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Shoe Rotation During Marathon Training

When I was training for my first marathon I only used one pair of shoes and struggled on a number of levels. Since that time I’ve seen the value in rotating through different types of shoes in training.

I definitely advise runners to have at least two different types of shoes in your rotation and there seems to be evidence to back this up.

Here is what the research seems to say on this topic and some bonus tips on how to prolong the life of your running shoes.


Shoe Rotation

Researchers in Luxembourg studied 264 adult recreational runners. They gathered information on training volume, injury rate, cross-training, shoe usage and other variables. Of the 264 runners, 116 were classified as single-shoe wearers: runners in this group did 91% of their mileage in the same shoe, and ran in an average of 1.3 pairs of shoes during the study. The other 148 were classified as multiple-shoe wearers: runners in this group tended to have a main shoe, which they wore for an average of 58% of their mileage, but they rotated among an average of 3.6 pairs of shoes for their training during the study.

The researchers found that the multiple-shoe wearers had a 39% lower risk of injury during the study period than the single-shoe wearers. Researchers speculate that this could be because different shoes distribute the impact forces of running differently, which lessens the strain on any given tissue. They said,

“The use of different pairs of running shoes will provide alternation in the running pattern and vary external and active forces on the lower legs during running activity. Whether the reduced [injury] risk can be ascribed to alternation of different shoe characteristics, such as midsole densities, structures or geometries cannot be determined from these results and warrants future research.”

Supporting this idea of reducing injury risk by varying tissue loads, the researchers also found that runners who reported more cross-training had a lower incidence of injury. (1)

If you keep multiple shoes in your training rotation it’s a wise idea to match them to the particular surface or type of run that you’ll be doing. For example, I tend to “retire” shoes from long runs after they hit around 250 miles because they tend to feel flat and leave my legs feeling more fatigued. Then I’ll use them only for shorter runs until they reach around the 400 mile point (the actual mileage that I retire shoes varies depending on the model).

I also like to keep a pair of trail shoes in the rotation for running in snow, trails, or gravel/dirt roads. I usually save my lightest pair of shoes for speed work and treadmill runs. Another benefit of rotating your shoes kicks in when a company changes or discontinues your favorite shoe. That can cause a panic if they’re the only type of shoe that you run in.

I used to run exclusively in Asics Nimbus until they changed the model a bit and it no longer worked for my foot. What followed was a very angsty period where I frantically tried to find my new favorite shoe. This uncomfortable period included running a marathon in a shoe that made my feet go numb.

Since that time I’ve always kept at least two different types of shoes in my line-up. Given the evidence that rotating between more than one pair of shoes can reduce your chance of injury and also prolong the life of the shoe (partly because the cushioning has a chance to rebound between uses) it also makes financial sense for the average runner.

Here are some suggestions on building up your shoe rotation:

  • Don’t wait until your current shoes are worn out before purchasing a new pair. Instead, work a new pair into the rotation midway through the mileage you usually put on your trainers so that you don’t end up with worn out and brand new shoes. We get a lot of questions from runners wondering if they should wear a brand new pair of shoes for their marathon or a worn out pair. By planning ahead you can avoid this dilemma.
  • Look for discounts on shoe models that you like and maybe pick up an extra pair if there’s a good sale. Many shoes will go on sale right after the newest model is released and they’re trying to clear their inventory of the older model. (3)
  • When it’s time to say goodbye to your trainers try to find a place to recycle your old running shoes. Our local running store has a box to put shoes that need to be recycled. Look at the 4th link under resources to see a list of organizations that recycle shoes. (4)

Here are some ways to prolong the life of your running shoes:

  • Store shoes carefully away from extreme heat and cold. Don’t pile heavy boots or gear on top of shoes which can collapse the uppers.
  • Hand wash if needed as many performance components of the shoes aren’t meant to go through a washer and dryer. Instead you can use a stiff brush to get off crusted dirt and then use baby wipes or a little soap and a damp rag to clean.
  • Dry wet shoes by taking out the insoles and lightly packing with wadded newspaper (replacing when it becomes damp). Putting them by a heater or radiator can cause damage to the shoes.
  • I’ve read that it’s not a good idea to stockpile more than 2 years worth of shoes at once as midsole life is often limited and some materials may start breaking down.
  • Give each shoe a 48 hour break between wearing to allow the foam to decompress.
  • Untie shoes between wearing them instead of jamming your foot in and out without untying.
  • Keep track of the mileage on your shoes so that you know when to rotate them out of your long run line up and use them only for shorter runs.
  • Don’t wear your running shoes for activities like mowing the lawn or doing other outdoor activities which can cause unnecessary wear and damage. Retired running shoes can often turn into walking, cross training, or yard work shoes. (2)

Sources:
(1) www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a20820451/study-backs-rotating-shoes-to-lower-injury-risk/
(2) www.runnersworld.com/gear/a26655055/running-shoe-care/
(3) www.running.pocketoutdoormedia.com/sole-man-quiver-running-shoes_107583
(4) www.running.pocketoutdoormedia.com/feel-good-options-for-old-shoes_90394

We installed an extra shelf in our hall closet just for running shoes! 😜

BTW, we do have two shoe companies that have recently become sponsors of the podcast.

  • Topo Athletic award-winning running shoes with roomy toe box and zero drop platform. Get 10% off your first pair with promo code “MTA”.
  • On Running Shoes – The clean and minimalistic design as well as its sole technology gives you the sensation of running on clouds. Try a pair of On’s for yourself for 30 days and put them to the test.
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