You registered for your first marathon, plunged treads-first into a training schedule and began clocking serious mileage. Your checklist seemed complete -- establish training schedule, gather nutritionist-recommended fueling advice, recruit running buddies. But you forgot about your shoes. You set off running in your tried-and-trues, which could lead to blisters, purple toes or more serious injury. Marathon training step numero uno: Buy some proper kicks. The best shoes for you will support your stride and keep your feet comfortable as the miles pass beneath them.
Know Your Gait
It's worth a trip to a specialty running store armed with a sales force of hardcore runners. Many have likely completed marathons and can offer trustworthy advice. Staff at some running stores can observe, and even record, your stride and gait as you jog on an in-store treadmill. Call or search around online to find such stores and make shoe selections that address your individual bio-mechanics. Feet naturally pronate, roll in, or supinate, roll out. Your running shoes should support your gait type.
Know Your Arch
Before selecting running shoes, take an at-home arch measurement. With a wet foot, step onto a dry newspaper or paper bag. If you can see half your arch, you have a medium, so-called normal arch. Lucky you. A normal pronator, you can wear whichever running shoes feel best, according to "Runner's World," magazine, although you should probably still look for moderate arch support. A flat foot, indicated by a complete footprint on the paper, benefits from stability or motion-controlled shoes. You have a high arch if you can see only the ball, the heel and a sliver at your footprint's outer edge. "Runner's World" recommends neutral-support shoes with soft midsoles for this.
The level of padding a runner prefers tends to be highly subjective. Once you've identified your arch and gait types, try on options within the recommended running-shoe type -- stability, neutral or motion-controlled -- and see how they feel. Many running stores allow shoppers to take tests runs in the shoes to experience how they feel on the foot and mid-stride on terrain. To some runners, heavy padding feels inhibiting to the foot and running experience, not to mention heavy. Others think padding feels ultra-protective and comfy. Test out the comfort factor before plunking down and remember: a solid marathon training schedule will mix-and-match long-distance runs along with shorter runs and hills and interval workouts. All of those sweat sessions will take place in those shoes, so make sure they feel good.
Size and Security
When you select running shoes, it's better to go slightly bigger than too snug. Measure for about a thumb-nail's distance between the longest toe and the shoe's tip to avoid those unsightly plum-colored toes. Feet also change size, swelling at about 4 in the afternoon and in hot temps. Lastly, when you decide on a pair of kicks you like, buy two, if your wallet can bear it. It'll give you a dry pair after a rainy-day slog and keep one at-the-ready as the first pair wears out. Four to six weeks before your marathon, break in the second pair so they're good and ready for race day. Generally, replace running shoes every three to four months or 300 to 500 miles.
Julie D. Andrews is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in print or on the websites of "Prevention," "Glamour," "Fitness," "Shape," "Cosmopolitan Latina," "Elle" and "New York Magazine."