If you have access to a treadmill or live in an area where you can run without worrying about too many people around, then you’ve probably thought about adding running to your pandemic workout routine. For some of us, that means dusting off our old running shoes. For others, that might mean buying their first pair. And for every runner, proper shoe fit is paramount—but how do you get fitted properly when you can’t go to the store?
Finding the right shoe is an art, not a science
As many veteran runners can attest, finding the right pair of running shoes is tricky at the best of times, and more of an art than a science. A badly fitted shoe can cause a host of problems. There’s a lot of jargon involved—questions about your gait and arch type—all of which sounds very scientific. Never mind that studies show none of it makes much of a difference in regards to finding the right shoe for you.
Instead, the most important indicator of a pair of shoes’ success is whether you can run comfortably in it, which is something that you only find out after, well, running in it.
For years, I swore by Saucony running shoes, which on paper are all wrong for my gait and arch type. But those were the shoes I could run comfortably in. Then Saucony altered the fit of their shoes and they no longer worked for me, forcing me to seek out other brands and models.
This is not unusual: a lot of brands change their shoe models intermittently in ways both small and large, which means that even if you do find a shoe that works, that may not be true a few years down the road.
My own unscientific gauge of whether a shoe will work me is if the bridges and balls of my feet feel supported when I run. If the shoe feels too loose in that area, then there is a good chance my feet will hurt in the wrong way after a long run. For others, the right shoe will vary according to their own unique biomechanics in a way that’s difficult to predict.
Given how many variables are involved in all of this, is there a safe way to find the right running shoe while still adhering to proper physical distancing measures?
Make a virtual fitting appointment
Running stores are starting to offer virtual appointments, which is a good way to support your local businesses. A lot of these appointments are through Zoom, offering you an opportunity to talk face-to-face with someone about what you need in a shoe. These are the people who often know when a brand redesigns their shoe, or may be able to suggest what kind of shoe might be good for someone with flat fleet or high arches. Fleet Feet, which has a number of stores across the country, has a website detailing what to expect during a virtual fitting, which will include having a fitter looking at how you walk as well as a discussion of shoes that have worked for you in the past.
If you are uncertain about your shoe size, Hoka One One has advice for measuring your feet. They recommend taking a long walk first; your feet expand after walking, and you’ll want to measure them in their swollen state. They also have advice on how to estimate the width of your feet, which is especially useful if yours are wide or narrow and you aren’t quite sure which fit might be right.
If possible, have an old pair of running shoes on hand
If you have a pair of running shoes that has worked well in the past, this is a good time to have it on hand. Again, finding the right shoe is tricky; knowing what has worked in the past can often be a good clue as to what might work now. If the shoe has since gone through a redesign, you can at least use it as a starting point to find a similar model.
If it’s been a while since you’ve done any running—or if you are a complete beginner—this is the time to ask about the shoes that offer the best overall fit, and to mention if you have wide or narrow feet. It’s also good to discuss your particular fitness goals, as that can also make a difference in what kind of shoe is best for you.
Ask about their exchange policy
In the Before Times, you could try on a pair of running shoes in the store, and maybe even go for a quick run to see how it felt before handing over your credit card.
Now, in a time of physical distancing, you won’t be able to try on a pair of shoes until you’ve already bought it. As many questions as you ask and as many educated guesses as you can make, you won’t know if the shoe fits until you wear it. For that reason, be sure to ask about the exchange policy at the stores you’re shopping.
If you get a pair of shoes, only to try it on and find the fit is all wrong, what are your options? Can you exchange the pair for a different one? If yes, how long do you have before you need to do so? Will you be responsible for the return shipping? This is a strong reason to shop local, as it will make exchanges a little bit easier—just make sure to inquire about options for contactless delivery and exchanges.
Once you’ve got your shoes, it’s time to start running, whether on a treadmill, in your backyard or in an area where you can safely distance yourself from others. Remember: If you are ever in doubt, always go for the safer option.