Here’s When You Should Replace Your Running Shoes – The 4 Signs

How often to change your running shoes is a question all runners ask at some time.

Running shoes don’t last forever – they don’t even remain the same throughout their life. 

Your running shoes are gradually changing. 

With every run, the tread wears a tiny bit more.  

The bounce gradually fades from the sole. 

The taught structure of the shoe gradually loosens. 

That’s why you should change out your running shoes after a few hundred miles. 

So then, after exactly how many miles should you change out your running shoes? 

The answer is: it depends. 

A lot of sources will tell you to change out your shoes after 300 – 500 miles.

However, this can vary depending on the shoe; the runner; the running conditions; the running surface, and many other factors. 

(By the way: I use Strava to track the mileage on each pair of running shoes I use.   It’s pretty straightforward; login to Strava on a desktop, then input your shoe model.   The shoe will then be available to select on the Strava app whenever you are editing an activity. )

Here's When You Should Replace Your Running Shoes - The 4 Signs 1

Signs You Need To Change Your Running Shoes

Here are the key signs to check for when deciding if you need to change your running shoes:

1. Excessive or Uneven Wear On The Soles

Here's When You Should Replace Your Running Shoes - The 4 Signs 2

One of the clearest signs that a pair of shoes are worn out is the soles.

Look for sections with more wear than others, and also differences in wear between your left and right shoes.

Uneven wear can be an indication of either sub-optimal running form, or that you’re running in the wrong type of shoes for your gait. 

More importantly, worn soles affect the way the shoe was designed to move, so you may unintentionally begin modifying your gait to correct for this wear.  

Changing the way you run to compensate for old, tired shoes means you’re not only running inefficiently, but that you’re risking injury.   

Any signs of severe wear on running shoe soles means it’s time to change your running shoes.

2. Lack of bounce / spring

Here's When You Should Replace Your Running Shoes - The 4 Signs 3

Different shoes have different amounts of ‘bounce’ or ’spring’ depending on the level of cushioning and the material used, but all shoes will experience a degradation in the feature over time. 

The foamy support layer between your foot and the sole of the shoe is designed to give cushioning, support, and a bit of bounce.

It should comfortably push back against your foot, and with each step you take it should provide a slight springiness quality that helps you along. It can come as a surprise to some runners just how much the support from your shoes can improve your running performance.  

If you’re intrigued by this, try a short run either barefoot or in minimalist-style shoes and check the difference for yourself.  

Our feet, and our minds, have become accustomed to running in shoes designed to give us a little boost.

But over time, this springy quality deteriorates.   The repetitive loading that is applied to the foam support of a running shoe as you run very gradually wears down the material’s strength and ability to recover.  

For us runners, that means less bounce, and less-supported ride. Less support means two things for us runners:

  • you have to work harder.  Take away that nice bouncy feeling, and suddenly you have to push yourself a lot more to cover the same distance and the same pace.   Not convinced?   Check out the case study I did by running the same route several times with old, tired shoes, then running it with new shiny shoes. (The new shoes were 19% faster!).
  • you increase the chance of injury.  As your shoes become worn, your running style will change to compensate.   Now, you’re not using the same shoes you bought in the store – you’re wearing a flattened, unsupportive version of them.  All this is a recipe for changing your gait and incurring injuries.

The problem with checking for bounce deterioration is that you are accustomed to your own running shoes.  

As they degrade gradually, you may not notice – especially if they are the only pair of shoes you own. My preferred solution to this problem is to try to always have two to three pairs of running shoes which I rotate.  

I try and keep one pair relatively new and fresh all the time.  

This way, I can compare the perceived springiness of the shoes against each other.   I also regularly go to running stores to try on new running shoes, just to check the feel of the springiness against the shoes I’m currently running in.

3. Shoe form feels loose or misshapen

Here's When You Should Replace Your Running Shoes - The 4 Signs 4

Running shoes are manufactured to provide a great fit around your foot.  

This means they should be snug in some parts, such as the heel, and looser in other parts. This allows the shoe to complement the complex structure of the running foot.

Over time, shoes will gradually lose this structure.  

Certain parts may become swollen, of the upper may lose its taught feeling.  

A heel can lose its structural strength (especially if you’re like me and always trying to squeeze shoes on without undoing the laces).

Running in wet or humid conditions can really accelerate this process – shoes and their materials will age rapidly when exposed to the stresses of damp and continuous running.

This decline in the form of the running shoe means it’s no longer effectively complementing your foot’s motion as you run.   

You should be able to visibly detect any changes in the shoe’s form – it may look swollen, loose, or discolored.  

Any of these can be a tell-tale sign that you should look to change out your running shoes soon.

4. Unexplained foot or knee pain

Here's When You Should Replace Your Running Shoes - The 4 Signs 5

Sometimes, the first sign that it’s time to change out your running shoes is that you develop foot, ankle, or knee pain for no evident reason.  

If you haven’t made any major changes to your training, looking at your shoes is a good place to start.  

Consider that your shoes may be worn or aged in subtle ways that are affecting your running gait.    

It may not be obvious at first, but take the time to go to a running store and compare your shoes to a new pair of the same model – check for deterioration of the support, or wear on the sole.

Final Note – Buy Good Quality Shoes !

A final note on shoe quality and shoe longevity.

In general, you get what you pay for

A quality running shoe from a respectable brand, bought in a running store should last you much longer than a budget pair of shoes from an outlet store.   

When it’s time to change your running shoes, head for a good store with knowledgeable staff.

Remember that shoes degrade at different speeds; soft shoes designed for indoor use will age much quicker than the rugged trail running shoes.

If you’re looking for your next pair of shoes, remember to check out my recommendations for running shoes!

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.