When it comes to running, we have one essential piece of equipment…shoes. Barefoot running notwithstanding, the right shoes can mean the world when it comes to running and training, but how do we know when our shoes are past their prime? Personally, I am terrible about rotating my shoes (see exhibit A), so I wanted to find out the best way to know when your shoes are done. After much research, and consulting my Altra Rep here is what I found out.
Let me begin by saying there is a ton of information out there on running shoes. I spent hours going through it all, and while there are varying opinions on the best way to determine your if shoes are done, there are some pretty consistent ideas as well. To save you time I will break it down to these topics – ways to extend the life of your shoe through care, what a dead shoe looks like, and any contributing factors that will make your shoe break down faster, or last longer. Let’s start with shoe care.
As I said above, shoes are the only equipment we need to run, and we should treat them just so. While shoes are expensive, think of them as the one major equipment investment in your sport. As such, you want to take care of them like the equipment they are, here are 3 things to consider for maxing out the life of your shoe.
- Allow your shoes to rest 24 hours between runs, better yet rotate between two pairs of shoes. This allows the foam to recover, possibly extending the life of your shoe. If your shoe is packed down and you run on the packed down foam again, they will stay packed down.
- In line with #1 let your shoes dry out naturally. Whether wet from rain or just sweat, do not try speed drying by placing them in the sun, dryer, or next to a heating vent. EVA foam, the material in most midsoles, is very heat sensitive. **quick-dry tip – stuff with newspaper to absorb excess moisture.
- Do not wash your shoes, especially in the washing machine, the water, and commercial detergent can break down materials. Most detergents contain surfactants which can also affect the breathability of the upper as well. If your shoes are dirty you can spot clean the uppers, or hose them off and let them dry naturally. If your shoes are smelly use an odor-eliminating spray (I recommend this brand) or remove the insoles and wash with a tech wash like SweatX.
So now you know how to care for your shoes, but still aren’t sure when to retire them? The rule of miles (echoed by most experts) is 300-500 miles of running. While this is pretty solid advice (there are even apps to track your shoes) this is a really big range if you think about it. For me, I sort of thought, okay do I just Forrest Gump them at 300 and say I am done, I want to go home now. Or do I push through to 400 or even 500 miles? Well actually, there are definitive signs your shoes are toast. Here are the big ones.
- Do they feel flat? Maybe they seem less responsive when you run, or you notice more fatigue in your legs at the end of a run. This could be a sign that the foam and midsole are packed out and will not longer rebound.
- Do your soles have bald patches? If the nubs (or lugs for trail shoes) are worn smooth, it’s time for you to get new shoes, especially if you can see the midsole. Not only is this a good indication the shoe is likely done, but it is a decent sign your shoe has also lost its grippiness.
- Do your soles have wrinkles? If you take a close look at the midsole from the side of your shoe, and you see creases, your shoe is dead. Retire these babies. This is probably the easiest way to determine your midsole is packed out and is no longer offering adequate support.
- How does your body feel when you are running in your shoes? Has some strange twinge popped up in your knee that is new? Do your hips feel tighter than usual? These are also good indicators your shoes could be past their prime.
I have gone over the information to care for your shoes, and what to look for when they are dead shoes, all you need now is to know some of the contributing factors which may determine shoe life, especially the 300 or 500-mile rule.
- One reason a shoe may make it to 500 miles, or go dead at 300 is manufacturing and type of shoe. A racing flat is going to break down faster than a max cushion shoe. You can also factor in what materials were used in the making of the shoe.
- Other factors are your run style, running gait, and weight. Light-footed, springy runners may not have to swap shoes as often and runners with heavier footfalls. Same for runners who weigh more. Heavier runners are going to break down their shoes faster than lighter runners.
- The last reason contributing to breakdown is run surface. Running all of your miles on hard pavement is going to break down a shoe much faster than if you are running on asphalt, soft track, or dirt.
Now that you are almost an expert, take a moment to check out your shoes to see if they are showing signs of needing to be replaced. If you still can’t tell, one piece of advice most experts gave was, go to the store and put on a pair of new shoes and compare them to your old ones. If a new pair feel like heavenly clouds enveloping your sore feet…it’s time for a change, so treat your feet!
Do you have lots of retired shoes you don’t know what to do with? There are some great recycling programs out there that will take your old shoes. My personal favorite is water step as well as a local clothes closet. Remember your shoes may be too worn for training, but are still in great condition for someone who would otherwise go shoeless. This is the one time I will wash my shoes, so they won’t be nasty when donated to a clothes closet.
Now go check out your shoes, and happy running!!