How long do running shoes last?

How long do running shoes last? or when will I need to replace my running shoes? Are both one of the most frequently asked questions asked by our customers, and overall a very important question.

When most people ask this question they are asking how long they can run in the shoes for, before they could risk causing an injury; this is what we call the effective life.

What is the effective life?

Horn Heel

The effective life is determined by three main factors: the cushioning, the support/structure and the upper integrity.

The shoes are still wearable long past the effective life of a shoe, which we call the wearable life. It’s important to distinguish between the effective life and the wearable life, because there is a huge difference. Most running shoes are wearable for years after their effective life has expired, but you certainly wouldn’t want to run in them!

So many factors!

The question of how long running shoes will last certainly can’t be given a straightforward answer as it is dependant on so many factors so let’s quickly break down the factors that affect the life of a running shoe:

  • How frequently you run – Believe it or not, irrespective of overall mileage, if you run more frequently then your shoes will deteriorate more quickly. If you run 5 x 2 miles a week your shoes will degrade quicker than if you run 2 x 5 miles.
  • Body-weight to Foot-size ratio – The heavier you are and the smaller your foot, the more pressure will go through your shoes. Pressure equals mechanical stress and therefore your shoes will wear out more quickly.
  • Your running style – How you run will determine how you impact on the shoes and this will determine how quickly you will breakdown the cushioning and support of the shoe. If you are a heavy pronator, the complete opposite (a very rigid foot type) or you have a unusual foot strike then you will put more force through the shoe and therefore wear them out quicker.
  • The shoe type – Lighter, lower profile (thinner midsoles) running shoes will obviously have less life in them than thicker, more cushioned shoes. Trail shoes have a tougher upper than road shoes, so will take longer to wear through the mesh.
  • The quality of the shoe – Cheap running shoes are like cheap bin bags, they look the same as good ones, but will fall apart a lot easier and can be found in big discount shops!
  • How you use them – Obviously running shoes are designed purely for running, however most people use them at the gym, wear them casually and may even use them in the wrong conditions (i.e. using road shoes on trails). All of this extra use will contribute to premature wear and so we always recommend you use your running shoes just for running.
  • How you treat them – If you are someone who: doesn’t dry them naturally and gets them wet often, doesn’t undo the laces before slipping them off, doesn’t wear socks with them and keeps them exposed to bright light then you will be shortening the life of your shoes.

Signs of worn out shoes

Shoe breakdown graph

 

  • You have aches, pains or injuries that you didn’t have when the shoes were new.
  • You have run over 800 miles (1300 km) in your shoes since they were new.
  • The rubber on the underside (the outsole) has worn down to within a millimetre of the midsole (the soft middle foam) in at least one point in either shoe.
  • There are visible wrinkles in the midsole foam, particularly on the medial (arch side) of the shoe.
  • The shoe now bends in the middle, when it never used to.
  • If you put your fingers inside the forefoot of the shoe and press down hard on a flat firm surface then there is very little or no give.
  • You have holes in the sole of the shoe or the shoes have developed their own personality and have started to crawl on their own!

The conclusion

So the bottom line is that it is pretty much impossible to determine how long your running shoes will last, because it depends on so many other factors. Manufacturers test the shoes and perform impact tests to see how well they continue to absorb shock after certain periods of wear and as a very crude rule of thumb they suggest that road running shoes should last around 800 miles. In our experience we would say that this figure can vary by +/-50% at least so it’s not really that helpful.

The best advice is to track your mileage and when you get close to 500 miles then pop into your local running shop and speak to an experienced member of staff. You may be dubious of this, as you’ll be expecting them to sell you a new pair, but just say you are not looking to buy and just want to see if they feel the shoe is worn out. They will be more than happy to advise you of your options.

Keep an eye out for next week’s blog as part of our “runner’s questions” series and if you have a question you would like answered then comment below.

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Ryan has worked in the sports industry since 1999 and has a wealth of experience across most subjects. Ryan holds a BSc in microbiology and has studied sports physiology in great detail in his own time. His main areas of specialisation are: footwear construction, footwear technology, strength & conditioning and anatomy & physiology. He splits his 13 hours a week exercise between, Kickboxing, MMA, Crossfit, Rock Climbing and Running.