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If you think about it, running shoes are one of the best things you can spend your money on.
For the $100-$150 you spend (yes, there are models that cost a lot more), you’re making a huge investment in your fitness for the next four to eight months. But it’s a bit of a paradox, too, because there’s the notion that the more you run and the healthier you get, the quicker your shoes wear out and the sooner you’ll need to buy a new pair.
How long should your running shoes last? There’s a general understanding that most pairs will last between 350 and 500 miles, but it depends what kind of running you’re doing and many other factors, says Sonya Estes, owner of the Runner’s Roost shop in Lakewood, Colorado.
Those are just estimates, but it’s important to realize foam midsoles, synthetic fabrics, rubber outsoles, and even laces can begin to break down after about 200 miles.
In recent years, Estes says she’s seen a trend of some shoes lasting longer or wearing more evenly, in part because there are fewer shoes with dual-density support on the medial side. But, she admits, all shoes do eventually break down and running too long in shoes that are showing signs of wear can lead to changes in your gait, less protection for your feet, general discomfort, or overuse injuries, she says.
“It’s one of those things where some people think it’s a certain amount of mileage and others think it’s a set number of months, so we tell them to come back after a few months to see how they’re doing,” she says. “And with some of the better rubber outsole materials from Vibram and Continental, some of the shoes will last longer than that. So it really depends on the runner and the shoe.”
Even with that runner/shoe variability there are still some things you can do to make your shoes last a little bit longer. Here are some tips to get the most of your kicks.
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Wear Your Shoes Only for Running
A lot of running shoes look good with jeans and can complement a casual outfit. But it’s best to avoid wearing your running shoes for anything but running. Wearing your running shoes as everyday shoes for walking the dog, errands, or mowing the lawn will change the wear patterns of your shoes, reduce the life of the shoes, and ultimately alter your gait slightly and possibly lead to undue soreness or overuse injuries.
Keep in Mind That Your Racing Shoes are Especially Fragile
Featherweight “super shoes” built for racing half-marathon and marathons have a much shorter shelf life because the midsole foam materials are more delicate. They just can’t endure a lot of miles. If you save those shoes for race day, you could get four to five races in them. But if you’re also using them for long runs or up-tempo workouts, they might be cooked after about 250-300 miles. Keep in mind that super shoes also come at a higher price than your typical trainers, so you’re getting even fewer miles for your dollar.
Develop a Quiver of Shoes
Try to avoid running in the same pair of shoes every day. Instead, rotate between two or more different models each week depending on the type of running you’re doing and the surface you’re running on. For example, you might wear a cushier pair of shoes for longer runs or recovery runs and a lighter, firmer shoe for faster workouts such as tempo runs, fartlek runs, and intervals. Rotating shoes during the week will not only extend the life of each pair but also engage the smaller muscles in your feet and lower legs differently and help you avoid overuse injuries. Also, avoid wearing your road running shoes while on running technical trails with rocks and other debris to preserve their outsoles; conversely, super sticky, knobby trail outsoles can wear down faster on pavement than you might want.
Take Care of Your Shoes
Running shoes are only as good as you treat them. Rinsing your shoes with a hose or under the faucet after running through mud or finish a hot, sweaty run will help reduce wear and tear. Speed the process of drying wet shoes by stuffing them with newspapers or dry washcloths or briefly setting them in the sun, but never put shoes in a dryer. Also, keep your shoes indoors but not in your car or garage, where extreme hot or cold temperatures can have a temporary or permanent effect on the materials and how the shoe performs.
Don’t Slide Them On and Off
Take a moment to properly put your shoes on before a run. And don’t take off your running shoes by stepping on the back of one shoe with the other and pulling your foot out without untying the shoe. Not only does it strain muscles in your feet, but it stretches materials of the shoe. The only thing worse than removing your shoes without untying them is putting them back on without untying them. It may seem like a time-saver, but if you put them on with the laces still tied, you’ll strain your foot to squeeze it back in and impair the shoe’s shape.
