When You Really Need to Replace Your Running Shoes, According to Reddit

When You Really Need to Replace Your Running Shoes, According to Reddit
Photo: FOTOKITA, Shutterstock

You’ve probably heard the advice that running shoes are only good for about 300 to 805 km, and after that, the cushioning is so broken down that they’re an injury waiting to happen. But that’s not always true, and there are more ways to figure out when to throw out your shoes than just counting the miles.

How do running shoes break down?

When you put in the miles, your shoes undergo wear and tear. The first thing you’ll notice is that the tread on the bottom wears down, but that’s ok; there should be more than enough rubber under your feet to last the lifetime of the shoe.

Another place you’ll see visible wear is on the upper. Maybe you tend to get a hole in the toe box where your big toenail rubs; maybe you run on trails and tend to scuff up the sides. But these scrapes are usually a cosmetic issue, not a functional one. You can patch them up or just run in them despite the holes.

What really matters is the cushioning on the inside. It gets compressed with every step, and the more it gets squished, the less it bounces back. There will come a time in the life of every running shoe when it provides substantially less cushioning than it did when it was new. That’s when it’s arguably time to replace them.

How fast do running shoes break down?

The “300 to 805 km” rule benefits running companies, since it requires you to replace your shoes while they still might look like new. But it’s true: 300 to 805 km really is the range where cushioning tends to reach the end of its useful life.

That said, a lot of different factors are at work here besides just mileage. If you’re a heavier runner, your shoes will wear out faster. And if you’re a lighter one, you may get more mileage out of your shoes than you’d otherwise expect.

Another factor is how the shoes are made. Some shoes are more durable and will last well beyond 805 km. Others are light and flimsy to start with, and you might be lucky to break 300. I sometimes buy kids’ running shoes if I can find them in a size that fits me, but they tend to be less sturdily built and their cushioning doesn’t last as long.

How long can you wear your old running shoes?

I remember running in the same pair of Nikes for literal years without issue. I bought them around the time that barefoot running and minimalist shoes were all the rage, and in fact I bought them because they had less cushioning than other models — so I figured that if I wanted the least cushioning possible, why would I worry about replacing shoes just because the cushioning was wearing down?

I did eventually get a new pair for other reasons, but the logic is sound: If you don’t need the extra cushioning, and your beat-up shoes are still comfortable, you can keep running in them for as long as they feel good.

On the other hand, not all shoes break down uniformly. I’ve had shoes where one sole starts to feel a bit lumpy or weird, and that can definitely lead to discomfort (or potentially even injury) over time. So just because you can keep running in old shoes doesn’t mean you should.

When do you really need to replace your running shoes?

This issue was recently discussed in a running forum on Reddit. Some people do track their miles, but they learn from experience instead of trusting a number just because they read it on the internet somewhere. One runner says “Yep, my running shoes become lawn mowing shoes somewhere between 700 and 1,287 km.” Another uses a range of 600 to 800 kilometers (roughly 400 to 805 km) Another gives a more detailed explanation:

In fact, I started going off of mileage on some brands because it [a gradual pain in the knee] went from it’s fine it’s fine it’s fine to oh-my-god-my-knee-how-long-am-I-out-is-this-serious.

After about three scares at near the same mileage I figured it out and now replace 80 km sooner. I would rather buy one extra pair per year than injure myself.

Others go by feel:

I retire shoes not at a mileage but when they either don’t feel comfy to run in any more or if they fall apart. I generally get 1,609 km at least out of pairs.

At this mileage the soles are going to be nowhere near as cushioned as when they were new but I don’t suffer any injuries keeping them going this long. I own about half a dozen pairs and rotate through them.

Rotating through a shoe collection reportedly helps to extend the life of shoes. (Pro tip: if you do this, make sure to track shoe mileage in your running app, because otherwise it will be difficult to remember how much you’ve run in each shoe.) One redditor has the receipts:

The fact that you rotate them is certainly a boon to their longevity. The foam/insulation/support gets compressed from the constant banging and pressure of running. Giving them time to “rest” (fully dry out and re-expand) adds a not-insubstantial amount of life to them. I have found that I get around 805 km of amazing cushioning out of Hokas when rotating every other day as opposed to only about 350-400 when using every day. That’s at least a 25% increase, and at $US100+ ($139)+ for a pair of shoes, the savings add up quickly over time.

You can also combine these approaches:

I find myself naturally picking the shoe with fewer miles after a certain point, because I can’t run as many miles in a single session in the older pair without hurting. At that point, the older pair is reserved for days when I don’t have a lot of time to run. When I eventually retire the older pair, I break open a box from the closet.

The nice thing about this approach is that you’ll be able to feel the difference between good cushioning and worn-down cushioning without having to make a trip to the shoe store. Comparing new and old shoes is my own preferred method.

Just one warning about keeping a stash in the closet: the cushioning can break down from age, even if you haven’t run in them, so older shoes may have a shorter lifespan from the start.

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