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Running shoes - get what you pay for?

Comments (17)
By Peter Hadzipetros

Yet another study is suggesting that you may be wasting your money if you're paying top dollar for running shoes.

This one — published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine — looked at nine different pairs of shoes and found that the low- and medium-cost shoes "provided the same (if not better) cushioning of plantar pressure as high-cost running shoes."

Back in 1999, McGill University researcher Steve Robbins concluded that pricey runners aren't worth the money and may even increase your risk of injury by 123 per cent.

If that's the case, the argument you'll hear in specialty running shoe stores that you need to buy pricier shoes to protect you from the risk of injury, doesn't hold water. Unless, perhaps, you are prone to injury. Or have special-needs feet.

As hockey players load up on protective gear, you would expect their rate of injury to fall. It hasn't — just as it hasn't for runners as the price and variety of shoes continues to hit ever higher levels.

This latest British study was small and the authors say they are conducting further research into shoe performance. They didn't reveal they brands they looked at — but they weren't exactly cheap, ranging from about $80 Cdn to $150 Cdn, which is nowhere near the fanciest of the fancy.

The thing is, people who get into recreational long-distance running tend to be in that demographic that advertisers and corporations love — well-educated, professional and with a fair bit of disposable income. Go to any runner's expo at any major marathon and see how quickly you lose count of all the premium credit cards being used to buy merchandise at the vendors' booths.

It's no wonder there's been something of a backlash. For instance, there's a growing movement of barefoot runners. When I ran the Athens marathon four years ago, I saw one man running that route with all his tootsies exposed. Pretty brave, considering much of the route that year was a construction site as the city tried to get ready for the Olympics.

Nike has jumped on the barefoot bandwagon with its line of Nike Free shoes, which the company claims is the closest thing to running barefoot. It's also trying to take advantage of the demand for less-expensive shoes by teaming up with a discount shoe retailer in the U.S. to sell a cheaper runner.

Last year, NBA star Stephon Marbury launched a line of inexpensive basketball shoes. All cost under $15 US. He claimed they were as good as anything you'd pay $150 for.

Some people don't need to go barefoot to avoid the high cost of shoes. I came across the Coat Man in the starting area of the Los Angeles Marathon last March.

Dennis Marsella has run more than 50 marathons since the early 1980s. He runs each of his races wearing black wing-tipped dress shoes and a heavy winter coat, while carrying a tray containing a bottle of champagne. He claims to have never suffered an injury. Not even a cramp.

Me? I prefer a bit of cushioning under my sad soles. But I haven't paid full price for a pair of running shoes — or just about every other bit of running gear — in a few years. Not since I discovered factory outlet stores and the occasional good buy at some of those discount clothing chains.

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Comments (17)

Bonita Smith

I am wondering which shoe to buy for support , safety and comfort and performance?? Bonita

Posted February 27, 2009 08:41 PM

Zara

Just wanted to say that I appreciate all the comments! I am a beginner runner (stopped running a long time ago decided it's time to take it up again) recovering from, of course, shin splints. I bought brand new Saucony's (don't ask me what the freaking model is! LOL) on the advice of several running friends who swore by them. Unfortunately though not good enough shoes for my legs. Upon reading these posts and doing my own research online the obvious conclusion to me is to buy specialized form fitting shoes, at a specialized retailer. Does it get better than that? Better safe than sorry I guess. Off I go to shell out MONDO bucks now! Yay! (not).

Posted March 23, 2008 06:47 PM

Jackie

London

I've found that the biggest difference for me is finding shoes that fit my particular foot and my particular running style - and has nothing at all to do with cost. I've worn very expensive shoes and very cheap shoes. The real test is how I feel after I've run 26.2 miles or beyond - and if they don't work, they don't work, no matter what I've paid for them. Once I find the perfect fit (and I have to be SURE) I buy 4 pair at a time.

Posted January 22, 2008 01:42 PM

Mick

I have been running in Saucony Grid 3 Tornado 2 shoes for a number of years. They retail at Big 5 Sporting Goods for 109.00, or did last time I looked. I normally have purchased them on sale from 38.00 - 54.00.

While these shoes have taken care of my needs in the past when I was running and training for 5K's, I am now training for a 26.2 mile run and don't know how they will hold up.

Also, I don't find that particular model at other stores that sell Saucony. I think maybe they do, but just change the name/part number to confuse the shopper.

Consequently, I am in the market for a couple new pairs of shoes and am wanting feed back on medium priced Dr.Scholls, Athletic Ware & Starter brands of running shoes at Wal-Mart. Any personal experiences, opinions and or reviews would be very helpful.

I am medium bodied at 5'6 & 165#; I have normal arches and negligable pronation.