Recognize the Signs of a Fatiguing Shoe
There are plenty of tell-tale signs that will suggest you’re ready to retire a pair of shoes and go shopping for another pair. The first are indications of obvious signs of wear and tear of the outsole tread or the mesh upper. If you feel like your shoes have lost their bounciness or liveliness and no longer put a spring in your step, it could mean the midsole foam has compressed and has lost its ability to fully rebound.
Lastly, if you start to get unusual aches or soreness from a pair of shoes you’ve been running in for a while, it likely means that the shoe is broken down to the point of no return.
Retire Your Shoes
As much as we have all developed a runner crush on our favorite shoes, there’s only so long you can hang on to some relationships. When you retire a shoe, you should permanently take it out of your running rotation even if you keep it around as a casual shoe or the shoe you wear to do yard work. (You should still avoid walking long stretches in those shoes because whatever wear patterns you’ve worn into those shoes could lead to irregularities in your gait and cause achiness in your knees or hips.)
For the sake of environmental responsibility, try to avoid tossing your shoes in the trash. There are many organizations that will give your shoes a new life so they don’t have to wind up in a landfill, including One World Running, Share Your Soles, and Shoe4Africa.
Some of Our Picks for 2022
Supershoe: Altra Vanish Carbon
Weight: 6.2 oz (women’s) / 7.3 oz (men’s)
Drop: 0 millimeters
The Vanish Carbon has a high energy return, soft-flowing ride, and long-haul comfort expected from a super shoe. Most notably, it features a decidedly lower heel height than many of its contemporaries. The Vanish Carbon’s sole measures 33 millimeters high from heel to forefoot, while the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2, for reference, has a heel that’s 40 millimeters thick and drops to a 32 millimeter forefoot height.
Another key to the natural ride of the Vanish Carbon is a unique carbon-fiber plate, designed by Carbitex. This light, curved plate extends roughly two-thirds the length of the foot, from the arch through the toes. Unlike solid, rigid plates in most super shoes, the plate is W-shaped; two longitudinal flex grooves let toes move semi-independently. The plate also bends, but only upward, allowing for a natural flexing motion of the forefoot as the stride rolls onto the toes, while maintaining its stiffness in the downward direction for a powerful push-off.
Lightweight Trainer: Allbirds Tree Flyer
Weight: 8.8 oz (women’s) / 9.5 oz (men’s)
Drop: 8.5 millimeters
While trampling on the planet, you can lighten your impact in mechanical ways and, simultaneously, reduce your carbon footprint. Allbirds is all about the latter but, with the advent of the Tree Flyer, is also about the former. The Tree Flyer’s bio-based SwiftFoam midsole is what was missing in previous Allbirds “running” shoes: some liveliness, bounce or even real life, instead of what had been a deadening absorption that came from Earth-friendly-but-muting, wholly-absorbing natural materials. The stretchy, breathable eucalyptus fiber upper runs big and is stretchy enough that you may want to size up, especially if you prefer a snug fit or like to corner tightly. The hard heel counter provides a firm foothold for the aft of the shoe. The geometric flair really stands out, making these trainers sure winners when it comes to appearances. Kermit was wrong: being green is cool.
– Adam Chase
Trainer: Under Armour Hovr Machina 3
Weight: 9.5 oz (women’s) / 10.6 oz (men’s)
Drop: 8 millimeters
It’s hard to describe what makes the Hovr Machina such a solid, go-to pair of everyday trainers, but it probably has something to do with the UA HOVR foam that does a great job of balancing cushioning with propulsion. Though it’s not on the propulsive level of a super shoe with a carbon plate, this is a slightly stiffer ride than you’ll find on plush, foamy pairs from brands like Hoka. Excellent ride aside, the Machina 3 also comes equipped with some unique tech that gives real-time feedback via Bluetooth to Under Armour’s MapMyRun app. It’ll help with cadence, pace, and stride—but it also requires a smartphone to do it in real time. Even if you;’re not into the “gimmickyness” of the coaching platform, this is still one of the most well-rounded trainers that UA has ever released.
– Chris Foster