Maximum Mileage: 12 Easy Ways to Extend the Life of Your Running Shoes
Runners share tips on getting started with simple, daily gear care. The best part? These hacks can help you reduce waste and be a more mindful runner.
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In the summer of 2020, London-based running coach, Dora Atim, found herself in the English countryside.
"I literally burst into tears in the middle of this forest", she remembers. "But it was a feeling of relief, of joy, of ‘I can't believe I have access to this’. And I was like, ‘I want my friends to feel this’".
Away from her usual city life, Dora had exchanged busy roads for secluded trails in hopes of finding both physical and mental space from the events of last year. It was during one of her trail runs that she reached a clearing and found clarity. As a Black woman herself, Dora says she didn't always feel safe running on the trails, so she decided then and there to form Ultra Black Running, a community that encourages Black women, as well as trans and non-binary people, to share in the experience of running outdoors.
A strong advocate for creating safe spaces in running, especially out in nature, Dora understands the critical role a healthy planet plays in achieving this. But when it comes to practising sustainably minded habits, she's still figuring things out. "I try my best", she says. "To be honest, though, I don't actually know what that looks like".
The good news is that taking better care of the planet is a lot like becoming a better runner: Your daily habits add up. Even something as small as looking after your running shoes so they last longer can make a big difference over time, if it means you're less likely to buy new ones before you need to.
So we asked our global running community, from pro athletes to passionate designers at Nike, how they get the most out of their gear. Like Dora, we're all still figuring it out, but there's a lot we can learn from each other—so check out our favourite pearls of wisdom below, find the ones that work for you and let's do this together.
Your shoes are your friends. Nike designers Rikke Bonde (L) and Shelby Wauligman (R) show ways they create a personal connection with their gear, like writing inspiring messages and switching up the laces.
1. Bond with Your Gear
"They're not just shoes", says Amritpal Ghatora, a long-time runner who recently started coaching. "They're part of my running". Embracing this mindset is key: Think of your gear less like an object and more like a teammate.
"Building empathy for the things we own—I think that's where we have a huge opportunity to build more sustainable practices", says Shelby Wauligman, a running apparel designer at Nike who enjoys hunting for second-hand treasures. "When we have respect for the things we own, we're more likely to extend their life".
Bonding with your running shoes can be as simple as swapping in custom shoelaces, writing a personally inspiring quote on them or throwing them in your suitcase whenever you hit the road—like Raj Mistry, a senior apparel designer at Nike, who has travelled far and wide with his training shoes, from the castle city of Edinburgh to the streets of Hanoi. "I think your shoes become a part of your story", he says, reminiscing about sunrise runs in far-flung destinations. "You connect to these pieces. I'm not just going to chuck you away when a new shoe comes [along] or after a few miles. It's a longer relationship".
Set yourself and your shoes up for long-term success. Like runners Chantal Gonzalez, Amritpal Ghatora and Kelechi Okorie (L–R), select shoes that will perform best for the distances, surfaces and types of runs you'll be doing.
2. Run in the Right Shoes for the Job
Here's some advice for the next time you're shopping: "Ask yourself what you want out of your run—not what you want out of your shoes", says Jo Micheli, a Los Angeles-based EKIN (our name for a Nike product expert, which also spells Nike backwards). Jo started running as part of their weight-loss journey—"I ran because I like peanut butter cups", they laugh. But as Jo progressed from casual to competitive runner over the years, their shoe line-up had to evolve too: from versatile workhorses to a more specialised arsenal of racing flats and spikes.
So, in order to get the most out of your shoes, and your run, ask "why" before you buy. Looking to take in some nature? Trail shoes will better withstand rocky and varied terrain. If you'll be racking up mileage on tarmac or a treadmill, cushiony road shoes will bounce back best. In other words, don't eat soup with a fork.
London, England, July 2021. For Dora Atim, who started Ultra Black Running last year for Black women and non-binary people to join her outside and on the trails, running is a source of self-care and empowerment. Needless to say, she goes all out as she gets ready to go get some miles. "I'm a massive believer of you have to look good when you run, otherwise, it's not good for you", she says. "You have to feel like you're absolutely bossing your outfit".
