Shoes have come a long way since 1974 when Nike introduced the Waffle trainer, the first athletic footwear designed and marketed for the recreational runner. � In the 40 years that followed, running shoe technology has become big business. Every year the major manufacturers — and there are now more than a dozen — compete for a piece of the running market. � Since 1990, the number of Americans competing in events such as this weekend's Gasparilla Distance Classic has more than tripled. They all have at least one thing in common: They need shoes. � "The running industry is like a big pie," said Mary Paige Price, manager of the Fit2Run store in St. Petersburg. "Shoes are just one piece of it, but a very big piece." � Walk into one of the bigger specialty running stores, such as the Fit2Run shop at Tampa's International Plaza, and you're confronted with more than 100 different shoe models, from minimalist racing flats that weigh just a few ounces to heavily padded stabilizers designed for runners coming off an injury. � "There is no one size fits all," Price said. "Even somebody who has been running in the same brand or model of shoe might have their needs change. That is why it is so important to get re-evaluated each time you buy a pair of running shoes." � Many weekend warriors run in the wrong shoes. They may go years without a problem, but sooner or later, that lack of attention most likely will lead to injury. If you are thinking about trying a 5K, the first step — even before you buy shoes — is to check with a doctor, especially if you have never run before or have not been active in years.
JUMP IN WITH BOTH FEET
Once you get the green light, understand that most running shoe manufacturers offer many styles. Picking the one that's right for you is where a professional fitting can come in.
If you shop at a big-box sporting goods store, the kind that sells everything from fishing rods to catcher mitts, you'll probably pick your shoes off the rack without much consultation. You may save yourself $20 or $30 but you might also be buying trouble if you don't understand what you need in a shoe.
Running shoes fall into one of three categories.
• "Neutral" shoes designed for the runner with no apparent problems.
• "Control" shoes, ideal for runners who need added stability — for example, if a gait analysis shows that your foot rolls inward (pronation) or rolls outward (supination).
• "Support" shoes, ideal for runners who might be coming off an injury and need more padding.
"The best way to tell what kind of shoe you need is to put somebody on a treadmill and videotape the way they walk or run," Price said. "And as people improve their form, their shoe needs can change."
NEW NAMES IN THE GAME
Once you find out what kind of shoe you need, then you focus on style and feel. Nike still makes running shoes, but the sporting goods giant has branched off into everything from golf clubs to football helmets, leaving room for other running shoe companies to nip away at its market share.
Adidas, Brooks, Asics, New Balance and Saucony are all industry leaders, but in the past decade, several newcomers have emerged.
Newton, a company headquartered in the running mecca of Boulder, Colo., has built a loyal following by promoting good running form. The company includes a "Newton's 10 Laws of Running Better" pamphlet in every box of running shoes and regularly holds clinics at running shops to educate consumers on the mechanics of the sport.
Hoka One One out of Flagstaff, Ariz., has gone after the ultra-running market (races that are 26 miles and up) by developing a maximum-cushioned shoe with a rolling rocker design that promotes a "consistent rhythm in the runner's foot strike." The shoes are not cheap — the Stinson Tarmac retails for $160 — but that is less than a visit to the orthopedic surgeon.
Another relative newcomer, Inov-8, has become popular with athletes from the CrossFit crowd to adventure racers, selling shoes that are good for light road workouts, trail runs and navigating obstacle courses.
THINK OF IT AS PRICE PER MILE
Be prepared for sticker shock. A good pair of introductory training shoes costs around $100. More advanced specialty shoes can go for $130 to $150. Mizuno, a name familiar to baseball fans, makes a running shoe called the Prophecy that costs a cool $210.
"Everybody is trying to come out with new materials, namely EVA foam, that is lighter and lasts longer than anything else on the market," Price said.
The shock-absorbing foam in all running shoes, regardless of the make, model or price, eventually compresses. Once a shoe loses shock absorbency, it is useless.
"That is why it is so important to have a running log and keep track of how many miles you run in a pair of shoes," Price said. "The average pair of shoes usually lasts between 300 and 500 miles, depending on what type of surface you run on."
So if you run 3 miles a day, three or four days a week, count on your shoes lasting around six months. Keep your shoes clean, store them in a cool, dry place, not in direct sunlight, and inspect the soles from time to time. Wear patterns can tell you a lot about how you run.
Make note of when you buy your shoes, how often you use them and for how long, and don't be afraid to replace them even if they still look new. Good running shoes will keep you running longer and off the sidelines, which is why they are well worth the price.