How Many Pairs?

When I worked at Marathon Sports, I was surprised how many customers came in to replace their one pair of shoes. Often the old ones were way beyond worn. Maybe I’m spoiled, a collector, or both, but I feel my closet is empty without a choice of running shoes. At the store, I didn’t want to come across as hard sell – out to boost sales. But my motivation was sincere. So I tried various ways to broach the topic. Sometimes successfully, more often not.

So, how many pairs is enough?

As with most things, it depends. Do you just run on roads, just trails, or both? How many days a week do you run? How far? Do you race a lot and/or do regular speed workouts? Are you a bigger or smaller person? Is your gait light to the ground or do you tend to strike hard?

You want an answer, not more questions. OK! Simplistically, for most runners I suggest three pairs. Your main pair is your regular trainer. Something with a basic amount of cushion, such as a Brooks Ghost or Adidas Energy Boost for neutral runners or an Asics 2000 or Saucony Guide for those needing some support. Your second pair can be a newer model of the same shoe or a similar fit of another brand (preferred.) The aim is to give your running body a break from the same old, same old. Also, alternating your shoes gives them a chance to air out. Not to be an alarmist but there are fungi lurking in our shoes! Above all, never (never!) let any pair of shoes you run in get too worn. Many customers coming in with tattered shoes complained of achy knees and feet. There is a connection! For some runners, shoes lose their resiliency after 200-250 miles. For others it’s more. Rely on feel, not some arbitrary mileage or passage of time.

I’d like to note something I practiced before working at the running store – stockpiling! I did this when I really liked the model I was using and there was a good online close-out price. A secondary concern was whether the new model would fit as well. I recall once ordering five pairs of closeout Asics DS-Trainers. When they arrived I numbered the tags to track them. The reasoning for stockpiling is sound enough – “why mess with what works?” But shoes do evolve from model to model (usually but not always to the good) as a result of user feedback. There is a perception (not totally unwarranted) by changing models shoe companies are out to get us to buy more shoes. But if you’re running regularly, several pairs a year is ideal anyhow. And as noted above, your feet and body benefit from a change, however slight. I know closeout prices are hard to pass up. So maybe you buy one pair on closeout rather than three (or five!)

For your third pair consider racing flats or light trainers. You can use these for racing and maybe once a week lace them up for faster tempo runs or speed workouts. It’s fun to run fast! And lighter shoes will help you do that, as long as you don’t overdo it.

So that’s the basic guideline for road/path/track running. Three indeed! Now if you mix in some trail running, it’s good to have a shoe intended for that purpose. Trail shoes usually have deeper and firmer soles, so when you run over big stones you avoid a bruise and can better traverse uneven terrain. If trails are your main venue, then a second pair of those, as noted above for road shoes, is suggested.

You might wonder how many pairs I have. I counted 14! When you’ve worked in a running store, promotional shoes come your way gratis and after you’ve tried on the latest and have a nice employee discount, there is incentive to stock up. I admit this is excessive (if not obsessive!) I generally run five days a week and find I gravitate towards three different brands and models of trainers and two pairs of racing flats – one for 5K and 10Ks and a slightly more cushioned one for half-marathons. So I have some culling to do! I’m involved with a non-profit supporting kids in Haiti so I will be passing on most of these little used pairs.

So, this is one view on that pervasive shoe question. Happy roads and trails. And please remember; don’t run in shoes past their prime!

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