Shopping for Sneakers for the 3 Day

The most important piece of gear that you will need to buy for the Susan G. Komen 3 Day for the Cure is your sneakers.  You will be walking 60 miles in three days and hundreds more miles during training.  Nothing will effect how you feel at the end of those miles as much as the sneakers on your feet.  Therefore, it is critically important that you get the correct shoes for you early on in your 3 Day journey.

In this post, I'm planning to walk through all of the ins and outs of shopping for your 3 Day sneakers.  These are tips I've picked up along the way and is my opinion about how to get the best sneakers for your needs.  There are plenty of people who have gone about the sneaker shopping business their own way and had perfectly happy feet.  But in my experience, the tips that follow will best ensure that your 3 Day experience is as physically painless as possible.

Where to buy your sneakers

There are countless stores and websites that sell sneakers.  You can buy them anywhere, at any price point.  But when it comes to buying your sneakers for the 3 Day, I recommend finding a store that fits into one (or both) of these two categories:

1.  Official 3 Day Outfitters - The 3 Day folks understand how important it is to get the right gear in order to survive the event in good shape.  To help everyone out, they contract with a series of stores in and around each 3 Day city to provide guidance and discounts to 3 Day walkers and crew members.  These outfitters are the most likely to understand your unique needs as a 3 Day walker.  Because of that, the official 3 Day outfitters should be your first stop for all of your 3 Day gear needs, including your sneakers.

The list of official 3 Day outfitters can be found by clicking on "Outfitters" in the menu on your Participant Center (second link down in the list).  While the outfitters are organized by 3 Day host city, not all of the outfitters that are listed are located right in those cities.  Just as an example, many of the Boston outfitters are actually located in New Hampshire.  Find the closest city to you and search through the list to locate your local outfitters.  The list of outfitters is updated pretty regularly, so check back often if you can't find what you're looking for.  Also, please be aware that not all official outfitters are experts in endurance shoe needs.  REI, for example, is great for waist packs, water bottles and camping gear, but not so much for sneakers.  Look for specialty running stores if possible.  Fleet Feet and New Balance stores around the country are great examples.  If you are planning to use the New Balance coupon that was sent out with your registration information, I can't encourage you enough to go to the New Balance store for your shoes rather than ordering them online.

Note:  Most 3 Day outfitters will offer a 10 - 15% discount when you show evidence of your participation in the Breast Cancer 3 Day.

2.  Running Specialty Stores - If you can't find an official outfitter in your neck of the woods, try to find a running specialty store to purchase your sneakers.  I'm not talking about Dick's Sporting Goods or Foot Locker (although those are good in a pinch).  I'm talking about places like Phidippides and Big Peach Running Company (here in Atlanta) or Runner's Alley and New England Running Company (in and around Boston).  More often than not, running stores are staffed by experienced runners who understand the science of sneakers.  That's who you want fitting your sneakers, not a high school kid working his part time job.

Here's a good tip, if you're looking for a good place to get fitted.  Look for this sticker on the door:

If you see this sticker at a store that isn't currently listed as an official outfitter, it probably means they used to be an outfitter and likely will be again in the future.  My favorite running store, Phidippides in the Ansley Mall in Atlanta, falls into this category.  Ask for the 3 Day discount at these stores too - you'll probably get it.

My most important piece of advice when deciding where to buy your sneakers is this:  Do not buy your sneakers online if you can avoid it.  Don't do it.  You need to try on multiple pairs of sneakers to determine what best suits your particular needs.  Sizes vary enormously from brand to brand and from pair to pair.  Don't underestimate the value of having someone to talk to about your sneaker needs.  So please, if you remember one thing from this post, it's this.  Do not buy your sneakers online if you can avoid it.

When to buy your shoes

Plan your sneaker shopping for either late in the day or after a training walk.  When you walk, your feet swell.  When you walk 20 miles in a day and 60 miles in a weekend, your feet REALLY swell.  Shoes that fit you great first thing on a regular Saturday morning will suddenly become super tight around mile 14 of a training walk.  If you shop after a long walk or after being on your feet all day, you will get a better idea of how your sneakers will fit on your swollen feet.

