Disclaimer: I specialize in gait analysis, so obviously I'm heavily biased.
What are your options for footwear?
- No shoes, so barefoot running
- Minimal shoes, like Vibrams
- Run-of-the-mill running shoe (sub 100$)
- High end neutral shoe
- High end correcting shoe
If you've decided the first two options aren't for you, you're going to have to pick a shoe. That leaves three major options: do you need some correction or not? Without doing a gait analysis the only way to answer this is by looking at your history: do you have a history of running-related injuries, do you use orthotics in your regular shoes or do you need orthopedic footwear? If any of those is yes, get yourself checked up before buying a pair of shoes, because you're at an elevated risk of getting injured. Given that there are no cheap correcting shoes, you're pretty much out of luck.
But what if you only just started running and don't have any prior injuries? Well, that doesn't mean you're not at risk. If you're planning to pick up running as a regular part of your workouts, than you have a stake in preventing that from happening. Because most overuse injuries take a long time to heal, they'll ruin any progress you've made so far, limit your options for alternative workouts and mean you'll have to pick up another workout until you're healed. So if not for your wallet, do it for your health. If buying the right shoes helps you not get injured than that trade-off alone should be a no-brainer.
So say you get yourself checked, does this mean you have to buy expensive shoes? Well shoes, regardless of quality, wear down over time and much faster than most people like to admit. People who start running tend to pick their old tennis shoes or some worn-out pair of sneakers they have lying around. Big no-no, because wrong shoes and worn-out shoes are a major cause of injuries. They can alter your roll-off pattern the wrong way, because some parts of the shoe are more worn out than others and cause an asymmetrical load. Good shoes tend to be made of more durable material. This means they will be able to support your feet for a longer period of time, which may not safe you money, but hopefully will prevent you from getting injured.
Again, you're making a trade-off between paying 100$ more or not being able to run for ~6 weeks. If you're favoring money over your own health, than you're not doing yourself a favor. Overall, running is a fairly inexpensive exercise, you don't need to pay for a gym or swimming pool. Apart from some functional clothing and shoes, you don't need much else. Investing in these things while not knowing whether you'll stick to it is always a gamble. However, they can also make the difference between having a pleasant experience and a dreadful one. For example, running in a cotton shirt will start to soak and stick to your body over time. Whereas with functional clothing, they will drain the sweat away and feel more pleasant (and warm!).
As John mentioned, you don't have a guarantee that you'll get a quality analysis, so unless they are very reputable and friends recommended the place, I'd take his advice and first get some (preferably) free advice. If you do get a check up, make sure to ask questions, don't be afraid to ask 'dumb' questions, if he knows what he's doing, he should be able to tell you why. Remember, you don't have to buy shoes from that person, you can always take his advice and buy the shoes somewhere more affordable. Be sure to try on different pairs of shoes, not just those with a fancy color or those that are on sale, there are major differences between the lasts and builds between different shoe brands. If the shoe doesn't feel right, don't let them talk you into buying it.
If you do decide to not get a check up, be sure to buy a decent shoe. Some pointers on how to recognize one:
- When pressing against the buttress, from the rear of the shoe, it shouldn't bulge in, but give you the feeling that its tough and able to resist some stress.
- If you hold the shoe between two hands and try to bend it, look at where it bends. If you see if bend right through the middle, best avoid the shoe (unless you're looking for Nike Free's). Your foot has its joints near the ball of the foot and that's where the shoe should bend too.
- If you try to wring the shoe like a towel, it should resist that movement. If not, it probably has no support whatsoever.
But seriously, do yourself a favor, get a proper gait analysis, most reputable places will over it as a free service if you buy the shoes from them. Shoe at least you won't be paying twice!