Will any running shoe do?
A: As runners, we are creatures of habit. If something is working well for us, we tend to stick with it. So, in one respect, the clerk had a point: If it’s working for you, why change it? On the other hand, the clerk should have pointed out any shoe updates (whether or not your shoes had been updated), and had you try it on. Furthermore, she should have asked you if your running behavior (race frequency, mileage, intensity of workouts) had changed since your last visit. This is a factor to consider when picking out your next pair.
Whether we like it or not, our favorite shoes are often updated based on feedback from runners and fit specialists. Sometimes we like the updates, which are usually minor tweaks; however, sometimes, the shoe doesn’t feel like an improvement, and some of us search the internet or race expos for the older model (the ones we like better). This works for a while, but, there are a finite number of the older models, and soon you won’t be able to find them. So, eventually, you’ll need either the updated version or a comparable shoe. You are doing the right thing by getting a new pair every six months (or 300 miles).
If you were fitted for a neutral shoe, and do not pronate, it might be worth exploring other neutral shoes; however, in answer to your question: No, not just any neutral shoe will do. There are several factors to consider.
My GPS says race course is longer, why?
There are variations even within the neutral shoe category. First of all, there are differences in the amount/type of cushioning and shock absorption (in the heel, midfoot and forefoot). Also, there will be variation in the weight of the shoe, and its flexibility. Third, there will be differences in “heel to toe drop.” You might read or hear people say, “Oh, that sneaker has a 4mm drop.” This just means the heel height is 4mm higher than your forefoot. This can vary from 0mm to 14mm, and variations in “drop” can affect the way you strike surfaces while running. Fourth, shoe shape is a factor. Some will have a wider, more rounded toe box, while others will have a more tapered forefoot (which might be better for someone with a narrower foot). Finally, I mentioned earlier about changes in running behavior. Well, if you’ve gone from 15 miles per week to 50 miles per week that is a significant change, and is another factor in shoe selection as there are higher mileage shoes vs. lower mileage shoes on the market.
These are factors to consider. Sticking with what has been working for you is logical; however, if the shoe is discontinued or you don’t like the update, you must try other models.
Sometimes finding the “next right pair” can be trial and error. Fortunately, most specialty running stores have a 30 day return policy, where if there is no visible wear, they will allow you to return sneakers if you’re unsatisfied.
Gerard Pescatore is an RRCA Certified Running Coach and ABC Certified Pedorthist trained to fit runners with the proper shoes and manage comprehensive client foot care. A Glenside resident, his approach is "Innovative coaching laced with old school grit." In his spare time, Gerard works for New Balance