In terms of when to buy your shoes relative to your 3 Day event, the sooner you can buy them, the better.  It takes at least a month to really break in a pair of sneakers.  I recommend getting one pair towards the beginning of your training and a second pair 6 to 8 weeks before the event.  That will give you enough time to try out the first pair to see if you like them before committing financially to another pair.  It will also ensure that you have a not totally busted pair for the event and a back up pair in case it rains.

What to bring with you

When you head out to buy your sneakers, you need to bring three things with you:

1.  An older pair of sneakers and/or flip flops.  This will allow the person fitting your sneakers to see where your shoes usually wear out first.  For example, I tend to over-pronate, meaning my feet roll in, particularly under my big toes.  The soles of my old Reif flip flops are especially thin in those areas due to the increased pressure.  Seeing something like that will help the person fitting you understand your tendencies as you walk and recommend sneakers that will work with your feet to keep you safe and healthy.

2.  Socks.  Not just any socks, but the socks you're planning to wear for the event but if you already have them (or something similar if you don't).  We'll talk more about the specifics of socks in a later post, but for now, you should know that there are special socks made for endurance walkers, runners and hikers that have extra padding under the balls and heels of your feet.  Those take up more room in your sneakers than your everyday socks.  Also, if you like socks with a low ankle profile, like I do, you want to make sure the sneakers you're getting aren't taller than your preferred socks or you will get heel blisters.  Plus, if you forget your socks, you'll have to borrow some from the communal sock bin.  Yuck!

3.  Either a copy of your 3 Day registration letter or your donation form.  That's the best way to show you're a registered 3 Dayer in order to get a discount on your goods.

At the store

The most striking thing you will notice when you enter a running store is how many types of sneakers they have. Don't just go up to the wall and start picking out sneakers you like.  Here's how to get the most out of your visit:

1.  Tell the person helping you exactly why you're there.  Don't just say that you're there to buy sneakers.  Tell them that you're walking in the Breast Cancer 3 Day and explain what it is if they're not familiar with it.  Emphasize that it is an endurance walking event.  That will help the person fitting you narrow down which types of sneakers to start with.   

 So many sneakers, so little time!

2.  Expect the people helping you to watch you walk around, both in your old shoes and in every new pair you try on.  They may even have you walk barefoot.  They are evaluating your stride and alignment to determine what type of sneakers will suit you best.  As I mentioned above, I am a pronator, which means my feet roll in.  Other people are suppinators, meaning their feet roll out.  Either way, misaligned feet and ankles can really cause problems in your knees and hips when you're walking as much as we are.  Let the experts do their work and listen to them.

3.  As you're walking around the store, be critical of how each sneaker feels to you.  Is your heel slipping, even a little?  Do they feel too wide?  Too tight?  Speak up!  Don't be afraid that what you say may sound foolish.  I once told my sneaker guy that I liked the left shoe of a pair I was trying on but not the right because it just didn't feel right.  You are the one that has to wear these sneakers for hundreds of miles.  Now is not the time to suffer in silence!

4.  Don't be surprised if the sneaker size recommended for you is larger than what you're used to.  Sneakers generally run large and as I mentioned above, you want room for your feet to swell a little.  As long as they fit you properly, the number doesn't matter.  I usually wear a 6 1/2 to a 7 but my sneaker size is right between a 7 1/2 and an 8 (much to the chagrin of John, the very nice guy that fit my sneakers this weekend).  This is yet another reason to go to a physical store to buy your sneakers rather than buying them online. 

5.  Don't freak out if your sneaker sole mates aren't pink.  If the sneakers are right for your feet and fit you properly, they are the right sneakers for you even if they are butt ugly.  This isn't a fashion contest, it's an endurance event.  It's much better to avoid hobbling in pain than to look pretty.  (That's what stilettos on a night out are for!)  You can mention it to the person fitting you (like I did with John), but do not make that a pre-requisite for selecting a pair of sneakers.  You can always buy hot pink shoelaces later.  That's what I've always done.  Pink sneakers are not requirement for the 3 Day.

6.  After you've found your perfect 3 Day sneakers, take some time to look around the rest of the store.  Running stores are full of great things that you don't even know that you need yet, like Body Glide, fluid belts and high tech socks.  Ask lots of questions and pay attention to the answers.  Running store employees are a 3 Dayer's secret weapon.  There's also great deals to be had on athletic gear like shorts and sports bras.  And this time, you can focus on buying only the pink stuff!

