The Usefulness of Old Running Shoes

Special thanks to all those that sent me pictures of the bottoms of their shoes!  This post would not be the same without your efforts.

 

Take a look at your old running shoes.  Is the tread worn in places?  Is it worn completely through?  What do your old running shoes say about your body and what your new running shoes should be?

Your old shoes show your specific wear patterns and can give you a clue as to what sort of shoe you should be wearing.  When buying running shoes, I always recommend going to a local running store, as opposed to picking some up at your local Everything-Sports-Related store or shoe warehouse.  There are more running-specific shoes available at a running store (the shoe warehouse may not even have those types of running shoes as an option to buy, even if you know what which shoe you are seeking).  And, at a running store, a knowledgeable shoe salesperson will watch you run and put you in a shoe that fits your running form best.  Bringing in your old shoes can also be helpful for the shoe salesperson to find the right shoe for you.  

When comparing your new shoe and old shoe, you can readily notice the wear. In this instance, wear on the heel, the forefoot, and the outside of the forefoot. / Photo by Bodymybody.com

Buying New Shoes

In addition to bringing in your old shoes, there are a few other tips for shoe shopping.  Bring or wear the socks that you often run in.  If you have orthotics, bring those too.  You want to make sure your orthotics fit in your new shoes.  Always go shoe shopping at the end of the day after you have gone for your run and been on your feet all day.  Throughout the day, your feet can swell up to a half size bigger than in the morning.  Try on the new shoes and take them out for a spin.  I would usually leave the store and go about a block and back to make sure they felt okay while running, as opposed to sitting down or standing just after putting them on.  All shoes should conform to your foot without protruding into your foot. When trying on shoes, you should aim to have ½-1 thumbnail of available space in front or your toes.  Additionally, you shouldn’t have to “break in” your running shoes.  They should feel comfortable right out of the box.  

What Your Shoes Say About You

Wear Along the Arches

Wear on inside of shoe is called “overpronation.”  The foot makes contact on the ground with the outside of the foot, passes through the gait and toes off on the inside of the foot.  It is caused by a flexible arch, knock knees (genu valgum) or over rotating of the knees or hips.  A person with this wear pattern may find a more supportive shoe more comfortable–one that has gray foam midsole (the part below the fabric but above the bottom of the shoe) along the inside of the shoe (the side with the arch of your foot). If it isn’t gray, then the foam along the inside of that shoe will be different than the foam along the outside of the shoe.  Typically, the longer the color block of the midsole is, the stronger support it provides.  If you heavily pronate, look for a different colored midsole that is longer.  

Overpronation wear. Note the worn tread along the arch of the foor and less worn tread elsewhere. In this specific photo, look at the forefoot to see the wear. / Photo by Bodymybody.com

 

If you usually wear along the inside of your arches, look for a pair of shoes with a different colored midsole along the arch, as opposed to shoes that have the same color midsole all the way around the shoe. / Photo by April Rust

Wear Along the Outside of the Foot

Wear on the outside of your shoe is called “underpronation” or “supination.”  This is sometimes associated with stiff high arches, or chronically sprained ankles.  The person may be bow-legged (genu varum).  This runner may need lots of cushioning in the sole, but the shoe could wear down quicker because of the cushion.  This runner will also need to be replace their shoes more often as the cushioning provides the shock absorption that the arch doesn’t.  A person with this wear pattern should be looking for shoes with the same color midsole all the way around.   

Underpronation wear pattern. Notice the heavy tread wear everywhere except along the arch. / Photo by April Rust (left) and Bodymybody.com (right)

Wear on the Heel

Wear on the heel of your shoe is because of dragging your foot or heel striking.  “Heel striking” means that the your heel contacts with the ground first, before the rest of your foot.  Runners who heel strike consistently are typically overstriding.  New runners may have weaker muscles in their feet and legs and will spend more of their run using the shoes to cushion the foot strike, causing a heavy foot strike.  Heel strikers also tend to overpronate more because their foot is spending so much time on the ground.  Heel striking can be jarring to your knees and your hips because the ankle is doing little, if anything, to help absorb the impact of your body.  I like to tell heel strikers to listen to themselves run and try to run quietly, as sound is a byproduct of energy loss (just like heat).  Trying to minimize the sound of the strike will force the heel striker into a less jarring, more efficient run.  

Heel strike. Notice the heavy wear on the heel and relatively little on the rest of the tread. / Photo by Bodymybody.com

Wear on the Forefoot

Wear under the forefoot is consistent with forefoot striking.  “Forefoot striking” means that the ball of your foot makes contact first, and then the heel and then off again on the forefoot.  However, the heel does not always make contact with the ground during the gait cycle.  A forefoot striker is typically a sprinter (although I am a forefoot striker and a distance runner) and might have some Achilles tendon issues because of chronic shortening (tip-toeing) during their gait cycle, especially if the heel never touches the ground.

