There are so many things runners have to take into consideration when buying running shoes.
You’ve taken your foot shape into consideration and the fit is great, and there’s a good balance between comfort and stability. You may even feel like the shoe has a pitch—heel height or drop— that’s right for you.
You’ve finally found that pair of running shoes that will let you hit your peak performance, only to discover that after only 100 to 200 miles there’s a hole in your toe box.
While you may automatically think that there’s a fault with the shoe or the thin upper, it may not be that straightforward.
Why Do I Get Holes in My Running Shoes?
A reality of running shoes is that it’s common to see holes in them regardless of whether the upper is a single-piece knit or an engineered mesh.
The main reason for a hole developing in the shoe is from friction, The two most common places for a hole to develop are in the toe box or the heel collar lining.
1. Holes in the Toe Box
There are a few reasons why a hole may develop in the toe box.
One common reason is that your toenails are too long and put pressure on the mesh. If your shoes don’t fit you properly, then your big toe may not be underneath the protective toe guard when you run.
There are instances where the size or the shape of the toe guard may not cover the area of the mesh enough to provide adequate protection from the pressure of your toenails or big toe against the mesh. This leads to the movement and pressure of your toe or toe nails wearing the mesh away.
With that being said, one of the most common reasons for a hole developing in the toe box may not have anything to do with your toenails at all—especially if you keep your toenails trimmed—and has more to do with the way your big toe functions.
Holes can develop when the hallux joint of your big toe doesn’t move freely through the range of movement. While your foot is being pulled back—dorsiflexed—it’s preparing to come into contact with the ground and at this point your big toe isn’t affected.
However, when your foot comes into contact with the ground and your foot is supporting your range of movement, the degree to which your foot extends becomes very important.
When your body passes over the supporting foot, you reach mid-stance, which is where the ankle, knee, and hip—plantarflexion—have stopped bending and are starting to straighten.
But the foot is still in dorsiflexion. This then causes the distal phalanx—the tip of your toe which includes the toenail—to over-extend for a brief second where it comes into contact with the upper on the toe box.
If you’re running a 5k, which should take 30 to 40 minutes, with a cadence of 170 steps per minute, then that means your toe is coming into contact with the upper approximately 2,550 times within that one race.
With repeated runs, this means that the upper can wear out pretty quickly.
2. Holes in Heel Collar Lining
Holes that develop in the lining around the collar or near the heel of the shoe are also common.
These holes can develop for a variety of reasons, like taking your shoe off by stepping on the back of it without untying—loosening—them first. If you take your shoes off like this, it could start to pull the lining away from the upper and holes will form.
But one of the most common reasons for holes forming in the heel is from the friction of heel slippage. Even if the heel slippage goes unnoticed, your sock remains in constant contact with the lining, rubbing up against it with every step you take. The friction then causes the lining to wear away.
Your stride length may also affect the lining of the heel leading to holes. If you’re taking big, long strides—or over-striding—this would place more pressure and force on the heel counter from the back of the heel.
Wearing the wrong type of running shoe for your gait—overpronation or underpronation—would cause friction on the lining of the shoe; especially if the shoe doesn’t have the technology to keep your foot in a natural movement.
With the repeated motion of thousands of foot strikes, the friction could weaken the lining, leading to holes in the heel.
You may even find that while you’re running, the outsole of your one shoe is coming into contact with the heel on the alternate foot. This scraping could also lead to holes developing on the collar of the shoe.
Tips to Prevent Holes in Shoes
1. Toe Hole Prevention Inserts
While most shoes come with synthetic overlays on the top of the shoe that are designed to prevent holes, this doesn’t prevent wear and tear on the inside.
To prevent the premature wear of your running shoes, you can insert Shoe Armor, which is made from ballistic fabric. This material is soft enough that it won’t interfere with your running stride or causing chafing, but is abrasion and tear-resistant.
The Shoe Armor will prevent your toe or toenails from coming into contact with the upper. This will increase the lifespan of your running shoes.
2. Deeper Toe Box and Correct Size
Getting a running shoe that has a deep and roomy toe box can prevent your toes from coming into contact with the top and side of the upper while the foot is still in dorsiflexion.
You’d also want to make sure that there’s a thumb’s width of space between your toes and the front of the shoe. This space will accommodate your toes when your foot swells and when your foot slides forward in the shoe, and prevent your toes from coming into contact with the front of the shoe.
Many runners wear the wrong size running shoe. For whatever reason, many runners tend to use shoes that are a half size or more too small. This will cause your foot to cramp and may also cause the dreaded black toenail! So definitely check the fit of your running shoe.
3. Trim Your Toenails
We all trim our nails, but you want to make sure that when you cut your toenails you keep a comfortable length and cut your toenails in a straight line.
This will prevent sharp edges of your toenails from hitting the toe box where they’d be able to create friction. Having your toenails in a straight line will also help to prevent in-grown toenails.
4. Quality Socks
Choose socks that have padding or cushioning in the toe area. It doesn’t have to be thick cushioning; even a little bit of cushioning can prevent your toes from coming into contact with the toe box.
This will reduce the amount of friction inside the shoe and help to increase the lifespan of your running shoes.
5. DIY Solutions
If you’ve noticed holes developing, you can use duct tape to patch the holes up.
For the best results, you’d need to make sure that there are no creases or folds in the duct tape when you apply it to the shoe. This will not only help to prevent skin irritation, but it will keep the duct tape on the shoe during and after your run.
You can also apply patches to areas of your shoes that you know are particularly prone to developing holes.
One of the best patches you can use to prevent holes is Engo Blister patches. These are already designed to adhere to the lining of your shoe and are thinner than a heel grip so they won’t irritate the skin.
6. Lacing Techniques
Depending on where the holes are forming on your running shoe, you may want to try different lacing techniques. If your running shoes have holes in the heel collar, then you may want to use the “Heel Lock” lacing technique. This will prevent heel slippage, which will reduce friction in the heel.
To relieve pressure on the toes you could try using the “Cross Over” lacing technique. This may help your foot and toes to go through their natural range of motion.
This could prevent your big toe from over-extending and coming into contact with the upper of the toe box.
Is It Better to Prevent or to Fix?
Running shoes are designed to last 300 to 500 miles. But when your shoes develop holes after 100 or 200 miles, it can be annoying.
By taking preventative measures early on to stop the upper and collar lining from wearing prematurely, you can increase the lifespan of your running shoes.
But if you’ve noticed that your previous running shoes have developed holes, then you can fix them and get more miles out of your shoes than you expected.
How Much Space Should You Give Your Toes in Shoes?
When it comes to the amount of space between your toes and the front of the shoe, you should allow for ½ to 1 inch. Make sure that the distance is measured between the shoe’s end and your longest toe.
When you’re looking at the width of the shoe, you should be able to pinch the material on the sides of the shoe. If you can’t pinch the material then the running shoe may be too tight, and this could create pressure points when your feet start to swell.
Depending on the brand of running shoe that you’re buying, you may have to go up half a size from your regular work or casual shoe. This will help to provide you with a comfortable feel.