Runners looking to win over non-runners will often note the simplicity of the sport as a selling point.
The convincing argument goes something like this: “All you need is a pair of shoes!”
Unlike all the gear needed for skiing or softball, running requires just one piece of equipment to get started.
But runners who have logged enough miles will also tell you about how that pair of shoes won’t last very long. Industry experts say shoes should be retired after 300 or 500 miles. At that distance, the shoe’s materials start to break down, which could lead to nuisances in the form of aches and pains or nightmares in the form of more serious injuries.
So runners tend to follow this advice, meaning they go through lots of shoes. If someone’s running 4 miles per day, they could reach this mark in three to five months.
This is why runners run into a shared predicament, one often heard at stores like Colorado Running Co.
“So many people come in with their old shoes,” says Lisa Coe, a manager at the Colorado Springs shop. “They just don’t know what to do with them.”
She’s heard tales of piles of worn-out shoes stored in closets, representing decades of races and training runs. Maybe they keep some to remember a meaningful run. Maybe they keep shoes to mow the lawn. Maybe they pass them down to a family member to wear to school. Maybe they ultimately toss them in the trash.
Other, more environmentally sound options have popped up over the years, seeking to give new life to old shoes.
Most running stores allow customers to drop off shoes to be recycled via an array of charities or programs. In Colorado Springs, you can drop off shoes at the Colorado Running Co. and the Boulder Running Co.
On most days, both places will have boxes overflowing with shoes ready to be sorted and picked up by their recycling partners.
Coe said customers bring in shoes to add every day.
The selection ranges from gently worn to worn out.
“See these?” Coe says picking up a navy pair of Altra shoes from a bag in the back of the store. “Somebody could get a lot of use out of these.”
Others have holes in them or are covered in dirt.
Some will go to Sneakers4Funds, a Florida-based company described on its website as a “social enterprise founded by runners just looking to use our sneakers for good.” Through the Sneakers For Good Program, shoes are repurposed and recycled to give to those in need. Plus, for each pair of shoes, $1 is donated to Achilles Pikes Peak, which pairs runners with disabilities with volunteer guides who train and run together.
Other shoes are picked up, twice per month, by a volunteer with One World Running, an organization based in Boulder that collects used shoes, cleans them and distributes them to people in need in Central America, Africa and the Caribbean. Since launching in 1985, a group of volunteers in Boulder has collected, washed and sent more than 50,000 pairs of shoes, as well as T-shirts and shorts.
“As runners, shoes are probably our biggest waste,” Coe said. “It’s nice to be able to be able to do something good with them.”
Major companies including Nike, Brooks and Patagonia have gotten into the shoe recycling game. You can find drop-off bins at Nike store locations around the country, including its outlet location in Castle Rock.
Through Nike’s program, those shoes will be ground up and used as material for athletic fields, playgrounds and furniture pieces. Since 1990, Nike has repurposed more than 30 million pairs.
Boulder Running Co. donates shoes to a cause in Denver that turns shoes that are “100 percent spent” into material for school playgrounds in the state, says Eric Salsman, who manages the store’s Colorado Springs location.
“Landfills are filling up and they’re filling up with materials that could easily be repurposed,” he said.
He estimates the store gets 50 to 60 pairs of shoes per month. The ones in better shape go to Springs Rescue Mission or Treasure House of Hope.
“A lot of people might throw shoes away that still have miles on them for someone else,” Salsman said. “If we throw them out, that’s a lot of wasted potential.”