Forefoot strikers will have more wear under the forefoot than on the heel. You can see the heels still look relatively new on this pair. / Photo by Bodymybody.com

Pinky Toe Wear

If the pinky toe wears a hole in the sides of your uppers, then your shoes are too narrow, or your feet are sliding off the sole.  Your foot might slide off your shoe sole during activities that involve sudden changes of directions (cutting during soccer or ultimate frisbee, for example).  However if you are only using your running shoes for running, then your foot is likely too wide for the shoe that you are currently in.  Or, if your shoes aren’t properly tied, your feet may slide around.  Another reason could be that your natural running gait involves lots of upward toe force.  Whatever the reason, the toe hole will form towards the end of your running shoe’s life.  If there is a hole, but it doesn’t affect your gait, then the hole isn’t the limiting factor in the life of your shoes.  You can keep using those shoes until the foam wears out.  

The upper fabric shoes pinky toe wear / Photo by Bodymybody.com

Ideal Wear

Ideal wear on your shoe should start to the outside of the midline of your heel, and finish out the top between your first and second toe.  If you show this wear, that means you are in the right level of support for your foot strike.  

Not the relatively even wear emanating along a line from just outside the heel to between the first and second toe. / Photo by Bodymybody.com

Uneven Wear

Sometimes shoes have more wear on one shoe than the other.  This could be indicative of running a specific route in one direction, always turning the same way and always running on the same side of the road.  It could also be indicative of a muscular imbalance.  You may need to consult a physical therapist for specific exercises to address the muscular imbalance–the sooner you address muscular imbalances, the easier the imbalances will be to address.  Uneven wear could also occur if your legs are different lengths.  Although less likely than muscular imbalances– often, muscular imbalances can create the illusion of leg length discrepancy–different leg lengths do occur and you may need an orthotic in that shoe to prevent injuries that might build over time.

Uneven wear can be indicative of a non-varied running route, a muscular imbalance, or a leg length discrepancy. / Photo by Boydmybody.com

When Should I Replace My Shoes?

Having the right shoe is very important, especially when you are putting in lots of miles.  Replace shoes when they don’t fit (blisters, black toenails or numb toes after running in them) or when there is visible wear on the cushioning.  Visible wear on the soles includes smooth tread or tread completely worn off.  Creases in the cushioning indicate the cushioning has broken down and the shoe needs to be replaced.  You can squeeze or bend your shoe to see if creases develop.  If they do, it is time to think about getting new shoes.  If creases are obvious in the foam without pressure applied, then it is past time for new shoes.

Shoes have a shelf life of about two years, even if you never took them out of the box.  This is because the glue holding the shoe together starts to break down and the shoe won’t wear well over time.  The foam also starts to break down, but later than the glue.  You can still wear shoes that have been sitting in the box over two years, but be aware that the shoe may not last as many miles as it was originally designed for and that the shoe may fall apart or not wear evenly.  

Creases appear in the foam when under pressure. It is time to think about getting new shoes. / Photo by Bodymybody.com

Permanent creases in the foam are visible in the arch of both shoes. These shoes are overdue for replacement. / Photo by Bodymybody.com

Ideally, the rule of thumb to replace your shoes is about every 350-400 miles or 6 months up to a year of use.  High cushion models will get about 50-100 miles more out of the shoe.  However, listen to your body and keep an eye on your shoes.  If you suddenly experience knee pain or shin pain and you can’t pinpoint a reason for it (like that you just started doing hills or track workouts again), take a look at your shoes.  Is it time for a new pair?

The owner of these shoes came into a running store complaining of knee pain. Incredulous at the current state of his running shoes, he was quickly outfitted with a new pair of shoes. / Photo by Bodymybody.com

Many runners switch their running shoes to their “walking around” shoes.  However, if you continue to wear your shoes even though they are broken down, they will just be exacerbating the problem causing shin splints or pain in the knees or hips.  Walk around shoes still need to fit your foot and support your foot properly, just like your running shoes.  Personally, I like for my walk around shoes to have a lower heel drop than my running shoes.  This keeps my Achilles tendon from becoming adaptively shortened.  Adaptively shortened in this instance would mean that my Achilles tendon gets used to its length when I have shoes on with higher heel drop, which would be shorter than if I was barefoot.  Having a full range of motion is important in any joint, and I definitely don’t want my Achilles acting up causing all sorts of issues like plantar fasciitis and tendonitis.  

Now what should I do with my old running shoes?

Now that you have worn out your running shoes, and looked at them to gather information about your next pair, it’s time to get them out of your house.  You definitely aren’t going to switch them to walking around shoes because you know how important it is for your walk around shoes to be in good shape too.  Instead, consider donating your old worn out shoes to your local running store.  Most running shoe stores have a place to donate your old shoes.  My local running store took donations and would send the decent pairs to a homeless shelter and send the rest to Nike for their Nike Grind program.  Nike recycles the shoes and make them into new shoes and apparel, or uses the materials in building new sport surfaces like tennis and basketball courts, tracks and playgrounds [1].

Your old shoes still have usefulness. / Photo by Bodymybody.com

 


References

[1] “Innovation Reborn.” Nike Grind. Nike. Web. 06 Jan. 2017.

 

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