London, England, July 2021. For Dora Atim, who started Ultra Black Running last year for Black women, trans and non-binary people to join her outside and on the trails, running is a source of self-care and empowerment. Needless to say, she goes all out as she gets ready to go get some miles—even making hydrating a special occasion. "I'm a massive believer of you have to look good when you run", she says. "You have to feel like you're absolutely bossing your outfit".
3. Reserve Your Shoes for the Run
Do running shoes look great with an everyday outfit? For sure. But bear in mind that every time you wear them, even just walking around casually, those miles add up.
"Every shoe has a life expectancy and every time they're on your feet, your shoes are living part of their life", says Chris "Coach" Bennett, Nike's global head coach of running. "Your shoes aren't as responsive and you've only run 200 miles? Yeah, but you've lived in them for 500". So the next time you head out for errands, remember that wearing your running shoes might mean one less run they can go on later down the road.
Similarly, if you're used to burning precious miles by walking in new running shoes to break them in, try this hack from pro middle-distance runner Craig Engels instead: "I'll actually take the inserts from old shoes and put them in the new ones", he says, noting that the worn-in insoles help keep his feet from cramping, so he can hit the ground running in a box-fresh pair.
EKIN Jo Micheli shows the right and wrong way to remove your running shoes. Every little thing makes a difference!
4. Untie Those Pesky Laces
When we say these tips are easy, we mean it! Even taking a brief moment after each run to untie your laces can make all the difference in the long-term life of your running shoes.
Every time you kick off your shoes without untying them first—please don't!—you could be wearing away at the structural integrity of the heel cup. "The minute you start to break the heel down, your run is going to suck", Jo warns. This common bad habit could also lead to shoving your foot back into a still-tied shoe before your next run—doubling the damage on your footwear, not to mention giving yourself sub-par support. So take the time to properly tie, for the sake of your shoe and your foot. Win-win.
Dry shoes are happy shoes. London-based running coach, Amritpal Ghatora, shows one easy way you can help your shoes fend off moisture and bacteria: stuffing them with newspaper post-run.
5. Don't Forget to Dry
Unchecked moisture can drastically shorten the life of a shoe. "Bacteria builds up in there. You gotta remember you're sweating in those shoes, you're running through creeks and puddles", Coach Bennett explains. "One reason shoes don't make it to 300 or 400 miles is not that they've lost their function, their cushion, their responsiveness—they just stink".
So how do you stop the stink? Make sure your shoes can dry out after every run. Start by simply storing them in a spot with decent air flow. (Although, if leaving them outside, Jo in LA warns against prolonged exposure to direct sun, which can warp materials and fade colours.)
Extra soggy? Go a step further by stuffing shoes with crumpled newspaper to absorb water and speed up the drying process. Raj, the apparel designer, even keeps a bucket of rice in his garage just for drying shoes—a bit like the trick you've likely used to extract moisture from a wet mobile phone.
One tip that most runners we spoke to agree on is to ditch the dryer. According to our quality engineers (the team who test Nike products and put them through the elements in a special lab), high heat is not ideal for the glues and bonding agents that hold shoes together.
6. Give Shoes a Break—and Consider a Rotation
Running shoes need rest days too. "[It's like] giving them a recovery shake", marathoner and coach Amritpal says. "Give them a post-run cool-down so they're ready for the next time".
How long of a cool-down? No less than 24 to 48 hours, according to our engineers. They say that while shoes' exact recovery times depend on multiple factors (material, weight, terrain, distance), allowing ample time for their foam midsoles to decompress after a run will help them fully support you on your next outing and retain more responsiveness over time.
If you're running more frequently than that, you have good reason to start a shoe rotation. Although shelling out for another pair is an investment up front, it's one that could help ensure your shoes stay in top form for as long as possible, avoiding an early grave due to overuse.
London, England, July 2021. After a pause during the pandemic, Dora hopes to return to weekly trail runs with the group where pre-lockdown turnout was as many as 30 to 40 people. "Black women need this space to just be them because we are constantly having to change the way we are to fit a narrative or constantly being excluded or not being seen", she says. "This is for them. It's blossomed into something so amazing".
