Shoes are the most important piece of gear when it comes to running. Making sure you get the right shoes is step one. And, in theory, you shouldn’t have to really break in your running shoes if they’re the right shoes for you. If you go to a good running shoe speciality store, they’ll watch you walk, measure your foot, and get you in a pair of shoes that meets all of your needs, right from the get go. They’ll also make sure you get the right size shoes and avoid an ill-fitting pair based on your foot shape. I have multiple pairs of running shoes that are all a little bit different. Remember, there will be some shoes that aren’t great for you, even if they are great for me!
So, making sure you test your new shoes out properly is what I consider “breaking them in”! There are so many reasons you should test out your shoes before committing to a long (or short!) run in them. You don’t want to get out six miles from home, only to develop a hot spot or blister and have a long, uncomfortable road back. Plus, ill-fitting running shoes can cause you to change your gait which can lead to a whole host of injuries.
One thing to keep in mind when getting new running shoes is that some stores will not let you return new shoes if they look like they’ve been on a run. If that’s the case, make sure you’ve been measured correctly for them and then walk around in them inside your house. I try not to shop with running stores (online or locally) that won’t let me return my shoes after running in them a time or two since it’s really so important to try shoes out. It’s hard to tell with just a short jog inside a store or down the sidewalk. But, once you have your perfect pair, it’s a bit easier to shop with places whose return policy isn’t as generous. That is, until they change the model! Running shoe companies love to do that.
Okay, back to breaking in new shoes! After 20+ years of running, I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade when it comes to testing your new running shoes and the break in process so you can feel confident taking them out on a long run.
Let’s dive in!
The way running shoes are made these days, they shouldn’t need to be “broken in” so don’t focus on that. Instead, focus on getting the RIGHT shoes rather than breaking in new running shoes. A good indicator to know they’re right? As soon as you put shoes on and start running, they should feel comfortable. If you’re getting the exact same model of shoes when your previous pair needs to be replaced (you’re tracking your mileage, right?), they might feel a little stiffer, or they might actually feel more cushioned if your other pair was super worn out. But, your feet will be used to the general feel.
If you’re trying a new pair, you need to break in your body more than you need to break in your shoes. When I first starting running in Altra Escalantes – a zero drop shoe – after running in Nike Pegasus and New Balance Beacons for years, it was definitely an adjustment for my feet, achilles and calves. Sore spots are different from painful spots though. I also recommend trying them out with real running socks, not just a pair of cotton socks you have in your drawer. Running socks will help you determine if your new shoes feel right.
Always go on a few walks in new running shoes before running in them. I try to go on at least 2-3 walks in them first. Pay attention for any hot spots which might hint at a blister, any toes overlapping (you may need a bigger size or wider toe box) how the heel and tongue feel, etc. If you’re uncomfortable when taking your new kicks out on a walk, I promise running won’t make it better.
I don’t go on any long runs in new shoes until I’ve tested them on a shorter run. There’s nothing worse than getting 8 miles away from your house or car and knowing you have a blister forming. Going too far in new shoes will make you regret that run quickly. So, for my first run in a new pair — especially if it’s a new-to-me model, I stick with a 3 mile jaunt.
Make sure both the left and right shoe feels comfortable. I loved the Altra Torins right out of the box, but after a few short runs, there was a very painful pressure point on the top of my right foot only. I tried a few different lacing options, but nothing helped, so I sent them back.
Gradually introduce your new shoes into your running routine. I try to use both my new shoes and my old shoes for a few weeks to allow my body to adapt to the new pair. That allows your body to get used to the different specs – less drop, wider toe box, heel stack, etc. (Does shoe lingo confuse you? I have a lesson inside my running course all about shoes and how to choose the perfect pair.) And hey, alternating shoes also helps make your running shoes last longer.
If you’re trying to keep your shoes looking as new as possible while trying them out, run on a treadmill. It will help you recognize how they feel on a run without having to stray far from your house or gym. Many running stores will have a treadmill in the store for you to test the shoes there as well.
My Running Shoe Rotation