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When to replace running shoes | 3 signs of “shoe death” to watch for

Finding the perfect running shoe can be a tough endeavour with hours of background research, consulting experts and trying on and trying out several pairs. So, when you finally do find the best running shoes for you, you want to hold on to them, right?

But, even if they feel irreplaceable and as valuable as diamonds, running shoes are not forever. Even the best of the best can only take so much, but how do you know when it’s time to replace your running shoes?

Mary Arnold, an ultramarathoner and co-leader of November Project in New York City, has spent nearly 15 years working in the run specialty industry, fitting thousands of runners for their first – or fiftieth – pair of shoes. Here’s her insight on when to replace running shoes.

Your choice was a hit-and-miss in the first place

“I’m so comfortable! But why is this only available in pink?”

You have to let that go – immediately. Color should not be a factor when you’re choosing running shoes – it’s all about fit and feel.

If you’re still running in the first pair of running shoes you picked out aloooong time ago – possibly based on color or price – it’s probably a good idea to reevaluate the situation and ask yourself: “Was my choice of running shoes spot on to begin with?”

If you started shopping for running shoes with price or size as your priority, you probably got off on the wrong foot from the get-go.

The price was right?

Shopping for running shoes isn’t the time to be bargain hunting. Most of us are restricted by a budget and it’s normal to worry about price, but your number one goal should be finding the right shoe for you.

Maybe you (mistakenly) assume that a specialty store is upcharging, but the reality is that most brick-and-mortar running stores are selling shoes at MSRP or even slightly below. The average price of a pair of solid running shoes is around $110–$150 right now, so if you set a strict price limit to $70, you may be setting yourself up for a disappointment.

You picked out your running shoes based on size

One of the biggest mistakes people make in choosing running shoes is that they shop by size.

If for some reason you don’t like the idea of sizing up, do it anyway, unless you want to lose toenails.

Running shoes are not bowling shoes – there’s no number on the back telling everyone behind you what size you’re wearing. If for some reason you don’t like the idea of sizing up, do it anyway, unless you want to lose toenails.

With women, it’s like wearing the wrong size bra. You generally have to go up at least half a size when it comes to your running shoe.

Your running shoes lack fit and feel

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking “Duh! Who picks running shoes based on color?” Okay, so you’re not one of those people. Perhaps you are one of the people who put a fair amount of time and energy into finding the best possible running shoes, doing your research meticulously and trying on and out several pairs.

Despite all that hard work, you may still find yourself face to face with the fact that your awesome (and expensive) running shoes just don’t feel right.

Even if your shoes are still in good shape and it’s not that long ago since you bought them, you may want to consider replacing them if:

1.     You constantly need to adjust

  • You have to make excessive adjustments to make the shoe comfortable within the first mile or two
  • You constantly need to adjust the laces to be tighter or to open them up, if your toes go numb or are chafing, or if you develop hot spots or sore spots on your foot

2.     After weeks and weeks you’re still trying to break in your running shoes

You shouldn’t need to break them in to avoid blisters like you would with a pair of high heels. Your shoes should be comfortable right away, but they will be most comfortable two to three weeks into owning them. That’s when the cushioning begins to respond and adapt to your foot strike pattern, and the upper starts to fit and flex to your foot.

3.     You’re doing anything less than a marathon and have black toenails

However, if you’re running a marathon or an ultramarathon, you can still get black toenails even when you’re running in the right shoe.

Black toenails happen when the tip of the nail bed repeatedly interacts with the front wall or top of the shoe. That repeated impact causes bruising, which leads to blistering and the nail lifting off the bed – and that’s when you see that ugly purple color underneath. So it could be a sizing problem, but with longer distances, that’s just how it goes, particularly if you’re running downhill quite a bit.

Your shoes are showing signs of “shoe death”

Perhaps you chose the right running shoes once upon a time, but even good things come to an end. No matter how perfect your running shoes were when you first bought them, they will reach their maximum mileage sooner or later.

For most people, running shoes have optimal cushioning between 300 to 400 miles. These three signs of “shoe death” tell you it’s time to replace your running shoes:

1. Look at the top of the shoe when it’s not on your foot

If the upper looks exactly like your own foot without being in the shoe, the material is worn in, or it’s not bouncing back the way it should, that’s your first sign.

2. Flip the shoe over and look at the medial side of the shoe

If there are cracks or fissures perpendicular to the tooling, or the midsole isn’t rebounding as it once did, that’s your second sign.

3. Hold the shoe 4–5” above a hardwood surface and drop it

If it rocks back and forth or front to back from a gentle drop for more than half a second, that’s a sign the cushioning isn’t bouncing back the way it once was. The shoe has probably started to depress, and can alter your biomechanical form.

How to choose running shoes wisely?

Many running stores swear by a treadmill gait analysis but is it really the be-all and end-all when it comes to finding the right shoe?

A treadmill gait analysis can be a useful tool. Having rear foot video analysis shows over-pronation at mid-stance, so it’s helpful to narrow down the shoe choices based on which type of shoe might be most appropriate.

Although, new research in biomechanics proves that over-pronation isn’t the scary thing we once thought. Some people do over-pronate severely, but for slight over-pronation, it’s just about adding some support and stability.

If you wear the same shoe all the time, you can actually develop tiny weaknesses where the shoes are the strongest, and over time that can create injuries in those places.

But, we’ve also learned that there isn’t necessarily one right shoe for every person. You may choose to do your long runs in a pair of Brooks Adrenalines, but favor the Ravenna or the Launch for shorter stuff.

If you wear the same shoe all the time, you can actually develop tiny weaknesses where the shoes are the strongest, and over time that can create injuries in those places.

The perfect running shoe is just there, it does what you need it to do, and it’s comfortable – it should feel like a part of your foot.

If you notice a lot of really springy cushion in the front, or a squishy padded tongue, that’s something you’re probably going to notice every time you put your foot in the shoe. If you don’t notice anything about your feet or shoes in several miles when you’re on a run, you’re probably in the right shoe.


Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals or physicians. 

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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