This is probably one of the most commonly asked running questions and one which leaves many confused. The confusion is not helped by some of the mixed messages out there and the large number of variables at play that influence how long your running shoes will last. The aim of this article is to provide clarity on this topic, how you can tell if your shoes are worn out and offer some advice on how to prolong the life of your running shoes.
Go by distance, not time. Think miles, not months.
You can’t measure how long a shoe will last based on time. A running shoe will last on average around 300-500 miles. So, how long a shoe will last depends on how long it takes you to run the distance that they’re suitable for. The style, type and make-up of a running shoe will also affect how many miles they’ll last.
More cushioned running shoes will typically last longer than lightweight options. This can’t be applied as a blanket rule but it’s normally the case. Higher cushioned shoes, which we classify as 'Soft' shoes, have significant volumes of midsole cushioning, durable rubber outsoles and highly structured upper materials. Outsole rubber, which protects the midsole, is one of the heaviest components of a running shoe. A running shoe which has a high degree of cushioning, coupled with a full rubber outsole, will last longer than an alternative model which has less. A lighter-weight model with firmer cushioning will normally feel better for faster paced running than a softer model, but that comes at a cost of some durability. Note firmer shoes are not always lighter, we class firmer shoes as 'Responsive' shoes.
To provide some examples: The shoes I use for my easy runs or lower intensity longer runs are soft, highly cushioned and have a very durable outsole. These will last around 500-600 miles, potentially more. For faster paced sessions, I use a more responsive model that features a carbon plate. These normally last closer to 400 miles but I use them less frequently as a training plan should be made up of a greater proportion of easier runs than faster ones.
The terrain you use your shoes on will affect how long they’ll last. Road running shoes are carefully constructed to meet the demands of tarmac. There’s no real problem with taking a road shoe onto a bit of off-road terrain but it’ll compromise their durability. The harsher terrain can damage the outsole and midsole at a faster rate and also cause damage to the upper. Trail shoes are built with more durable outsole rubbers and have greater levels of reinforcement in the upper. For example, they’ll commonly have bumpers on the toe-box to stop your toes from being damaged but also to stop the fabric tearing. Such features add weight to the shoe, which is why running on the road in a trail shoe can often feel a bit clumpy and harder work.
Hybrid style shoes, commonly referred to as door-to-trail shoes, offer the best balance between durability and comfort across the widest range of surfaces. They’ll easily last around 500 miles of running in some situations. While the life of a more dedicated trail shoe or hill shoe will very much depend on how long the lugs and upper lasts.
With this in mind, it’s important to wear your running shoes on the terrain they are designed and intended for – if you want them to last well.
How to know when it's time to replace your running shoes?
To help work out when you need to replace your shoes, there’s a few tips you can use.
Track your shoe mileage
Firstly, add them to a tracker. I add my shoes to my Strava account and then just select which shoe I wore when I’m saving the run. It takes all the guesswork out of it. I get a new pair once I’m getting close to the limit. Most trackers will give you a reminder when you’re getting close to the upper levels.
Pay attention to feel and any tightness or aches
In addition to mileage, I really pay attention to feel. It’s normal to get a bit tight or have some muscle pain after running, especially the longer or harder sessions. Usually this goes pretty quickly and I feel pretty fresh a day later. If I’m noticing that my legs are constantly fatigued and I have more tightness on a regular basis, I’ll change my shoes. This is quite often down to a lack of cushioning. My calf muscles and Achilles always get tight when my shoes are worn down. This is simply down to the fact they’re doing too much work as a result of the midsole no longer offering sufficient cushioning and propulsion.
Look out for excessive wear
Excessive wear on the outsole can be a good indicator your shoes are worn down. This should last longer than the midsole cushioning. If the outsole is worn completely away it’s unlikely you’ll be getting much cushioning. In saying that, there are of course variances to this. Some models mix the outsole rubber into the midsole material and lightweight models can have very small amounts added. It’s possible to see quite a lot of wear on an outsole but the midsole will still have a lot of life left in it. This is just the nature of some shoes and won’t necessarily compromise performance.
Checking the miles in this case is the best way to assess. Bear in mind that some models (usually lightweight ones) will be at the lower end of the scale. Variances in foot strikes, even between each leg, and where a runner lands in a shoe will also affect wear patterns. So again, it’s very possible that two runners will see completely different wear patterns on the same model depending on how they run.
It's not a sudden, but a gradual process
An important point is that shoes don’t suddenly become unusable. Shoes break down in a gradual fashion. The midsole, outsole and upper are all put through a degree of stress on every run and are designed to break down so that you don’t. It’s normal to see signs of wear on a running shoe while there’s still lots of life left in them. For example, you might start to see one of your toes through the fabric on the upper or a bit of wear on the outsole. The shoes will still work perfectly from a comfort and stability point of view. Running shoes are ultimately designed for running and mileage is the number one consideration when assessing how long they’ll last.
How to make running shoes last longer?
