How Many Running Shoes You Should Have? Types & When To Replace Them!


In most areas of my life, I tend to be a minimalist. Especially when it comes to clothing. I own only two pairs of jeans, three pairs of shorts, four long-sleeve shirts, and a sweater just in case it gets really cold. The rest of my wardrobe is made up of a rotating cast of about a dozen t-shirts.

However, when it comes to running shoes I can get a little crazy. I have been known to have six or more pairs of running shoes at a time. When you compare this to only having four pairs of non-running shoes, it seems a little lopsided.

I have a feeling I’m not alone in this respect. When runners find a shoe that really fits them and their running style, we tend to stock up on them. Especially when we can find them at a good price. Running shoes tend to cost upwards of $100 these days (some are twice that amount!). So when I find a pair of shoes I like and they are 20-30% cheaper than usual, it is hard to pass up the opportunity.

So, how many running shoes should you have? It is widely common to have at least 2 pairs at a time. This is for several reasons such as alternating between them from day to day for variety and it’s also good to have a backup pair in case you are caught out running in the rain, you can wear the other pair until those dry out. Also, different terrains and running distances will require different types of shoes.

Sometimes I have two pairs of the exact same model. Other times I might have one pair that has more cushioning and is better suited for longer runs, and another that is lighter and more responsive. Those I would wear for a speedwork session where I am doing intervals or repeats.  

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What Are Different Types of Running Shoes?

Some running shoes are built for the roads, but there are also shoes for other specialties. Shoe companies also make racing flats, trail shoes, cross trainers, and more. There are even shoes that simulate what it is like to run barefoot.

When looking for a new pair of shoes to buy, make sure you pay attention to the description so you know what that shoe’s purpose is. You wouldn’t necessarily want to buy a pair of racing flats and try to use them for your everyday training purposes. Flats don’t have the cushioning and structure in them to support your feet beyond a short distance, and they tend to wear out quickly.

Even “standard” running shoes are made differently for specific types of running styles. There are neutral shoes, cushioned, stability, and support shoes.

Each of those is built for runners who have a specific type of stride. It’s important to have a knowledgeable shoe salesperson analyze your running form before you make a purchase so you know which is best for you. Wearing the wrong type of shoe for your gait could quickly lead to an injury.

list of Running Shoe Types

  • Neutral trainers – road shoes for runners with a neutral gait
  • Stability trainers – road shoes for those who pronate. Extreme pronation calls for motion control shoes
  • Cushioned trainers – road shoes for those who supinate (also called underpronate)
  • Trail Shoes – for runners who go off-road and need more traction or water resistance
  • Minimalist trainers – for those who prefer a more natural foot position and less structure, simulating the barefoot running method
  • Racing flats – lightweight and very little structure, these are best used sparingly (on race day)
  • Cross-trainers – for people who like to mix things up during a workout, ie CrossFit or circuit training

How Long Should a Pair of Running Shoes Last?

Typically running shoes last 300-500 miles (500-800 km) or up to a year before needing to be replaced. This distance can vary from shoe to shoe, depending on quality, design, and materials. Over time and distance, the cushioning materials in the sole of the shoe will bounce back less and less.

Even if they are rested for a day or more. After so many miles they just won’t give the support that they used to.

In fact, shoes can deteriorate even if they are just sitting in your closet.

If a shoe has been hanging around for over a year, it is time to find its replacement.

The best way to maximize the amount of wear you get out of a pair of running shoes is by using them solely for running. Try not to use them for general tasks like driving, walking around the grocery store, or even for other sports. This can not only use up some of the shoe’s limited lifespan, but it can also cause them to break down in ways that can be detrimental to your running form.

It’s better to have another pair of shoes around for daily use. This is a great way to make use of a retired pair of running shoes that still look good but no longer have enough life in them to support during a run.

When Should I Get New Running Shoes?

When you notice that your feet / knees / hips are starting to feel funky even though you haven’t changed anything else with your running workouts, you should consider replacing that pair, or if it has been over a year since the shoes were purchased then it is time to buy a new pair.

Running shoe models that have been out for a while tend to be discounted as the newer models are released. This is when I usually hit the internet and try to find a good deal on a shoe that I know works well for me.

One runner that I know has a really good trick for knowing when to buy a new pair of shoes. Every time they go for a run, they put a dollar in a jar. Each of their runs tends to average between 3-5 miles.

So once they’ve done 100 runs and saved $100, they have covered somewhere between 300-500 miles. There should be just about enough money in the jar to pay for the new shoes. That is when they go shopping!

Is It Good to Alternate Running Shoes?

It is a good idea to alternate between running shoes as it lets the cushioning in the shoes relax, and it airs them out. The cushioning in shoes can take up to 24 hours to spring back to life. Especially if the shoes were worn for an extended workout or long run. Keep a second pair to wear while that first pair is returning to optimal form, and your feet will thank you.

Another good reason to alternate shoes is that it allows them to dry out.

Even in dry climates where you don’t experience a lot of running in the rain, moisture will accumulate during a run. This can lead to bacterial growth if it isn’t given a chance to evaporate. That bacteria buildup will almost certainly lead to funky smells or worse (foot fungus). Using a backup pair of shoes on alternate days will give extra time for the moisture to dissipate.

You may also want to alternate between different styles of shoes.

Why Do Athletes Wear Two Different Shoes?

Switching between shoe brands and styles will allow you to exercise (and rest) different sets of muscles and connective tissues in your feet and ankles. This practice can help you to become a stronger and more injury-resistant runner.

Another reason to have and wear two different types of shoes is to use them for different styles of running workouts. Experienced runners often use a lighter, more responsive shoe on days that their running plan calls for a speed workout. Then on the long run day, they would wear a more supportive pair of shoes built to absorb the impact of longer distances.

Cross-training is another reason to have an additional pair of shoes. Running shoes are best used for running. They really are not good to use for other sports. Shoemaker Nike realized this and as a result, they released the first cross-trainer shoe way back in 1987. (Source)

Cross-training shoes are ok to wear for running short distances. They also provide additional support for activities that require more than simply going forward in a straight line. Cross-trainers are ideal if your workout routine includes things like lifting weights, CrossFit, aerobics classes or even team sports like basketball and volleyball.

Can I Wash My Running Shoes?

It is best to wash running shoes by hand, rather than putting them in a washing machine. NEVER put running shoes in the dryer!

I usually rinse off mud and muck with a garden hose. However, if my shoes are excessively dirty I have been known to put them in our front-loading washer for a short cycle. Front loading machines use less water and don’t have agitators in them that can beat up the shoes. I do make sure to remove the laces first so they don’t get tangled up and stretched out.

For more on this, check out our post “How Often to Clean Running and Cycling Shoes? How To Wash Them!

Wet shoes should only be left to dry on their own.

It might seem tempting to put them in the dryer, but this is a bad idea. The heat from the dryer will wreak havoc on the glue and other materials. This could cause the shoes to stretch out of shape and even fall apart.

For more on shoes vs water, check out our post “How to Make Running Shoes Waterproof? DIY Solutions!

Hopefully this article has answered your running shoe-related questions, and helps you decide which pair to put on the next time you get ready to head out the door for a run!

Brad Birky

Brad Birky is an endurance athlete and trained chef who has qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon as well as multiple Ironman distance triathlons

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