Is it time to retire your shoes?

If you’re naturally sceptical of ‘best before dates’, advice by bedroom furniture retailers to “buy a new mattress every eight years” or other guidance that involves parting company with a beloved product earlier than you might feel is necessary, then you might need to steal yourself because it really is a good idea to make an exception for your ‘performance’ walking shoes or boots.

While you might get away with wearing your work shoes or your favourite casual trainers until they fall apart, it’s really worth buying into manufacturers’ advice on shoe or boot lifespan, even if it goes against your natural instinct.  The whole point of using shoes designed to improve your performance is exactly that – to get a performance benefit. As the shoes wear, their ability to support your performance wears too – like an F1 car’s tyres going off after a certain number of laps.

Yes, you can persist with shoes that are losing their ability to support or cushion but as that support begins to fall off, your legs are left exposed to the possibility of injury – perhaps the heel area has worn more on one side than the other and your feet turn in slightly as a result. You might not notice anything major but you could pick up a niggling knee ache or some kind of tendon pain – suggesting that your shoes are no longer able to support ‘good form’ or a nice neutral walking action.

The key thing is to have knowledge of the kind of mileage you’ve done in your shoes because if you do pick up a persistent niggle, you might not consider your shoes as the culprit. You might think you just need to back off a little, or just persist with training (as many runners do) thinking you can work through it or that it’s a niggle that’ll pass with time. Of course, if the cause is your shoes and you’re looking for answers in your legs, you’re not going to find it.

As shoes wear and components like gel cushioning age beyond their recommended lifespan, then the impact on your joints can increase.  It’s not a difficult concept to grasp really but all too often our shoes can still look fine on the outside and it’s easy to think all is well, especially as changes in shoe performance happen over time – you don’t just go out for a run or a walk one day and they fall off a cliff.

At Sport Walk, we’ve experienced this first hand, with ageing shoes and the onset of ‘runners knee’.  After an upgrade to a new shoe, the discomfort was still there at times but the improvement was noticeable.  It’s probable that some remedial work from an Osteo is still needed but the contribution of the old shoes to the problem was very real.

That’s not to say of course that if you have an injury or pick up a niggling persistent ache in your knee or tendons, you should just go out and buy some new shoes, rather than seek help form an Osteopath or Physio. Certainly not. But if you know whether your shoes are still within the operating window recommended by manufacturers, then you’ll know whether this could be a contributing factor or at least you’ll be able to share this info with your professional help.

So, how long should you keep a pair of shoes in operation? Well, talk to any good running shop selling ‘specialist’ trainers that are suitable for distance running or walking and they’ll say that you should replace your shoes between 400 – 500 miles or 650 – 800km and this advice seems to be pretty much par for the course whoever you ask. Leading shoe brand Asics give a little more guidance here.

Of course with walking, the impact on your feet is much less than with running but your shoes still wear, so a 700-800km lifespan still feels right to us.  For instance, some runners land on their fore or mid foot rather than their heel but this doesn’t alter the lifespan advice for running shoes.  With Sport Walkers, the almost guaranteed heel strike of walking will mean that wear still occurs at this part of the sole, even if there is less impact on your joints from walking than running. So despite the impact being less, wear and tear is still happening to the mid and outer sole of the shoe.

Keeping track of your mileage and therefore planning when to retire your shoes is really easy now. If you use tech to track your performance (which is, after all, a key part of Sport Walking), you’re already generating the distance data that you need and if you’re also logging that data on a platform like ‘Strava’ for instance, you can list your equipment and specify which shoes you wore for each recorded session, so you’ll always have a running tally of your shoes’ lifespan.  Strava can send you notifications when you reach a pre-determined distance, such as 600km and it’s easy to reset this to a longer distance, if you really are sure that your shoes are still OK.

So, your tech can be so much more than just a means of working to a target pace or tracking your performance, it could also potentially save you from injury if you log your kit and track each training session.

Look after your feet and your feet will look after you. In this instance, the guidance on replacing shoes before they perhaps look like they need it, is well worth listening to.

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