Okay, so you want to start running! Fantastic! You only have boots, and you can’t afford to drop $100+ on running shoes? Hmm, well. I might have some advice you can use.
Before we begin, I cannot stress the importance of getting fitted for an ideal type of shoe at a running store even if you plan to go and thrift up a pair of used runners. It will help you prevent injury and determine how much support you need.
Now, you can certainly walk into a goodwill or other thrift store and pick up a pair of shoes that someone ditched after running twice. I have! Here are my points of inspection:
Shell: The upper part of the shoe should be in good structural condition, no gaping holes or huge tears. Pinholes in non critical locations or very minor separation of rubber from the toe box might be able to be remedied with super glue.
Tread: Look for spots of wear and compare them to your own. No two people are going to have shoes that wear exactly the same way. If the previous owner had a significantly different wear pattern than you typically put down on your shoe, I do not suggest buying the shoes. The tread blocks should not be all the way gone. At least half of it should still be present.
Cushion: Is the foam stack between the shell and tread severely compressed? Are there chunks missing? Then stay away! You want a shoe with some absorption ability left.
Insoles: I suggest replacing the insole. It’s just a smart move and doing so reduces the risk of injury.
Since you only plop down (typically) about 6-10$ for some used running shoes from a thrift store, you should not be afraid of giving them back to the store if they’re not serviceable for you.
Do walk about in them for a day or so to get accustomed to their behavior before actually running in them. Then give them a jog. If they still feel good, give them a real go. Bam. Cheap shoes.
If you don’t want to totally rely on stumbling upon perfect shoes at a thrift store, you can apply these same principles to purchases from eBay or an REI garage sale. For instance, the two pairs of trail running shoes below were purchased at one of those REI garage sales, and both pairs only ran me 38$ in total!
Obviously, buying new shoes is ideal and reduces risk. It is possible, however, to take a chance and end up finding a gem of a deal. Make an informed decision, take your time getting used to them, and understand that when you buy used, you get zero guarantees. I have had used shoes work for me, and I’ve also had a couple of failures. Be diligent!