Most road shoes will have a mesh upper, with tiny holes, to allow heat to escape from the feet and keep them comfortable. A well fitted shoe should also have mesh which is strong enough to withstand the demands placed on it through running, for the duration of the shoe's useful life.
Have your running shoes ever developed holes in the toe area? Why might this happen? Can it be prevented? If it does happen, what can be done about it?
We ask a lot of ourselves when we run, and we also ask a lot of our running shoes. Over time, we subject them to a great deal of wear, and eventually the cushioning and support will break down. Another sign of wear and tear can show in the uppers, specifically in the toe area. The lightweight breathable mesh can become thinner until a small hole appears, which can grow bigger with continued use.
If holes have appeared towards the end of the useful life of a pair of shoes, then all well and good. The shoes have served you well, but it’s time to consider getting a new pair. However, if the shoes still have mileage in them and holes have appeared, there may be a number of causes:
- The toe box is not roomy enough for your toes, and your toenails may be pressing up on to the inside of the mesh. In time, the pressure and movement of your nails will wear the mesh away.
- The shoes may be a size too large for you, in which case your toenails are not beneath the protective toe guard. A toe guard is a piece of material overlaying the mesh in order to give it more strength. A general guide is to aim for a half to a whole thumb’s width space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. This allows for some extension of your feet when running, without your toenails hitting the end of the shoe.
- The shape or sizing of the toe guard of the shoes may not provide adequate protection from your toenails.
- Your toenails may have grown a little long, putting extra pressure on the mesh.
- Your toes may be prone to dorsiflexion, where your toes turn upward. This can occur more often if you are a heel-striker, striking the ground first with your heel, as opposed to your midfoot or forefoot.
In order to minimise the risk of holes appearing in the mesh of the toe areas you could consider the following:
- With the help of our expert team, choose shoes which have adequate room around your toes, so that your toes and nails do not press up on to the inside of the mesh.
- Make sure the shoes are the correct size for you, so that you can take advantage of the toe guard.
- If your toenails are prone to wearing the mesh away, choose shoes with a more substantial toe guard. Toe guards will vary from model to model and brand to brand. Some manufacturers could improve their toe guard design.
- Keep your toenails trimmed, but not uncomfortably short.
- If your toes are prone to dorsiflexion, consider doing all of the above. Consider your running gait also. If you are a heel-striker you might like to try striking more on your midfoot or forefoot. A transition of this kind needs to be done gradually as the stresses and strains on your feet and legs will change location to a degree. Take advice from a running coach if you can. Consider taking part in a Chi Running workshop.
My own experience is that holes in my running shoes have sometimes appeared towards the end of my shoes’ useful life. I also found that they did not compromise my running. I have known some runners to put a patch on the broken mesh, for example with the use of duct tape.
In summary, holes are best avoided with optimally fitted shoes, by keeping your toenails trimmed, and by considering your running gait.