Knowing how to tell when your running shoes are worn out and need replaced is vital to prevent injury and get the most out of your training.
But as each runner has their own wear pattern, runs on different surfaces at different speeds and at different weights, there’s no easy answer for exactly when it’s time to make the change. Most manufacturers recommend you replace your trainers every 480 kilometres (300 miles), although that figure is for high-quality shoes only and doesn’t consider that midsoles often lose their spring after around a year.
If you’re using low quality or non-specialist running shoes, then cut that number in half – or more.
Running on tarmac or asphalt will also wear your shoes faster than running on grass or trails, while colder climes and wet conditions will take a tougher toll on your trainers than warmer weather. Those above average weight will be compacting the midsole harder and breaking down its spring quicker, requiring a premature purchase.
If you run with pronation, have an aggressive technique, run hard on rough ground, or are making do with an imperfect fit, this could also shorten your shoe’s lifespan significantly.
However, there are some giveaway signs that your running shoes are ready for retirement.
The giveaway signs your running shoes need to be replaced
If you see any of these danger signs, then it’s time for change:
- The outer sole has worn through to the white midsole
- The sole’s tread is excessively worn leaving a smooth surface
- The midsole fails to spring back, collapsing easily when pressure is applied.
- There are signs of creasing in the midsole, especially above impact areas such as the ball of the foot, or base of the heel
- Your toe-box or shoe upper is torn
- The soles of both shoes no longer have a symmetrical wear pattern
There are additional warning signs not on your shoes
- You're a consistent runner and have suddenly started to feel pain
- You notice blistering on impact areas, like the ball of your foot or heel
- You can't remember when or where you bought your shoes
Key areas to spot early signs of wear
Running in spent trainers can increase the risk of picking up an injury, especially in the delicate joints of the ankles, knees, and hips. Losing the shock absorbency of the midsole can be serious, potentially leading to microfractures that take some eight weeks to heal.
Here are some of the main areas where excessive wear can suggest it’s time to replace your running shoes:
A: Excessive wear or balding in the toe area of the tread indicates an aggressive and powerful running style. Early wear in this area could indicate there may be damage to the midsole spring. Plus, losing grip in this area will affect your running efficiency.
B: Worn tread under the ball of the foot, especially when accompanied by similar wear across the heel, suggests a normal healthy gait, this means your weight is evenly distributed throughout your stride and there will be less obvious shoe damage to the sole. Don’t be fooled by the evenly spread wear pattern, as this may be underplaying the damage to your midsole. Make sure you check for other signs of damage.
C: Excessive wear on the back of the heel suggests you may have a pronation issue, so ensure you’re not using the wrong type of shoe, and check the midsole is still providing support.
A & B: If you notice creasing in the midsole materials in these areas, this would indicate your midsole has lost its ability to rebound sufficiently and is no longer providing the shock absorbancey it did when new.
How to preserve your running shoes for longer
We all have our favourite running shoes, and it can be a sad day when your loyal and only constant companion over hundreds of miles of sweat and pain is dropped in the bin.
So finding ways to extend the life of your cushion-soled buddies will help delay that sorry day, and make it easier on your bank account in the process.
Here’s some of our top tips to keep your shoes fighting fit for a little bit longer:
- Keep your shoes dry
After a run in the wet, make sure you sufficiently dry your running shoes, and that doesn’t mean kicking them off near the radiator in the hall. Fully loosen the laces, remove the insoles, and let them dry naturally at room temperature. Exposure to the extremes of hot and cold will wreak havoc with that essential midsole spring and the shape of the upper. If you need them to dry quickly for training the next day, scrunch-up some newspaper and place it inside. This will absorb the moisture much faster. Alternatively, use two pairs (see: Rotate your running shoes)
- Clean your shoes
If possible, remove the sockliner or insole and wash separately in warm water and detergent. Remove excess mud with an old tooth brush then scrub with hot water and detergent, before rinsing thoroughly and leaving to air-dry.
- Undo your laces
Yes, every time. Undo your laces fully and slide your foot out, using your hand – not your foot – to anchor the shoe while you’re doing it. Lace up your shoes properly when you put them back on again.
- Make sure you have the right lace pattern
If you're feeling pinching, or excessive movement during your running stride, changing the lace pattern can improve your shoe’s fit and preserve your shoe from excessive wear. Shoe manufacturer New Balance has produced a handy guide to help you thread the right lace line-up for your needs. You can download the guide for free here.
- Rotate your running shoes
We don’t mean put them on a washing line and spin them around. If you’re running more than three days per week, it’s a good idea to use a different pair on different days, preserving the lifespan of your trainers. Also, don’t use your running shoes for other sports or activities. They’re for running only. If you’re using specialist running shoes for walking around or other sports, then you’re not getting the full value from your shoes. Specifically designed for running in a straight line, running shoes will not last long under strong lateral forces common in other sports, such as ball sports or cross-training.