A Hi, Joe. The answer to your first question truly depends on the runner and the shoes. Every runner has a host of variables that affect the wear pattern on shoes. Some runners are lightweight but run heavy, and vice versa. Some runners are so efficient their shoes last twice as long as the average runner’s.
The second variable involves the shoes themselves. The materials of the shoe matter, but they also need to match the needs of the runner. For example, if you are a lightweight runner with a very neutral landing pattern and efficient form (lucky!), you could get a lot of mileage out of a lightweight or minimalist shoe. However, if your buddy gets the same shoe but he’s heavy on his feet, has not-so-great form, and is not lightweight, the same pair of shoes may last only a few hundred kilometres. In time, though, this same runner can learn to run more lightly and strengthen his body to run with less (a topic best saved for another post).
As for your second question, here are seven ways you can extend the life of your running shoes:
1 Celebrate the birth date.
Mark the purchase date of the shoes on the side of your shoes (yes, this is a picture of my shoes) with a permanent marker. Then keep track of the mileage on that shoe in an online or paper log. Knowledge is power, and learning the wear of each pair of shoes can help determine which brand and style work best for you.
Running shoes are cool-looking, but if you wear them outside of your running workouts for kicking around, you are tacking on the kilometres. And sometimes the standing and walking kilometres while you’re going on with your day can have a greater impact on the wear than running. Think of them like roller skates, and save them for times when you want to get your running groove on.
3 Avoid the dryer at all costs.
It breaks down the shoe materials and makes for a very noisy hour at home. Instead, after a wet, dirty run, rinse them off, use a light brush to get the grit off, and then towel dry and stuff with newspaper or paper towel.
4 Rotate your shoes.
If you’re training for a longer race or putting in a lot of kilometres, consider rotating two pairs of shoes during the same season. This can extend the life of each pair of shoes and allow them time to recover after long runs (shoes need recovery days too). This can also be helpful to tailor the particular shoe for the type of run (i.e. one shoe may be better for long runs, while another is better for shorter, faster workouts). This is also a great way to slowly weave in a minimalist shoe if you are thinking of going this route (please do this very slowly and learn the technique before the mileage, please).
5 Buy fresh and local.
Let’s hear it for our local running specialty stores! They work hard and keep a constant flow of fresh shoes in store. Seriously, buying a discounted shoe may seem like a great idea for the pocketbook at the time, but it could have been sitting in a warehouse for years. Time also wears on the shoe life.
6 Improve your form.
You don’t need to get lost in the sea of running form information to improve your form. Keep it simple, run mindfully and rhythmically (short, quick cadence) and think of a neutral line from your head to toe. Watch elite runners at races and emulate the motion, not necessarily the form. They move forward, not up and down. Everyone will learn this with different cues, but if you see what it looks like, you can then start to practice it on the roads. This takes time, practice patiently. Efficient form means less impact on the body and your shoes.
7 Avoid leaving them in extreme elements.
Have you ever picked up a shoe that’s been sitting in a car during the middle of the summer heat? It’s not pretty, it’s more like putty. Exposing the shoe to extreme cold and heat can cause serious strain on the shoes, especially the heat. Friends don’t let friends leave their shoes in the trunk.
Run within your means. Okay, this probably doesn’t belong in this post, but consider it a bonus tip! If you train wisely and progress slowly, you can run stronger during the entire run and hold more efficient form. If you push beyond, there is an imaginary fatigue threshold you cross in a run that takes you from running strong to plugging along. When this line is crossed, it takes a toll on your body and your shoes due the greater impact forces.