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Ask A Gear Guru: When Should I Replace My Running Shoes?

The answer is probably “now,” but we break down what to look for, how to keep track, and some good options for replacements this spring.

As we work on putting in the base mileage for a (very) long-awaited season, it’s easy to lose sight of the important things in all of our collective excitement and hubris. If your calendar is starting to stack up a little bit with all of the deferments and race clustering, it’s easy for injury to seep into the cracks while you have your eyes on the prize(s). That’s why now is the most important time to check in with your gear and make sure you have what you need to get to all of those starting lines in one piece. First stop: Check your closet. Now ask yourself, “When should I replace my running shoes?” We can help.

When Should I Replace My Running Shoes? It’s Complicated.

While it may seem like a bit of a punt, there’s a reason no one can give you a definitive answer on when to replace your running shoes. Yes, there’s probably a little bit of running-shoe-brand marketing gimmickery at work, but the reality is that people’s running styles and biomechanics are about as complex as our varying body types. For sure there are 180-pound men who have “better”” running biomechanics (better, of course is relative, but in this case, we’re talking about how much impact and wear a runner inflicts upon their footwear) than a 100-pound woman. She might need to replace her running shoes 50 miles before he does. 

There’s also the difference between shoes themselves: You could also argue that the changes going on in a soft, maximalist shoe will feel more pronounced, faster, than those in a shoe with a minimal, more structured midsole. But of course a minimalist shoe will wear out quicker, even if you don’t feel it. Then, of course it matters what type of surface you train on. If you run on grass all the time (But who does, that, really? Are we soccer players?), the natural cushioning of the flora underfoot will help keep those shoes from wearing out. Conversely, running on rough, rocky trails will wear out a road-focused outsole faster than smooth roads would, giving you the potential for a “false positive” when you might not really need to replace the shoe due to a worn-out midsole. So what do you do? Give up? Buy a million shoes? No, read on.

When Should I Replace My Running Shoes? Some Guidelines.

According to author and coach Mario Fraioli in his Triathlete QA column, most running shoes last between 300 and 500 miles, and you should take about 100 miles off that range if they’re considered minimalist with less midsole/outsole material. Another good rule of thumb is looking for the outsole being worn out to the point where you’ve got midsole material showing. At that point, unless you’re routinely running on super rough trails (and they’re road shoes), there’s a good chance that those shoes have been “dead” for weeks already, and you should have replaced those running shoes a while ago, which brings us to the next point…

When Should I Replace My Running Shoes? Midsole Matters.

While the outsole is pretty important, a worn outsole is rarely the source of injuries (unless, of course, you slip and fall…). Also, wearing out the upper is technically speaking not necessarily a good enough reason to buy new shoes, though it’s also not a bad excuse. More often repetitive injuries from shoes are caused by worn “internals” in the midsole of the shoe itself. As we said before, this can happen faster on minimalist shoes, but it can also feel more pronounced on cushy maximalist shoes that compress fairly quickly, due to their inherent lack of structure that’s so popular right now. While there’s no surefire way to know that the midsole is worn out and it’s time to replace your running shoes, some telltale signs include deep creases on the sides of your midsole, where the foam shows through. (Check out the picture below, figure A, for a good example.) This will be particularly pronounced on worn-out maximalist shoes. 

A great illustration of when it's time to replace running shoes.

Otherwise, a good rule of thumb is if you head to a running store, and they let you try on shoes and go for a quick jog (don’t try them on carpet unless you do most of your runs on carpet…), if the shoes feel drastically different—in terms of impact absorption—then it’s probably time. That said, you don’t want to go to the shoe store every week, so what then?

When Should I Replace My Running Shoes? Track It.

The one thing that all shoe experts agree on is keeping track of your running mileage. Not only is it something you should be doing as a part of smart training logging, but it’ll let you know when you’re heading into the “Danger Zone” (queue Kenny Loggins, here). And if you wear the same shoes on the same terrain year-in and year-out (and don’t gain a crazy amount of weight), you’ll start to get a good sense of how many miles they can handle before it’s time to head to the store and do that in-store test. 

Anyone who ran cross-country in high school should be familiar with the old “write the date on the side of your shoes” trick that coaches would expound. While that still works—and is better than nothing—assuming you run a consistent amount of mileage from week to week, it’s 2021 now. We have apps for that. 

