A good pair of running shoes are at the top of the list when it comes to crucial equipment for runners (no shade though, barefoot runners!).
Once we slide into a pair we love, those shoes that just fit and work perfectly for us, it can be hard to let them go... holes and all.
However, there can be risks that come from keeping a pair of shoes in your rotation when they are past their prime, and it’s worth noting factors that should be considered when deciding when new shoes are needed.
Why New Shoes are Necessary
The right pair of shoes will protect you from injury, keep you on the road, and help you recover faster from long runs. As runners, it is easy to rack up miles on a pair of shoes without realizing they’ve started to wear out. We often forget how long ago we purchased and broke in a pair.
The science and technology behind shoe design has taken off over the last couple of decades. There are features in the sole, arch, and upper support of your shoes that you may not even be aware of but are all working hard to support your run. A quick search into the technological aspects that shoe companies incorporate into their designs is often mind-blowing.
These support systems are meant to give you the most comfortable run possible, while also supporting your foot in the unique ways it was built. As your shoes log more and more miles, they begin to wear down. The older they get, the less supportive they become. The risk of injury becomes more likely if you’re running in old shoes. You could also be prone to general soreness and longer recovery times that could be avoided if your shoes are rotated more frequently.
The standard piece of advice is that you should replace running shoes after they have 300 to 500 miles on them. That is a broad range, so each runner needs to find the right threshold for themselves.
Many running apps offer gear tracking. Strava has a feature in which you add all your different shoes into your profile on the app, and then select which shoes you wore on each run. You will get a notification when your shoes have seen 300 miles, or whatever threshold you have selected. This feature takes the guesswork out of shoe replacement. Many runners are often shocked at how quickly their shoes hit their defined threshold, and without the reminder would probably keep running in them.
James McKirdy, owner of McKirdy Trained, a trusted group of running coaches, suggests tracking distance for runners who are going hard: “A professional runner may change shoes every 6 to 8 weeks and racing shoes twice to three times in a season. For a mid-level athlete, I'd recommend every 300 to 400 miles. That's eight to twelve weeks for easy running and maybe they get a new racing shoe every season."
McKirdy also notes time as the preferred measurement for runners who get out often but not necessarily at peak pace.
"For those running 6 to 7 days a week," McKirdy says, "even if at a slower pace, I'd recommend a new shoe every 8 to 12 weeks. They are still spending the same time on their feet as someone faster, with the same steps per minute. For those running 3 to 5 days a week, I'd recommend a new shoe every 12 to 14 weeks."
You can also consider following a calendar-based schedule. For example, if you are preparing for a marathon, you might break in a new pair of shoes at the beginning of your training plan, and then use those shoes through race day. A new pair is then purchased at the start of training for your next race.
If you do a lot of trail running, keeping track of the hours spent in a pair of shoes as opposed to their mileage may be a better metric. After all, ten miles on a trail with steep inclines and natural hazards can be quite different than ten miles on a road.
Wear and Tear
If you are a runner of larger stature or have a running gait that has an extreme overpronation, a manual inspection of the wear and tear on your shoes could be the best and easiest way to determine when it is time to upgrade. Checking in with a podiatrist or local running shop guru can help answer some of your more specific wearing issues.
One suggestion for measuring the state of your shoes could be to take a picture of how they look as soon are out of the box. The degradation of the tread on the bottom of your shoe happens so gradually, that it can be hard to notice until it is too late. Having a baseline to compare to can help you see just how different the heavily treaded sole looked on day one, versus the nearly smooth sections you’ll see near your arch or heel after running in a shoe for a while.
Time To Switch
Even once you've decided it's time to replace your shoes, it can still be tempting to the old pair ride out a bit longer than they should, because, well - good shoes aren't cheap.
One trick is to have more than one go-to pair in your closet at a time.
"I think it is important to rotate shoes during your training cycle," says Rachel Hannah, a registered dietician and Pan-Am Games marathon medalist. "Having three different pairs to choose from will help extend the life, and allows the shoe to recover in between. Having a reliable mileage shoe, a long run shoe and something lighter for workouts. When they start to feel different to you, you should replace them."
Of course, there can also be a nostalgic factor if you're giving up a shoe that, say, carried you on your first marathon, or to a new PB. "Sometimes [switching shoes] is emotional," says Ben Kaplan, the publisher of Canadian running magazine iRun. "But buy them on-sale, otherwise the emotions they elicit could be negative ones."
No matter how you arrive at the decision - whether it's time, distance, or just feel - running in a shoe that provides optimal comfort as well as protection against injury is critical to keeping you moving for the long term.
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In a recent poll on our Instagram, we asked our community to let us know if they use time or distance to decide when to change shoes. Here's what they said:
And a few comments on the post: