Ask this question to 20 different runners and you’ll probably get 20 different answers. Some will insist that 100 – 150 miles on a pair of shoes is the limit. Others will tell you that 300, or even 500 miles, can be logged before retiring your kicks. So which one is it? What’s the perfect mileage for a pair of running shoes? The truth is, there is no specific mileage to mark the life cycle of your precious sneakers. In fact, distance covered may have very little to do with the reason you should be shopping for your next pair.
A better indicator is tread loss. It may sound obvious, but many runners fail to look at the bottom of their shoes. Do a little sole-searching to see where your shoes stand. Have you worn down one side? Do they dip in the middle? Tread loss can throw off your gait, forcing your feet to land in a suboptimal manner. Worn down tread will diminish the balancing functionality of the shoe and can lead to added stress on the legs and knees. This will put you at higher risk of encountering a running-related injury.
But sometimes the tread will tell only half the story. Often, the midsole of a shoe will wear long before the tread. The cushioning of the midsole provides balance along the arch, stabilizing every step that we take. When this padding has been compromised, you will likely feel it in your joints and muscles. An unusual feeling of muscle fatigue may be a symptom of worn out midsoles. In worse cases, shin splints may occur. To test your shoes for midsole wear, place them on a table and look at them from all angles. Do you notice the shoes leaning to one side? Place your hand inside your shoe and press on the middle. Is there an unexpected give on the middle? The arch of the shoe should have a bit more padding. If you don’t feel it, then it’s probably worn out. You can also go and try on the same pair of shoes at your favorite sports store. Slipping on the shoes, you should immediately notice a difference if your shoes are worn out.
What about zero-drop minimalist shoes? Minimalist shoes typically have no arch and much less tread. They are often referred to as barefoot shoes because they imitate the act of running barefoot. Some of these shoes offer as little as 3mm of protection between your foot and the ground. The term zero-drop refers to the difference in thickness of the sole from the heel to the toe. Zero drop offers no arch support for your feet, and does so for a reason. The idea is that we use our foot’s natural arch for balance instead of the technology from shoes. Running in zero-drop shoes encourages shock absorption in your legs, ankles, and feet, rather than depending on shoe cushioning. If you are wearing minimalist shoes, your feet and legs will be much stronger and may not encounter the same issues as their “protected” counterparts.
How can you tell if your minimalist shoes are worn out? Because minimalist shoes start off with little (or no) cushion, they do not “wear out” like traditional shoes. Of course, they should still be replaced if you encounter tread loss on one side or if you notice any sudden discomfort in your legs. However, you should be able to wear minimalist shoes much longer and without the aches and pains you would get from modern running shoes.
1. Alternate Shoes – It is recommended that we run in more than one pair of shoes. Alternating between shoes can help keep our legs from developing injuries from repetitive usage. Just be sure to keep the shoes similar. Swapping between a zero-drop shoe and a pair with high arches may promote injury as your foot can not properly adapt to the changes.
2. Running Form – Developing good running form will not only make your shoes last longer, but will also improve your efficiency as a runner. Paying attention to your foot-strike and step rate can add more mileage to your shoes and feet. Modern running shoes encourage runners to land on their heels. Try landing with a quicker step, and with a mid-foot strike. Improving stride turnover rate will reduce the amount of time you spend on the ground and will give you more speed.
3. Prevent Injuries. Cross-training is not just a word to fill in a day of the week on your training schedule. Working various areas of the body on “off days” will lead to stronger muscles, ligaments, and promote a solid core. From wall presses to plyometrics, there are many exercises that will keep your body strong and boost elasticity in your legs and feet. Most running injuries are preventative. Spending a little time each day taking care of your body will reduce down time and help you to meet your running goals. I highly recommend using a foam roller to keep your muscles stretched and ready for your next run.
How do you judge when it’s time to replace your shoes? Do you track miles, or eye the tread?
For information on where to recycle your shoes, click here.