Do Running Shoes Stretch? (Simple Guide For Picking The Right Size)

Few things are better than lacing up a fresh new pair of running shoes. But as you add on the miles, you’ll likely notice your shoes feeling differently than they did fresh out of the box. So what happened? Do running shoes stretch?

Generally speaking, running shoes should not stretch in length, but they may become slightly looser over time. The exact amount of stretch will depend on the shoe’s construction and the materials used. No shoe is meant to last forever, but there are steps one can take to mitigate some damage and help your shoes last longer.

Also, we recommend that you check out our post “Do Running Shoes Have a Shelf Life?  Do They Expire !

We’ll go into the different ways shoes can change and what you can do to make the most out of them. Let’s dive in.

Should Running Shoes Be Half Size Bigger?

First, it’s important to know what size shoe you should be starting with. When I first started running, I’d buy shoes that were the same size as my regular shoes. I’d consistently wear a hole through the shoe right above my big toe. When I finally went into a running store to get properly fitted, they immediately pulled out shoes a full size larger than what I normally wear.

It was a noticeable difference when I took them out for a run.

It’s important to buy shoes that are slightly larger than your regular street size. This is because your feet will expand as you run, quickly filling that “extra” room. You should aim for a thumb’s width worth of space between your longest toe and the shoe’s toe box. This generally ends up being about half of a size larger, but sometimes you’ll go up a full size.

In addition to making sure your shoes fit length-wise, you may want to experiment with different styles of toe boxes. If you feel like your feet feel cramped when you run, especially as you add on more miles, you may want to try a shoe with a wider toe box. This can provide the space your feet need to expand and some people find it feels more natural when running.

How Do You Know if Your Running Shoes Are Too Small?

Because of the ways our feet naturally expand when we run, it’s usually more common to have shoes that are too small than shoes that are too big. However, they may feel like the perfect size right when you try them on, so it can be difficult to know when shoes are actually too small. Here are a few signs to watch out for (Source):

Your toes graze the front of your shoe

If you notice your toes grazing the front of your shoe after a long run, it’s likely a sign that your shoes are too small. This was the issue I ran into when I was constantly wearing through the toe of my shoes; while they felt fine at first, my feet expanded so much during a run that they no longer fit.

You start noticing bruising in your toenails

Similar to the first issue, if you notice some bruising or soreness in your toes, your shoes are likely too small.

You experience strain on the top of your foot

If you’re feeling strain or numbness on top of your foot, your shoes are likely the wrong size or your laces are way too tight. Your shoes should feel snug but they shouldn’t cut off blood circulation. You also want to make sure your shoes aren’t too loose. Bagginess or gaps are a sign that your shoes are too big, which means your feet won’t be supported when you run.

You have corns on the sides of your toes

Hardened areas of skin on the sides of your toes mean calluses or corns are forming, and that can be a side that your feet are too wide for the shoes you’re wearing. You should be able to pinch a quarter inch of material at the widest part of your foot. If you can’t, then try shoes that have a wider toe box.

Properly fitted shoes will provide the support your body needs on the run, so it’s important to experiment until you find the correct width and length for your feet.

Do Running Shoes Get Wider?

Your shoes should fit comfortably right out of the box, so don’t expect them to get wider or stretch out the more you run. While the material may loosen a bit as you wear them, the overall shape and foundation of the shoe will stay the same. If they weren’t wide enough to begin with, they won’t suddenly get better as you run. In fact, you’ll likely find your feet rubbing against the front or side of the shoe during the run as your feet naturally swell and expand.

You’ve likely heard of “breaking in” running shoes, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get wider. Instead, it means that the shoe will start to conform to the shape of your foot the more that you wear them. This can make for a more comfortable experience when you slip them on, but it won’t drastically alter the way the shoe fits.

How Many Miles Do Running Shoes Last?

A general rule is that running shoes should last 300 to 500 miles. Most runners don’t reliably keep track of their mileage, though, so they may end up running on worn out shoes before they realize it (Source).

This can lead to running less than your best and can even cause injury. So how do you know if it’s time to replace your shoes? Here are some helpful signs to watch out for (Source):

New pain when running

If you’re experiencing new, unexplained pain or discomfort when you run, your shoes have likely hit the end of their life.

Poor shock absorption

Can you suddenly feel the impact of every step that you take? It’s probably because the shock absorption in your shoes has deteriorated. Because running is so high-impact, good shock absorption is crucial for protecting ligaments and joints.

Worn out treads

If the bottom of your shoes is nearly or entirely flat, it’s high time to replace them. This means that the shoes have significantly worn down and won’t have the absorption or stability you need while running.

Don’t wait until the point of your shoes gets holes or falls apart before you replace them. It’s better to be cautious and swap them for a newer pair sooner rather than later – your joints will thank you.

More to Consider

Finding the right shoe can be a challenge and often involves a bit of trial and error. This can be an expensive endeavor, so it can be helpful to find a local running store that will allow you to wear the shoes for a run before returning them.

This will usually be for an in-store credit which you can then use to try the next pair.

Once you’ve found the perfect shoe, make a note of the model and purchase a few pairs whenever you see a sale. Keeping multiple pairs of shoes in rotation is a great way to make them last even longer. (For more on this, check out our post How Many Running Shoes You Should Have? Types & When To Replace Them!)

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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