When I was a kid, right on up through high school and undergrad, I wore sneakers (we call them tennis shoes in Texas) almost exclusively. There was the occasional pair of Nike sandals, but sneakers were really my comfort zone. Once I graduated college and started teaching, I had to find some dressy alternatives: ballet flats, nicer sandals. I pretty much left sneakers behind for 15 years.
Why leave sneakers behind? Every pair I bought HURT! That is, I could wear them for a few minutes and 1) my feet would cramp 2) my shins would burn 3) my feet would actually tingle and fall asleep.
What the hell? Was I just buying really terrible shoes? I knew those Reeboks I bought on clearance were bad news.
I took off for my first run on March 31, 2016, and I was wearing some absolutely terrible Target memory foam slip-on sneakers. And guess what? No pain! No tingling, no falling asleep. At the end of my runs my arches hurt from lack of support, but on the whole, my feet felt a heck of a lot better than they did in any of the "good" shoes collecting dust in my closet.
Buying quality running shoes was a given. Even though I wasn't having the same foot pain I'd had before, I was still cognizant enough to realize that I couldn't do this for the long term in cheap shoes that lacked support. I also knew I was starting from square one, so I really needed to work with someone who could check out my gait and put me in something I could love for the long term.
I chose my local New Balance store because it was the only store I knew of that would analyze my gait, it was close, and New Balance is a reputable name. Voila! Right?
It was an OK buying experience. The young, disinterested lady working there had me stand on a fancy machine, and she said I was putting weight on the outsides of my feet, and she suggested a shoe to help with that because it was bad or something? I tried the shoes on in a couple of different size sevens because...that's what I wear. I chose a pair, bought them, and went home. When I walked around the house in them, my feet promptly fell asleep. WHAT THE HECK?
Needless to say, I was perturbed at having spent $140 on shoes that gave me the same instantaneous problem as all the others. I had to take Greyson to his dad's house near Dallas that night, and I thought I remembered there being a running store nearby. Sure enough, Run On!, a Texas chain has a location just a few miles from G's dad's house.
I was apprehensive about a running store. Would they laugh at me for being a fat woman running? Would I get stuck with a salesperson who talked down to me? Would they dupe me into buying something ridiculously expensive? Would I just keep having the same problems?
Luckily, none of those things happened. I walked into a fairly empty store (it was a Friday night near closing time, after all), and the woman working asked if she could help. My exact words were, "I just started Couch to 5K and these crappy Target memory foam shoes feel better than any sneakers I've ever had. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?"
She laughed, we talked about my situation a bit, and she said, "Well, the fact that you told me the Target shoes are more comfortable than a running shoe tells me most of what I need to know." She asked me to take off my shoes, and she asked me to walk away from her and back toward her so she could see my gait. She said I'm neutral, I pronate a teeny tiny bit but not enough to worry with, and a large toe box would probably help the cramping and tingliness.
I had a seat and waited for a few minutes, and she came back with several different shoes in a couple of different sizes. I found out some really important stuff:
1. It's typical to buy at least a half-size bigger than your normal shoe size to accommodate foot swelling while you work out (some people buy a full size larger and I may consider this going forward).
2. Performance socks are important. Cotton will rub blisters and generally slip around and cause discomfort. I ended up buying a couple of pairs of Feetures, and I'll never go back. They don't stink (in my experience) so I can get a couple of runs in between washings before I get grossed out, and they will last forever...they even have a lifetime warranty.
But back to the running shoes. I started by trying a different kind of shoe on each foot. She asked me to walk around the store and pick the shoe that I noticed the least. After a couple of trips around the store we narrowed the shoes down to just three pair. One was New Balance, one Asics, and I really don't remember what the other one was. Brooks maybe? Then we moved on to trying the complete pair of each shoe and making more treks around the store.
It didn't take long at all, and I narrowed my preference down to the Asics Womens 33-M 2. When I looked down at my feet they looked a bit like boats, but mannnn are they comfy. Very supportive, light, padded, and no pain from squeezing, no tingling. SOLD! They also breathe really well. Sometimes I can feel the breeze through them while I run.
I've had my Asics for over 250 miles now, and they are amazing. I know for a fact that they're inching toward their death. I work out in them every day...running and walking, climbing bleachers, riding the Gazelle. I will definitely re-purchase these shoes. The running store charged the suggested retail prize of $130-$140, but I've seen these on other retail websites for closer to $100.
The moral of this story is: GO BE FITTED FOR SHOES! Even if you decide to go elsewhere and buy them cheaper online. Don't go buy a pair because someone else wears them. Don't go guessing at the big box store. If I hadn't gone to the running store I wouldn't have known what kind of shoe I need. In fact, at one point in the session, I mentioned the Asics Gel Cumulus because that's what Tara wears, and she's a running rock star. The salesperson picked up on my queue and pulled the shoes so I could try them, but I immediately knew they were not what I needed. I'm sure it's a great shoe, but it didn't satisfy the needs of my neutral gait and it made me feel like I was falling backward on my heel. No go. It wasn't my shoe.
My husband shared some of the same apprehensions about shoe buying from a running store. We're both overweight and newbie runners. We went to another Run On! location closer to our house, and he had an equally good experience. It was a busy Saturday, but the salesperson was knowledgeable, patient, and listened to his specific concerns about shoes he's had before and why they didn't work for him. Now he's got a great pair that suit him perfectly and no foot pain to speak of.
*Note: I did return the New Balance the next day. When the owner asked what was wrong with them, I said, "They just don't fit."