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Sole Man: Reasons You Shouldn’t Buy Cheap Running Shoes Online

You can buy running shoes at significantly reduced prices online, but it can be a risky move.

A lot of people in the running industry might not be happy with the story that follows—including a lot of friends who own or work at running shops or bust their tails as sales reps—but the truth is there are a lot of ways to score running shoes at discounted prices.

But just so as to reduce the amount of nasty emails I get after this story runs rampant through social media channels, let me add some context first.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times: the best way to buy your next pair of running shoes is to walk into your local running specialty shop and spend a half hour trying on shoes with a knowledgeable shoe-fitter. It doesn’t matter if you’re a young, fast runner, someone who’s been jogging forever, a middle-aged back-of-the-packer or a complete newbie to this thing we all love to do every day.

Remember, you get what you pay for and the expert shoe-fitting and customer service (not to mention the running smarts, inspiration and encouragement) you’ll get at a running specialty store far outweigh the benefits of buying shoes 40 percent off and getting it shipped for free to your doorstep two days later. Small, independent running shops are still the heart and soul of running. They’re all about community; not only do they support local runners, but they also support local schools, races and training programs.

Buying any older or outdated running shoe model at a cheap price at a discount e-tailer isn’t necessarily a good way to go about getting your next pair. (It might actually be the most direct path to increasing the risk of overuse injuries if it’s not a shoe that’s meant for you.) Finding a specific pair that works for you—your foot size and shape, as well as for your running gait style and the type of running you do—is extremely important and it really helps to go through a thorough and educated try-on process.

Remember, you can buy bread, milk, vegetables and ground beef at places like Walmart and SuperTarget, but you’re probably better off going to a bakery, a butcher shop or at least reputable grocery store. If you’re looking for quality and service, you get what you pay for.

RELATED: 10 Reasons You Should Shop at a Running Specialty Shop

That being said, like just about everything else in this world, the internet has significantly changed how running shoes are sold. Not only is almost every running brand selling directly from their own website, but dozens of shops that never before sold running shoes—most notably Amazon and Zappos—are now hucking the latest and greatest high-mileage trainers, sleek racers and trail runners online.

And, yes, if you know exactly what you want—for example, a pair of Nike Pegasus 32 in men’s size 11.5 or New Balance Fresh Foam Zante in women’s size 8—and don’t have the time to go to a traditional shop, then buying online makes perfect sense. There are a handful of really good online running stores, starting with Running Warehouse. I’d still encourage runners to go to a local shop, but the convenience of buying online is just the nature of how life has changed with the advent of the Interwebs.

But also out there on the internet, you’ll find tons of shoes from previous years for sale at discounted prices. In fact, there is an entire online cottage industry for selling outdated models. It used to be that running specialty shops would offer its holdover models that didn’t sell during the previous season on a sale table or during a special once-a-season sale. It was a good way to at least recoup the wholesale costs of those shoes, sell off inventory, improve cash flow and also entice customers into the newest models on the shoe wall.

That worked just fine when those small running shops were the most likely place for runners to buy new shoes for the upcoming season. But things have changed, and as running has exploded in popularity a lot more runners than ever before don’t know (or don’t care) about “the latest and greatest” and are merely eager to get a pair of running shoes at a decent price. (And heck, your favorite models from last year were pretty darn good last year, so why wouldn’t someone want to buy those shoes again at a discount if they could find ’em?)

The trouble (at least for small running shops) is that sale shoes can now be found all over the internet, partially because many running shoe brands are also dumping their unsold models from previous years to discount sites online. Heck, the internet is one ginormous sale table if you know how to click your way through it and have the time to do it.

(With so many discounted shoes available at the click of a mouse, it also suggests there’s a massive overproduction epidemic running amuck in the industry, and it’s quietly wreaking havoc among smaller running specialty shops … but that’s a story for another day.)

If you really want to buy more affordably priced running shoes—or at least shoes priced at something less than full retail—you can point your browser to sites like The Clymb, Woot!, Active Gear Up, Left Lane Sports, Shoe Buy, Kelly’s Running Warehouse and 6 p.m., to find lots of shoes that hit stores in the past two years being sold at greatly discounted prices. Holabird Sports, Altrec, REI and Backcountry also have loads of discounts online on their closeout pages. But I wouldn’t recommend it for the reasons I spelled out above.

Major online running retailers like, Running Warehouse, Fleet Feet Sports, Road Runner Sports, and Zombie Runner typically keep current in-line shoes at the same MSRP, but most of those sites also have pages of closeout shoes too.

Most major running shoes brands are even selling closeouts on their own sites, including Nike, Brooks, ASICS, New Balance and Saucony. And then there’s Amazon, where, based on a simple search right now, you can find a wide variety of running shoes for $31 to $171.

So who is fighting for the small running specialty shops? Well, I definitely am. OK, I’m a long-time running geek and shoe nerd, but there’s little that compares to soaking in the passionate culture of running at a small local running shop.

There’s nothing wrong with buying running shoes at a discount or getting new shoes delivered to your doorstep with the promise of free shipping and returns. But runner beware: avoid buying shoes at a cheap price that you’ve never run in or tried on before. And don’t overlook the priceless input—and inspiration—you’d get from merely setting foot inside your local running shop.