London, England, July 2021. After a pause during the pandemic, Dora hopes to return to weekly trail runs with Ultra Black Running, whose pre-lockdown turnout was as many as 30 to 40 people. "Black women need this space to just be them, because we are constantly having to change the way we are to fit a narrative or constantly being excluded or not being seen", she says. "This is for them. It's blossomed into something so amazing".
7. Switch Up the Terrain
"Not all surfaces are created equal", Coach Bennett points out. "You don't need as much cushioning when you're running on grass. It's doing some of the work for you". When you can, he suggests rotating in softer surfaces (grass, trails, track, beach) to give your gear and body a break. It's a tip he used to offer his high-school athletics and cross-country runners, for whom buying multiple pairs of running shoes often wasn't possible. But even elite runners like Craig still swear by it.
"We run 70 to 100 miles a week and the goal is to find a soft surface", Craig says of his team training programme, adding that his preferred turf is cinder track. "If you're running on concrete, you're compressing [your shoes] way more".
Know your numbers—specifically, your mileage. EKIN Jo Micheli demonstrates how easy (and automatic) it is to keep track of with the Nike Run Club App. Other times, Jo opts for a more analogue method: marking new shoes with a "born-on date" and ballparking monthly miles from there.
8. Track Your Miles
For running shoes, age is just a number. How long you've had them matters less than how many miles you've racked up in them. As Coach Bennett puts it, "it's not a carton of milk"—they don't have an expiry date, so feel free to dust off an old pair that hasn't gotten much use. But once you're rolling, be sure to keep an eye on the mileage.
"When new runners are like, 'When do I recycle a shoe?', I tell them to just track miles", says coach Dora, who uses the Nike Run Club App to keep tabs on her own kicks. "It's like anything else you need to figure out, just track it—sleep, diet, money, whatever". The NRC App makes tracking shoe mileage super easy: Tag your shoe (or shoes!) and a mileage target and the app will automatically track your miles with each run, notifying you when you reach your goal.
While mileage isn't the be-all and end-all of your shoe's life span, it is the easiest way to gauge their approximate status. According to Nike quality engineers, most of our shoe designs are tested to last a minimum of 200 to 300 miles. The key word there being "minimum"—so if you hit that mark and your shoes still look and feel great, don't discard them just yet! They may have something left in the tank.
Know your body, know your gear. Former competitive runner and current Nike store athlete Danielle Girard shows the importance of warm-ups and cool-downs to properly identify any sources of pain.
9. Understand Shoe Care Versus Self-Care
The moment minor aches and pains kick in, some runners might start looking for a new pair of shoes. But Nike store athlete and former competitive runner Danielle Girard encourages the athletes she helps to re-examine their pre- and post-run routines before taking that step.
"Your calves are really sore after every run?" asks Danielle, who is still an avid runner today. "It could be that your shoes are shot and you need more cushioning—or it could just be that your calves are tight and you need to stretch a bit more". In other words, maybe it's you, not the shoes.
The more you run, the more you'll be in tune with your body and gear and the better you'll be able to troubleshoot issues as they arise. In the meantime, remember to check your warm-up and cool-down before jumping to conclusions about your shoes—and of course, closely monitor any recurring or continuous discomfort.
London, England, July 2021. "For me, sustainability is about your kit. Do you pass it on? How often do you buy?" Another big way to make a difference? Take the time to properly clean your shoes whether with a quick tidy after each run or a deep wash. "I have a wash day for my shoes just to get the most out of them", says Dora. "They look box fresh and I'm like, yes! I don't need to get any new ones".
London, England, July 2021. "For me, sustainability is about your kit. Do you pass it on? How often do you buy?" Dora says. Another big way to make a difference? Take the time to properly clean your shoes, whether with a quick tidy after each run or a deep wash when needed. "I have a wash day for my shoes just to get the most out of them", says Dora, who values her skin care as much as her shoe care. "They look box fresh and I'm like, yes! I don't need to get any new ones".
10. Know When (and How) to Wash
Whether you love keeping your shoes looking the way they did on Day 1 or you think a bit of scuff adds character to your kicks, there comes a time when they just need a good wash.
