Should I Buy Running Shoes Online?
You log into your email. An unread message catches your eye. A flash sale from that shoe site you bought some socks from years ago.
25% off a new pair of running shoes!
The sweet siren song of good deals on the internet tempts you in. Heck, there may even be free shipping involved. And even better - free returns!
But the path to online running shoe shopping nirvana is littered with the boxes of returned shoes and blistered athletes wishing they’d return their shoes.
There must be a better way, you say to yourself.
Fortunately, there is! Today we’re going to run you through the gauntlet of shoe-buying questions (okay, just four).
If you can make it to the end with four No’s, you’ll know that you’re good to buy your shoes online.
If you get stuck along the way, if you hesitate, then it’s time to head to a running shoe store.
You didn’t just sign up for your first marathon, did you?
Signing up for a marathon is just about as easy as it gets. It’s almost as easy as buying a new pair of shoes online!
But actually running that marathon is another story. If you haven’t run a marathon before, it’s a good idea to speak with a doctor about your health first.
If you won’t be swayed - or if your doctor’s just giving you the good bill of health - then it’s time to do the next most reasonable thing: talk to your running store about your feet.
Depending on your gait, your weight, your running history, where you’re training, how you strike the ground when you run, and your own preferences (to name just a few), a running professional will have different shoe recommendations for you.
And when you’re going to be running up to 30-40 miles a week, those recommendations can save you from a lot of undue pain. Just think: each potential recommendation is one that helps you train better and avoid injury so you can actually cross the finish line.
The time you spend going down to the shop is an investment in your own success.
(Even if it is a little harder than clicking ‘Buy Now’ on that especially fast-looking pair of shoes!)
Are you eyeing fancy trail shoes you saw while you were out training?
Depending where you do your training runs, you might start to see some different kinds of shoes. If you’re on the track, you might see track shoes and racing flats. Head to the trails, and you might see technical trail running shoes.
Of those famous brands, there are some particularly eye-catching ones, like models from Hoka, Arc'teryx, and La Sportiva.
(I worry you’re looking up those brands right now.)
Depending on your experience level, there are a couple of concerns to keep in mind.
For one, trail running shoes have a different sole than traditional distance running shoes. With bottoms made to grip dirt, gravel, and slick surfaces, you’ll want to select one based on where you train most often (and not based on the color patterns).
The second concern is heel drop. Heel drop (or heel-to-toe drop), the difference in cushioning between the heel and toe of the shoe. It’s measured in millimeters.
They are commonly broken down into the following four categories:
- Zero drop (0mm),
- Low drop (1-4mm),
- Mid drop (5-8mm), and
- High drop (8+ mm)
While not exclusive to trail shoes, heel drop is something that can be exaggerated when combined with the other technical aspects of trail shoes.
Consider what podiatrist Thomas Do Canto says about choosing your heel drop shoe: “A higher drop shoe has the potential to load the hips and knees more, while a lower drop shoe can place greater stress on the foot, ankle and lower leg.”
The flashy shoes just might be the right ones for you. Going into a running store to find the right shoes and the right heel drop will help you be sure.
Are you buying online because free returns make it convenient?
When you’re sitting at home, the idea of going to the store can seem exhausting.
(Even when you’re shopping for accessories to help you exercise.)
You may already recognize that the shoes might not fit. If that’s the case, the free returns policy may have you convinced that even if they don’t fit, it’s okay. You’re not losing any money - just a little bit of time.
Unfortunately, free returns are hardly free. There are concerns about what happens to the products after it goes back. There are higher costs baked into the products you’re buying. And there’s the environmental costs of shipping and returning, shipping and returning, shipping and returning.
Besides, if you’re eyeing that race in 4 months, your 16-week training plan’s just about ready to start. Can you afford to wait another two weeks to get training?
This isn’t your first time buying *these* shoes, is it?
Are you sure?
(We ask because we care.)One potential shoe-buying mistake is thinking that the shoe model you purchased before is going to be the same from year to year. Asics has the Gel-Nimbus 24. There is also a Nimbus 23. And a Nimbus 19. And a Nimbus 12.
So, just because you bought a pair of Nimbus last year doesn’t mean buying those Nimbus this year will actually be the same pair. There are slight tweaks to pronation, to the shoe weight, to the eyelets - and it could be that any one of those changes is enough to bother you.
But! If you are a Nimbus 24er and you’re looking to stock up on as many Nimbus 24s as possible before the release of the 25, then yes… it’s probably fine to buy them online.
If the idea of getting a new pair of running shoes is exciting, you’ll also want to check out our IRLA Running Pack. This pack features achievements you can unlock by running races from a mile up to a marathon (which is almost as good as that free, ill-fitting race shirt!).
What about you? Where do you head when it’s time to grab a fresh pair of running shoes?