A blog by runners. For runners.

How to take your running shoes to their limit

How to get the most out of your running shoes.In my favorite episode of Seinfeld, The Dealership, Kramer, assuming his neighborly duties, gives Jerry’s prospective car a test drive. Instead of taking the typical spin around the block with the salesman, Kramer “misses” the turn and proceeds to push the gas tank to its limit. Concerned at first, the salesman feels exhilarated with riding the car below E. They enter the unknown, the haze that lies beyond limits.

When it comes to my running shoes, (and t-shirts, records, tools, etc.), I have a hard time letting go and I too want to “take it to the max”. My wife considers me somewhere on the spectrum between hoarder and packrat, yet clutter seriously bothers me. I don’t have emotional attachments to my material possessions, either. I consider myself utilitarian. If I can get use out of something, I hang on to it. In many ways, I relate to the K-man. I’m fascinated by limits, and I constantly push my shoes (and my body) to meet or surpass them.

To the max! How to get the most out of your shoes

  • Be super. Rubber peeling away from the outsole? Use a line of super glue to reattach.
  • Go under the knife: Rubber completely worn away in high impact zones? Precision cut and glue replacement rubber tread directly to the outsole. “Barefoot” runners have been making their own huarache sandals from Vibram rubber sheets for years. Why should they have all the fun? If done well, you could squeeze out another hundred miles or so.
  • Recycle old news: Place a few balls of crumpled newspaper into your shoes after a run to absorb moisture that can lead to bacteria growth and funky smells. Toss the newspaper in the bin after each use. Completely soaked? Stuff your shoes to the max with and leave in a ventilated area to dry overnight. A tight packing also helps them retain their shape.
  • Get some air: Take advantage of sunny days: Loosen the laces, remove the insole, stick out the tongue, and leave your shoes in the sun post run to accelerate the drying process. Be careful not to leave them out too long in excess heat or direct sunlight, which can warp, melt, or damage the shoes’ construction.
  • Color in the lines: Use your shoes for their intended purpose – running. Unless you walk like a cat, you most likely have a different gait for walking than running, i.e. heel strike vs. midfoot strike. Wearing your shoes for cutting the grass, going to work, hitting the gym, or cruising the aisles at the grocery store may feel comfortable, but it accelerates the wear and tear process.
  • Sole search: Most insoles that come boxed with your shoes are not designed to last throughout the life of your shoe, especially if you go sock-less. Whether you opt for cheaper drug store replacements or pricier running store models, a change of sole can freshen the smell, feel, and fit of your shoe.
  • Patch it up: Use peel and stick adhesive patches or fabric repair kits to mend pesky toe-box and lateral fabric tears.
  • Get a good soak: There comes a point in time when your beloved shoes become designated “outdoor cats.” This usually happens when you can close your eyes and locate your shoes with your nose. To freshen your shoes, fill a bucket with warm water and a mild soap solution. Dip a used tooth brush into the solution and scrub the nooks and crannies. Submerge your shoes and use your fingers to massage and scrub the fabric. Rinse in clean water, towel dry, and stuff with newspaper or paper towels to absorb water and to help preserve your shoes’ shape.
  • Ditch monogamy: Wearing a single pair of shoes from unboxing to retirement may seem like a good idea. It’s a demonstration of faith and commitment, an exercise in smart budgeting, but the shoe you wear for your first mile is a much different shoe in its 250th mile and 500th. While wear is more evident on the shoe’s outsole, the (typically) blown rubber bottom, a shoe can wear in the midsole, which is typically a thick layer of EVA foam. Constant compressions of EVA foam determine its shelf life. Running in a shoe past its prime can be dangerous for injury-prone runners who require and rely on the shoes’ cushioning components. Halfway through a shoe’s life, introduce a new pair and alternate days with each to give your legs a break. In the same way a puppy will rejuvenate an older dog’s life, a fresh pair of shoes will add more pep in your step.
  • Enough if enough: Now that you’re hip on how to prolong the life of your beloveds, you may want to apply these tips to a cheap pair of thrift store shoes, right? In the words of Cosmo Kramer, You are one sick mama!” Most of the problems above arise from your unique biomechanics + your unique running experiences multiplied by time. No matter how much sprucing you do to that thrifty pair of shoes, they are “molded” to their previous owner.  No amount of breaking in will change that. Carry on.

Can you think of more DIY methods to remedy your shoe woes? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Written by Stephen Marcin