Running is amazing, but it gets to your sole. Yeah, I spelled that right. It's a pain in the... feet! Running causes injuries like runner's knee, shin splints, hip pain and there are times you have to play "Where's Waldo" with your toe nails. With the right gear, many of those injuries can be prevented. For me the most important equipment for a serious runner is the sneakers.
Feet come in variations other than smelly, big, small, fungus-covered, etc. There are flat feet, high arches and medium arches. I have flat feet and my sneakers make a huge difference in being able to get up and run long distances, multiple times a week. When I first started training I hurt my feet and legs so badly that I couldn't bear to run on the blacktop and one time while running, a week after achieving my nine-mile mark, I got to two miles, went directly home and cried under the covers with a heating pad until I fell asleep.
When you figure out what kind of foot arch you have (there are several ways to do this), you can buy shoes that are more supportive to your feet, which will improve your run. The easiest way to tell if you have a high, medium or low arch (flat foot) is the wet test. It's as simple as wetting your foot and making a print on a thick piece of paper. If you see a typical footprint with about half of your arch visible then you have a normal bearing. In this case normal or average is king, because you have the best running foot. When you have a normal bearing, your foot absorbs the shock from your ankle and the pavement better. You can also wear pretty much any type of running shoe, although you might as well treat yourself to a cushioned shoe that supports your heel.
If you see very little of your footprint in the wet test, if it looks as if the ball of your foot and your heel are connected by a thin line then you have a high arch. This type of arch can be very painful for a runner because there is very little shock absorption as you can see, because the arch in the print is barely visible. My high-arched sister is under the impression that her feet will hurt regardless of her footwear because of her ankle issues, which are caused by her high arches, and a genetic accessory bone that runs in our family. Thanks, mom! When I finally convinced her to run in any kind of sneaker to replace the furry Ugg boots she was wearing, she felt a little more support... obviously. Since she chose a shoe not meant for running, her workouts are still a bit uncomfortable. High-arched people need a shoe to protect their arch and create more of a bearing or instep for them.
Lastly, if you see most of your footprint on your wet test, you my friend, are in my proverbial boat. When you have most of your print visible you have flat, or as I like to call them, duck feet. Flat feet create too much of an impact on the foot from the arch. This foot type is most prone to injuries because your whole foot is on impact with the ground without support. These runners need shoes that create a higher arch to prevent total collision with the ground. I wear Asics and find they keep me running more comfortably and pain free.
One last "footnote." When I was training for my half-marathon, I would periodically feel sharp pain in my shoes from time to time. This new sensation was that of my toenails painfully ripping off my feet. By the end of the marathon, I was left with two toenails and a flip-flop-less summer. A good friend who runs with me told me it might be a good idea to go half a size up. That was probably one of the best pieces of advice she's ever given me. I am now running comfortably and have all my toenails. When it comes to running, toenails are for sissies, and without pain there is no gain, but in my opinion you're less grumpy and your feet look prettier if you do what you can to feel good and stay comfortable.
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