If you're planning to take on a race and run to the best of your ability, you need to make sure you are in the best shoes for your feet.
But with the baffling quantity of shoes on the shelves, conflicting advice and myriad designs out there, it's hard to know where to start. Should you go for the thick-soled cushioned model or become a fully-paid up member of the barefoot club? How much should you be spending? How often do you need to replace them? This handy guide should help clear the confusion.
How much should you spend?
The old adage 'you get what you pay for' is, unluckily for your wallet, true when it comes to running shoes. You simply can't get the best runners for your feet on the cheap. It's reasonable to expect to spend anywhere between £80 and £150. This doesn't mean the most expensive pair is the best for everyone but it's important to rank comfort and feel over the price tag.
Remember, you could be taking hundreds of thousands of steps in these shoes, each of which forces an impact of up to three times your body weight through your legs and joints. Add in the fact that you strike the ground differently with your left foot and your right foot and consider that your pace and cadence (the number of steps you take) will adapt depending on your energy levels. Your shoes need to be able to cope with all of that.
It is possible to gauge your running style yourself, but for peace of mind it's always best to consult an expert to undertake a gait analysis. It's hard to read how your foot really lands on the floor because you're used to your own body and whatever you're doing feels normal.
Jason Curzon, Manager at the London Marathon Store (1-3 Norton Folgate, Bishopsgate, London E1 6DB), says: "On a basic level people have either low, high or normal arches. This means that some people's feet roll excessively inwards, and some excessively outwards.
"Add to that muscular weaknesses, old injuries, stiff joints, weak ligaments and all manner of individual characteristics that need to be taken into consideration and you soon realise it's important to seek expert analysis to find the right shoe."
So a gait analysis with expert staff such as those at the London Marathon Store will offer the kind of detailed guidance you need to be sure you're in the right footwear.
"Feel and fit is most important for each customer," says Curzon. "Additional requirements can be lighter weight, more or less cushioning, more support features, a minimal design, off-road traction and so on, so we are trained to work with each customer's requirements.
"We use various high-tech machines to look at the way a customer runs, walks and even just distributes their weight when they're standing still. We build a picture of their foot structure and identify any notable features such as high arches, curved Achilles, prominence on the medial [inside] side of the ankle, toes visible on the lateral [outside] side, and then give feedback.
"Customised insoles moulded to the shape of the runner's foot are also available, which they will try in at least three different types of shoes that best suit their gait, and a short video of your running style on the treadmill in your final choice will make sure the shoes are doing what they're supposed to for you."
If the shoe fits
The evolution of the running shoe market has taken us from the traditional four categories of neutral cushioned (for high arches or excessive outward foot rolling); stability (for normal arches or mild inward foot rolling); motion control (for low/flat arches and excessive inward foot rolling); and performance (for runners with no biomechanical issues), through the barefoot craze and into the era of running with your foot lower to the floor for a more responsive feel to the ground. This has given rise to a number of lighter, less built-up shoes and a much wider range of trainers.
Your feet are at their most swollen in the afternoon, which makes it the best time to hit the shops. This increase in size replicates the swelling you experience on long training runs, so you will need to buy shoes a half to a full size larger than normal to allow for that expansion.
Remember that most of us have one foot larger than the other as well. Try both shoes on.
When are your shoes finished?
As a rough guide it's worth replacing your shoes roughly every 500 miles because they'll wear out over time. Work out your average weekly mileage and use that to calculate when the 500 miles will be done, then write the date somewhere on your shoe in permanent marker.
Other signs that it might be time to say goodbye are worn down soles, looseness in the upper and a permanent imprint of your foot in the insole – these are all telling you your shoes are past their prime. If you're experiencing pain in your feet or lower legs and the shoes have lost their bounce, it means the cushioning in your shoes has stopped working and the stability features aren't as effective.
Buying running shoes is a simpler process than it sounds; it'll teach you a lot about your running style and your own body; and taking time to get your shoes right will be worth it when you arrive on that Start Line fit, injury-free and raring to go.