Thanks in advance, Mick -- Abilene, TX

Posted December 4, 2007 09:56 AM

Clydesdale

Comox

As a heavy runner who likes to run long, especially on Vancouver Island trails I can't run barefoot, in WalMart Cripplers, or in clogs. That said, I think the article was spot-on regarding the business case behind the major shoe companies - in that while they produce quality products, we pay way more than we need to to buy this season's model. For over 10 years now, I have been buying my Saucony Grid Stabils (maybe not the perfect shoe, but they work for me) from an outlet in Maryland for between $50 and $70 USD. I buy last years shoes for a fraction (1/2?)of what it would cost to purchase retail in Canada (even with a much lower dollar, as long as I could bring them home without paying duty). Now with the Canadian dollar at par, it only gets better. I am very satisfied paying less than or equal to 50% of what it would have cost me to buy the latest and greatest a year ago, I only wish there was a similar clearing house here in Canada.

Posted November 30, 2007 01:51 AM

Keith

The problem with high end runners is that they are first and foremost, designed by graphic artists on paper.
The designs then go to a focus group who tell the company which aspects of the design and colours are pleasing. On a sliding scale of course. Then a prototype goes through the same "rigorous" testing with more focus groups. After that the design is reverse engineered with cheap foam and plastic making up the shoe. Made by the thousands with cheap labour and in conditions I would find appalling. They then get sent over in containers on ships, placed in a storefront with an obscene pricetag attached.
What probably cost them $5 to produce is now well over $100. Only to be reduced after a month when the next shipment comes in.
You get what you pay for. Pay attention.
Whether or not the shoes "perform" is a sidebar.
I can put any price on a garage sale item. That doesn't mean the item is actually worth my price. But if someone is foolish enough to pay that then it justifies my pricing and will encourage me to "do it" over and over.

Keith

Posted October 25, 2007 05:34 PM

Ron

Vancouver

While cushioning is important in footwear, it is not the be all and end all. This study isolates cushioning and cushioning alone, but it does not take into account the durability, consistency, and structure of a particular shoe. There are valid findings in this study, but please do not come to the conclusion that a cheap shoe will perform as well as an expensive shoe in all areas.

I cannot say that I disagree with the findings of this study, but lets focus on how these findings apply to the real world. 1)The impact from running on a treadmill is significantly different (lower) than running on the road. 2)Lower end shoes are typically less structured and softer than higher end shoes. How does this 'as good or better' cushioning hold up after 300km of use? 500km? Cushioning in shoes is provided basically by foam. The softer the foam, the quicker it packs out (compression set). A shoe that costs half as much, but needs replacing 3 times as often really does not save any money. 3)While cushioning CAN protect the user from injury, many times it is NOT the cause of injury. Inappropriate support, poor fit, uneven inconsistant wear, are all factors which must be considered as closely as cushioning, in my opinion.

Your feet are the basis of everything you do, every single day. Your shoes are the only thing between your body and the ground. Would you use your Canadian Tire special of the week tires on your Ferrari or Porsche?

Posted October 22, 2007 06:49 PM

Melanie

Toronto

Without question, shoes are the most important part of your running kit. I don't buy anything based on reviews - I listen to serious runners. I'm interested in what they have to say about a brand overall - not specific models.

One thing I will say: when buying running shoes go to a store that SPECIALISES in running -- and make sure that place doesn't sell one brand of running shoes as they may not make a shoe that's right for you. Sport Check and places like that are geared to gym members, general sports enthusiasts and casual wear - not runners. They'll tell you whatever helps them sell those shoes. Remember, that dude isn't going to be there with you at 29K when that too-tight toe box starts blackening your baby toes.

If you're serious about running, you want to go to a store where the staff are committed runners. People who will ask you to walk for them so they can check your gait. People who know the difference between a pronator and a suppinator. That's who you should buy your shoes from.

Posted October 21, 2007 11:38 AM

Alex R

I only run 5 and 10 km pieces as I crossfit (crossfit.com). I don't believe that running a distance that you need gels and other sources of glucose is natural, and therefore should only be performed occasionally. All that aside, let us talk shoes:
BTW, Nike makes shoes for WalMart, that don't carry the swoosh (starter brand, I believe).
I run, jump, lift, throw, and row (Concept2 erg) in Vibram FiveFingers (~$80/pr), which are basicly gloves for your feet with soles. I have some NewBalance cross-trainers which deform under my feet on my heavy-lifting days (400+lbs). I find that taking the small steps 'barefoot' running in my FiveFingers not only makes be faster (by teaching the body to move quickly), but I find my joints (ankles, knees and hips) don't hurt at all follow a long run. The 'shoe' causes footfall to occur on the balls of the feet directly under the body, which is similar to the 'Kenyan' method where "toe-heel-toe" is used to gain world records. This self-correcting running style is perfect for weekend warriors...being people that don't have someone watching them run on a treadmill with a high-speed camera correcting their form.
The human body is built to run barefoot! The increased proprioception of the legs and feet is fantastic. Increased leap, better balance, explosive power...
'Barefoot Ted' runs ultras (100mi) and 26mi regs in FiveFingers, or home-made sandals.
I hear Newton makes really nice (but pricey) shoes and simulate barefoot running...I don't get all the 'simulation'...just get out there and run barefoot!! (and CrossFit!)

