Ron Marinucci December Column
by Ron Marinucci, Dec. 1, 2015
Provided by Ron Marinucci
Compared to other sports, running can be a pretty inexpensive activity. Think of the money dished out for, say, hockey, football, and baseball. Unless a runner is enamored with the latest high tech gear and gadgets or frequently enters races, the purchase of running shoes is about the only sizable expense.
There are many shoes from which to choose—different manufacturers, different models, different styles, different colors, different prices. For the most part, decisions based on these factors are personal choices.
But a question common to all runners is when it’s time to replace running shoes. How long should we wait between new pairs? What criteria should we consider?
Generally, I have one consideration when thinking about the purchase of new shoes. When my feet, ankles and, especially, knees begin to get this same dull ache, I know it’s time to order new shoes. (I apparently have an odd size.) I don’t track miles at all. I always rotate two or more pairs. For most of my runs, I alternate my two most recent purchases. If I’m running very short or even walking, I might wear an older pair. Never do I wear the same pair on successive days. But with magic marker, I do mark the date of when I start running with each pair. That really doesn’t influence when I buy, but to help me make sure I alternate shoes.
For me, this method—feeling those aches in my legs—has worked well for almost 40 years.
I know there are rules of thumb, guidelines for runners to determine new-shoe-time. But I was curious what other runners, different as many of us are, thought about it. I asked a number of them two general questions: How often do you buy new shoes? What criteria do you use?
Emily Coury and Heather Lewandowski had just finished running the Big Bird 10K in November. “We traditionally run this race together,” said the friends. Afterward, an age-group winner, Coury said, “I replace them every three months.” She added with a laugh, “When they start to fall apart, it’s time!”
Lewandowski, who was the first masters woman, differed a bit. “Maybe every six months,” she explained. “That’s when my feet hurt.” Musing, she said, “Maybe I should do it sooner.”
Brothers Steve and Jerry Carter also varied in their criteria. Steve said, “I go by how my feet feel. When they start to ache, it’s time to change.” Jerry started with a similar answer, “Whenever I feel bad.” But he went on, “Every 500 miles or six months, regardless.” He, too, “alternates [pairs] when I am training hard, like for a marathon.”
Mike Markie has “three pairs going at once. I rotate them.” One pair is “a heavy-duty trainer and the others are lighter shoes.” He’s keenly aware of the need to buy new shoes at the right time. “My first running injury came from worn out shoes.” Regardless of which pair, “I examine the shoes to see how they’re wearing.”
Forty-year old Alex Donnelly “always has two pairs in circulation, trainers and flats.” He “knows” when it’s time for new ones. “It’s always how I feel in my shoes. I can tell by my knees.”
Bill Kalmar stood out in saying, “I change shoes once a year, in the spring,” regardless of mileage. He thinks his shoes last longer because, especially in the colder months, “I run inside in the winter, on an indoor track. It’s not as hard on my shoes.”
His daughter-in-law, Kim Kalmar, takes a different approach. “I change shoes about three times a year,” she acknowledged. “When the cushioning is gone, my feet hurt” and it’s time for new ones.
Rebecca Hendren said she buys new shoes “every six months.” But she qualified that. “It depends on how many miles I put on my shoes.” And she added, “It also depends on the [model of] shoes.” As a rule, though, for her, “It’s 500-600 miles when they start breaking down.”
Michael Hendren looked down at the well-worn running shoes he was wearing. With a sheepish grin he admitted, “I guess it’s been a while.” He pays close attention to the shoes, usually. “When they’re too broken in, too loose. When they lose support.” He can tell. “That’s when I run flat-footed. It’s time then.”
Another Hendren, David, noted, “I know I have a lot of miles” on the pair he was wearing. “But I can tell when the shoes are not as comfortable to run in. It depends on the shoe.” Usually, he said, “Maybe it’s 600 miles, but some last longer.”
Carmen Folk changes “twice a year.” When “I get aches in my joints,” she examines the shoes. “When the soles wear down, down to the tread. Then I change shoes.”
I guess it doesn’t surprise me that few runners seem to actually track the number of miles they put on each pair of shoes. Counting the miles, keeping track which shoes if alternating—that can be a pain in the neck. Keeping track of the months, for instance, is easier. I was, though, surprised that so many runners do what I do, wait until they get aches in their legs.
Besides these individual runners, just chosen at random, I asked some experts at specialty running stores. Determining when it’s necessary to get new shoes is their business. Here is what they recommended.
Jane Sanders at Running Fit in Novi said, “We usually tell people somewhere between 300 and 500 miles or six to eight months. This is when you should replace your shoes.” But she added, “Some
people will get more and some less depending on running gait and surfaces. It can vary from person to person. And you will get less miles on a racing flat or performance shoe and the most on trainers.”
One thing runners can do is “look for wear on the shoe bottom.” But again Sanders cautioned, “Sometimes the bottoms look OK, but the midsole will be broken down.” Echoing what many of the runners said, she noted, “Another indication is if you are feeling any new aches and pains that you normally don’t have. That could be it is time to replace your shoes.” And she advised, “If you are not sure, you can take the shoes to your local running store and have them looked at.”
Ken Larscheid at The Running Lab in Brighton said, “It’s mileage. That’s the best way to do it.” Consider “what type of shoe you have. A lighter shoe will wear faster. Four hundred to five hundred miles, that’s the ‘magic number.’” But he again pointed out that a shoe of lighter weight might only last 250 miles.
But he noted other factors, too. “Ask yourself, ‘What do you do in the shoe, besides running? Do you wear them all day?’” He also suggested “overlapping pairs as well as rotating them.” That is, run in a “fresh pair and one that’s been beaten down a bit. Keep your body in tune with old and new shoes.”
At RUNdetroit, Justin Craig advised, “In general, for the average runner, tracking mileage is a good barometer.” He likened running shoes to tires on a car. ‘It’s not the months or weeks alone [with tires], but mileage and wear. A more traditional shoe will last about 500 miles.” But, depending on use, the runner, the type of shoe, and other factors, the range could vary widely, from “300 to 600 miles.” He also cautioned, “Feel is important. Be aware of little aches or twinges.”
From the Complete Runner in Flint, Ericha Thompson directed me to the Complete Runner blog, “5 Warning Signs Your Running Shoes Need to Retire.” It cited, “350 to 400 miles depending on certain variables like your weight, the elements you run in, and so forth.” It’s important to monitor “the
condition of your running shoes since most feet injuries can be attributed to old, broken down shoes.” Watch for “bald tread.” And “a worn midsole will…feel uncomfortable with its lack of cushion.” Worn shoes will have “a sloppy fit” and will “stretch out.” Be on the lookout, too, for “a worn out heel.” If you can see “holes inside” or have “torn fabric around the heel,” it’s time to think about replacing your shoes. And consider time. “If you wore them all winter or haven’t worn them since last summer,” remember “winter elements and inactivity” can break down shoes.
Running is an important part of our lives. And our legs and feet are important parts of our running. It makes good sense to pay close attention to our shoes, changing them often enough to prevent injuries and down time. Maybe some of these tips can help us to do so.