This month's find: The Right Runners

September 22, 2007|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN REPORTER

The little one said a lot.

Anchoring a row of nine nicely manicured toenails across Kelly Thomasson's flip-flops was one that was not only unshellacked, but altogether missing.

The 28-year-old recreational runner from Pasadena had been wearing shoes that were too small, and the constant jamming of her feet into the tops of her sneakers took its toll - a common mistake that causes untold pain and, according to her and her husband, unsightly feet.

At stake were her regular workouts on the road and at the gym.

A friend and more experienced runner recommended she get some professional help, not from a doctor but an experienced retailer. So off she went to Charm City Run in Timonium to learn something about shoe size and shape.

"I go to the gym three or four times a week," Thomasson said. "I run maybe three miles. My feet hurt. ... I've worn Saucony in the past, but I strayed because other ones were on sale."

It's a story Josh Levinson, owner of the shop and a fellow runner, hears a lot. Runners, from the occasional to the regular, wear shoes that are cheap or a pleasing color or just plain not meant for them. And they don't fit.

He quickly took inventory of Thomasson's aches and pains. He measured her feet. He watched her walk and jog on a treadmill hooked up to a video monitor. She needed shoes that fit, he said.

Before she took a step, he'd determined her shoes were too small. Runners typically need shoes that are a half-size or larger than their regular shoes. Thomasson also had a wide toe area and small heel.

From the back, he brought a pair of Saucony because the brand is popular among women with that shape of foot. Thomasson looked at the pink shoes and said, "I'm not in love with the pink." But she was willing to give them a try for her toes' sake.

She tied them tight - so tight that Levinson said her feet could go numb. He told her to loosen them and give a gentle tap with her heel on the ground to position her feet snugly against the back.

Levinson then pressed his thumb down into the space between her big toe and the tip of the shoe.

"Feel that? You need that space in the front of your shoe," he said.

She took a quick trot on a treadmill, and he saw the next problem. She is a mild "over-pronator." Most people fall into this category, he said, which means they roll a bit too much inward on their feet.

A little pronating is normal. It's how the foot absorbs the shock of hitting the ground. Flat-footed people tend to really over-pronate and need "motion control," which is when the shoes have extra-dense cushioning along the heel and center of the shoe. That control can hurt people with high arches and normal pronation to under-pronation, who typically need even cushioning.

And then there was Thomasson, who rolled just enough to need some control.

Levinson disappeared into the back and came out with three more pairs of shoes - Asics, Brooks and another pair of Saucony. All had a bit of support and a bit more room in the front - and none was pink.

As much as Levinson didn't want fashion to be a factor, he was able to accommodate Thomasson's wishes. Major brands make different kinds of shoes for the different levels of support needed. The middle-of-the-road support shoes seemed to all come in pleasing shades of blue.

Now it was up to Thomasson to find the most comfortable pair.

She pulled on the Asics and hopped on the treadmill again. "They're OK. But I'm not sure they have enough support," she said.

Then the other pair of Saucony. "Better," she said. "The best so far."

Next came the Brooks. "Hmm. I think the other ones felt better."

Finally, he had her put on one Saucony shoe and one Brooks shoe and take another stroll through the store.

What does Thomasson's husband think? "I loathe running," said Adam Thomasson, an inline skater. "I feel a little out of place. But I'm here for support. And I like whatever is comfortable for her."

And what was most comfortable? The $100 Saucony Omni, in blue.

About a half-hour after she walked in, she returned her flip-flops to her feet and walked out with a box of shoes, a pair of synthetic, blister-resistant socks and a sense that the battle against her toes was over.

Some parting wisdom from Levinson: "Don't assume you're not a runner because it hurts when you run."


Buy quality, comfortable shoes. Do not pick a shoe based on its color or what your friends wear.

Consult an experienced retailer to have your gait analyzed and your foot measured. Shoes should be at least a half-size larger than your regular shoes.

Bring your old shoes with you to the store and be prepared to talk about your running history, any injuries or pain and your goals.

Choose a shoe that is durable enough for your training or running habits. Shoes should be replaced when the cushioning wears thin, preferably before you begin to have some discomfort.

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