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Is It Dangerous to Run in Old Running Shoes?

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“Every runner will have to make some important decisions in her life. Who to marry, where to work, what to name her kids… But nothing is as important as the kind of running shoes she selects,” says sports medicine doctor and triathlete Jordan Metzl, M.D. After all, runners’ feet—and ankles, knees, and hips—take a greater pounding that most people’s, so finding the proper protection for your tootsies is critical. (Check out The Best Sneakers to Crush Your Workout Routines.) 

But say you've found your perfect pair, run in them for many happy miles, and finally wore them out, without having a backup on hand. Should you keep wearing the same shoes until you make it to the store (or runningwarehouse.com) for a new pair? Or is it safer for your stride to hit the pavement in a newer pair of sneakers, even if the only spare pairs you have don't actually count as running shoes?

That depends—on how old your actual running shoes really are, says Dr. Metzl. There’s worn out, and there’s worn out. And you can’t go by how many miles you’ve logged in the sneaks; you’ve got to go by feel. “The half-life of running shoes has gotten longer as shoe technology has improved, particularly in the mid-sole of shoes,” says Dr. Metzl. “What used to die after about a month now lasts many months without a problem.” (Learn how to Extend the Lifespan of Your Fitness Gear.) 

So rather than retiring your shoes after the standard 500 miles, keep running in them until, “running feels not as comfortable,” he says. For every runner, that will mean something different. You might notice your ankles start to feel wobbly after a mile or so, or your knees are achy after a run, or you just feel “off” overall.

If you’ve reached that slightly uncomfortable point (Dr. Metzl calls it the “tail end of not good”) and you don’t have a spare, you can squeeze a few more miles out of them—and you should, before switching to your cross-trainers, says Dr. Metzl. Even kind of old running shoes provide better, more complete running support than brand-new non-running shoes.

But after a certain point, running sneakers move from “uncomfortable” to “terrible,” notes Dr. Metzl. Again, this is subjective, but if old injuries start flaring up on your run, or that “off” feeling turns into an “ouch” feeling, it’s definitely time to put the shoes to rest—and if you’re desperate for a jog, you can pull on your cross-trainers or weight training sneakers. (Or maybe it's a sign to start exploring the world of barefoot running.) 

But when you’re running in less-than-optimal shoes, Dr. Metzl warns to keep it short and sweet. “No long runs, no speed workouts,” he says. “Just run to the shoe store and get new running sneakers.”

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