All kinds of secret weapons (L) and athletic wear (R) can be found at running stores!

When you get home

Take some time to break in your new sneakers in before you hit the road for an 8 mile training walk.  If you can, walk on a treadmill or indoor track the first few times in case you need to return your sneakers for any reason.  Be thoughtful as you walk in your new sneaks.  A slight pinch after 3 miles will become a massive blister by mile 10.

It should go without saying, but take care of your 3 Day sneakers.  Regardless of how comfortable they are, try to avoid wearing them around town as your "every day" sneakers.  You likely paid a good deal for those sneakers and you'll be putting hundreds of miles on them as you train.  The more you wear them when you aren't training, the sooner you will wear them out.

A few final tips

1.  In the 3 Day handbook, it recommends that every walker get two pairs of sneakers.  I do too, if you can afford it.  However, based on my personal experience, it is far better to get one great pair of shoes than two mediocre pairs.  My teammate in 2008 was on a limited budget and could only splurge on one pair of high end sneakers.  We walked the entire first day in the rain and were still able to dry out her sneakers completely before the start of Day 2.  She didn't have any problems getting by with one pair of sneakers and if you take care of them, you won't either.

2.  Don't buy new shoes the week of the event, even if they are exactly the same as the pair you've been training in.  Each pair of sneakers is different.  You want at least a month to break them in and figure out if there's anything that's pinching or rubbing you the wrong way.  You don't want to be on the event when you figure that out.

3.  Most athletic shoes are only designed to last between 350 and 500 miles.  If you're walking seven hours a week, that means you should replace them approximately every three months.  Lower quality shoes will wear out more quickly.  Again, one great pair is better than two mediocre pairs and don't put unnecessary non-training miles on them.  For more information about when to replace your sneakers, check out this article on walking.about.com.

So now you know everything I know about sneaker shopping.  I need to give John and all the folks at  Phidippides in the Ansley Mall in Atlanta a special thank you for helping me out this weekend. All of the pictures in this post were taken at their store.  John also said to mention that if anyone in the Atlanta area is having difficulty finding sneakers, they should come in to Phidippides and ask for Greg.  Greg has almost thirty years of sneaker fitting experience and is something of an athletic shoe zen master.

Now go out and get yourself a snazzy new pair of kicks!

My new pair of Asics 2T-2150s!


Tammy K said...

Love your shoes! I have the same ones only in the blue. great article!

Anonymous said...

Not to disagree with you but I bought into the hype about sneakers being the most important thing and I bought some and trained and so on and when it came to the walk my feet were torn up by those shoes. I did the last day in my flip flops because of this and I wish I had done the whole walk in them or my Crocs. I think the most important thing is to walk in shoes that are comfortable for you whatever they are, not sneakers only.
Just my 2 cents.

Leanne...the walker said...

Excellent post, Kristen! Shoes are SO important and getting fitted is crucial. All the 3-day official outfitters are committed to providing a discount to walkers, so be sure to tell them you are a walker! Many other smaller, local stores will also provide a discount if you tell them who you are and what you are doing.

I cannot wait to go get my first pair of 2010 shoes! Getting fitted is like Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this advice.....I've done the 3 day in the past and I always made the mistake of getting new shoes right before the event and gotten blisters from them

Jami said...

Great post, Kristen. This is my first 3-Day walk and I'm just beginning to learn just how important good shoes are. Thanks so much for taking the time to share such helpful information!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for all the good info. I also just got those same shoes as you did. Cant wait to break them in.
Thank you so much again for all your good advice, I will take all that I can get I am a first time walker this year! Thank you again

Linda said...

I am a pronater too :) Must be another lovely family trait.

Carolyn said...

Fantastic post. I actually just bought the exact same sneaks last week. I'm an asics girl through and through for 12 years now. I too am an over pronater so I'm glad to see someone who shares my walking "issues" found the same shoes. Can't wait for Boston :)

Kristen Sager Cincotta said...

I'm so happy that everyone found this post so helpful! Getting good sneakers is key!

I can't believe how many of us are Asics girls! Definitely great sneakers!!

To the Anon poster who disagreed - There will always be people who find other footwear that works for them. I saw a girl walking barefoot on Day 3 in 2008 and she was happy as a clam. I am simply reporting what I have found works best for me!

And Linda, yes, I think it's another wonderful family trait that we share!