Keep your shoes for running
Keep your shoes for running or count the miles if you wear them for walking too. Every minute you stand in running shoes will reduce the life of them. Midsoles are usually mainly made up of foams. Standing, walking or running in a running shoe breaks down the midsole foam and reduces the cushioning. It’s common for people to do a run and then go for a walk somewhere. Or stand and have a coffee in their running shoes. That additional stress needs to be taken into consideration when assessing how long they’ll last.
For this reason, try and avoid using your running shoes for other purposes, like working out in the gym, unless you have to. Running shoes are expensive due to the materials, research and development that has gone into their creation. Keeping them for their job helps get the best value out of them.
Allow your shoes time to recover
Foams, believe it or not, ‘recover’ in between uses. The foams will rise back up again between when you’ve worn them. Longer periods between use will help the recovery. I run in my shoes and then take them off as soon as I’m finished. By only using them for my runs, they last longer. I’ll never finish a run and then stand around in them as it’ll break them down faster.
Rotate between two or more different pairs of shoes
Rotating between two shoes will also help them last longer for this reason. Using a different model on alternative days helps preserve the life of the midsole. In addition to the other merits of rotating between shoes, switching between two pairs of shoes can help get more miles out of each of them.
Don't put them in the washing machine!
Never put them in the washing machine. You will destroy your running shoes if you do, no matter what setting you put them on. The heat and rotation diminishes the torsional stability of the trainer. If you do want to clean them, the best thing to do is use warm water and some washing up liquid. Then put newspaper inside to take the moisture out. That’s also a good tip to stop them smelling and dry out faster if they get wet in the rain!
Other common shoe queries
How should running shoes fit?
As a general rule, we recommend having half to one thumb’s width of space in front of your toes. Most people’s feet will swell over the course of a run due to greater levels of blood flow to the area. The slight swelling moves your toes closer to the end of the shoe. This can then make them feel uncomfortable and bruise toenails which causes them to go black. Having some space is often the most comfortable way to wear running shoes. Which may mean going half to a full size up from your standard shoe size.
What is pronation?
Pronation is a movement and can be applied to your hand, arm and foot. If you face the palm of your hand up, and then rotate your palm over to face the ground, that’s pronation. Pronation at the foot is similar, it’s simply the movement of your foot rolling in. When we walk or run, our feet land on the lateral edge (outside) and then roll in. The purpose of this rolling in movement (pronation) is to shock absorb. It’s a bit like if you jumped off a wall onto a hard surface, you’d bend your legs to absorb the impact when you land. This is what happens during running.
What’s the difference between neutral and stability shoes?
The main difference between a neutral shoe and a stability shoe is that a stability shoe has specific features to help reduce greater ranges of pronation and internal leg rotation. This is usually a stiffer structure that’s placed on the medial side of the midsole (named a medial post) or a rail like structure that is positioned around the top of the midsole like a horse shoe (in reverse). A stability shoe will also have more supportive features in the upper, like stronger reinforced overlays, straps or heel counters. Please note that neutral shoes still offer a high level of support. Neutral shoes are constructed to support the structures of the foot, help reduce the stress on muscles and joints and help reduce rotation. It’s incorrect to say that a neutral shoe has no support.
What’s the difference between road and trail shoes?
Trail shoes have more grip than road shoes so they can provide better traction on uneven and loose surfaces. They often have stronger uppers with more reinforcement so they can cope with harsher terrain. This provides more support to the foot while it’s placed in extreme positions.
Road shoes offer more cushioning and support for road running. The midsoles are specifically designed to work under a load that is very repetitive and therefore reduce the stress placed on legs to a greater degree than trail shoes. They’ll also feel much smoother underfoot.
For further info on the differences, read our article.
What are the benefits of having two or three different pairs of shoes?
Firstly, your shoes may last longer. As detailed above. Secondly, it can help reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries. Using different shoes will work your muscles in slightly different ways. Varying the load placed on a muscle or tendon by rotating shoes may help prevent overuse injuries. Finally, different shoes are designed for different types of runs. Softer shoes will feel better for slower paced or easy runs. Responsive shoes will feel better for faster training. Matching the purpose of the shoe to the purpose of the run will help you get the most out of your training and help improve your run.
Pence per mile
It would be amazing if running shoes lasted for thousands of miles but that’s simply not possible yet. Technologies are advancing all the time and some models are offering exceptional performance for distances that are longer than the norm. But this is difficult to quantify. Measuring your mileage and being aware of tightness or aches is the best way to know when it’s time to replace your shoes. Don’t put a timeline on your shoes and say they’ll last a year for example, it’s just impossible to say. Use the 300-500 mile rule as a guide here. Marry the expectations of distance with the make-up of the running shoe and where you’re going to be using them. I always divide the miles by the price of the shoe and work out a pence per mile. It’s a good way to look at it.
Run4It shoe categories
At Run4It we split our road running shoes into 4 categories based on the feel of the shoe (Soft or Responsive), and whether or not the shoe offers additional stability (Neutral or Stability). For further info, please read our shoe advice page.
Our website features product descriptions for each shoe, which provide information about the type of runner and types of runs the shoe is best suited for.
In store, we offer a free analysis and shoe fitting service, called +runlab and can recommend models best suited to your running style and needs.