For many runners, athletic apparel is the last thing on their minds. Many of us grab an old T-shirt and shorts out of the drawer in a half-dark room, cram on the same pair of shoes we bought during the first Obama term, and then set out for our morning runs. After all, comfort is one of the benefits of running, and these things are comfortable.
But there is a trade-off, and the risk involved in wearing old shoes is much higher than any comfortable feeling we get.
Fundamentally, running shoes provide cushion against the road, and that cushion comes from the shoe’s EVA foam. The foam starts to break down after between 300 and 500 miles, so if you run three miles a day five days a week, that’s probably four or five months.
Testing your Shoes
The reason for the wide mileage range is that every person is different, in terms of running style, weight, and other things, and every running surface is different. To eliminate some of the guesswork, try one or more of these tests:
Press your thumb into the midsole, and if there is little or no give, the cushion is probably worn and it’s probably time for new shoes.
Do not ignore pain in the bottoms of your feet, because that may be an indication that your shoes aren’t providing enough cushion.
Take your old pair of shoes when you try on a new pair, and experience the difference for yourself.
These rules obviously only apply to road or track runners who wear cushioned shoes. Trail runners who wear either minimalist shoes or heavily-padded footwear should get advice from a shoe or running store.
Effects of Worn Shoes
In most cases, well-cushioned shoes are the first line of defense against running injuries, because they supplement the cartilage between your bones. When the natural and artificial cushioning starts to get thin, the body goes out of alignment, causing issues like:
Plantar Fasciitis: Since the plantar fascia ligaments connect the heel to the toes, these ligaments are the most vulnerable to under-cushioned shoes. Plantar fasciitis is an incredibly painful condition that’s particularly common among middle-age people. Essentially, repeated strain tears the muscles, causing pain and swelling.
IT Band Syndrome: As you can see when you refer to this article, ITBS is often mistaken for a knee injury, although it’s actually a tear in the IT Band ligament that runs along most of the leg. When the ligament gets strained, it rubs against the bony areas around the knee and thigh. Poor orthotics and improper gait are some of the most common causes of this overuse injury, because if your footfalls are not properly cushioned, the body compensates, and that compensation usually has unintended and unwanted consequences.
Foot Tendonitis: Extensor Tendonitis affects the tendons on the top of the foot. The pain usually begins very subtly and then gets worse quickly if you do not take care of the injury as outlined below.
Knee Tendonitis: Patellar tendinitis is an injury of the tendon which connects the shinbone and the kneecap. Much like IT Band Syndrome, knee tendonitis often occurs because the footfalls are out of alignment, and the odd motion throws everything else off kilter, resulting in knee pain.
Changing shoes, and the new footwear should have very good arch support, is often the best way to treat plantar fasciitis. A combination of rest, ice, compression, and elevation are usually effective for IT Band Syndrome, tendonitis, and other such injuries.
It’s amazing how a new pair of shoes feels on your feet, and it’s also amazing how much well-cushioned shoes can help prevent some common fitness injuries.