We all understand that running shoes have a limited lifespan. But most people keep wearing them well after their useful life has ended. In my office, I commonly see people who tell me that their shoes are several years old BUT (insert excuse here...). Some of my favorites include, “they fit my feet perfectly." (That just means the shoe has broken down.) I also hear “the heel wore down the way I like it;” (i.e. it has a hole inside the shoe.) Or “new shoes bother me;” (translation: I've worn these for so long, the support is too different at this point.) And my personal favorite: “They still look new.” Yes, they still look new. Because if you only run on the treadmill, use the elliptical, or hit the spin bike, your shoes never see the light of day. Which means they'll obviously look new. But what's problematic is the part you don't see.
What Happens to Shoes Over Time
How your upper shoe or sole looks has little or nothing to do with its remaining support and function. What matters is the midsole, the part of the sole that we really can't see from the outside. Which is the part that has the most function and limits a shoe’s useful lifetime.
With every stride you take, the midsole compresses. So, with time, it loses the majority of its support. I estimate the useful lifetime of a running shoe for runners to be approximately 350 miles. This amount may be shorter for heavier runners or longer for lighter ones. But not by much.
What does that mean in real life? If you don't run regularly, or take part in other sports and activities where you don't track your miles, replace them every 4-6 months. (Depending on the frequency of exercise and level of the activity.)
How to Track Your Shoe’s Mileage
For most of us, it’s hard to tell if our shoes are still doing their jobs. Now, the more you wear your shoes, the less support and protection they offer. But, that decline is gradual. So it can be hard to tell when you've reached the threshold where they could actually permanently damage your feet.
The good news is that you no longer have to go it alone on the guess-and-test method of sneaker replacement. Lucky for us, Zappos and MapMyRun teamed up to create an app called Gear Tracker. And it tells you when your shoes have worn out and need replacing.
Here’s how it works. Gear Tracker asks you to log in what type of running shoes you wear, so as you log your runs, the app can determine when it's time to buy replacement shoes. Based on the data collected, a shoe meter will show the health of your shoe. It will turn yellow and then red as it gets closer to replacement time. When your shoes’ life span is up, the app will send you a notification. At that point, you’ll have the option to buy shoes through the app, courtesy of Zappos, of course.
Not interested in going the electronic route? There are plenty of other ways to start keeping track of the life of your shoes. For starters, I suggest dedicating one or more pairs of shoes just for exercise, so you get the most out of their useful lives. You can record your mileage in a running journal, or even in pen on the side of the shoe. To help you remember how old a shoe is, write the date on the tongue or the outsole, if you’d rather go by the six month marker system. Whenever you're involved in serious exercise, minor injuries are inevitable. You must do everything in your power to minimize them. Just wearing the proper shoes is one simple way to help you along. After all, we can link worn out shoes to poor running performances, not to mention overuse running injuries like shin splints or stress fractures. And, since wearing bad shoes can be so damaging, I think an app like Gear Tracker is a great idea. It's a strong addition to the arsenal of tools we can use to fight running injuries. But barring this kind of download, I encourage you to roughly track the miles you’ve logged in your kicks. Or, at the very least, use some common sense and toss out those hole-ridden crusty old sneakers from your college days! Then, it's time to start shopping for new ones.
Buying New Sneakers? 5 Things to Consider
Once you know your sneakers are done, it's time to shop for a new pair. For starters, there are c
ertain features any good shoe should have.
1. Good cushioning.
2. A strong tread.
3. A firm midsection that can't twist.
4. A forefoot that does bend.
5. (But that forefoot movement shouldn't be more than 45 degrees, give or take.)
Now that you've got the basic features to look for, let's talk about sport specific shoe choices.
Match Your Shoes to Your Workouts
When you're choosing cross training shoes, look for styles with lots of ankle support. (That will support the type of lateral movement you often get in a group exercise class.)
If you're mostly running, though, you don't want that sneaker feature. Instead, look for shoes with extra cushioning in the heel, since that's where your foot usually falls when running. You may also want a mix of mesh and leather to relieve the heat that builds up when you run. (It could help keep your feet from sweating, which could also prevent Athlete's foot.)
Finally, if you want an all-day sneaker for long walks, you'll need to look for a different set of features. Here, you'll want plenty of arch support. And lots of flexibility at the front of your shoe, so you can walk comfortably.
Have you bought the wrong shoes, or worn an old pair for too long? And now, you've got foot pain or an injury? Don't wait at home another day. Instead, contact Houston running podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider for an immediate appointment.