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How many kms can you get out of a pair of running shoes?

Posted by on 19 August 2013 | 85 Comments

Running or exercising in worn-out shoes can be a common cause of injury. As your running shoes age, your shoes lose the ability to absorb and withstand shock, to provide your body with adequate cushioning, stability and support, and increases the stress and impact on your joints (particularly your knees) which can increase the risk of overuse injuries.  But how do you know when you should replace your running shoes? Is it after running a certain number of kilometres? Or do you decide to buy a new pair of running shoes when your current pair fall apart? Unfortunately there is no hard or fast rule, but as a rule of thumb, don’t use the tread (sole) of your running shoes to determine when to replace your shoes. The midsole which provides cushioning, support and stability is usually the first part of the shoe to wear out, so the midsole will break down before the tread of the shoe starts to show signs of wear.

Generally, replace your shoes every 400 – 600 kilometres, but this is only a very general guideline and the answer to when you should replace your running shoes depends on a number of factors:

Body weight: Heavier runners tend to strike the ground harder, with more force and impact and  therefore are likely to wear out their shoes faster than lighter runners.

Running style (or technique): Runners who strike the ground heavily with their foot and/or heel will probably get less mileage out of their shoes. In fact, runners who forefoot strike experience an impact force that is seven times lower than runners who heel strike (Leiberman, Venkadesan, Daoud & Werbel, 2010).

Running surface: Running on the road is tough on your shoes, so you’ll probably have to replace your running shoes more frequently than if you are running on the treadmill or grass.

Type of shoe: Light, racing shoes will wear a lot quicker than ‘normal’ running shoes because of the reduced amount of material and support making up the shoe.

Does it matter what you use your shoes for?

Yes, you definitely need to choose the right type of shoe for the kind of workout or activity you’ll be doing. A running shoe is made specifically for running, and is quite different from a shoe designed for netball or basketball. If you participate in a range of different forms and types of exercise, you may want to consider a cross-trainer.

Running shoes: A running shoe is designed to withstand more impact than walking shoes, so if you’re looking for a running shoe, look for shoes that have adequate cushioning and support for your feet.  Running shoes also tend to be quite a bit lighter and last for longer compared to cross-trainers or walking shoes. Additionally, wearing a running shoe that has been professionally fitted can ensure you are in the correct type of running shoe (neutral, stability or motion control shoe) depending on your level of pronation (amount your ankles roll in as your foot strikes the ground).

Walking shoes: A walking shoe provide stability and shock absorption through the arch  and the smooth tread of the shoe. For the majority of people, walking follows a heel to toe gait movement, so a walking shoe will generally have a stiffer heel compared to a running shoe.

Hiking shoes: A hiking shoe needs to provide adequate support and stability as you walk across uneven, rocky and moveable terrain. A hiking shoe also needs to provide you with enough cushioning, comfort and tread support to absorb the shock from the impact of the ground. Many hiking shoes have a higher ankle support compared to running shoes to provide additional ankle stability.            

Cross Trainers: Cross trainers are suitable for those who participate in more than one sport or activity, for those who mix up their exercise between different running surfaces (e.g. the treadmill and the court). Running shoes provide no lateral (side to side) stability since you don’t usually move your feet laterally while running, only forward. Therefore, a running shoe is not suitable for someone looking for a cross-trainer because not only does the cross-trainer provide both lateral and forward stability, cross-trainers also offer additional ankle support for changing direction. Try and avoid running in cross-trainers in any run longer than 5km; for your longer runs, wear a running shoe and swap it with your cross trainer when you’re on the court. 

Court Shoes: Court shoes are designed for use in basketball, tennis, volleyball, netball or squash.  Often made of soft leather, court shoes have a solid tread and provide stability and support in all directions of movement. Some court shoes may have a higher upper cut near the ankle to offer increased stability and support during jumping and landing.

How should I gauge when I need to replace my running shoes? Do I add up the kilometres I've run in them to replace them at a certain mileage or are there certain signs I should look out for?

As mentioned above, the common rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes once you have run anywhere from 400 – 600 kilometres. You can do this simply by keeping a training log of your runs. But apart from keeping a training log, there are also a few telltale signs to look out for as an indicator of when it might be time to replace your shoes:

  • Some sources state that pain is a good indicator for when you should replace your running shoes, but it is best to steer clear of this advice. By the time you are feeling pain (anything from muscle fatigue, shin splints or to joint pain) the lack of support and cushioning from your worn-out shoes have already caused you more damage and injury than you should be aiming for.
  • Your shoe fails the ‘twist test’: If you hold your running shoes at both ends and twist the shoe, it should feel firm. An old shoe or one that doesn't have adequate support will twist relatively easily.
  • You can notice that newer shoes feel better: Many runners rotate between two pairs of running shoes. If you buy a new pair of running shoes about 50% through the life of your old ones, the new shoes can serve as a benchmark or reference point to help you notice when your old shoes aren’t providing you enough support and cushioning. If you can automatically notice the difference in the cushioning between the two pairs, chances are it is probably time to replace your old shoes.
  • Your shoe fails the ‘sole check’: the part of your sole that will wear out first is the point of initial contact your sole of the shoe makes with the ground. Once this contact point has been worn out, the level of cushioning, stability and support provided by your shoes is compromised. 
  • When your toes wear through the toe-box.
  • When the heel box becomes mobile and less supportive.
  • While on an even surface, one or both of your shoes tilt noticeably inwards or outwards.

Brittany Johnson is a 'Gait Assessor" at Running Science, http://runningscience.com.au/

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