A blog by runners. For runners.

It’s over! When it’s time to break up with your running shoes.

Find out when it’s time to break up with your running shoes.

Dearest sole mate,

You’re toxic. Sorry to be so blunt, but have you seen yourself lately? You’re all worn out and knotted up. You lack support and structure. You rub me in all the wrong ways. And I’m not going to take it anymore.

P.S. I’m seeing a newer model!

Remember the last time you bought new running shoes? That guilty feeling after paying for faster shipping? The obsession of tracking your package from across the country. The jubilation of seeing “out for delivery” on the UPS website. The agony of waiting for the truck to arrive. The primal pleasure of unboxing.  And, of course, the delicious smell of factory fresh shoes!

Knowing when to break up with your running shoes is real dilemma many runners face. But that trusted runner-shoe relationship is not built to last, it’s built to spill.

At my lowest point, I owned six pairs of shoes in varying states of disrepair – a motley crew which seemed to have just enough life left for a rainy day, a muddy run, a loop in the park— even a pair stained green from yard work.

The golden rule
It’s hard to track down the original source of the golden rule, replace your running shoes every 400-500 hundred miles (or else). It’s ubiquitous in running culture. For many, it means replacing shoes a few times a year, and for some (me), it means replacing them every few months – a pricy practice if I’m not careful.

Time for a checkup
The most common way to assess wear and tear is to flip over your shoe and examine the rubber tread on the outsole. Signs of even, uniform wear can lead to a long life, while areas of accelerated smoothing can signal an unstable shoe in the near future. While the smoothing of tread and uneven wear patterns reduce the life of your shoe, they’re not the only factor in determining a shoe’s integrity.

While each shoe company uses a unique cushioning technology – Nike’s Air, Asics’ gel, Mizuno’s waves, etc. – most use compressed EVA foam in the midsole and parts of the outsole. Throughout a shoe’s life – through constant and repetitive compression, EVA loses its ability to properly counter the forces applied by the runner. And because runners very in foot strike, pronation, and bio-mechanics, wear patterns vary drastically.

You wear what you pay for
While it’s difficult for me (and many) to ever warrant spending more than $85 for a pair of running sneaks, it’s true that cheaper shoes are often made from cheaper materials.

In the midsole and outsole of their shoes, Altra, for instance, uses a blend of EVA  and A-Bound™ cushioning, their top of the line polymer that is denser and more durable than
traditional compressed EVA. As expected, their cheapest model is $105.

In its Boost line, Adidas, uses a layer of high-density foam particles over a layer of EVA and boasts the “highest energy return” of any running shoe on the market. For $120-$160, they should last a long time.

And, of course, we have all heard stories of efficient runners who wear their shoes until they practically fall off their feet. Some log thousands of miles on a single pair before (reluctantly) parting ways.

It’s not me, it’s YOU! Signs that it’s time to let go

  • Funky smells that are beyond comprehension. Over time, no matter how well you clean your running shoes post run, they are bound to lose the war against bacteria. Even shoes treated with anti-microbial agents will lose this war. Luckily, the point of no return usually coincides with many of the other signs of irreversible wear.
  • Aches and pains. If you experience unusual aches and pains post and during runs; if your lower legs and feet feel unusually zapped; it may be time to buy new kicks. Late in the life a shoe, the trusted cushioning will not provide the same energy return it once did, which results in that flat foot feeling of slapping the pavement. Look at the midsole of your shoe. Signs of horizontal lines or wrinkling may indicate that the foam is losing its bounce.
  • Uneven wear. Get in the habit of examining the outsole of your shoes post-run. Efficient mid-foot strikers will show signs of even wear throughout the shoe.  Of course, outsoles covered entirely with blown rubber will have the longest lifespan, while many light-weight models rely on high-abrasion EVA, which wears out significantly faster.
  • Loose threads. It’s a shame when your particular foot type wages war on the particular last and upper of your shoe. Toes wear through the toe box; wide feet stretch the stitching; seams become unsewn; glue dissolves. Luckily, these afflictions usually occur late in the life of a shoe. But when these issues pop up early on, write to the company; take it to Facebook or Twitter. Companies want their customers to be satisfied, so speak up and demand satisfaction.

The golden rule is ubiquitous for a reason. It’s a one-size fits all formula that applies to most runner-shoe relationships. But don’t get fixated on semantics. Rules (and articles) like these are purely suggestions meant to guide you into making the best decision for your body.

Written by Stephen Marcin