Running Shoes: When to Replace and What to Buy

You’re getting into running and those three-year-old sneakers from Walmart aren’t doing the trick anymore. It’s time to find some actual running shoes. But where do you start? There are so many options, sizes, and types! And what about the color!?

Breathe. We’ve got you covered. We understand not everyone obsesses about running shoes as much as we do, so here’s our handy fact sheet on buying running shoes. These few tips will help get you to the point of trying on and deciding on a shoe. Your top criteria should be about fit and performance, not looks.

However, you cannot beat the help a local running store can offer you. The staff are trained in fitting feet of all shapes and sizes and know the details and specs of all the brands and models. Plus, you can try them on and take them for a spin!

When do I need to get new shoes?

There are a few ways to tell if it’s time for a shoe upgrade. First off, listen to your body. Are your legs aching after every run? Do your knees hurt? Are your arches sore? Do serious runners point and laugh at your feet? It’s time.

Another way to tell is by checking the midsole. Squeeze the midsole backwards. If it bends like a taco, the foam has broken down and you’re no longer getting all the support and cushion the shoe originally offered.

If you log your miles, you can tell when your shoes need replacing by tracking the numbers. A lightweight trainer will last for 250-350 miles. A shoe with more cushion to it will live for 400-600 miles.

Your weight, running form, and training all affect how long a shoe will last. A smaller person who runs with correct form and midfoot strikes (weight over the midfoot) is going to wear a shoe longer than a 6’4’’ runner in the same shoe who lands on their heel (heel strikes).

If you’re still not sure if it’s time to replace your loyal companions, go into your local running store and try on the same version of the shoe you’ve been running in. If the foam feels “dead” and the new shoes feel like a memory-foam mattress, then it’s time to get a new pair.

What types of shoes are there?

Lots! There are different shoes for different terrain, body weight, personal desires, and events. A road shoe is going to be smoother on the bottom. A trail shoe has more texture for gripping slippery rocks. There are high cushioned shoes and lightweight trainers with a snugger fit but shorter life span. A crossfit style shoe is going to be firmer and lower to the ground for lateral stability. Spikes are a minimalist style shoe with small spikes that screw into the forefoot to give the runner more traction while racing on a grass cross country course or a rubber track.

To make this a bit more complicated, there are two categories of shoes within all of the different styles. There are stability shoes and a neutral shoes. A stability shoe has a harder piece of foam on the inside of the shoe to support a foot that rolls inward, or pronates. A neutral shoe has the same foam throughout the foot bed. We highly recommend coming into Fast Break so that we can analyze your gait to fit you in the right shoe. There are multiple factors in determining if you need a neutral shoe or stability shoe. Don’t stress about this part, head to the experts for help!

Heel-toe-WHAT?!

While you are trying on shoes, you might hear your friendly shoe fit expert say, “This shoe has a 4mm drop” or “The offset is 8mm on this shoe.”

A heel-toe offset is the height difference between the level of your forefoot and the level of your heel. Until the past few years, most running shoes had a 12mm heel-toe offset (meaning the heel was 12mm higher in the footbed than the toes). More recently research has come out that a lower offset, or drop, aligns the runner to have better posture and form. A lower offset can help stretch and lengthen the achilles and fascia as well, which has been found to help some people with back, knee, and hip issues. Today, many shoe companies make shoes with a wide range of offsets from 0mm to 12mm

How does a running shoe fit?

There are many factors that go into finding a perfect fit. Here are two that we especially find important:

LENGTH: To fit for running shoes, we measure the length of the ball arch. The widest part of the foot (the forefoot, ball arch area) should be in the widest part of the shoe. If the fit is correct, you will have about a 3/4” (a thumbnail size) space between the end of the toe and the end of the shoe. The space prevents your toes from jabbing into the end of the shoe when you run. Goodbye black and blue toe nails!

WIDTH: We measure not just how long an arch is is but also how wide. There are several different widths in both men’s and women’s shoes. If your foot is pushing out the sides of the shoe or is hanging off the outsides of the footbed, YOU NEED A BIGGER SIZE! A shoe is supposed to fit more like a slipper and less like a rock climbing shoe.

How many shoes do I need?

All of them. So many shoes.

Ultimately, this depends on how much you are willing to invest in running gear and the volume of your training. The bottom line is that you put less wear on a pair of shoes if you can switch them out. There is an advantage, besides time and wear, in owning several pairs. A lightweight trainer allows you to run more efficiently (and faster) during your tempo runs or track workouts, while a more cushioned shoe will cushion the impact during long runs.

What are the rookie mistakes?

1. Don’t buy for the color. Buy for comfort! You won’t care what the shoe looks like when you feel like you’re floating on a cloud during your run.

2. Don’t be a stickler about the number. Shoes are cut differently. Some brands tend to be long and some short. Your local running store employees will know all of this.

3. Shop for running shoes at the end of the day when your feet are slightly swollen. Your feet swell just a little when you run, so find a good fit when your feet are already at their largest point so that your shoes aren’t tight by mile 5 in a run.

4. Wear your running shoes only for running. Don’t wear them to the mall, to work, or to the grocery store. Non-running activities will break the foam down and shorten the life of the shoe. If you need a comfortable shoe for work, keep one pair for work and one for running. Both will last longer this way.

Stop by Fast Break this week to be fitted by our experts. Try on the shoes and even take them for a spin. Find your perfect fit!