Some shoe tips:
- Your feet get a little wider throughout the day and also swell a little bit while running. If possible, try to do your shoe fittings later in the day when your feet are biggest. Some shoes felt great in the morning but became very uncomfortable by mid-day.
- Go up 1/2 a size to account for foot swelling.
- Bring your typical running socks and ask if you can do a light jog in the shoes you're trying. Some stores will have treadmills for this.
- Identify the attributes you'd like in your shoes (high cushioning, minimalist, etc.) as well as the problems you've had in the past
Asics Gel Nimbus 14, 8.5D Width, (buy here)
Gel cushioning at forefoot and heel for shock absorption
Nimbus 14 has a wider toe box than Nimbus 13
After 2 failed running shoe store recommendations (below), I took what I learned from my SAs to search for my own shoe. Asics is known for their comfort and cushioning, so I knew I wanted to start there. I searched the Runner's World amazingly comprehensive site for highly rated shoes and then went to my local DSW (this location was in the athletic part of town where it seems like people are running / biking 24/7 - other locations, and even dsw.com, did not have these shoes) to try on the options. I tried this one, Gel Cumulus 14, and Gel Kayano 18. The Kayanos were the most comfortable, followed by Nimbus and then Cumulus. Though I was tempted to go with the Kayanos (consistently rated well), I hesitated because my last SA was very adamant that I should be running in a neutral shoe. I decided to go with Nimbus and ordered online since wide widths were not available in the store. All of the normal width shoes rubbed against my pinky toe.
I tried both 8D and 8.5D. They were vastly different. Though my foot length fit the 8, the width did not. One of my SAs had previously explained that different sizes as well as different shoe companies will widen the shoe at different points. The 8.5 was roomier in length (which to me was actually more comfortable) and the width was perfect. Make sure to try a couple sizes in a given width before moving on to a different shoe.
Overall, I'm quite happy with my purchase. The cushioning is amazing and it does have a pillow-y quality to it. I still run on my forefoot / mid foot, but when I walk afterwards, the heel cushioning is a treat and makes each step feel positively springy.
I'm still curious about the Kayanos though and wonder if a stability shoe would be better suited to my needs than a neutral one.
Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12, 8.5D Width, (buy here)
My first SA put me in a Stability shoe after seeing me walk barefoot (with socks) around the store. I agreed with her because I knew I had at least one pair of sneakers that had completely collapsed inwards at the arch. Trusting her expertise, I went for a couple of runs in these shoes and didn't bother trying them on for an extended period of time indoors. After those runs, I couldn't bear to wear them anymore due to the foot pain it was causing. The forefoot area was just too firm and stiff. The heels felt nice, so I think maybe this shoe is better suited for heel-strikers.
I went back to the store hoping that maybe they could recommend a good insole for me. I was surprised that they instead suggested I return them despite being worn outside. An older SA (so I assumed more experience) then suggested Saucony (below).
Saucony ProGrid Ride 5, 8B Width
After returning the Adrenalines, the next SA re-evaluated my walk and decided that I needed a neutral shoe at a normal width. She didn't want my foot to move too much while running and explained that Saucony features a racquet shape to allow for a roomier toe box without having to go to a D width. They felt pretty good in the store so I took them home for further evaluation.
Wary from the Adrenalines, I wore them indoors for a few hours to see how they felt through a longer wear period. As the day wore on, I started to feel more and more rubbing against my pinky toe on top of not feeling like I had enough forefoot cushioning. So I returned these and was thankful to find the Asics Gel Nimbus 14 (above).
In the end...
I think the lesson here is to get guidance from experts and know that it may take several iterations to find the right shoe for you.
I wound up also getting a pair of orthotic inserts (Powerstep Pinnacle) which, in conjunction with lots of stretching and not pushing myself too hard, seems to have really helped me recover from shin splints.
How did you find your perfect shoes?