Want to get serious about running? Start with the running shoes.

Think back to that first time you walked into a Sports Authority to pick out your first pair of running shoes. You saw what appeared to be a baffling array of different running shoes suspended along one wall in the running section. Further inspection, though, revealed that your gender-specific section of the wall contained only a couple of models each displayed in a variety of colors. Who knew that the Goddess Infinity and Sun-ray Extreme would come in so many different colors? With some relief, you thought, all I have to do is coordinate my shoes to match my outfits. And, since they’re so cheap, I’ll go ahead and take two pairs. I’ll use one for training when I’m by myself, and save the other (maintained in pristine condition, of course) for participating in group-runs and races. You confidently walked out of the store with two boxes swinging in a bag. You were on your way―you were ready to run.

Now that you’ve been running for a while, you’re considering taking it to the next level and that’s great! But, if you’re still buying those low-priced running shoes from the big-box sporting store you should consider upgrading to a better pair of shoes. For low-mileage runners and weekend warriors, entry level shoes might remain sufficient. With a slower training pace and low enough mileage, a mere sandwich bag taped over each foot would probably provide enough protection. But, when you start increasing your mileage or intensity, entry level shoes with their minimal support and cushioning are inadequate. If you want to get serious about running, you need better protection or you run the risk of getting injured.

Consider what happens when you run faster; you lift your foot just a bit higher off of the ground and reach just a bit farther with each running stride. The faster you go, the higher you lift your feet, the longer your stride, and the farther your foot has to fall to reconnect with the ground. Now, let’s say you’ve doubled your weekly mileage from 20 miles a week, to 40 miles per week. If it takes you 1,500 steps to complete a mile, you could be doubling your steps from 30,000, to 60,000. As you increase your speed and distance, the jarring your body experiences can be increased exponentially. Your entry level shoes, quite simply, just aren’t enough to accommodate all that additional stress. And, if you don’t make the switch to a more robust pair of shoes, you are setting yourself up for injury. If you want to get more out of running, it will require not only a greater time and effort commitment; but coughing up a few extra dollars and purchasing a better pair of shoes. This leads us to the frequency of replacing shoes.

Let’s see what happens to the person who’s accustomed to buying a pair of shoes every six months. If her mileage has doubled over time, she should now be replacing them every three months. Note: that recommendation takes into consideration that she’s already upgraded to a more robust pair of shoes. Recall that taking a longer stride requires a higher knee-lift, which in turn increases the distance your foot travels before it falls back to the ground. That increased pounding with every running stride means that even a more robust pair of your shoes can wear out at a similar mileage rate as the cheaper pair of shoes. But, if you’re adamant about sticking to the cheaper pair, you can count on those wearing out even faster as a result of the increased pounding.

During my three decades of competitive running, I came to the consensus that shoes should be replaced somewhere between 300 and 500 miles, with most people falling closer to the middle of the range. While I was fairly light (weight gradually increased from 129 to 145 over the years), I was required to replace my shoes every 300 miles. I was a very hard heel striker and it put an inordinate amount of crushing force in the heels of my shoes quickly destroying their shock-absorbing capabilities. Over high mileage periods I was replacing my shoes every 4 to 6 weeks. Weight, distance, foot strike, and pace are all determining factors in deciding how often a runner should replace his shoes. If you pay attention to your shoes, you’ll develop an understanding of your own shoe replacement needs.

And, now, to address the ongoing debate on which running shoes are the best. I am of the opinion that every running shoe has a runner for whom it is suitable. Finding your own best shoe is based on trial and error. When you find the model that works best for you, though, don’t fall in love with it. That’s because shoe manufacturers are continuously tweaking their shoes. They’re perpetually adding a bit more cushioning here, more stability there, and experimenting with different materials. Because of this, you may discover that your cushioned Saturn rocket has morphed into a stable Pluto shuttle in only a few short seasons. To find the best running shoe for you, I suggest checking out your local running specialty shoe store and talking to the folks there. If your salesman has been running for a decade or more, he’s experienced a few running shoe transitions and can get you steered in the right direction.

In running,
Dennis Gravitt

An incomplete list of manufacturers in whose shoes I have run:
Asics, New Balance, Nike, Saucony, Etonic, Puma, Brooks, Reebok, Mizuno