If you already use Strava, like so many of us do now, they already have a built-in mileage tracker, and it’s just a matter of inputting your shoes and making sure you set the mileage threshold if you know it already. Garmin Connect has something similar if you already use a Garmin device, as do services like MapMyRun and Runkeeper. But just like the old gear-guy adage goes, “The best thing for you is the one you’re actually going to use!” So go with whatever you know you’ll stay on top of, and you’ll at least have a good sense of when to start thinking about replacing your running shoes.

What Should I Replace Them With?

Ok, so you’ve set up your tracking, you’ve been inspecting your midsole and outsole, and you’re heading to the store to get some new kicks. What’s hot this spring? With the help of Adam Chase’s words below, we’ve collected some of Podium’s Runners favorite shoes this spring:

Replace your road shoes with the…

New Balance 1080v11

$150, newbalance.com

Weight: 9.2oz. (men), 8.1oz. (women)
Offset: 8mm (27mm heel/19mm forefoot)

The New Balance 1080v11, a great new road shoe to consider when it's time to replace running shoes.

Fortunately, not much of the 1080’s cushy ride changed from v10 to v11. New Balance retooled the upper, using a laser-patterned and engineered Hypoknit fabric for a snug yet flexible stretch-to-fit hold that encompasses the foot without constriction, providing a comfortable, soft and supportive fit. The zoned stretch upper is breathable and the contoured “UltraHeel” cups the rearfoot with less material.

Read More on Podium: Shoe of the Week: New Balance 1080v11

Replace your lightweight road shoes with the…

Asics GEL-Nimbus Lite 2

$150, asics.com

The Asics GEL-Nimbus Lite 2, a great new lightweight road shoe to consider when it's time to replace running shoes.

Weight: 9.1oz. (men), 7.8oz. (women)
Offset: W 13mm (27mm heel/14mm forefoot); M 10mm (25mm heel/15mm forefoot)

This modern, long-distance neutral lightweight trainer brings it all together, balancing lightness in weight, comfort in fit and seamless performance that helps rack up seemingly effortless miles while looking great. 

At first glance, it may not be obvious that this was a substantial update from the original Nimbus Lite. Asics stayed with FLYTEFOAM midsole and eco-friendly upper materials. However, the shoe was re-engineered by sculpting the midsole to make it leaner and meaner, resulting in the Lite 2 being more flexible and performance-oriented than the original.

Read More on Podium: Shoe of the Week: Asics GEL-Nimbus Lite 2

Replace your trail shoes with the…

North Face Flight VECTIV

$200, thenorthface.com

Weight: 10.1oz. (men), 8.6oz. (women)
Offset: 6mm (25mm heel /19mm forefoot)

The North Face Flight VECTIV, a great new trail shoe to consider when it's time to replace running shoes.

The North Face disrupts the trail running shoe world by incorporating carbon fiber technology into its top-shelf rocker, reducing impact and maximizing energy on all surfaces.

Everything is completely new and it took The North Face two years of development to bring the VECTIV online. The Flight VECTIV brings “mid-cushioned, disruptive rockered technology” to the trails . This summer’s ultra-distance races will be the true test to see if the Flight shakes up the trail scene the way carbon super shoes did for road racing.

Read More on Podium: Shoe of the Week: The North Face Flight VECTIV

Replace your race shoes with the…

HOKA Carbon X 2

$180, hokahokaone.com

The HOKA Carbon X 2, a great new race shoe to consider when it's time to replace running shoes.

Weight: 8.4oz. (men), 7.0oz. (women)
Offset: 5mm (M: 32mm heel/27mm forefoot, W: 30mm heel/25mm forefoot)

Made with the 100k world record in mind (check out HOKA’s record attempt on Jan. 23 in Phoenix, Arizona), the Carbon X2 treads the intersection of sustainable speed and comfortable performance — and sets the standard for a “super shoe” that works well for most runners at any speed.

HOKA tinkered with the original Carbon X, incorporating a lighter, softer foam midsole and smoothing the gait cycle with a wider forefoot and slightly modified rocker. The engineered mesh upper is also more supple and breathable.

Read More on Podium: Shoe of the Week: HOKA Carbon X 2