How I Shop for New Running Shoes

I’m obsessed with reading running shoe reviews. However, most Internet reviews about shoes I’m interested in seem to be written by (and for) men. So I figured I’d contribute my own humble opinion regarding three different shoe makes/models I currently have in rotation, for women out there who’re looking for a female’s perspective.

It took a long time before I fell in love with running shoes. When I first started running 6 years ago, I visited my local running specialty store to get fitted for my very first pair of trainers, the now archaic Mizuno Wave Rider 11. It was an easy, no-fuss decision, since I literally knew nothing about running shoes back then. When I was a competitive figure skater, I made annual pilgrimages to upstate New York for six hundred+ dollar custom skating boots. It was a big deal. When I took up running, I was really looking forward to losing the diva approach to gear.

I ran in Mizuno Wave Riders (11, 13, 15, 16) for five years and, though I had a few minor bouts with tendonitis, I never felt discomfort from the shoes themselves, so I kept upgrading year after year. And, year after year, model after model, the Wave Riders felt and performed relatively the same, though I went through a few changes myself (my feet “grew” i.e flattened out from a size 6 to a size 7 and, thank God, I decided to start wearing socks while running somewhere around the days of the Wave Rider 15).

I was not happy when the Wave Rider 17 came out in 2013. It looked and felt like an entirely different shoe than the one which, by now, felt like a natural extension of my foot. The 17 was lighter, firmer, and less cushioned (especially in the forefoot) than the shoe I was used to. So I turned my nose up and ordered the last few pairs of the Wave Rider 16 I could find in my size for dirt cheap on the Internet.

Alas, eventually all the size 7 Wave Rider 16s went extinct and I had to search for a new shoe. I ended up finding three new shoes.

Note: If you’ve been running for many years and you find yourself in this situation, you likely know your feet extremely well by this point. It’s important to consult a running specialty store when you’re planning to switch shoes, but don’t completely hand the decision over to somebody else. I’ve been talked into shoes that just do. not. work. for me and that is a huge waste of time, money, and aggravation. Now, when I am shopping around for new shoes, I have a two-step process:

1. Consult a female runner who has had similar love/hate relationships with similar shoes. My friend Hollie, who is a super-fast, amazing runner, seems to love/hate the same shoes I do. Even though we have different size feet and she is faster/runs more mileage than me, we tend to have the same opinion when it comes to running shoes. If she speaks highly of a shoe, I feel much more comfortable trying it out.

2. Consult the Runner’s World Shoe Finder. The RW Shoe Finder is an excellent tool for finicky runners. When it comes to finding a shoe that will work for me, I find it’s most important to compare the arch of a contending shoe to a shoe I already love. The RW Shoe Finder literally lines up the arch/sole of any shoe in its database against the arch/sole of shoes you already own.

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The “Shoes Like Mine” feature is a quick and easy way to pull up similar models based on shoes you’ve already had success with. The most useful feature of the RW Shoe Finder is the “Show Me How It Fits” option, which helps you determine which size you will likely be in a new make/model (this is especially helpful if you’re in between sizes or if you’re ordering new shoes online). You can also access a full run-down of the stats on any shoe (drop, forefoot cushioning, heal cushioning, stability features, stiffness, etc.).

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Right now, I have three very different shoes in my rotation, all of which I’m more or less happy with. I love having the freedom to choose a shoe based on how I’m feeling any given day and what kind of running I want to do. Running in multiple trainers is a great idea if you run often; by switching things up, you reduce your chances of developing any type of overuse issue. Of course, when you’re running in more than one shoe, it’s extra important to keep track of your mileage on a daily basis. I personally get about 300-350 miles out of a shoe. I update my shoe mileage list consistently, every few days, just to make sure I stay on top of when a shoe needs to retire. Sniff, sniff.

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Here is a quick analysis of the shoes I’m currently running in. For reference, I’m a short, lightweight runner with a narrow foot and normal arches. I run exclusively in neutral shoes.

Asics Gel-Nimbus 16 (Lite-Show Edition)

MSRP: $160

The Asics Gel-Nimbus is named accordingly; they really do make it feel as though you’re running on clouds. I didn’t believe a running shoe could be so cushioned until I tried a pair of these on. It was love at first stride. The Lite-Show edition I own is reflective and glow-in-the-dark, plus the highlighter yellow color is super-cool. Asics run narrow, so they’re a good fit for skinny feet. The Nimbus hug my arches so I feel extremely supported while running fast. They’re also lightweight enough that I’ve worn them to race 5K PRs. The woman who won the last 5K I raced was wearing the Gel-Nimbus 16. Every runner I know who has run in these shoes loves them. As you can tell from my list, I throw down the most mileage in these shoes, since I wear them for the bulk of my training/racing.

Post-race in my Nimbus!
Post-race in my Nimbus!

Hoka One One Conquest:

MSRP: $170

I wouldn’t normally spend so much money on what is considered a “novelty” shoe, but I received this pair for free with money I won at local 5K races. At the time, I was dealing with some tendonitis in my feet and I was attracted to the Hoka brand’s maximalist cushioning combined with its rocker type foot bed, which takes a lot of strain off the tendons and ligaments in your feet. I run-tested three pairs of Hokas before settling on the Conquests. The Cliftons seemed to encourage a mid-foot strike (I’m a heel-striker) and the Bondis were much too stiff. The Conquests were the clear winners. They work with my natural stride and offer a TON of forefoot cushioning. I can’t feel the road at all in these shoes and, some days, that’s exactly what I am after. The Conquests are considered a narrow shoe and they do run a bit long in the toes, however I wear the same size (7) as I do in all my other running shoes. I like to wear these on long runs and whenever I feel any kind of tendonitis flare up. My sports doctor is a huge Hoka advocate for this reason. I’ve never raced in my Hokas and I don’t plan to. They’re not really intended for faster, shorter races (as they don’t facilitate fast running), but they may be a good option for someone planning to race a marathon.

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Training in my Hoka Conquests

 Mizuno Wave Rider 17s

MSRP: $120

I ended up caving in and buying a pair of Wave Rider 17s, before buying either the Asics or the Hokas. I wanted to have a backup shoe. I was terrified to part ways with the shoe I loved, even though it had changed. It was like clinging to a bad relationship. In the end, the shoe has been an okay investment. It’s not as terrible as I thought it would be. They are a little narrow (even for my narrow feet) and I do feel a lot of the impact of the road while wearing these shoes. However they hug my arches just right and there is no overlay (extra stitching/material) on the top of the shoe and that’s really comfortable. They are so much lighter than my other trainers that they have sort of become my go-to “racing flat.” I wore them to race last weekend and they felt great. Will I be training a lot in these shoes? No. Will I continue to wear them for occasional races and track workouts? Most likely, Yes.

Summer track session in my Mizuno Wave Riders
Summer track session in my Mizuno Wave Riders

 Questions for the Internets:

Which shoes are currently in your rotation?

Do you wear actual racing flats to race?

Which shoe make/model is/was the love of your life?

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2 Comments

Add yours →

  1. I really enjoy your reviews. I think you would like the Wave Rider 18. Mizuno realized they made some mistakes and kind of added back a lot of qualities from the previous models.

    I do wear racing flats to race but I’ve always done that. I am training in nimbus (almost exclusively now) but I do want to try the Saucony triumph too.

    Like

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