When Should You Replace Your Running Shoes?

A runner tying their laces

Photo by AlexMaster/Shutterstock.com

Content by Simon Gould

Unfortunately running shoes don't last forever. You may have a favorite pair you've run your best times in. Maybe your present pair just feel so good when you go for a run and you've got used to them. However, at some point they're going to need replacing, but when?. And when do their age start having negative effects? I answer all that here.

Replace them every 400 miles

If you're diligent enough to log every mile you do, which is not so easy, then replace them every 400 miles. Some runners and companies recommend more and some about the same. The thing is you can't often tell when they need replacing. You've run on them so much you get used to the subtle differences in wear.

If you run 3 miles a day, 5 days a week, which is very doable, you'll be doing 400 miles in about 6 months. This doesn't take into account any long runs you may do or any other factors that affect the wear on your shoes. If you do more mileage per week, then you'll need to replace them more often.

Let's face it, they're the most important part of our running gear. They are the direct contact between our feet and the ground. For this reason I always spend the most I can afford and buy the best I can. They make a great investment in helping prevent injuries and should be replaced regularly.

If not 400 miles, then every 6 months

Maybe you don't do 400 miles in 6 months. Maybe you don't log your mileage but you run multiple times per week. Then 6 months is a sensible time frame. If you spend, for example, $150 which are very good running shoes, that's just $300 per year. That's not a lot when you consider how much use they get.

Even so I would consider replacing your shoes every 6 months if you run regularly. Even if signs of wear are not immediately apparent, still replace them. There may be damage you can't see. Running shoes have an internal structure and many parts that may have been compromised. Sweat and moisture play a part in this.

What if I don't run very often?

The World Health Organization and governments around the world recommend we get between 75 and 150 minutes of vigorous activity (running) per week. That's a minimum of 25 minutes per day, 3 times per week. If we take a 10 minute mile, that's 7.5 miles per week which is a year to reach 400 miles.

I would still advise 6 months, but if you wanted to leave it a little longer then you may want to look for signs of wear. I'll go through these below. I will also discuss what will make your shoes degrade slower or quicker because there are a number of variables. Their age as well as use is important so try and remember when they were bought.

Signs they need replacing

With regular shoes we wear everyday we know when they've started to show signs of wear. We usually keep them for a far longer period. We see the tread wearing down which occurs with running shoes as well. But running shoes require a more detailed examination to see when they need changing.

  • Sole - Depending how we run the tread may show signs of wear on different parts. For some the heel may wear down first. As they start to get smoother then it's time to think about changing your shoes. The integrity of the sole may be affected, it may not be so rigid anymore.
  • Cushioning - If you press down on the mid sole you'll find the cushioning is no longer there. They're all nice and spongy when you first buy them but over time this degrades. The materials don't last forever and start to compress and this is very apparent in older running shoes.
  • Upper - The upper will wear down. Often your feet will start showing through. Perhaps they're getting holes where your big toe nail rubs against it. Sweat and rain can affect this and especially if they're not fully dry from the previous run. If the fit isn't quite right the upper can damage quickly too.
  • Heel - The inside of the heel often has thin material that will fray on a well used shoe. As with the upper a badly fitting shoe can cause this to occur as well. The back of the ankle will rub against the back and this is a sign that your running shoes need to be replaced. The laces need to have the correct tension.
  • Pain - Any new or developing aches, pain, soreness or blisters. Age can negatively affect the shape of the old shoe and it no longer fits like they used to. This is where injuries could occur, the older shoe where it once was rigid and fitting, isn't any more and a replacement is needed.

Factors that affect wear

There are 4 main factors and I go through them here. Where I recommend 400 miles or 6 months I've taken these factors into account. Some of them you can do something about and some you can't. It's just something to think about because running shoes don't last forever despite my recommendations.

1. Shoe age - Over time they degrade. The moisture and humidity in the air affect the life of the shoe. As soon as they leave the factory they slowly break down. For this reason it's best to keep them in a warm and dry environment. Take them off when they're not in use and untie the laces. Start using them within 6 months of buying.

2. Running surface - This is all about how hard the surface is. The concrete pavement or sidewalk is not very forgiving at all. Running round a track or on grass is far kinder on the joints, feet and shoes. Lots of people run on a treadmill and this bouncy surface is easy to run on and easy on your footwear.

3. Running style - Some runners, because of the way they run, are naturally harder on their shoes than others. Depending on which part of the foot you land will have an affect on the wear of the shoe. This can be the heel, midfoot or forefoot and you will see the wear on well used running shoes.

If you just run to get fit or lose weight then I wouldn't change your running style. This is especially the case just to make your shoes last longer. Elite runners may change their style to something more efficient and don't have a concern about making their shoes last longer, they're important equipment for them and easily replaced.

4. Weight - If you're heavier you're going to wear your shoes down quicker. The bigger impact with the surface is going to have an effect. The average weight for a man is 195 lbs and a woman 170. Running shoes are designed with the weight of their user in mind. As you lose weight your shoes will last longer although you may not notice.

How to make them last longer

Clean them regularly. This is especially the case if you run on trails or cross country as they'll get dirty easily. Don't put them in a washing machine as this can affect the shape. Use a mild detergent and a soft brush to ease off any dirt you find. You don't need to soak your shoes in any way to clean them, be mild and gentle.

Dry them after use. Let them just air dry. Don't put them near a radiator or in direct sunlight. Sweat and moisture can easily build up so you may want to put some paper towels in each shoe to encourage the drying process. It's a case of letting time and the heat of the home do it's job. This is recommended by all brands.

Think about having 2 pairs. The reason for this is the drying may not have completed by the time you need them again. Also the shape is retained in each shoe because they don't get as much use. This is a bigger expense but something to think about especially if you run a lot. It's something that has become popular and a good idea if you're training for a race.

Untie the laces when you've done your run. With running shoes you don't want to put them on with the laces tied. They are easily damaged this way and will not last as long. You need to take care of them. Also you spend money on the shoes so spend money on decent running socks that go around your feet and in the shoe.

Summary

So replace your running shoes every 400 miles or 6 months. They are very different from normal shoes and other sneakers. A lot of technology goes into them but they are easily aged and degraded. You may have got used to them but you must realize that they need replacing every so often and you'll get used to that in time.

You'll notice a real difference with new shoes. Suddenly the cushioning and bounce has returned and you feel you can run faster than ever. I would advise that if you have a long race coming up to time your new running shoes around it. You don't want to perform in shoes that are new. Otherwise new shoes are all part of the enjoyment of running.