Buying a good pair of running shoes should be fairly simple, but for a beginner it can be an intimidating, daunting experience. Sorting through all the neat, new shoes models with their high-tech wizardry can be as confusing as a foreign language. Actually, running shoes do have a language all its own. To sort through the clutter, we have tried to simplify the shoe-buying process by taking a beginning runner through the step-by-step procedure.

Before we even get started, an absolutely first critical step is to go to a running specialty store. In Central Texas we are blessed with numerous exceptional stores that specialize in running shoes–and only running.

In Austin, such stores as Luke’s Locker, Rogue Running, Hill Country Running and Texas Running Company deliver expert advice. There’s also a new Fleet Feet in Round Rock and Core Running Company in San Marcos. In San Antonio, the are also terrific stores such as Soler’s Sports, Fleet Feet and iRun.

All of these stores take great pride in working with beginning runners to get them in the proper shoe for them. It is very important that once you go to one of these stores that you tell the salesperson you’re a beginner and need assistance to get fitted in the best possible shoe for your individual needs and requirements.

Here are some tips to finding the right shoe for you once at the store:

1. Buy running shoes. That may seem obvious, but many beginners go to a chain sporting goods store end up with “sneaks” or “tennies” and later complain about foot pain and/or other injuries. When running, you need to wear a running shoe and not a cross-trainer, walking shoe, basketball sneakers or tennis shoes. This is where a specialty running store helps by fitting you with a quality pair of running shoe from a reputable manufacturer.

2. Make a commitment to spend at least a half hour at the store. Buying the right pair of running shoes is important and you shouldn’t rush through the process or settle for a shoe which doesn’t fit well or feel comfortable. Take your time. Check out the shoe wall. Browse through the clothing racks. Look at the race entry forms and see if there are any training classes you might be interested in joining. After getting comfortable in the store, seek out a salesperson. If you are a beginner who knows next-to-nothing about what shoes you need, tell the salesperson. Don’t feel embarrassed. A good running shoe salesperson loves working with beginners.

3. Bring your running (or athletic socks) with you to the store. You’re going to have to try on several pairs of running shoes and if you’re wearing the wrong type of dress socks (either too thin or too thick), it will effect how the shoes fit. If you don’t have running socks, buy a pair at the store before you try shoes on.

4. Have both feet measured for width and length. Definitely have both feet measured even if you think you know your shoe size. As we age, feet tend to spread and lengthen so chances are your shoe size might be a half to a full size larger than you believe. Women, who have recently given birth, are likely to find their shoe size has increased as much as a full size. Regardless of your dress shoe size, you’ll probably have to go up at least a half size in running shoes to give your feet adequate room. Don’t be locked in to wearing the same size running shoe as your dress shoes.

5. If you have been running, bring your old running shoes with you. A good salesperson can tell a lot from your worn-out, old shoes. Seeing those old shoes, will help the salesperson determine which new pair of shoes is best suited for you. Even if you want to buy the same model, that very same shoe has probably been updated. If it has, having your old shoe will guarantee you get the latest model of your favorite shoe. Also, if you wear orthotics, bring them with you to the store and place them in any new pair of shoes you try on.

6. Be honest. A good salesperson will ask you detailed questions about your running history (miles per week, speed, level of runner, goals, etc.) to help determine which is the best shoe for you. Be frank and open. It can be confusing (and just a tad intimidating) talking with a highly knowledgeable running shoe expert, but a good one won’t try to snow you with techno-lingo. If you don’t understand a term or are confused about the value of a particular shoe technology, don’t be afraid to ask for a detailed explanation of the benefits.

7. Buy quality. Buying the best running shoe isn’t cheap. Expect to pay at least $110-$130 and possibly a bit more. You can pay a lot less, but the less expensive shoes are less durable, supportive and protective. Another words, you get what you pay for. You want all the comfort, cushioning and safety features that will protect your feet and help you enjoy your running. And if you are a beginner, don’t assume the cheaper shoes are the way to go. Beginning runners need just as good a shoe as a veteran. Maybe even better.

8. Fit, fit, fit. What’s the most important aspect to buying real estate? Location, location, location. Well with running shoes, fit is everything. Even if you buy the very best pair of running shoes that your friends have told you to buy, they will be virtually worthless if they don’t fit your feet well. So try on a variety of styles and models from different brands. (Different brands fit differently.) You want running shoes that fit snugly (without being too tight) and allow for some room between the longest toe and the end of the shoe. Generally, there should be one-third of an inch of room. Your feet and toes shouldn’t feel cramped and you shouldn’t notice any tightness. The heel fit is also critical. Your heels shouldn’t slip at all or come out of the shoe when you run or walk. If a shoe isn’t wide enough, ask whether that model comes in a wider width. Lace the shoes up. Walk around the store. Jog around. Jump up and down. Many stores offer a treadmill for testing the shoes while running. Go for it. If any one particular area of the shoe doesn’t seem to fit right, don’t buy it. A shoe which doesn’t fit right in the store won’t fit right down the road.

9. Pick two final pairs. Try to narrow your selection to two different, but comparable models. Do a side-by-side comparison. Wear one on each foot to notice the differences in fit, cushioning, stability, comfort and weight. Ask the salesperson’s opinion. Ask what technical differences there are between the two shoes. Don’t necessarily go with the more expensive model or best known brand. Go with the pair that fits and feels the best.

10. Return policy. Ask about the store’s return policy. Sometimes shoes that feel great in the store feel differently when you get them home. Most good running stores have a return policy that allows you to exchange shoes that are still clean and haven’t been worn on the streets or trails. But make sure you check with the salesperson and retain the sales receipt for your records.