Shoes have a lifespan that we usually measure in miles, but even unworn shoes can degrade over a year or two. The foam that makes up the most critical part of the shoe’s cushioning will degrade and become less responsive and ‘lively’ over time. Even with sporadic use we recommend updating your athletic shoes once a year and with regular use every 3-6 months.
If you’re training for a goal race, whether that’s a 5K or a Marathon, you should start the goal event on a relatively fresh pair of shoes. The shoes that served you well throughout your training may not be ready for yard duty, but you don’t’ want the most demanding run or walk of the season to be on shoes that are more than halfway thru their lifecycle. We recommend rotating in a fresh pair of shoes halfway to 2/3 of the way in to the training cycle and to use them for less than half of your runs up until race day. This way you’ll be completely used to the shoes, know which socks you like with them, but they won’t be broken down.
Shoes aren’t a magic bullet, but the further you get beyond a shoe’s lifespan, the less support and cushioning it will have, adding extra stress and fatigue to feet, shins, knees and hips. If extra aches and pains seem to match up to shoe that’s getting a little old, swapping them out for a fresh pair may bring some much needed relief.
One of the best visual indicators of a shoe’s wear is the compression of the midsole foam. Foam that has lost its responsiveness will have horizontal wrinkles and will look ‘squished’. This is a better indicator than the rubber outsole of the shoes – some runners and walkers wear thru parts of the rubber in less than 100 miles because of friction.
Lots of conditions besides just mileage and time affect the lifespan of your shoes. Excessive moisture degrades the foam (more on that below) and cuts and abrasion can affect the fit and feel. Besides the extreme conditions of an obstacle race, a lot of use in rainy conditions, use or storage in extreme temperatures, and rocky trails can reduce the shoe’s lifespan.
A note on a shoe’s expected lifespan. For just running and walking, 300-500 miles of use is our baseline estimate of a shoe’s lifespan and will vary from one person to another. This timeframe is not when a shoe will be completely worn out and ready to be discarded, but the point at which the shoe no longer represents the fit, feel and support of when it was first purchased.
- Keep them dry. After rainy or sweaty use, stuff with newspaper and let them air dry. Only surface wash your athletic shoes, never put in the washer.
- Rotate your shoes. You can get more mileage out of each pair of shoes by not wearing them on consecutive days. The foam midsole can take up to 24 hours to completely recover. Additionally, it has been shown to significantly reduce injury rates by rotating two slightly different pairs of shoes as the body makes small adaptations to each one.
- Keep them cool. Unless it’s a retired pair of trainers set aside for a car kit, try to not store your shoes in a car that may get extremely hot or cold.