The most basic pieces of running gear marathoners use – and the most often overlooked while training – are our shoes. They’ve been with us every step of the way since Memorial Day—and they bear the brunt of all those training miles.
As we are now in the ‘dog days of training’, this is an appropriate time to assess the condition of our running shoes. The expected useful lifetime of a pair of running shoes is between 300 – 500 miles. The variance depends on our body type, running style (biomechanics) and how we care for our shoes. Even if our running shoes were brand new in the first week of training, this is a good time to think about getting a new pair of shoes and begin “breaking them in” for Marathon Day.
We can’t always tell how worn the shoes are merely by looking at them. If the shoes have been worn for indoor running or if you have not run through rain or puddles, the shoes may look to be in good shape. If you’ve run through puddles and mud, the shoes may look worse than they are—but regardless of how they may appear, after a few hundred miles the midsole of the shoes typically breaks down, and the important protection shoes offer to the feet (indeed, to our entire body on landing) diminishes, leading to aches, soreness or even pain.
Some telltale signs that we need new shoes – little aches and pains in the knees, hips, shins and/or ankles.
Even if you’ve not yet experienced any soreness, shoes still may need to be replaced. Look at the opening of the shoe. See if the shoe has “fishmouth,” where the opening is flexible and looks like a fish opening its mouth when you apply a little bit of pressure on the back or the side of the opening.
Another checkpoint is the “landing spot” of the shoe. If you typically land on your heel or the rear of the foot, check the heel wear to see if the heel is noticeably worn in one spot. If that’s the case and you have over 250 – 300 miles on the shoes, it’s time for new ones. If you are a ‘toe runner’ – check the landing pads under the balls of your feet to see if the treads are worn. And if you are a ‘mid-foot’ striker, look for uneven wearing of the treads compared to the rest of the sole.
In preparation for race day, our shoes should have between 50 – 100 miles on them (with 75 being an ideal target). This distance allows for a breaking in of the shoes on some long runs, but not too many miles. Look ahead at your schedule; determine how many more miles you’ll log before race day. Count backwards to be sure your ‘marathon day’ shoes won’t have too many miles on them.
If the shoes you’re currently wearing still have some miles left on them, you don’t have to throw them out or stop running in them completely. Usually, I rotate two or three pairs of shoes while training for a marathon. This allows me to switch shoes, one for long runs and one for shorter runs in preparation for marathon day--with the new shoes used for short runs, and a few weeks later, for long runs (and the old long run shoes are relegated to shorter runs for a while).
The process of breaking in shoes is helped if you buy the same brand and model shoe you’ve been wearing and in which you’ve been running. If you feel the need to switch brands or models, now is the time to do that -- allowing ample time for your feet to adjust. (Although if what you are wearing now ‘works’ for you, please don’t try a new brand or model so close to the marathon.)
Finally, when buying shoes – purchase shoes in the evening or after a run. Our feet may be slightly bigger then and the shoes will be fit better for running.
Bonus tip – drying wet shoes
When our shoes get wet, it is important to dry them thoroughly before running again (another reason for a back-up pair for rotation, by the way). To clean or dry your shoes, DO NOT THROW THEM IN THE WASHER OR THE DRYER as this will damage the integrity of the shoes. Instead, remove the laces and the sole inserts and dry them separately. Stuff newspaper into the toes of the shoes to absorb moisture. Position the shoes against a wall, heels up (toes down); and replace wet/damp newspaper after 3-4 hours. This will expedite the drying process.
“Good form will carry you through”®