"[Cleaning your shoes] is to avoid all the dust and dirt getting trapped in seams or areas where you don't want it. It's about the longevity of the material", says Rikke Bonde, a materials designer at Nike and avid ultrarunner. "If you wash it off, it will last longer".
Some runners we spoke to like to deep-clean shoes with mild soap and water now and then—like Kelechi Okorie, a London-based creative and Track Mafia run club member who aims for a "shoe bath" once a month.
Others opt for lighter-touch techniques to keep shoes tidy: Nike designer Shelby suggests wiping off excess mud on a patch of grass, using a stick to clean out dirt-caked treads and grabbing reusable cloth wipes when needed. It's a sustainably minded approach that she extends to her apparel as well. "I'll wear things multiple times before washing", she says, adding that she has a designated drawer for clothes that are worn, but not dirty. "It saves [water] and really extends the life of my clothing". Her one exception? Sweaty socks, which go straight into the laundry basket. (See tip No. 5.)
Many people ask whether you can toss your shoes in a washing machine, but the runners we spoke to prefer taking the time to wash their shoes by hand. Think of it as another opportunity to be mindful and connect with your gear.
Don't be scared to take on small repairs and fixes. Above, materials designer Rikke Bonde stitches up a small tear. She calls it "menditation"—an opportunity to connect mindfully with yourself and your gear.
11. Repair What You Can
Running shoes are complex, but repairing them doesn't have to be. "If things break but the overall structure is still good, I'll repair them", says London runner Kelechi, who taught himself to stitch up a tear in his Epic React upper by watching a YouTube video on sewing techniques. "You can Google anything".
While major structural repairs should be left to a professional, basic mending of the upper and outsole is something any runner can try. Sometimes it's as easy as replacing frayed laces or reinforcing high-friction areas with a piece of duct tape. We heard from runners who have experimented with everything from Shoe GOO to WD-40 for quick and easy footwear fixes.
"I'm not so precious about my stuff", says Rikke, the materials designer who carries a mending kit on her ultraruns. "I know if I do a good job, or I try at least, I can wear it or I can repair it again".
Life goes on. Your old shoes may not be able to rack up runs, but you can use them for errands and everyday use, like Coach Bennett does. Just know when that day comes by looking for tell-tale signs, as Amritpal Ghatora demonstrates.
12. Recognise and Celebrate Your Shoes' Retirement
"The goal isn't to extend the life of the shoe forever. It's to extend it for as long as it's designed to last", Coach Bennett says. "We're not trying to raise a dead shoe from the great beyond".
So how do you know when it's the end of the road? Well, there are a number of factors to consider. First, what mileage have you put on them? It's an easy baseline figure to assess your shoes' remaining lifespan. (Remember: 200 to 300 miles is a general sweet spot according to our quality engineers.) Then, check in with your shoes and your body. Kicks showing visible signs of wear and tear? Tread worn down to a smooth finish? Getting slower times, less responsive feeling, longer recovery needed after a run? If this sounds like you, then ... congratulations! You've given your shoes a long, fulfilling life. Be proud. And then stop running in them.
While they won't be out on runs with you, this doesn't have to be goodbye forever. If your old shoes are still in wearable condition, consider giving them a second career as everyday walking or gardening shoes or donating them to a new owner in need. Once they're truly toast, you can drop off athletic shoes of any kind at select Nike stores participating in recycling programmes.
Now That You Know, Pass It On
Your daily habits add up—imagine the difference our collective actions can make when we all work together. So if you've learnt something new here about how to care for your shoes, share it with others!
"The running community is a great place to do this, because it's full of really considerate individuals who love getting outside to go on a run. That connection to the environment is built in", says Nike designer Shelby, who runs to clear her mind and stay inspired. "Normalise taking care of the things you own. The more people do this, the more the culture will shift".
As for Raj, a designer and a dad, he's already seeing the impact in other parts of his life. "I'm always interested in little things I can do to help and teach", he says. "Even with my [4-year-old] daughter, if there's rubbish on the floor, we pick it up. All those little things add up—for the future generation too".
Words: Emily Jensen Photography: Holly-Marie Cato