How Long Does It Take To Break In Running Shoes?

A runner accelerating

Photo by rangizzz/

Content by Simon Gould

Running shoes are usually comfortable immediately compared to shoes you would wear for an office job. They have padded panels in the upper and midsole creating a very spongy feeling and are perfectly designed for running. Do they require breaking in before using them? I answer that here along with other things to consider about new running shoes.

To break in, or not to break in?

I used to work in a running shop and people traveled quite far to have running shoes specially fitted. We would advise people not to run a race in new shoes. To give it about 2 weeks before running a race in them. This is about 20 years ago and running shoes have changed since then. There is far more cushioning and comfort in our shoes now.

I think they can be fully used quicker today. Although, don't run a marathon or your ideal distance the day after getting new shoes. They do still require some breaking in. The shoe needs to adapt to your feet and the only way they can do this is through wearing them. You need to get a feeling of the ideal tightness to tie the laces and the other ways they feel.

Build up slowly

At first wear them around the house for a week or so and do your shopping in them. This time is well spent as your shoes change very slightly as they get used to your foot shape. If you have a treadmill consider a light jog. It's all about building up slowly till they become suitable to be your main running shoes.

The next stage is a light run outside or where ever your normal running route is. Pay attention to the feeling like any aches or blisters especially if this is a new model of shoe for you. Badly fitting shoes can cause injuries in time if they're not suitable for you. After this light run I would consider the shoes broken in.

If you need to return them

Nearly all running shops and online stores offer free returns. My favorite store is Zappos and they offer a 30 day guarantee. You can run in them for 30 days and if you're not happy for any reason you can return them within 30 days for an exchange (Details here). That is quite a promise and why I always buy my shoes there.

Nearly all running shoe stores have returns available although I've never seen any as generous as Zappos. Always check before purchase for the latest terms as these can change, even with Zappos. If you buy from a physical location check with the store about returns or if you can go for a quick run before buying them to see if they're ok.

When can I race in them?

If they feel good and you're running naturally in them. If your running shoes aren't causing blisters and you can feel they are supporting your gait and movement well. I would call them your main running shoes after as little as the race distance. If you're looking to run a marathon I would consider your shoes suitable for the race after you've trained a total of 26.2 miles in them.

I recommend a minimum of 10 miles. Like I said before, running shoes these days are perfectly made for the weight, foot shape and gait of the runner. They really don't need much time to be broken in. For the casual runner, who runs to get healthy or lose weight, then there really doesn't need to be much breaking in once the right size and width are determined.

3 ways to tell if new running shoes are suitable

This is it when it comes to breaking in, do your running shoes fit well? If they don't then there's no need to break them in. You need to return them and get proper fitting shoes. Over time you might find a brand that works with your running better than others. There may be a model within that brand that works with you and that's a good thing.

1. Size and width

If you're buying online and it's a new model or brand that appeals to you. Then you will buy your normal size and width and hope that this new brand of shoe will fit as well as the other. This is where you need a store with a good returns policy. Fortunately this is something that's quite easy to tell from just a few wears.

There are a few things to do when you've just received your new shoes. This is especially the case for a new model or brand you haven't run in before. Tie the laces comfortably and then stand up, this is where you can determine if they fit properly. Stand and reach down and feel around the shoe to check it's snug. There should be room for your toes to wiggle.

2. Test run

Let's say the size and width are perfect and you've worn your shoes around your house. After a week you should be ready for your test run in your new shoes. Run in your normal route slower and a shorter distance than usual. You need to concentrate on how the shoes feel as you run.

After a test run or two, how are your muscles? Do you have any aches or twinges you can attribute to the new shoes? This is the crucial test really to see if they are the ones you'll use all the time. With a little research before buying it's difficult to go wrong with modern shoes but a test run will confirm what you need to know.

3. Type

There are 3 types of running shoe and they are cushioned (or neutral), motion control and stability. It's important to get the right type for the way you run. This can be influenced by the shape of your feet and you gait. Flat footed runners tend to overpronate and require motion control running shoes.

Runners with a normal pronation and normal arched feet require stability running shoes. Underpronators, high arched feet or runners who supinate tend to require cushioned or neutral running shoes. It's sounds complicated and a physical running shoe store will be able to analyze you and tell which type you need.

If you find your new shoes don't fit properly or don't feel right then do get them changed. The slight ache after the test run can turn into an injury after many miles. It's rare that your new shoes don't turn out to be suitable but it does happen. Where ever you get them, always check that returns policy.

Breaking in conclusion

So wear them for a week where you can like around the house and shopping. Then do your test run to make sure they fit and feel right. After this they are broken in. Modern shoes have so much padding and comfort and are designed so well, that the breaking in period is a lot quicker than it used to be. They're nothing like dress shoes.

Before buying check the returns or exchange policy. Make sure you're breaking in the right shoes for the surface. Most running shoes are for hard surfaces. Trail running shoes are only for trails. Once you've found your favorite brand and model then the whole breaking in procedure is a lot easier to follow. You'll know exactly when they've been broken in.