Shoes to run 4800km of the New Story Run, and shoe sustainability

Lots of people ask how many shoes I’ve got through so far on the New Story Run. I had wondered (worried) about the same thing before setting off, as previously, shoes I had didn’t seem to last more than 600 or 700km, and surely with a rucksack they’d wear down even faster?! That’s a massive problem if you’re A) on a tiny budget, and B) running further and further away from places with fast postage and/or outdoor shops.

I took a massive gamble just before I left by buying some totally new shoes with ‘zero drop’ which I hadn’t had before, and setting off without having time to break them in. I wouldn’t recommend doing this, but thankfully, I got away with it and L.O.V.E.D. them. They were my favourite shoes I’d ever had, apart from the colour, which I’m not going to pretend I like! These were my first pair of Inov-8’s Terraultra G260’s.

Winter: I went half a size up so I could fit in some amazing winter waterproof socks, plus waterproof bags for extra cold days, plus microspikes strapped on the outside for ice/snow (thanks Kong Running for the socks and spikes!).

Inov-8 Terraultra G260 & G270’s

I chose these because they are wider fit around the toes which means they’re super comfy for long distances, when feet can swell a bit. They are ‘zero drop’, meaning that your heel is the same level as your forefoot as opposed to being raised, which – some argue – helps you to move more naturally and might even reduce injury risk. These shoes are also almost indestructible: they have graphene in the soles (hence the G) which makes them last a crazy long time, and a super strong reinforced fabric around the toes.

This first pair lasted 1200km, which I was truly amazed by, especially considering I was carrying a rucksack so was running with 10kg extra weight! They could have lasted longer if I’d pushed them, but the soles were starting to feel uncomfortable on stony ground (probably would have been fine without the rucksack).

These were so great that I decided to stick with them as long as I could. Kong Running, the best running shop ever, very kindly sponsored my next pair of shoes (along with some poles). That pair lasted another 1200km almost exactly! This time they were more worn out, as instead of spending lots of time on smooth forest tracks, I’d ran a big chunk over Croatia’s extremely sharp and spiky limestone peaks which destroy everything they touch!

Inov-8 themselves sponsored the third pair, and this time they were pushed to the absolute max. I’d needed a replacement a good few hundred km’s before, but due to not being in the EU and a total postage nightmare, they clocked up 1700km before I finally got my new shoes, ending up reinforced with several chunks of gaffa tape to block up the holes in the soles! I do not recommend anyone does this. Walking along hard roads with 10kg on your back and holes in the soles of your shoes HURTS.

However, these were still awesome shoes and holding up way longer than I’d ever expected any running shoes to do. I also took them on everything from hard roads and dirt tracks, to rough rocky ridges, to snow and ice with microspikes clamped on them – and they help up to it all. The only thing they’re less good at is thick mud, but it turns out that this barely exists in many countries.

The end, finally, for these shoes – after at least 1700km.

After this Inov-8 released their new Terraultra G270s, which were an upgrade on the 260s, with the main difference being a thicker sole. This suited me as my only issue with the 260s was that due to all the compression from carrying a rucksack, they’d end up thin-ish on the bottoms and eventually (after 900-1000km) would be uncomfortable on stony ground. I’d hoped the new type would last even longer! Unfortunately, a month or so after I got them it was the end of my trip for 2020 because of the covid-19 restrictions, so they couldn’t be put to the full ‘New Story Run test’ However, I have them here at home; they’ve clocked up over 800km so far and are absolutely nowhere near the end of their life. I’m sure they will do more km’s than the 260s.

Battered G260 meet new G270! These felt like running on heavenly bouncy clouds.

What about sustainability?

Unfortunately shoes in general are a bit of a sustainability nightmare. Running shoes might include 10 or even 15 different material types, and perhaps four different types of plastic, for a single shoe. That means they are ridiculously hard to recycle – there aren’t any good options for that right now (that I know of), although ReRun accept and store shoes in any condition in the hope that there will be a place they can send them for proper recycling in the future. But, for the moment, most shoes end up in landfill, and some of their components could take up to 1000 years to fully decompose!

This is only a glimpse into one of the issues with shoes and sustainability – another being the massive volume of bad quality shoes, or shoes that people get sick of very quickly due to a new fashion coming in, and therefore massive volumes end up going to second hand shops or collection points. Because not enough people actually want to buy these second hand, bad quality shoes in the UK, these are then sometimes sent off to other, poorer countries for cheap resale. This also happens with second hand clothes, and the deluge of second hand shoes and clothes from richer, Western countries has been partly blamed for the collapse of East Africa’s own clothing and shoe factories. 

