Getting the right running shoe fit - image of a pile of running shoes

Finding the right running shoe fit for you

If the (running) shoe fits…

Your shoes are your most important piece of running gear. The right running shoe fit will impact your comfort, performance, injury, and fatigue prevention. Good running shoes will keep you running when a wrong choice means you decide it’s not for you.

Running shoes that fit are the foundation for keeping your running mojo. But how do you know what size to get when buying a new pair of running shoes?

Essentially you should choose a shoe that fits. Sounds obvious, but that can be trickier than it sounds.

Is it better to size up or down in running shoes?

Simply sizing up when buying running shoes is a common mistake. There’s a misconception that you need a size larger than your high street shoe size, or that you should stick with a specific size in a specific running shoe brand as you’ve always been that size. There are huge differences in size between all the major running shoe brands, so simply taking your high street size and going one up is no guarantee of a good running shoe fit.

In our opinion, the absolute worst “rule” is that you need about a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. This might be great if you’re a big-footed man, but if you’re a petite woman the proportions are completely different and the shoe will be far too big.

Not all running shoes are equal

First of all, you need to know that running shoe sizes and sizing scales are not consistent across brands or even models. Occasionally there are even differences in same make and model.

This means that you cannot rely on your usual shoe size when shopping for running shoes. For example, if you wear size UK6 in Nike, Brooks or Mizuno, you may need size UK6.5 in Asics, Saucony or New Balance.

Secondly, the shape and width of your foot, as well as your running style have an impact on the size and type of shoe that is right for you. Some people have long narrow feet or wide feet, high or low arches. Some people prefer more or less cushioning, some need more or less or support.

Women’s running shoes

Whether you’re male or female, there is always a degree of subjectivity about how people like their running shoe to fit. However women often have a harder time getting the right fit for a few reasons.

This is partly because women’s shoe sizes vary a lot, while men’s shoes generally don’t have as much of an issue.

Secondly, women’s feet differ physically from men’s feet in a few areas.

  • As a rule, women tend have a bigger second toe (the one next to the big toe).
  • Women can also suffer from bunions. That’s where the big toe knuckle is enlarged or sticking out but can be on a little toe. A bunion on the big toe the forces the second toe down towards the smaller toes and crowds them together. From a running shoe fit perspective, this means the toe box needs to be a bit larger larger.
  • Finally, women generally have a more slender heel relative to the forefoot than men. This further complicates fitting as historically most running shoes are based solely on the male foot dimensions. Thankfully this is now changing!

Things to consider when choosing a running shoe

1. Match your foot shape and width

Always look for running shoes that match your foot shape and width, as well as your running style. Some things you should know about running shoes are:

  • Often a wider shoe will have a touch more length overall.
  • Heel drop (the heel height difference to forefoot, commonly higher) can change foot landing position from heel strike, midfoot to forefoot strike.
  • Most good running shoe brands will be more stable than high street fashion or cheaper trainers.
  • Rocker and plated shoes can roll the foot more so a precise fit can be required.

2. Take into account natural foot expansion while running

It’s natural for your feet to swell slightly when you run. You will need to account this when you choose a shoe so that it’s not too tight when you’re out on the road or trail.

Most feet tend to expand due to increased blood flow and heat (more in summer) but the extent will vary between people. This means that your running shoes should have some space to accommodate this swelling, otherwise you may experience discomfort, blisters, or numbness.

3. Choose the right socks

It’s not all about the shoes. The socks you wear will also make a huge difference to your running comfort. Material and thickness is important, but the key word is wicking.

Feet have a lot of sweat glands so a sock can get damp. Wet feet causes the skin to be softer so is increases the chance for rubs and blisters.

  • Cotton is a great moisture absorber but low wicking and best avoided.
  • Running socks made of polyesters are generally best as they wick well. However, the quality varies from brand to brands.
  • Shear smooth socks often slip and slide inside a shoe causing friction.
  • Wool socks are good moisture absorbers but insulate well so can make your feet very hot. Good in winter, not so much in summer.

Common problems of the wrong size or type of running shoe

The most common problem arising from a poor running shoe fit is bruised toes or black toe nails.

This is often because the shoe is too small, but it can also happen when wearing running shoes that are too big.

When wearing shoes that are too big, the foot slides forward because it’s not held on the upper part of the foot tightly enough. This can also be the problem with a long narrow foot, low arch, too much shoe volume or too little support.

Hammer toe, where the toe curls and claws, can also cause damaged toes. This can be from shoes which are too small and some podiatrist recommend greater support.

Blisters from the wrong type of running shoe and poor fit are common too. Having more support or a better fitting arch shape can help, but it can be from a too narrow shoe. A shoe that is too narrow for your foot will be too tight and cause cramping. If the shoe is too wide, it will be slack allowing slippage and more blisters.

How to know if your running shoe is a good fit

A good fit should feel snug but not tight, comfortable but not loose, and supportive but not restrictive.

We always recommend trying on the shoes with the socks you plan to run in, and test them on a treadmill or outside before buying them if you can.

We want you to get the right running shoes for your foot and running style, so we include a free gait analysis when you purchase a pair of shoes from the Leicester Running Shop. This means you will try out a few pairs of shoes on our treadmill before you buy to make sure you get the best possible running shoe fit. Drop in to find out more about gait analysis or read the blog post.

Remember, a well-fitting running shoe can make a big difference to your running experience. Happy running!

Rob Pullen
Rob Pullen
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