Secrets and miles: If only our running shoes could speak

I can refresh, recycle and replace my collection, but I will never run out of memories


A recent bout of spring cleaning has me delving into my box of “retired” running shoes. It doesn’t seem too long since my last declutter, yet running shoes seem to multiply in this box of nostalgia. Each pair has a different story to tell. Some have travelled abroad on long-distance adventures while others have stayed closer to home enjoying parkruns and beach trails.

They have all listened to many conversations and secrets shared on a run. They have kept me blister free and pain free for years. I feel like I’m cheating on them by getting rid of them. But the time has come to move on.

The shoe addict

I certainly own more running shoes than “proper shoes”. I have the good pairs, the long-distance ones, the “wear on the beach” shoes, my favourite old pair, the light barefoot ones, the chunkier trail ones, the bright coloured speed shoes and the few pairs that I took a chance on buying online but never fitted quite right. Some I wear regularly, while others have long served their time. There is a selection of brands, styles and sizes. My years of being loyal to one shoe type are long gone.

The best running shoes

I’m often asked to recommend a running shoe, but what works for me is not the same for everyone else.  With chi running we require less support and cushioning in our shoes, but even with good technique we all have different foot sizes, shapes and running history behind us. Don’t get taken in by any fads but do try to remember that your foot does need to be able to move its component parts while in a shoe so always check there is good flexibility in the sole. Try not to pick based on the colour. Inevitably the ones that are least attractive on the eye are the ones that fit the best.

Where to buy

I would always recommend a trip to your local independent running specialist shop if you need help in selecting new running shoes. These staff in these shops are passionate about running and are trained to know the mechanics of feet and how we move when running. Bring your current running shoes and they will check how you have worn them down. The best running specialist shops will be confident enough in their advice to let you take the shoes home, try them indoors and decide if they are right for you. Indeed it may be tempting to buy online or from a generic sports outlet but until you know exactly what your feet need, get practical expert advice.  

Have a backup

If you are training for long distance it makes sense to have more than one pair of the same style of shoe in your wardrobe. As one pair reaches the end of its life the other can start to be broken in. The spare pair acts as a backup and alternating between both pairs will see you though your season. If you do fall in love with a pair of running shoes, buy a replacement pair sooner rather than later. Like all fashion, styles move on and you may be disappointed when searching for your dream shoes only to find out that the new version has been modified to a style that doesn’t quite fit like before.

Replacing running shoes

The sellers of running shoes recommend a replacement every 500 miles or six months, depending on use. Over time the shoes lose their support through wear and tear and don’t offer the same level of protection as new shoes. We can preserve the life of our running shoes by caring for them and wearing them just when running. Depending on the level of support you require in your running shoe, the lifespan can also vary. Barefoot shoes, for example, may last longer as there is less support and cushioning provided to start with.

A second life

It seems a shame that shoes that are often still perfectly wearable are replaced and discarded so quickly. Even if they are not suitable to be worn by a long distance runner, many of these shoes are completely suitable for casual wear. The pairs I have selected to declutter this spring are destined for a new life as gardening companions for my mother. If you don’t have a home for your old running shoes, many charities will accept running shoes. Some sports clubs also operate a “pre-loved shoes” recycling scheme which collects and distributes shoes to others in need at home and abroad. Internationally there are many running-shoe recycling schemes that turn old shoes into running tracks and playground surfaces. I haven’t been able to find any such scheme that operates in Ireland.   

A new start

As I say goodbye to these few pairs of running shoes, I am reminded again of how lucky I am to be able to run. I remain grateful for all that these shoes have allowed me to achieve. These shoes have helped build friendships, solve the world’s problems over a post-run coffee and visited places I may never have travelled to if I wasn’t running. I’d never normally clean running shoes in a washing machine, but I feel this time is different. As every running shoe shop owner and washing machine manufacturer shakes their head, I am going to put them on a gentle wash. I feel they need a fresh smell, a new start and a chance to wash away the old memories to make room for some future ones. Their miles are not finished yet. Another life awaits these shoes.  

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!).
First, pick the programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: This programme is an eight-week course that will take you from inactivity to being able to run 30 minutes non-stop.
- Stay On Track: The second programme is an eight-week course for those of you who can squeeze in a 30- to 40-minute run three times a week.
- 10km Course: This is an eight-week course designed for those who can comfortably run for 30 minutes and want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

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