latest thing. Trust your gut!” says McCarthy.

“You can go into a shop with lots of tips and advice and get confused by all the amount of running shoes out there and the type of shoe, but at the end of the day it needs to feel good on your foot.” adds Ellyard.

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Mistake 10: Giving up on shoes too quickly

Some shoes will run well straight out of the box, while others can require a bit of breaking in and melding to the way that you run. So if you buy a pair of shoes and they are a bit uncomfortable for the first few runs, don’t panic or take them back to the shop immediately, urges McCarthy. “I would always give a shoe probably 30 miles – and about 4 to 5 runs.”

Mistake 11: Over-thinking it

It’s important to have technically adept kit. But it’s all too easy to get tied up knots; over-thinking the technical details, and worrying that you’ve made a mistake. Ultimately, if you’ve got kit – including shoes – that you almost forget that you are wearing, it means that it is doing its job.

“Whether that’s a T-shirt that you don't notice because it is really good at wicking the sweat away so that it’s not sticking to you, or a pair of trainers you just floated around 23 miles in without any pinching, or blisters, the bottom line is: go for what’s comfortable. If after a month you’ve not had any discomfort, they’re probably fine,” says McCarthy.

Mistake 12: Leaving the laces as they come out of the box

How many times have you bought a new pair of shoes – running or otherwise – slipped them on, tied them up and not once thought about how they’re laced up? It’s easily done but leaving your laces as they arrived in the box is often a mistake.

“In long distance running there’s the potential for a lot more friction and that brings the risk of blisters, but there are different lacing techniques that help to reduce the movement of the foot in the shoe,” says Ellyard. “If you lace your shoes up well, for example using the top eyelet, so your foot’s not moving, it will help combat this.”

Visit the New Balance London Marathon hub to find the best running shoes for marathon day!