Choosing New Shoes for Your Shoe Rotation

Author: Stephanie Ford   Date Posted: 3 August 2019 

Most runners don’t need an excuse to grab their next set of kicks. But did you know that alternating between pairs of running shoes has a bunch of benefits, including fewer injuries? Yep, a 2015 study confirmed that rotating between running shoes reduces your risk of injury.

Different Runs Deserve Different Shoes

Having a few pairs of shoes on the go also means you’re more likely to be ready for different runs. Here’s how to choose your shoes:

Trail Shoes

If you’re spending time off-road, your feet will thank you for your investment in some quality trail shoes.

Trail shoes are durable, grippy and protect your feet from errant roots and gravel. Choose shoes with your preferred cushion profile. Research hasn’t provided any conclusive answers regarding whether barefoot/minimalist or cushioned shoes are better for you - so it’s all about your preference and finding a pair you'll be happy to wear.

Trail shoes are optimised for specific types of trails, so study the product descriptions and choose shoes that match the terrain you’ll be training on.

Generally:

  • The softer the rubber on the lugs, the more traction you’ll get in the wet. It comes at the cost of durability though.
  • Waterproofing means less breathability and more weight. It’s often worth buying shoes that drain and breathe well and wearing wool socks to keep your feet warm.

For more details, see our guide to choosing trail and hiking shoes.

Road Shoes

Road shoes are relatively lightweight, durable and have varying amounts of cushion and support. The longer you run, the more cushioning will benefit you, as it softens the impact of each footfall, placing less strain on your joints. Even though I’m a fan of minimalist shoes, I always step up the cushion for longer runs on pavement or roads.

Some runners swear that retiring their long run shoes for shorter sessions after the 400 km mark is a lifesaver for their legs. If you’re feeling more fatigued on your long runs, try transitioning in a new long distance pair.

Racing Shoes

Advanced runners use lightweight racing shoes to minimise weight on race day or during speed workouts. They aren’t as durable or protective as your everyday road or trail shoes, but they sure are fast.

Runners who are starting to advance in their training can benefit from racing shoes for their speed workouts too, but they’re not essential for beginners.

Transitioning to New Shoes

There’s no hard and fast rule as to how long shoes should last you. There’s an adage about 400 miles (or 650km) being the sweet spot for shoes. But I had a pair of Altra Provisions that I got more than 1,000km out of (before I had a toenail incident that scared me out of ever putting them back on).

Following these guidelines will help you stay comfortable during the transition:

  • Pick the right size. You should have roughly a thumb's width of space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. This often means your running shoes will be a size larger than your walking/casual shoes, but it gives your feet room to expand as you run longer distances or down hills.
  • Go for shorter runs in your new shoes first. You don’t want to discover that they rub you the wrong way 15km from home.
  • Rotate in a new pair of shoes once your older pair hit their halfway point (in terms of predicted mileage). You don’t want to be breaking in a new pair when your old ones are toast.

A Note about Minimalist Shoes

Minimalist shoes have either zero or very little drop (millimetres of difference between the height of the toes and heel in the shoe) and minimal cushioning and support. You need to be even more careful if you’re transitioning to minimalist shoes.

Transitioning to minimalist running shoes means slowly decreasing the drop in your shoes (try switching to shoes that have 6-8 mm, then to 4mm, then to zero) and gradually increasing the distance you run in them. Start out running only 10% of your usual distance in your new shoes (run the rest in your old shoes). The first time you run in low drop shoes, your calves may hurt, as barefoot running relies on strength in muscles you may not be using much already. Focus on your form, rather than speed, as you run (land softly on your forefoot, don't overstride). Let your legs recover between each session and increase the distance in your new shoes as your calf muscles strengthen. Overdoing it can put you on the fast track to injury, so it’s well-worth taking your time.

The Shoe Advisor

Check out our Shoe Advisor to find the perfect shoes for your rotation. It takes the factors laid out in this article into consideration and produces a list of shoes tailored for you.