In a kingdom far, far away, a minimalist, neutral runner who preferred to feel the ground spent her days looking for the perfect shoe for her running and everyday wear in between her cleaning shifts at her stepmother’s home. The Altra Escalante was too wide in the toe box. The Saucony Freedom was too much shoe. The Asics DS Trainer would squeeze her toes. It wasn’t until she met her Fairy Godmother that, along with a pretty white dress and pumpkin-turned-carriage, she was blessed with the perfect fitting glass slipper. Her foot had never felt such pure bliss, and after a series of events, the perfect fit was how she eventually found her prince and lived happily ever after.
This completely unaltered, faithfully retold tale of Cinderella teaches us of the importance of finding the right fitting running shoe. You may find a shoe with the right amount of cushion, ride and stability, but that’s only half the battle — the way the shoe fits your foot can make or break your overall experience. We may not have our own Fairy Godmother to create the perfect shoe for us, but here are the things you should look at in order to get the best possible fit.
The most obvious measurement of fit is length of the foot. Your running shoe size should be a half to a full size larger than your actual foot size, giving you about a half to a full thumbnail’s width between the end of the longest toe and the end of the shoe. Upon running, walking, general exercise, or being on your feet for an extended period of time, the foot swells due to the impact. The extra length at the end allows your toes enough space to expand, so that they don’t hit the front of the shoe on the back end of a workout or day. This helps prevent things like bruising, black toenails, or even plantar fasciitis (when the toes get too close to the front, the toes start to curl back, which can put some strain on the plantar fascia). Basically, you want your toes to be able to wiggle without your foot sliding forward and back inside the shoe.
And, keep in mind that your shoe size is not static. Sizing varies by brand and model of shoe, and can also increase as age increases. Even though you’re a size 10 now, you may not always be a size 10, and that’s okay. Like the saying goes, if the shoe fits, wear it!
More often overlooked when sizing shoes is width. While a little more difficult to measure, you definitely want to make sure your shoe is the correct width; if your shoe is too narrow, you can start to get bunions, or the toes can go numb. If your shoe is too wide, your foot can slide around, causing blisters and hotspots to form. A good way to tell if a shoe is too wide or too narrow is to look at the laces of the shoe. Ideally, you’ll want the two pathways of the lace eyelets parallel up from the bottom set. If they splay out, it’s an indication that your shoe is too narrow. If they converge near the tongue, your shoe is likely too wide.
While length is measured in numbers, width has a lettering system. Men’s and women’s widths lie on the same scale, with women ranging from 2A (narrow) to B (normal) to D (wide) to 2E (extra-wide), while men are on the same scale but shifted over, from B (narrow) to D (normal) to 2E (wide) to 4E (extra-wide).
The last thing to consider is volume – how much room in the shoe your foot takes up. Sometimes the toe box of the shoe can sit lower than others. High-volume feet can break through the upper material of those shoes — if you’ve ever had toes poking out of the top of a pair of shoes, you know what this looks like! There is no commonly used measurement for volume, but if these issues arise, getting yourself a higher volume shoe should help.
The fit of your shoe should not be something that you overthink too much, especially if you aren’t experiencing any discomfort. However, if you are having any of the issues mentioned here, consider adjusting length, width or volume in order to turn your uncomfortable running shoes into your own glass slipper!