How to Pick Running Shoes

a male and female runners running in the city

Whether you prefer to log your miles on the pavement, trail, or on the treadmill, running takes a lot of hard work, perseverance, and dedication. Casual runners and marathoners alike know that quality running shoes make all the difference when it comes to reaching your goals. Since no two runners are alike, finding a comfortable pair of running shoes that offers the proper support for your body can be a bit of a challenge. Our Footwear Experts share the basics for how to pick running shoes. 

Parts of A Running Shoe

There are three main parts of a running shoe: midsole, outsole, and upper. Combined, they impact the type of support, energy return, and cushioning you’ll feel while running.

the parts of a running shoe labeled outsole, midsole, and upper

What is a Midsole?

The midsole is the middle part of the running shoe that cushions your feet and absorbs some of the shock from the heel strike. The midsole is also where the support and alignment features are located.

What is an Outsole?

The outsole is the portion of the shoe that comes in contact with the ground’s surface. Most running shoes feature a rubber outsole to provide both traction and durability. 

What is an Upper?

The upper is the portion of the running shoe above the bottom sole, and it’s usually made with multiple layers of mesh to provide the support and stretch you need. A mesh upper also allows your feet to breathe during long, warm runs. 

Types of Running Shoes

There are three main types of running shoes: road running shoes, trail running shoes, and cross training shoes. To narrow down which type of running shoes you need, ask yourself two questions: 

  • What surface will I be doing most of my running on? 
  • What will be the average distance of my runs? 

Knowing the answers to these two questions will help you determine the best type of running shoes to buy. 

1. Road-Running Shoes

two runners running on the pavement in the city


  • Ideal for pavement or treadmill running
  • Lightweight upper
  • Flexible outsoles

Road running shoes are the most common and versatile option and are best if you’re planning to run long distances either outside on a sidewalk or indoors on a track or treadmill. With lightweight uppers and flexible outsoles, you’ll enjoy stability and cushion, while the materials offer durability for frequent use. Are you training for a city 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon? Road running shoes are the type you’ll want to wear throughout training and during the race.

2. Trail-Running Shoes

a man trail running while wearing trail running shoes


  • Ideal for trail running
  • Durable upper for protection
  • Lugged outsole for traction

Trail running shoes are built for uneven and unpredictable surface conditions. With bigger lugs on the outsole, trail running shoes are able to grip the terrain better than road running shoes. The uppers are typically constructed from stiffer and more durable materials compared to road running shoes in order to protect your feet from rocks or other hazards. If you’re planning on running at a national or state park, you’ll want to make sure to wear trail running shoes for the right support and stability.

3. Cross-Training Shoes


  • Ideal for gym workouts
  • Good for short distance running
  • Multipurpose outsole for reliable grip

Cross training shoes feature a sturdy design and multipurpose outsoles for versatility while working out. Cross training shoes can be worn on the treadmill, but only for short distances up to a couple miles. This type of shoe is perfect for people who do some running while working out but also spend time lifting weights or playing sports.

Types of Running Shoe Support

the side and bottom of a running shoe

Aside from the type of running shoes, you need to have the proper support to avoid discomfort during and after your run. The type of support needed is based on how you pronate.

What is pronation?

The way your foot strikes the ground when you run is known as pronation. Some runners overpronate meaning they run more on the interior of their feet. Other runners supinate meaning they run more on the outer edges of their feet. Knowing how you pronate will help you determine what type of support you need: neutral, stability, and motion control. 

To find out what type of support you need, look at the outsole on a worn pair of shoes and pay attention to the wear:

  • Even wear on the heel and near the forefoot means you most likely overpronate and need stability running shoes.
  • More wear around the outer edges means you most likely supinate and need neutral running shoes.
  • Even wear on the outsole means you have neutral pronation and need neutral running shoes.
  • Significant wear on the inner parts of your shoes means you most likely heavily overpronate and need motion-control shoes.

Most runners fall into needing a pair of stability or neutral running shoes. Our Footwear Experts share more about the difference between the two types of support in our Neutral vs. Stability Running Shoes Guide.

Cushioning in Your Running Shoes

a group of runners out together

When it comes to cushioning in your running shoes, it really depends on personal preference. The more cushion within your running shoes the softer the landing, while minimal cushion provides a greater connection between the runner and the pavement. How much cushion a running shoe has can be indicated by the heel to toe drop. 

What is Heel to Toe Drop?

When looking at running shoes, you’ll notice the term heel to toe drop or offset. Heel to toe drop is the difference between the amount of cushion in the heel and forefoot of the running shoe. Low heel to toe drops are typically 4-8mm and are designed for runners who prefer to land on their midfoot or forefoot. High heel to toe drops are usually 10-12mm and are designed for runners who prefer to land on their heel.

How Long to Break in Running Shoes?

New runners need to be aware that it takes between 2 to 3 weeks for your running shoes to be properly broken in. If you have properly fitting running shoes, they should feel rather comfortable from the start, but it's a good idea to wear them around the house or out on a few shorter runs (2-3 miles) before wearing them during a race or on longer runs (4+ miles).

Learning how to pick running shoes is important to help prevent running-related injuries and pain. With the proper type of running shoe and support, you’ll stay motivated and on track to reaching your running goals. If you have any questions or need additional help finding the right pair of running shoes, contact a Footwear Expert at your local SCHEELS.