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What To Do With Old Running Shoes

Running shoes are a consumable, disposable commodity. For runners going through a high-volume training plan, a pair might last as little as two or three months before its 400-mile life is over. Going through so many shoes means that the bottom of your closet is likely getting overrun by well-loved running shoes that are enjoying their retirement. You really ought to do something about them.

Obviously, old running shoes that you’re keeping in your closet, attic, or junk room but not using aren’t very useful. In this article, we’ll discuss some uses for retired running shoes other than throwing them in the garbage.

If you’re reading this article, you definitely want to know how to be more eco-friendly and environmentally conscious even as you pound the pavement, add the miles, and go through the shoes.

How Often Should I Replace Your Running Shoes?

Experts suggest that running shoes should be replaced after you have run 400 to 600 miles in them. If you have a GPS watch, you can add your running shoes to your gear, and have your runs default to using that shoe. This will help you keep track of the miles on them.

The higher your mileage gets, the higher the risk of injury for your feet, ankles, knees, and hips. However, different shoes have different “shelf lives” if you want. What may be fine for one shoe might be way too many miles for another.

A good sign that you need new running shoes is if the treads in your old shoes, especially on the soles, are worn out. It’s important to keep an eye on your shoes and how they are fitting to make sure that you aren’t making yourself more susceptible to an injury.

Finally, remember that even though it’s hard to give up a favorite pair of old shoes, it’s for the sake of your health to move on when they start to hurt more than they help. And who knows? You might even find something better!

How Can I Extend My Shoe Life?

Before we get into what to do with old running shoes, let’s discuss preserving the ones you already have. First, while it can be tempting to wear them whenever, resist that temptation. Instead, only wear your running shoes when you run.

While you might want to throw them into the washer to rinse them off, especially if you’ve been on the trail, the washing machine is really hard on your running shoes. Instead, keep them clean by hand washing.

When you do need to clean them, make sure that you dry them immediately afterward so that there isn’t any possibility of dampness or growing mold. You may also even want to buy two or more pairs of shoes to rotate. This mixes things up for your feet, and also gives the shoes’ foam time to recover from the workouts. (Yes, your shoes “recovering” is a thing!)

Rotating your shoes will help both pairs last longer, give them a chance to rest, and give you the opportunity to have running shoes that are good for different activities (like speedwork versus trail runs).

What Can I Do With Old Running Shoes?

Once you know that you need to retire a pair, what can you do besides tossing them in the garbage or in your closet? As it turns out, a lot!

Keep Wearing Them

No, this isn’t what you think. Don’t keep using them for running, but do wear them as garden shoes, walking shoes, or painting/household chores shoes.

It’s always good to have an old pair of shoes when you know you’re going to get them dirty and want to keep your other shoes nice.

Plan Your Last Run

Be strategic about what your last run will be for those shoes. This will help you be grateful for the time you got in them but also help you to move on. You might want to consider a tough mudder or another muddy/wet run as the last race.

Even if you’ve put shoes into retirement, you might want to bring them out for a tough mudder if you want to avoid getting your newer shoes dirty. You aren’t going to be able to get all of that dirt out.

Donate Your Soles

As they say, it’s better to give than to receive, so you might want to consider donating your shoes. While some programs repair old sneakers, others reuse the material for new shoes or clothing items.

Just do a quick Google search to see what places in your area might accept old running shoes. Talk with your local running store to see if they know of any good organizations.

Start a Running Shoe Drive Fundraiser

You might even want to consider starting a fundraiser from old running shoes. You can partner with an organization like Sneakers4Funds, which is an athletic shoe drive fundraiser. They collect gently worn, used and new running shoes.

After you collect as many old sneakers as you can, simply place the shoes in a pre-paid shipping bag and ship your bag (free of charge!) to Sneakers4Funds. They send you a check for your efforts and generosity!

Sell on eBay or Facebook Marketplace

If your shoes aren’t worn out yet (maybe you got a pair of shoes online that just aren’t going to work for you), you can sell them on eBay or Facebook Marketplace.

Shoes that are still in good condition can get you some extra cash online or at secondhand stores.

Turn Them Into Artwork

If you really loved a pair of shoes or you wore a particular pair for a big event like your first marathon, then you might want to turn the shoes into artwork. Put together a small section of your house with your medals, shoes, and bibs.

You might even consider putting your mileage on your shoes or the time for your race so that you can always remember. Turning your running shoes into artwork and displaying them will help you see success.

Turn Them Into Planters

If you like gardening, you might even want to consider turning your old running shoes into planters. Just make sure that there is adequate drainage by making a few holes in the soles. Adding a layer of rocks at the bottom will add some additional drainage.

Paint Them

If you have kids or if you’re just really artsy, you might consider painting your old running shoes. This works best if you have less colored shoes. Just bring out the watercolors and go wild. Kids especially will love this.

Turn Them Into a Birdhouse or Bird Feeder

If you like birds or want to get into bird-watching, turn your old running shoes into a birdhouse or bird feeder.

Install them on trees if you want a birdhouse (even if it’s kinda funny looking). Hang a shoe on a tree or off your balcony with some seeds in it for a feeder. Birds will find it quickly, and it will be a huge hit.

Save Your Shoelaces

Finally, even if you can’t save the shoes, you can always use the shoelaces. Sometimes it’s just helpful to have extra shoelaces if one breaks somehow. You can also likely use them somehow in the household or garden.

Concluding Thoughts

While it’s always hard to say goodbye to a good pair of running shoes, you don’t have to relegate them to the closet or the trash can. Depending on your feelings about the shoes, you have a plethora of other options.

From turning them into bird feeders to selling them on Facebook Marketplace to making them artwork to turning them into a fun activity with the kids, old running shoes can be just as useful after you’ve retired them if you avoid tossing them in the back corner of your closet.

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner