I want to start this article off with a question: what should triathletes have in common with Imelda Marcos? I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind is that we should all get married to corrupt dictators, but, shockingly, that’s not where I’m headed with this article. For those of us who can remember the 1970s and 80s, we can recall Ms. Marcos’ shoe collection. She was famous (or perhaps infamous) for owning thousands of pairs of shoes.
Well, I’m not suggesting that triathletes should fill warehouses with their shoes, but when it comes to running shoes in particular, having a half-dozen or so pair makes sense. Here’s why.
ROTATING YOUR SHOES
There’s more opinion-based advice than fact-based research on when to replace your running shoes. The general consensus among the top brands (who are trying to sell you running shoes, it should be noted) is that running shoes have a life in the range of 300-500 miles. Less cushioned minimalist shoes are more likely to have lifespans at the lower end of that range and highly cushioned shoes might be toward the higher end. Most runners and triathletes I’ve talked with use the 300 to 500 range as their guideline.
Many experienced runners know by feel when a pair of shoes is ready for retirement and there are a number of ways to check the life of a pair of shoes that you can do yourself, or the helpful expert at your local running shop (who is also in the business of selling shoes) can do for you. If your shoes show significant wear through the outsole (the rubber on the bottom of the shoe that makes contact with the ground) or the “nubs” are worn off, that’s a sure sign that your shoes are ready for replacement. But there are other signs as well- the EVA (white cushy material) feels too soft or doesn’t rebound, there’s excessive wear around the heels of the outsole, the shoes “rock” laterally when placed on a flat surface, or you see significantly asymmetrical wear patterns in the right vs. left shoe.
Some of the wear you’ll see will be dependent on the surfaces you run on. I log the majority of my miles on a treadmill. I never wear through the outsole of my shoes.
Take a look at the picture below. These are two identical model running shoes. The pair on the left (labeled 12-17) are practically brand new with only about 30 miles of use. The pair on the right (labeled 2-17) are more than midway through their lifespan with about 220 miles on them. The outsoles don’t show significantly different wear, but they are definitely at different points in their usable lives.
I strongly recommend tracking your shoe mileage in TrainingPeaks. In the settings screen, look for the equipment tab and click the “Add a Shoe” button to fill in the details of each of your running shoes.
Then when you log each workout, select the shoe you wore from the dropdown menu at the bottom of the workout screen. This only takes an extra couple of seconds, but will make tracking your mileage on each shoe super-simple.
It’s often recommended that you rotate your running shoes so that you’re never running on the same pair twice in a 24-hour period. Doing so will give the EVA material in the midsole time to recover. Having different shoes for different types of runs also makes sense--you’re picking the right “tool” for the job. And it’s long been an accepted rule of thumb that rotating your running shoes helps prevent injury. In 2015, there was some science added to back up this common knowledge in a study that suggests that shoe rotation does, in fact, serve as a protective factor against injury. You can read the study HERE.
Most runners own two pair of shoes and alternate them, but as a type-A triathlete nut-job, I go a little further. My shoe rotation plan is as follows. I buy a new pair of running shoes when my previously newest pair reaches 100 miles. I typically run my shoes to about 400 miles these days so that means that I’ll have three to four pair of shoes in my daily rotation. So I might have a newer pair with around 50 miles on them, a pair with 150, a pair with 250, and a pair near the end of their life with 350. It doesn’t work out perfectly to these round numbers, but this give you the idea. I just roll through the shoes- for each run day, grabbing the next pair in the rotation.
Additionally, I have a couple of “specialty” type shoes like mypair of Hokas with IceSpikes installed for the occasional snowy/icy outdoor runs and a pair of Zoot racers for short course events. I also do my long training runs and long-course races in another pair of Hokas. So that leaves me with seven to eight pair of running shoes going through the rotation at any given point in time. I’m only replacing a pair of daily runners about every 400 miles, but I never go from running only in totally worn out shoes to totally brand new shoes at the end of a cycle--there’s always a replacement stagger.
Even if your shoe arsenal includes only two pair, try not to start your rotation cycle with both pair at once so that you aren’t replacing both pair at the same time.
What’s the takeaway? Aside from the fact that I’m a little nutty (and I don’t mind if you judge me for that), make sure that you have a plan for rotating your shoes and use the equipment tracking feature in TrainingPeaks to help guide you so you aren’t guessing about when it’s time for replacement.
Coach Dave Sheanin has a lot of experience with a variety of athletes, making him very well rounded. He certifications include USA Triathlon and USA Swimming, he's helped coach the University of Colorado Buffaloes to six National Club Championships, and worked with USAT All Americans and Kona Qualifiers. As an athlete, Coach Dave races with Athletes in Tandem, helping disable persons enjoy the sport of triathlon.