One of the most common pearls of wisdom experienced runners have for newbies is that you absolutely do need to buy at least two or three pair of running shoes to train effectively. Many veteran runners advocate just that and have closets full of shoes as proof, but the question remains: Do you really need more than one pair of good running shoes?
Although you can certainly train with just one pair of shoes, conventional wisdom has always suggested that you can run better and safer by having at least two pair of running shoes and rotating the shoes on a daily basis. For example, you wear a certain pair for a morning run and then, you allow the shoes ample time to rest and recover, by wearing a different pair the following day.
By doing so, many runners assert, you allow the shoes plenty of time to recover and return to their maximum cushioning whenever you run in them next. And doing so, also lengthens the life of the shoe, beyond its normal 3-500 miles of use.
But, is conventional wisdom correct? Will rotating between at least two pair of shoes allow for better cushioning and a longer life of the shoe?
Sorry, it does not.
This might seem like heresy from a guy (me) who works for a running shoe company (Mizuno), but you can run just as safely with one pair of running shoes on a daily basis as rotating between two pair. In addition, two pair of shoes used in a daily rotation won’t last you any longer as two pair worn sequentially.
The reality is the cushioning midsole foam of any running shoe does get compressed on a run by the repeated pounding of your body weight. The longer you run, the more the midsole cushioning gets compressed. Simply put, the cushioning of any running shoe after two hours of running will not be the same as it is after a half hour or even an hour. That’s why your shoes don’t feel as cushy in the final stages of a marathon as in the first few miles.
But, most materials experts agree, that the cushioning rebounds at the same rate it gets compressed. That is, if you run for an hour (or whatever), the cushioning is approximately the same after an hour’s worth of “rest”. Even if you go for a long run of two hours or more, the cushioning recovers back to its pre-run level in about the same time as the length of the run.
Allowing the shoe to recover for 24 or 48 hours, certainly doesn’t hurt, but giving a shoe that much recovery time doesn’t mean any measurable improvement in terms of cushioning. Nor, does that much down time extend the life of the shoe beyond its normal wear. You may need a day or two to recover from a hard run, but your shoes don’t.
However, some runners do need a second pair of running shoes. High-mileage runners who run every day and occasionally run twice in a day, almost always need a second pair of shoes to rotate. The cushioning midsole doesn’t need as much recovery as your legs do, but it’s not a good idea to run back-to-back workouts the same day in the same pair of shoes.
Often, elite runners use several different pair of shoes during their training. A top runner’s back porch is often chock full of all different kinds of shoes: One for long runs, a lighter shoe for quick, tempo runs, a racing flat for track workouts and races and perhaps, a heavier shoe for easy, recovery runs. Some even have yet another pair for casual use or in the gym. Of course, their livelihood depends on their shoes (that they usually get gratis) but you don’t need as many shoes.
Although rotating between two pairs of running shoes is not essential for most recreational runners, it’s not a bad thing. Many runners, even beginners, report that their legs feel better by going back and forth between two pairs of similar shoes or the same model. (If your second pair is the exact same model, make sure you get a different color to avoid confusion.)
Another reason to alternate between two pairs of different models is it may change ever so slightly the impact forces involved with running. As we all know, running is an extremely repetitive activity. On a given run, we incur thousands of foot strikes and each impact is pretty much like the prior one. By changing up your shoes, you slightly alter your gait and foot strike which stresses and strengthens some muscles in your lower legs, in effect giving some muscles a chance to rest.
This type of rotation also keeps you from becoming biomechanically dependent on one model by forcing your body to adapt to the different stresses that you’re placing on it. Finally, by rotating between two (or more) shoes, reduces the chances of wearing a worn-out shoe which is a common pathway to injury.
If you decide to go with a second pair of shoes, it’s a good idea to buy a different model than your normal, go-to trainer. Have one heavy duty, well-cushioned pair for the bulk of your miles, including your long runs, and use another pair—perhaps lighter, more flexible–for tempo runs, interval days or races.
Runners who venture onto trails should also consider getting another trail specific shoe. If you’re running on a packed dirt surface such as the Butler/Lady Bird Lake Trail or a dirt road, you probably don’t need a trail shoe but if you spend any time on a soft, technical trail in which traction is imperative, a trail shoe is indicated.
When rotating shoes, make certain the companion shoe you wear is comparable from a biomechanical standpoint to your normal go-to training shoe. That is, if you wear a support shoe for the bulk of your miles, it’s a good idea to wear a lightweight, moderate support shoe as your second shoe. If you run best in neutral, cushioned shoes, your second shoe should be a lighter, but still neutral shoe.