The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

When to Replace a Running Shoe? Nobody Knows!

Posted by on Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

If you’re a runner you’ve probably got your own answer to this question. People tend to be very particular about their running shoes. In many ways running is a quiet, introverted sport. You spend a whole lot of time communing with your body, thinking about what feels good, what doesn’t, how tired you are, how your tight your muscles are, etc. When I’m running, I’m keenly aware of my feet. I know when my soles feel flat, my heels feel like they’re slipping, and the pep in my new-running-shoe step just isn’t what it used to be. And it’s good that I do because, as it turns out, the experts don’t.

For many years, podiatrists, running experts, sporting goods retailers, running bloggers, European marathoners, African sprinters, and your momma have been coming up with recommendations for when to replace those shoes. It’s usually a mile marker: 200 miles, 300 miles, or even 500 miles, depending on the shoe and on the person making the recommendation. There have been some biomechanical studies of shoe integrity, most showing that a shoe loses some of its bounce after several hundred miles. But when you consider how many variables we’re talking about—runner weight; gait; forefoot, midfoot, or heel strike; brand of shoe; terrain; weather—the recommendations suddenly seem rather arbitrary. I mean, if I’m a very slight woman running lightly with no significant pronation, and you’re a 300 pound man with an uneven gait, shouldn’t my shoes last longer than yours? Yes. Yes they should.

In a recent article in the New York Times, esteemed exercise columnist Gina Kolata explored this very issue. As you might expect, her multiple interviews returned multiple answers. Some runners pride themselves on using a shoe until it falls apart. Others keep careful track of their mileage and get a new pair as soon as they hit the quota, shoe condition be damned. What seemed to make the most logical sense: use your best judgment. If your shoe feels thin, your feet ache after a run, or you notice you’re lacking lateral support, replace your shoes. (Just an aside: why parents with the last name Kolata would name their poor daughter Gina is beyond me.)

Another shocker: nobody really knows what happens if you wait too long before replacing those shoes. There is no clear spike in injury, which is a bit of a surprise. Then again, the barefoot runners have been fighting the cushioned-shoe evangelists for a few years now with no clear winner, so perhaps a shoe’s integrity is less important than we all think.

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.