What to do with your tired running shoes

I am not a hoarder. The giant garbage bag full of clothes in my room awaiting delivery to a charity bin is proof of this. Recently I had a major wardrobe cull and it was a most satisfying experience.

Then my husband suggested I head to the garage and continue the job on my running shoe collection. This is it:

Admittedly I probably don't need seven pairs of runners, but emotionally it's more of a wrench to part ways with running shoes than it is a pair of heels that cost twice as much. This can be explained in a word: memories.

Running shoe memories are far sweeter than work shoe memories, even if they involve both blisters and exhaustion. The difference is that running shoes also hold memories of endorphins and special moments such as crossing a marathon finishing line. Suffice it to say, my mood for ruthless culling dissipated and I announced that I'd done enough for one day.

But I did do some research as to where my shoes could go, in the event I ever get over the aforementioned emotional hurdles. And that's how I found .

Viv Kartsounis (below) is an architect and ultra marathoner who, in partnership with engineer and fellow ultra-runner Nick Drayton, set up the Shoes For Planet Earth charity in 2009 to dispense running shoes to those without. Viv and Nick were in South Africa running Comrades early that year and saw first-hand the need for shoes among locals.

The charity's focus is on putting Australian needs first. “A lot of people have said they want locals to get the shoes because everything they donate seems to get sent overseas,” Viv says.


Homeless people are the biggest market. They are on their feet all day so they like running shoes and go through them quickly, and some of them also participate in street soccer and other activities.

Viv and Nick have also started Renegade Runners, a weekly walking group for homeless men in Sydney. Last year a group of four completed the City2Surf. “All six of us were crying by the end of it,” says Nick. “But to get them to stay sober and meet up on the day and actually go through with it was life-changing.”

Shoes for Planet Earth has multiple collection points in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Canberra and Tasmania. Collectors range from shoes stores to podiatrists, schools and running clubs. Each city looks after its own distribution. Viv and Nick handle Sydney and overseas.

They estimate the charity has sent 20,000 pairs of shoes to needy feet since 2009 and it could send many more. They just need funds, and ideally another corporate tie-up to help with distribution.

“We have no problem getting shoes, our weak link is money. And volunteers. I do the emails, the sorting, logistics, organising, everything. If I could get someone to be at my computer just answering emails, that would be a huge help,” Viv says.

The money would fund distribution. “It costs $8 to send one pair of shoes surface mail to Africa and we have thousands of people who keep reminding me they are waiting on shoes. One orphanage has 1200 kids and they're all shoeless,” Nick says. “We can take 100kg of shoes with Jetstar, which is fantastic, but they don't go to Africa.”

Between 10 and 20 per cent of shoes the charity receives have to be thrown away due to poor condition. “We ask they are cleaned, in good condition and tied together in pairs. The soles must be in one piece, there must be no holes or broken heels,” Viv says.

“We do have a standard. We have to wash a large percentage of the shoes [in a cement mixer]. If everyone did their bit and gave us clean shoes that are tied together it would save us an enormous amount of time. It can take hours and hours to find a matching pair when you're sifting through 500 shoes.”

Viv has a storage shed at the back of her house that holds thousands of pairs of shoes. She is now working full-time as a volunteer running the charity and does part-time draughting to maintain an income stream. “If I ever have a spare moment I go out the back and sort shoes,” she says. She and Nick are also still running, but limit the distance to 50km races. Quite an inspiration.

And if you're wondering when you should turn your shoes over, it depends on how often you wear them. Mick Outhred of Northside Runners in Sydney says if you wear the same shoes for running six days a week, you're more likely to get 700km to 800km out of them, otherwise they could last up to 1200km.

“You are reducing the foaming system down more and more,” Outhred says. “The more it compresses it doesn't have a chance to spring back. It will sink quicker and you'll wear through the shoe faster. Some shoes, like lightweight racing flats, might only last 200km. The lighter the shoe is, the faster it will wear.”

So next time you're contemplating ditching a pair of runners that are still in good nick, consider cleaning them, tying them together and dropping them at a . Or contact Viv and Nick to give them a hand. If you're a runner, there'll be plenty to talk about.

Do you have a chronic shoe-collecting habit?

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