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Questions and answers about trail running shoes

By Henry Howard

So, you want to start trail running. That is so awesome! And this is the perfect time of the year to find adventure on the trails.

For most runners, fall and winter represent the off-season. The big goal races of one year have concluded. And runners can plot out their challenges for the next 12 months.

Trail running also can be safer than roads, especially during times of ice, snow and freezing rain. While winter’s nasty elements can accumulate on dirt paths like they do on pavement, trail shoes have superior gripping power. Additionally, your pace will slow on trails so you will be more likely to catch yourself if you hit a slick spot. And, if not, the natural ground is more forgiving than roads or sidewalks.

I’ve written previously about trail running for beginners. Last year, in a guide for newbies, I hit on some key points including tips related to shoes. Also, in the four-part series, I focused one post about trail shoes specifically for winter running.

For those who are new to trail running, questions about shoes persist. Here are answers to the most common questions I’ve received or seen in online forums:

Question: What are signs that trail running shoes might be wearing down?

Answer: There are a few common indicators that it may be time to recycle or donate the shoes. Once you’ve put on a couple of hundred miles on the shoes, check the tread regularly for signs of wear.

Additionally, if you are experiencing lower leg issues like ankle soreness, shin splints or tight calves, the issue might be related to your shoes. I’d recommend setting aside the potentially guilty pair of shoes, try some others and see if they make a difference. There could be another cause to the physical soreness if the integrity of the shoes is solid.

Question: How else can I check to see if my trail running shoes are good?

Answer: Trail running shoes may also lose cushioning over time, which can be difficult to determine. While checking the tread is pretty easy, it’s more challenging to tell how the cushioning is being impacted as the shoes are gradually worn down.

If you see issues such as seam- and heat-seal separation, small tears and stretched-out material, it’s time to replace your shoes.

Question: How many miles can I get from trail running shoes?

Answer: Just like road shoes, you should expect to get between 300 and 500 miles on trail shoes. However, your mileage may vary. Factors that influence how long trail shoes will last include the type of terrain you are running on, the quality of the shoe, your own natural running gait and more.

And, of course, the better you take care of them, the longer they will last. Whatever you do, never put them in the dryer. The heat will break down the adhesives, weakening the shoe and possibly leading to injury. If the shoes get wet or you wash them, let them air dry or stuff a newspaper inside.

Question: Can I use trail shoes for road running?

Answer: Technically, yes. Should you? That’s another issue.

Trail shoes have lugs that provide the grippiness needed for running on technical terrain. If you run on paved surfaces, the lugs will break down and decrease the life expectancy of the shoe. Additionally, wearing shoes made for the trail on roads could lead to an injury. That doesn’t mean if you have to run a small section on a paved surface with trail shoes, you will get injured. However, the more frequently you run roads with trail shoes, the higher the change is an injury will occur. (One caveat: If the roads are covered with snow or ice, the grippy lugs may provide the best traction.)

Question: How I can make trail shoes last longer?

Answer: Here are some suggestions:

1. Clean the upper regularly: Dirty trail shoes may be a rite of passage. However, it’s recommended to clean them every so often to remove debris, especially from the upper. Use a scrub brush to knock off mud or other elements.

2. Rotate them: It’s better for your feet — and the shoes — to work through several different trail shoes. By rotating through two or more pairs, you allow the shoes to recover their form from the previous run before heading back out again.

3. Slip into something more comfortable: After your trail run, put on a pair of recovery sandals or different pair of shoes. This helps extend the life of the trail shoes.

4. Don’t use them for walking: Use your running shoes for running. Upon their retirement, they can be used for walking around, yardwork, etc. But until that time, use them solely for running. Here’s why: walking and running exert different forces on your shoes. The materials in the shoes will adapt to your gait. By walking in them, the materials won’t be as locked in to your running gait.

Question: Should I track miles to know when trail running shoes are no longer good?

Answer: I highly recommend tracking your mileage for each shoe, trails and roads. This allows you to get an idea of when you might need to replace a pair and also determine about how long you can wear certain models.

When I log my runs, I track my mileage and indicate what shoes I wore. At the end of each month, I tally up the totals in a spreadsheet. A quick scan of the spreadsheet will tell me whether it’s time to retire a shoe, order a new pair or keep rotating the ones I’ve been wearing.

What other questions about trail running do you have?

Shoot me an email here to ask any questions about trail running, gear, ultra marathons coaching and more.


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