The eternal question for a runner: When does a running shoe shift from perfectly worn in to completely worn out?
It’s a tough one to answer, since it’s really such a fine line. But running shoes don’t last: The treads wear down after miles and miles of pounding, the seams start to wear out and, sometimes, the smell just gets to be too much to handle.
But how do you know when to finish out a run block in your old shoes or sprint for the nearest running store? We asked two experts — Cori Burns, Under Armour’s product line manager for run shoes and Jeff Knight, a run coach and lead exercise scientist at Under Armour Connected Fitness — to weigh in on when it’s time to treat yourself to a new pair.
CHECK FOR WEAR AND TEAR
Let’s start with the obvious: Take a look at your shoes. Check the bottom of your shoes for excessive wear. Knight compares this to checking the tires on your car, taking note of whether the tread is worn down or if foam is showing where it once was covered by rubber. “Physically manipulating the shoe should be a telltale sign, too,” he adds. “Does the shoe bend way more than it use to? Can you fold the shoe over on itself? That is a sign that the foam is in pretty bad shape.”
LOOK AT YOUR CALENDAR
One of the worst things a runner can do is realize a few days before a big race that your shoes are officially completely worn out, and there’s no time to break in a new pair before heading to the start line. If you know you have a big race in a few weeks, now is the time to assess your current running shoes and see if you’re close to needing a new pair or if your old shoes will get you through the season. Don’t make a race-day change because new shoes need to be worn in a bit, otherwise you’ll likely end up limping in with some new blisters to show off.
PERFORM AN HONEST SYSTEMS CHECK
Emphasis on “honest,” says Knight. It’s easy to fall into a shoe rut and feel like everything is fine. “As humans, I think we get used to the shoes on our feet and, thus, our expectations for the shoes change as the shoes slowly change,” he adds. “Now, eventually we probably realize the shoes aren’t as bouncy or cushioned as they once were, but I think we actually do a pretty good job not noticing.”
He recommends that once every few weeks, you take a few minutes to focus on your shoes during a run. Does everything feel right? Conscious thinking about your feet during your run may bring out some warning signs.
DON’T SUBSCRIBE TO 400 MILES AND DONE
The common wisdom used to be that 400 miles of running in the same shoe meant it was time to chuck your shoes and buy another pair. But Knight and Burns both say that’s not always the case. Factors like body mass, running form, speed, temperature of the pavement and all kinds of other circumstances impact wear and tear. While 350–400 miles is generally the lifespan of a good running shoe, don’t just count your miles — pay attention to how the shoes look and feel as well.
HAVE A SECOND PAIR
If you have a tried-and-true pair of favorite shoes, that’s great … But consider adding a second pair to your lineup for two reasons. First, it means you’ll never be breaking in new shoes and left with no ready-to-go running shoes. Second, you may reduce your injury rate.
“Rotating shoes is one of the few things in the scientific literature that is related to a reduction in injury rates,” says Knight. This technique serves to keep the body guessing — which could be a good thing in this case. “Running in the same model of shoes day in and day out means your body experiences forces from the ground the exact same way. So that little spot on your shin gets pounded every single day. Well, if you switch shoes, all of the sudden you are pounding a new spot, rotating the stress points.” Knight personally recommends rotating between the UA Blurs and UA HOVR Sonics.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO CHANGE
Last, remember that as you change as a runner, your shoe needs may change as well. What worked for you when you were struggling to get through a single mile might not be right for you three years later as you’re putting in 40-mile weeks training for a marathon. Even things like an increase in flexibility thanks to a new yoga practice, major weight loss or a life event like pregnancy can change the way you run and mean the shoes you used to love no longer suit you.
Don’t be afraid to switch it up and try something new if the magic is gone in your old shoes.