The list of issues could go on: workers rights, health and safety in factories, toxic dyes, etc. I’d highly recommend reading this article, which is where I got some of the above info from! 

What can we do?

For me as a runner, with my feet often feeling like the most important part of my body, I try not to stress too much about exactly what type of shoe I am buying materials wise. Not because I don’t care, but because you could spend days researching exactly what the ‘most sustainable shoe’ is (materials, company ethics, workers rights, fabric dyes etc), and still not have got very far. At the end of it, the research involved to really understand the whole systems complexity would be a huge amount of effort, for almost no positive impact, if all it means is that you buy a ‘slightly better’ new shoe than you might have. You can even argue it would even have a negative impact, if you consider how many more useful ways there are that you could have spent the time in terms of positive change and climate action. And at the end of the day, the ‘most sustainable shoe’ is a second hand pair, not new.

A more useful and much simpler strategy, is to simply use as few shoes as you possibly can! If you know what type you want or aren’t that fussy, then when you need a new pair, try to buy a ‘second hand nearly new pair’ – check ebay, ReRun, Running Buy and Sell Facebook group, etc. Only buy a new pair if you can’t find what you need second hand, and once you have your shoes, wear them to death. Although I wouldn’t recommend wearing any shoes down as much as I did on that third pair of Inov8’s, make sure you really fully 110% use them up. If it’s only the soles that are ‘gone’, send them for resole (Google it, there’s lots of places that do it). If they’re truly broken, send them to ReRun for safekeeping until a good recycling option exists, or if you’re not in the UK, search for shoe recycling in your area.

Another thing to think about is resisting the massive pull of consumerism, and more importantly, calling out brands when they make blatant attempts to make you buy more shoes when you don’t need them. For example, releasing a new shoe one week, then a new colour in the same shoe two weeks later when people have already bought the first colour (deliberately designed to make people who’ve just bought new shoes immediately unsatisfied with what they’ve got, and want more). Although pretty much all brands rely on strategies like this, because 99% of advertising is there to make us want stuff we don’t actually need (OK I made up that statistic but you get the point), it doesn’t mean we should continue on this path – the more we wake up to this and make it unacceptable, the more likely brands business models will have to change and be more sustainable.

Sponsorship & sustainability: Am I a hypocrite?

Here I am, firstly going on about how great my sponsored shoes are, and then secondly talking about how we should ignore advertising. Brands don’t give anything away ‘for free’, they sponsor shoes if they think it will help their advertising and sales. I never realised how well this actually worked until I worked at a running shop and the simple line of “Oh yeh this big fell running name broke the XXX record in these” seemed to convince so many people to buy that shoe, even if it wasn’t what they needed or wasn’t best suited to their feet. So yes, I am part of the problem myself.

It’s a really interesting but often uncomfortable dilemma, and the first year of the New Story Run felt like a small, eye-opening glimpse into the murky world of sponsorship. There was a point in winter, for example, crossing the Alps, where I was getting freezing cold and in need of some good thermals. A company offered to sponsor me exactly what I needed, but when I asked for more info on their sustainability they had such a small, unconvincing amount of information that I wasn’t happy promoting their products and decided to say no. There was also a well known waterproofing company who’d said they might sponsor my trip before I started, perhaps even with financial support, but when I persistently asked about their sustainability policies, they stopped replying. 

But, to run you need shoes, and if you are running lots of miles, it’s the one piece of kit in the adventure that will need replacing relatively regularly. I’d also argue that it’s the most difficult piece of kit to compromise on in terms of type/brand etc, and it’s also hard to consistently find a second hand option at times. That’s the reason why I’ve been happy with shoe sponsorship, much more than for any other type of kit. Inov-8’s Terraultra shoes really have been perfect for my feet on the New Story Run, and because that’s the honest truth and they last a hell of a long time (thanks graphene), I’m happy sharing that. That doesn’t mean they’ll suit your feet or perform the same way on your terrain or with your running style. Find your own favourite shoes – ones that last -, love them until their death, and buy as few as possible in the process.

Read about Inov-8’s Sustainability commitments here.

Read some of Ethical Consumers articles on ethical sportswear here, and ethical trainers here.


Up next week: The final ‘new stories’ from Bulgaria!