Traditional vs. Minimalist Shoes: Which Goes Farther?

Any runner worth their weight knows the standard rule that one should replace his or her running shoes approximately every 500 miles. This is, of course, a general rule, and some people are lucky enough to get another 100 miles out of a great pair or shoes, while others begin showing signs of pain, injury, soreness, and other tell tale signs that it’s time to replace your shoes after a measly 400 miles.

In 2009, however, a little book called Born to Run was published and launched a huge barefoot and minimalist running shoe craze across the country. Although the intensity of the crazy has died down a bit, there are still a fair number of runners out there running in minimalist shoes, and even more of us who are still quite curious, but just haven’t worked up the fortitude to spend the $80 and give it a try. As I sat down this week to order a new pair of running shoes, I faced the decision yet again of whether to go with what I know, or give the minimalist shoe a chance. I know exactly how many miles I can get out of my favorite Asics, so I thought researching how many miles the average minimalist shoe gets may just be the key to convincing me to step on the bandwagon (granted, 4 years late) and give it a try.

First, let’s be straight about why traditional running shoes need to be replaced approximately every 500 miles. They include padding, gels, inserts, air pockets, and molded soles intended to help runners correct typical running form mistakes, such as pronation (your ankle rolls in as you push off the ground). These things wear down over time and no longer offer the same standard of support. A runner learns quickly what their body’s signs of running on worn shoes are, such as shore feet, ankles or hips, and shin splints.

Most minimalist shoes offer none of those extras. They are essentially just an extra layer around your foot, intended merely to protect feet from extreme heat or cold and sharp objects like glass and some sticks or rocks. Without all the support fluff, the only thing to wear down on minimalist shoes is the sole.  There’s no guessing game about if/when to replace your minimalist shoes – just turn them over; if there is a hole anywhere in the sole, it’s time for a new pair. If the sole is in tact, keep on running.

Basically, minimalism shoes also require minimal record keeping, as you don’t really need to keep track of your miles to know when you’re nearing 500. However, for those of us stuck on the mileage counter, I wanted at least a ballpark figure of how long a pair of minimalist shoes might last.  My research across multiple minimalist runners’ blogs reveals a wide variety of answers, yet one thing in common – they all claimed to last significantly longer than traditional running shoes. We’re talking, more than 1,000 miles between each new pair of minimalist shoes.

Honestly, for potentially more than double the mileage out of a pair of shoes that costs the same as my regular pair, I think I finally have the gall to give it a go. Now, I’ll just have to decide which pair to try, although research is pointing strongly to a pair of Merrells.

By: Audra Rundle