How Should Running Shoes Fit? Find the Best Running Shoes for Your Feet

A lot of the running niggles and problems that we hear about in the shop are down to the fit of the customer’s running shoes. Running shoes in general, from major high street brands in particular, started to take on a common shape and form and many people bought what they considered normal.

A Quick History Lesson

For example, it seemed normal for all shoes to have a pointy toe box and yet feet aren’t pointy and this shape squashes the toes into a small space and doesn’t allow them to function. This shape didn’t come about because it was the ideal shape for our feet, in fact in one point in history a pointed toe shoe would fit into a stirrup, which is better for riding horses. Plus if you had pointed shoes then you must have been well to do! The same is true to some extent with the heel on shoes. Neither of these two developments was added to footwear to improve the comfort of the shoes or to suit the anatomical shape of the foot.

Over time this pointed toe box and higher heel has become the norm across all shoes, including running, and anything that strays too far away from this was considered strange. If you have worn shoes of this shape since you started to walk, like most western kids, then your feet won’t have developed much strength. This if why in the west we have a lot of foot related problems that don’t exist in barefoot nations.

So how does this effect your running shoes? As your feet expand when they get warm you need to have enough room in your running shoes for this to happen. You also need to make sure that you have enough room for your feet to function inside the shoes. By that I mean spread on impact. This spreading absorbs shock, stabilises you and then springs you into your next stride.

Testing If Your Shoes Are Too Narrow

As we are generally used to tight fitting shoes, it can be difficult to decide when a shoe is too snug. There is such a simple little test that will help determine if yours are too wide (some exceptions may apply).

• Take your insoles out of your running shoes and stand on them while wearing your socks.
• Consider whether your foot and toes are sat comfortable within the boundaries of the insole, or you are spilling out.
• If you are spilling outside of the insole boundary, they are too narrow!

You will see on Pic A that I have stood on two different shaped insoles out of two different shaped shoes. The orange insole on the left is more the traditional pointy toe box shape and the black insole on the right is a more rounded foot shaped insole. Now I have narrow feet. As a kid nothing fit and I permanently had plasters all over my feet as all my shoes rubbed. With years of regular running my feet have filled out a little but they still measure up as narrow. However, you can see that when I am stood on the narrower, orange insole my big toe and little toe are spilling over the side. Now imagine but foot during the point of impact when running–my foot would spread more. So my foot would be restricted in this shoe and I would get hard skin and very likely blisters when my feet have expanded.

The shape of the black insole allows room for my big and little toe to spread out. Since I have been running in shoes of this shape (10 years now) my feet have got broader. There is no hard skin on the edges of my toes. I have gaps between my toes and they spread out easily when I flex them. I have quite large big toes and the joint is enlarged. This used to be red and sore most of the time. There is no redness anymore and the soreness has gone too.

Everyone’s feet are a different shape, which is why at Northern Runner we stock shoes in lots of different shapes, half sizes and width fittings.

How Running Shoes Should Fit

Even though you should have a thumb width of space at between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe and have room for your toes to spread, the heel fit should be firm. You don’t want to be lifting at the heel, as this can cause painful rubbing and blisters.

The fit in the midfoot also needs to be right. If you have a neutral, well-functioning foot then the midfoot fit doesn’t have to be too snug. This allows the arch to compress and absorb shock and then spring back. If you have a tendency to pronate (foot rolls inwards after impact and you push off from the inside of your foot) then you need a snugger fitting midfoot. This is because to control this pronation the shoe will have a pillar, guide rail or other form of stability. In order for this to guide your foot to push off from the end of your big toe the mid part of the upper needs to hold you onto this support.

There are also times when snugger fitting shoes are a better option. This is when cross country racing or fell running. In both these disciplines the broken ground, contouring etc puts stress on the shoe and you don’t want the shoe sliding around the foot. Cross country races are generally short and on cold winters days so your feet don’t expand too much. However, you would still allow room for some expansion and foot function. Fell races can be long and take place in hot conditions. Although the open fell is often soft which reduces expansion the time you are out running will cause the feet to expand a bit. So snug, yet certainly not feeling ‘tight’.

Charlie @ Northern Runner Newcastle

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