When buying gear, new runners should focus on their shoes. "Appropriate footwear is the number one investment a beginner should make," says Diane Proud, running and triathlon pro at the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas. Good sneakers typically cost around $80 to $100, but it's money well spent. By design, these shoes help your body deal with the repeated impact of running. Indeed, in 2005 the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society surveyed 1,200 runners and found that almost two-thirds of them had injuries -- such as tendinitis, blisters, and arch pain -- related to inappropriate footwear.
To get properly laced up, Proud recommends a visit to a running shoe specialty store. "Don't go to Shoes R Us," she says. "They might sell shoes at a great discount, but the staff is usually not trained properly." Specialty store employees know how to assess your foot to determine your individual biomechanics.
Most running shoes fall into three categories. To determine which type you need, conduct the "wet test" before you shop, says J. Chris Coetzee, M.D., a foot and ankle surgeon in Minneapolis who also has run 27 marathons. The next time you step out of the shower, look at the footprints you leave on the bathmat. If your foot shape is full with very little curve on the inside edge, you're probably an overpronator -- your foot rolls in too far, stressing your ankles -- and you need a motion-control shoe, which has a wide, extra-rigid sole to prevent rolling. If your footprint features a deep curve on the inside edge, you probably have high arches. Your feet don't absorb impact very well, putting you at risk for ankle and knee pain. Look for a cushioned shoe, designed to minimize the pounding. Finally, a normal, or neutral, footprint will have a moderate curve on the inside edge, cutting in about one-third of the width of the foot. This foot-type rolls in just enough to absorb impact when it strikes the ground. Neutral runners can choose a stability shoe, which offers cushioning in the forefoot and support in the heel, but Coetzee says these runners also do well in a cushioned shoe.
Choose a size that gives you at least a thumb's-width between your toes and the end of the shoe, and shop at the end of the day, when your feet are at their biggest. Take a quick jog around the store before you buy; running shoes should be instantly comfortable, Coetzee says.