In my closet, there’s a mountain of shoes. There are purple Brooks, seafoam green Hoka One Ones, grey Under Armours, and lilac Nikes. The pile is so large that it rises to brush the hems of my coats, similar to how Mount Kilimanjaro’s peaks extend to touch the clouds.
No, I’m not a sneakerhead. I’m just a woman who’ll try anything to avoid injuries when running.
I’ve completed two marathons and a handful of halves. Thanks to years of training runs, I know Central Park like the back of my hand. I also know exactly which spots on my feet will develop blisters as I increase my mileage. I know the precise shapes I need to pretzel my body into after a run to avoid re-injuring my left knee and right hip.
But… I still don’t know what shoe is the best fit for me. And as it turns out, many women may be in the same boat.
I’m a wellness reporter and I love running, so during my career I’ve spent hours talking to people who study the sport. I’m especially interested in sneaker-related research, since I’ve never felt like I’ve been able to find my perfect shoe. No matter what brand or support level I choose, I’m always dealing with hotspots, pain, blisters, and injuries.
One thing I’ve learned during my interviews and from reading is that although the women’s running shoe industry has grown faster than men’s over the last few years, many sneakers aren’t actually designed with women in mind. And that may be the source of my dissatisfaction.
Shoes are constructed around foot-shaped molds called “lasts.” Surprisingly, many brands use one mold based off a man’s foot to make all their shoes — including women’s, says Katie Manser, a research assistant at the independent shoe research lab Heeluxe. “Very few brands actually use women-specific lasts,” she adds.
This news floored me, so I reached out to 14 well-known shoe brands to ask about the gender of their lasts. Six didn’t respond or declined to comment. Hoka One One and Saucony said they use unisex lasts. Adidas, Altra, Asics, Ryka, Nike, and OESH told me they use lasts based on a female foot to develop some or all of their women’s running shoes.
“You don’t have weird feet, …read more