Know if the Shoe Fits: Top Footwear Tips for Runners

**By Jeffrey R. Pentek, DPM**

Whether you occasionally jog, run a couple of days each week or regularly race competitively, a key to enjoying – and enduring – the sport is establishing and maintaining foot health practices, which include periodic shoe-fitting and proper selection.

As a podiatrist and avid runner, I’m very aware of the importance of this often overlooked aspect of the sport and its role in helping people enjoy and benefit from it long term.

I hope the basic information in this article inspires you to invest a little time, energy and money into keeping your feet healthy and happy. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

What to look for

Although it’s not rocket science, there are a few important things to look for when selecting a good pair of supportive running shoes.

  • When you bend a running shoe from front to back, it should only bend at the ball of the foot. The midfoot and hindfoot should be firm.
  • Heel counters on the back of running shoes should also be firm to prevent ankles from rolling in or out.
  • Twisting running shoes with your hands should not allow for a lot of bending. You do not want very flexible shoes since this tends to put greater stress on feet.

In addition to these “kick the tires” tips, here are other things to keep in mind when looking for the best shoe for you.

  • Well-constructed running shoes typically last for about 500 miles of use before they should be replaced.
  • Minimalist shoes, including road racing shoes, often last between 250 and 300 miles.
  • People with high foot arches tend to do better with cushioned “neutral” shoes, and people with flatter foot arches tend to do better in running shoes designed for extra stability.
  • Also, specific running shoe characteristics should be considered for people’s individual foot pathology. For example, wide toe boxes are helpful for bunions and hammertoes, and running shoes with a stiff forefoot rocker (a feature that provides additional stress reduction by facilitating a smooth gait) are helpful for people experiencing arthritis or other pain issues in the forefoot.
Running shoe aids

Beyond taking time to research and find a supportive and appropriate running shoe to suit your individual needs, some people – especially runners dealing with chronic foot pain due to anatomic issues or injury – can benefit from the use of orthotics.

These over-the-counter or customized devices, which are placed in the foot bed of running shoes, are sometimes used to modify the structural and functional characteristics of feet by providing extra motion control and stability.

Additional resources

If you are a runner who experiences foot pain on a regular basis, I encourage you to speak with your primary care provider about it so your feet can be properly examined and appropriate care can be prescribed, which may include a referral to a podiatrist for a more thorough evaluation if needed.

A final thought

As a former competitive runner who makes it part of my active lifestyle today, I could not agree more with something that Oprah Winfrey said: “Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.”

For more information about the Podiatry program at Virginia Mason, call 206-341-3000 and visit:

Pentek_JeffreyJeffrey R. Pentek, DPM, specializes in podiatry, orthopedics, sports medicine, foot and ankle surgery and podiatric surgery. His practice is located at >Virginia Mason Bainbridge Island Medical Center.

Why I Ran in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon

I am a chocoholic. I have a little bit of chocolate every day. That’s why I run. Or rather that’s why I started to run.

Running shoesIt began in my 20s primarily as a weight management practice. I considered running a necessary task to counterbalance my love of sweets. But as with most chores, I did it begrudgingly and with little joy. I struggled with getting through a mile. Over time something happened though. Without noticing or deliberate intent I was able to run 2, then 3 miles at a time.

Somewhere in my 30s, I discovered how much running soothed my mind. Stressful day at work? Relationship heartaches? Hit the road! After a mile, whatever was plaguing me would simply melt away. I had more energy. I slept better. I felt good – despite the occasional aches and pains. What once was a necessary “evil” became so integral to my life I would actually become cranky when an injury or scheduling prevented me from runs.

Running a half marathon, however, is something else altogether. Nowhere in my daily feel-good runs did I pick up a desire to run marathon distances. Five to 6 miles a day kept me happy and fit. I wasn’t driven to push myself beyond my normal capabilities. Then my friend Brenda reshaped my thinking. Brenda has MS.

Multiple sclerosis – commonly known as MS – is a degenerative autoimmune disease that attacks a patient’s central nervous system. Symptoms often include gait and balance problems, fatigue, and numbness (among others and different by patient). When she was diagnosed with MS in 2005, Brenda was overweight and inactive. She couldn’t walk a mile. But being handed a diagnosis for an incurable disease shocked her into trying to improve the aspects of her health she had control over. She began walking and watching her diet. She lost weight – a lot of weight. And she started walking more and more. She felt how the changes in her diet and exercise helped her manage her MS symptoms.

“Physical activity and exercise are crucial elements to healthy living with MS,” says Mariko Kita, MD, director, Virginia Mason Multiple Sclerosis Clinic. “For some patients with MS, pain, fatigue and mobility issues, among others, can make the idea of exercise daunting. But exercise can take on many forms and I encourage my patients to find a regimen that works for them.”

Brenda recognized how her walking benefited her living with MS, so she kept challenging herself to do better. That’s when she started participating in races.

I don’t know how many races Brenda has completed since her diagnosis – there have been that many! She carefully monitors how exercising impacts her MS symptoms. Prone to tight hips, she must stretch before, during and after a walk or race. Still, she considers herself lucky – she knows others with MS who struggle with severe joint pain that make regular movement difficult. So when Brenda told me that she was going to participate in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon this past June, I was inspired to do the same. I am glad I did. As exhausting as the race was, I knew I achieved something significant.

Many others did something significant that race day, though their part is largely unsung. Many Virginia Mason volunteers mixed and doled out gallons upon gallons of Gatorade for we thirsty runners. It must have been a long day for the volunteers – set up for the racecourse started before the first 7 a.m. wave and didn’t close until early afternoon. But I, for one, was extremely grateful for the Virginia Mason staff and hundreds of others who gave their time that day to make sure I was hydrated, safe and had a good run.

And Brenda? She did great – completing the 13.1 miles faster than the goal she set for herself.

Dr. Kita sums it up best: “Bravo Brenda! You are an inspiration to us all!”


Besides chocolate and running, Marianne loves the outdoors — particularly the water. A former Connecticut Yankee, she now produces web content for Virginia Mason’s external and internal websites.