(Forward the link to this article to a beginning runner you might know.)

There are so many running shoe brands and and such a wide variety of different models that buying the perfect shoe for you and your running needs isn’t always easy. Experienced runners have a pretty good idea what their needs are and which type of shoes has worked well in the past, but for a beginner or relatively new runner, the shoe buying process can be an intimidating, confusing experience.

It doesn’t help matters that all the colorful, new shoes models with their strange technologies 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 simplified the process to its basics by taking a beginning runner through the step-by-step buying procedure.

If you have no idea which shoe or even type of running shoe you need, the absolute, all-important first step is to go to a running specialty store. This means you must go to a store which specializes in running shoes—and only running shoes. This doesn’t mean going to a major sporting goods chain or a discount shoe store which happens to sell running shoes. An online store won’t work either. Only a running store will work.

Fortunately in Central Texas, we have numerous great stores with expert shoe personnel to assist you in the shoe-buying process. If you don’t know of one in San Antonio or Austin, ask a runner.

But some of the best stores in Austin include Luke’s Locker, Rogue Running, Ready To Run, Texas Running Company as well as Fleet Feet (Round Rock), RunLab (Lakeway) and Core Running (San Marcos). In San Antonio, there is iRun, Soler’s Sports, Fleet Feet, Run Wild, We Run and others.

The reason why a specialty running store is so important for new runners is these stores have the trained personnel to fit you in the proper shoe. Don’t worry if you don’t know the first thing about buying a good running shoe. All good specialty running stores take great pride in working with beginning runners just like yourself.

Once you go to one of these stores, inform the floor person who will work with you that you are a beginner. Good stores love working with beginners and will go through a variety of brands and models to fit you in the best possible shoe for your individual needs and requirements. The store associate will check and measure your feet and then go through a series of questions to identify the type of runner you are and what your needs are.

After that, the sales associate will have you try on a variety of styles and models to determine which shoes fit and feel the best.

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 assume that “sneaks” or “tennies” are OK and later complain about foot pain and/or other injuries. When running, you need to wear a shoe specifically designed for running and not a general athletic shoe. This is where going to a specialty running store helps because that type of store will only fit you with a quality pair of running shoe from a reputable manufacturer.

2. Commit to spending least a half hour at the running store. If you are going to run, the single essential piece of gear you need is a pair of good running shoe. Since it’s so important, you shouldn’t rush through the shoe-buying 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. Get comfortable in the store and then seek out a salesperson. If you are a beginner who knows next-to-nothing about what shoes you need, tell the sales associate. Don’t feel embarrassed. A good running shoe sales associate loves working with beginners and is only too glad to spend as much time as necessary.

3. If possible, do your shoe shopping later in the day. You feet tend to swell during the day from walking which mimics the swelling that will happen when you run. That swelling will effect how the shoes fit.

4. Bring your running (or athletic socks) with you to the store. The sales associate will have you try on several pairs of running shoes and if you’re wearing dress socks (usually thinner than running socks), it will change how the running shoes should fit. If you don’t have running socks, buy a pair at the store (or borrow a pair at the store) before you try shoes on.

5. Have both feet measured for width and length. Even if you think you know your foot size, have both feet measured. (That’s what those ugly big black things—Brannock Devices—are for.) 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 it is. Women, who have recently given birth, are likely to find their foot size has increased as much as a full size. Regardless of what your dress shoe size is, you’ll probably have to go up a half to full 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 because chances are they’ll be too small once you start running.

6. 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 and the wear patterns, 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.

7. Be honest. The sales associate 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.

8. Buy quality. Buying high quality, technical running shoes from a reputable manufacturer isn’t cheap. Expect to pay somewhere between $120 and $150 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 help you enjoy your running. If you are a beginner, don’t assume that cheaper shoes are the way to go. Beginning runners need just as good a shoe as someone who has been running for years. Maybe even better.

9. Fit, fit, fit. Everyone has heard that the most important aspect to buying real estate is location, location, location. With running shoes, fit is everything. Even if you buy the very best, most expensive pair of running shoes, they will be virtually worthless if they don’t fit your feet well.

To make certain you get the best fitting shoes for you, try on a variety of styles and models from the various brands. (Different brands fit differently.) Look for shoes that fit snugly (without being tight). You want to 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. (The store associate will check this very carefully.) Your feet and toes shouldn’t feel cramped and you shouldn’t notice any tightness or rubbing. The fit of the heel is especially critical. Your heels shouldn’t slip or come out of the shoe when you run or walk. If a shoe isn’t wide enough in the toe area, ask whether that model comes in a wider width. (Many do.)

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.

10. 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.

11. 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 extensively. It’s in the store’s best interest to fit you in the right shoe. But make sure you check with the salesperson and retain the sales receipt for your records.