Posted October 21, 2007 01:36 AM

P Eric

I have tried many different brands that all have different feels, fits, and perform differently. Included in the brands was a pair of velcrow 15$ runners from wal-mart to be used as a halloween costume. The wal-mart shoes did not perform well at all, the sides broke, and they hurt my feet after a 30 min coulee run. The tread was miserable, and there was little breathability for my feet. I put on my Montrail leona divides and wow, what a difference. Made me think to myself... "well worth the pennies". Same goes for all other gear; the good stuff usually costs more, just hopefully you can find it for a wicked deal.

Posted October 19, 2007 05:57 AM

Jim

Timmins

I've been doing some serious running for long enough now to draw some very specific conclusions about running shoes - No one shoe is specific for you. Forget the claims, forget the bells and whistles - the shoe may be the connection and insulation between you and the road, but dont forget that Emil Zatopek trained for the 52 olympics mostly in work boots, and competed (and won) the 5Km, 10Km and marathon events in a brand new pair of leather running shoes. No one shoe will cure all your running problems, and if anything the wrong shoe can definately cause injury. And call it my scottish ancestry, but I still have a hard time parting with $100 for a pair of running shoes - especially when I can get my beloved Pearl Izumi's from ebay for $40.

Posted October 15, 2007 12:42 PM

Jackie

I seem to be in the minority here as I am prepared to pay premium prices for my trainers.
Having just returned to long-distance running after suffering from complications related to over-pronation, I want to make sure that my feet and particularly my knees have some cushioning.
I am to an extent, a firm believer in the old adage "you get what you pay for". Whilst I will not pay full price for my Asics (my weapon of choice!!),I will still pay more than your average shopper- I wait until they are in sale at the end of season.
It may well turn out that £30 shoes offer as much support as £100+ ones, but I for one will continue to save hard for my running shoes.

Posted October 15, 2007 10:15 AM

Ms. Me

I am an obese runner with high arches, so I need something with plenty of cushioning for both of these factors. Unfortunately the really inexpensive Wal-Mart shoes are not enough for me, although they may be good for someone smaller with neutral feet. Likewise I can't get by with the least expensive sporting goods store shoes because they lack the good padding/air/gel/whatever that I need, but I can usually find something workable in a moderate price range, say, $65 US dollars or so. I also have very large feet for a lady, so my size is hard to find and that can drive the price up some because a less costly but workable style was not available in my size.

Posted October 12, 2007 10:17 PM

Chris

Ontario

I agree that you don't have to spend a fortune, but you do need to get the right shoes, and for that, you need to go to a specialty store. Once you get fitted properly and know what type of shoe you need, i.e. stability, neutral, etc., then you can shop around. You also learn from them how to tell when you need new shoes, because you can't always tell from appearance. I usually wait for the store's semi-annual sales to get my shoes, and when I find a pair I like, and can afford it, I get two.

Posted October 12, 2007 05:35 PM

sandy

toronto

I've tried all kinds of shoes: mid-range, cheap, expensive. I've found that while the cheaper shoes are comfier at the get-go, they tend to lose their cushioning and support pretty quickly (within 1-2 months... and I'm not even a runner!) The more expensive shoes, while not as soft on the landing, tend to have more support and have a more consistent cushioning and support for longer.

I've also found that the expensive shoes have been less at first because of the crazy support (which the cheap shoes don't have, so they've felt like a broken-in pair right off the bat). But once my foot has adjusted, there's been a lot less pronating/supinating in the expensive shoes.

But that's just my experience... :)

Posted October 12, 2007 05:06 PM

chris

cranbrook

People who buy more expensive running shoes probably are serious runners who run longer, harder and faster, and therefore have more injuries. This is especially true if they are relying on their specialised shoes with all the support as advertised to protect them from injuries when common sense should tell them that they were overtraining. They expect too much from their shoes! So it may not be the shoe's fault after all.
(I know I was guilty of overtaining when I got my first pair of more expensive air cushioned shoes).

Posted October 11, 2007 06:38 PM

m r

edmonton

I wonder if the study that found a 123% increase in injuries took into account the activity level of the participants. I would think that those who are willing to spend more money on fitness equipment are also more likely to push themselves to their limits. Also, if your shoes don't cause you to stop doing an activity, you could continue until something else, ie. an injury, did stop you. That being said, I am the first to admit that my most comfortable runners were under 30$ at Walmart!

Posted October 11, 2007 05:48 PM

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