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Wear Running Shoes that Fit!: Don’t Be a Slave to Your “Size”

Posted on July 26 2013

brannock deviceOne of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years is to buy shoes that fit my feet rather than making my feet fit into my shoes. I used to wear a size 10 in every shoe I purchased, unless they ran really short. I figured I’d been a size 10 since I graduated from High School, and I had stopped growing, so that was my size for life.

These days I buy shoes in a range of sizes from 10-11 depending on the brand. For example, I’m generally a 10 in Merrell shoes, 10.5 in Saucony (I recently bumped up), and 11 in Nike racers. My goal in any shoe is to have as comfortable a fit in the forefoot as possible, and I usually aim for about a thumb’s width between my big toe tip and the tip of the shoe.

This all might seem logical and obvious, but a couple of recent examples have hammered home to me the need to emphasize proper shoe sizing. First was a woman in the beginner 5K group that I coached in the Spring. She was a new runner, and came to our first several workouts wearing Nike Frees. Nothing wrong with that, but my co-coach and I both noticed that her toes were crammed up into the tip of her shoe causing the upper to push out. She was complaining about her feet hurting, and we took her aside and pointed out that her shoes were way too small for her feet. It’s amazing that something so obvious as a shoe being way too small could be overlooked, but she went out and got a new pair in a larger size and all went well from that point on. Easy fix.

My second example hits close to home – actually, it occurred quite literally in my home. I’ve written on a number of occasions about my wife Erin’s injury woes and how wearing Hoka shoes has helped her overcome foot pain due to what was diagnosed as a neuroma in her right foot. Well, the Hokas continue to work for her, but a few weeks ago she started to complain that they were causing abrasion along the inside of her right foot and big toe. It progressed to the point where the upper ripped with less than 50 miles on the shoes:

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Hoka Bondi B with torn upper

No shoe should tear like this with only 50 miles on them, especially when they cost upwards of $150. I was puzzled by this, so I had her put the shoe on while I poked and prodded her feet to see what might be causing the upper to wear down. Erin has a bunion on this foot that pushed the upper out in the area of the tear, and the bucket-style sole of the Hoka creates a ridge of foam that sticks up in this area. I think her bunion was rubbing the edge of the upper on the foam and it gave way. But, the upper on her left foot was also starting to wear in this same spot, and she doesn’t have a bunion on that side, so it may just be a design flaw of the shoes (this has not happened in any other shoe she has worn). Interestingly, I found another blog review of the Hoka Bondi B reporting similar wear in this same spot.

Anyway, in the process of investigating this issue (and to Hoka’s credit, they replaced the shoe without question in a half size larger to see if that would help – great customer service!), I noticed that her toes were pushed way up into the front of the shoe. With all of her troubles, I’d never thought to check on how her shoes fit (I’m a bit embarrassed about this…). I thought maybe the Hokas ran small, so I ordered her a pair of Altra Torins in size 9 (her usual). Her toes looked like they were about to bust out of the front of the shoe! We sent them back and asked for a size 10 (a half size up would not have been enough). I had her try on her Altra Instinct 1.5’s (her favorite shoe), and sure enough she has very little room up front. She claims to have had her bunion her entire life, but now I’m beginning to wonder about the cause…

Now, I have no idea if wearing small shoes might be contributing to some of her running troubles, but it’s been interesting to watch her reaction to the news that she needs to be wearing larger shoes. “I’ve been a 9 since as long as I can remember…” was her initial response. She always “bought” a size 9 might be a more accurate way of portraying things. “I can’t be a size 10!” was another line I heard.

Erin’s new new Bondi B’s (size 9.5) and Altra Torins (size 10) have now arrived, and it’s been rather funny to see her reaction to wearing shoes that now fit. She’s already resigned that she can’t go back to wearing a lot of her old shoes, so a shipment to Soles 4 Souls might be on its way in the near future. I’m very interested to see how things go for her in the Torins – she likes the Hokas, but the abrasion in that spot is still an issue I worry about and I can’t shell out $150 repeatedly for shoes that last only 50 miles.

The point of all this? As my friend Mark Cucuzzella likes to say, we have a foot size, not a shoe size. Don’t be stubborn about wearing the same size in every shoe just because it’s what you’ve always worn. Find shoes that fit your foot, regardless of what the numbers on the box say. You’ll be much happier if you do!

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