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When to Change Your Running Shoes

When to Change your Running Shoes
Are your running shoes ready for the trash?

“As a general rule, plan on replacing your running shoes about every four months or 300 to 500 miles.” That’s advice I’ve been sharing from running and footwear experts for more than 15 years. But then a friend challenged me. She wanted to know if there were any real-world tests to prove that number.

It turns out, there are only a couple of studies that looked at running shoe age and injuries, and the results aren’t what most people are being told.

In 2003 a study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine about running injuries. The researchers wanted to figure out how many injuries happened in a running program designed to MINIMIZE injuries with athletes training for a 10K race. They also wanted to figure out what caused the injuries. 

The part I was most interested in were injuries related to the age of running shoes. What they found was confusing. For men, “Wearing shoes four to six months old was associated with fewer injuries overall…” For women, “wearing new shoes (one to three months old) was associated with fewer new injuries…” When women continue to wear shoes longer, for four to six months, it increased overall injury.

So women were having more injuries with OLDER shoes (four to six months old), while men experienced more injuries with NEWER shoes (one to three months old.) Why the difference?

Several things could cause the discrepancy, including previous injuries, experience, running styles, the weight of the participants and weekly mileage. But there simply wasn’t enough data collected to figure that out.

The researchers believed that, “new shoes are protective against injuries by virtue of their cushioning and support qualities…” They felt that injured male runners might be trying to solve physical problems by frequently changing shoes. Rather than new shoes being the CAUSE of more injuries for men, researchers believe they were only the REACTION to injuries already sustained.

Another possible reason men experience more injuries with new shoes was sent in from someone who reads my column. He went to a running store and got a “real” pair of running shoes. The new shoes were so well cushioned, he felt like he was running on air. That's where the problem began. Here's what he said:

“I ended up actually going at a faster pace than I normally do. After my first couple runs, I was actually more sore, due to the sudden faster pace.”

It's possible men and women act differently with new shoes. Men may act more aggressive or competitive and push harder, increasing the risk of injuries. Until there's more research, all I can suggest is that you be cautious and try not to overdo it.

Unfortunately, that still didn’t tell me how long a shoe should last, so I dug a little deeper. In 2013 the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports published a study titled, “Can parallel use of different running shoes decrease running-related injury risk?”

The study followed 264 runners for 22 weeks. 116 of the participants used only one pair of running shoes for the entire study. 148 of the participants alternated between two or more pairs of running shoes.

By the end of the study, researchers found that the group who alternated between different running shoes had a 39% LOWER risk of a running-related injury. Runners that used the same shoe every day were far more likely to be hurt. The authors of the study said, “A possible explanation would be that the alternation of running shoes induces a variation in the type of physical load applied to the musculoskeletal system.”

Use this strategy of shoe switching, to figure out the optimal time to change YOUR shoes.

Runners get used to the “feel” of a pair of shoes. As they degrade over time, the changes are often too subtle to notice. However, if you’re regularly switching between a couple pairs, it’s easier to notice the differences. Once a pair of shoes no longer feels good, swap that one out for a new set. Ideally, you would be alternating between shoes that are at least a couple of months different in age.

The act of running pounds shoes much harder than walking, so most walkers can go about twice as far as runners before a shoe wears out. Heavier people wear out shoes quicker. Asphalt and concrete wear out shoes quicker than dirt roads or grass. Each of those things will have an impact on how long you can keep your shoes.

The obvious signs of wear like the tread being worn smooth, tears or holes in the body will require you to get new shoes. But without those signs, consider how they feel when you use them to be your best indicator of when to replace them.

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Last Update Prior to Publishing 8/16/2018