What Shoes Should I Run In?

Over the next couple of posts, I will be focusing primarily on running with the heavy running season rapidly approaching with the cool (or slightly less hot if you’re in Texas) weather.

What I’d like to touch on today is the question about running shoes. What kind of running shoe should I wear? People have been arguing about this for longer than any of us care to admit. And the point of this post is not to try to tell you what the best shoe on the market is, because in fact, there isn’t one. Instead, I’ll run down the basic types of running shoes and detail what kind of running or runner I would recommend to each kind.

With the end of summer rapidly approaching, it’s that time of year where all the competitive runners start looking at their winter racing season, and the recreational runners start making their way back outside to run as the temperatures cool. Consequently, this is a time of year when many people start to recycle into a new pair of shoes.

We’ve all heard of the minimalist running movement and that we should all run barefoot. We’ve also heard that running barefoot will give you stress fractures and we should all run in very cushioned shoes. So what’s the real answer? The rest of the running world is trying to figure that one out too. In reality, there isn’t really one answer to this question. Different people are going to run differently and that’s just how it is. There are just as many types of shoes as there are running styles, and each person has a type of those that suits their needs as well as just fits their feet. Of the several types of running shoe, these are what tend to be the most popular and most widely used.

True minimalist
These are the shoes that everyone thinks of as part of the barefoot movement, mostly because they simulate running while barefoot. These are shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers, the New Balance Minimus, the Vevo Barefoot, Merrell Glove, and many others. These are what we call 0 drop shoes, meaning the stack height of the heel and toe are the same. Now, we’ve all been told that we need to run like this, but in reality the number of people that can realistically wear these is very small. Unless you are already running with nearly “perfect” running form, meaning you are very light on your feet, strike the ground with the ball of your foot, and land with a flexed knee directly underneath your center of gravity, this shoe probably isn’t for you. They offer little support against impact and overuse injuries. They also aren’t great for running extended mileage on pavement since there isn’t much cushioning to protect your foot.

These are the shoes that are starting to gain a lot of popularity and have been growing over the last few years. These shoes generally have a relatively low to the ground feel while still more built up, have anywhere from a 3 to 6mm offset from the heel to the toe, and light weight. These are also sometimes known as minimal trainer shoes. These are shoes like the Saucony Kinvara, Nike Free, Asics Gel Lyte, and most Newtons. These shoes are good for most runners. They still promote natural running form while providing enough cushioning to absorb much of the impact from the ground. These can be good racing shoes as well for longer distance races since they are generally pretty light.

Traditional Shoes
These are the kind of shoes that most people think of as a running shoes. It’s what you see the most of out on the running trails, in running stores, and being used as a general athletic shoe. These shoes typically have a neutral platform (no special cushioning for stability or motion control), a generous amount of cushion, durable mesh uppers, and high rigidity. These shoes also are typically heavier than almost every other type of shoe as well as generally have about 10mm of heel to toe drop. While these shoes are not quite as popular among elite runners looking for lightweight shoes for training and racing or among runners who like to run in a slightly less built up shoe, traditional shoes are still some of the most popular shoes across the running population. These shoes are especially good for recreational runners and athletes new to the sport. With the durability of the heavy duty uppers, increased cushioning, and rigid soles, these shoes offer a very high amount of protection to the foot. This is especially good for new runners that don’t have particularly great form and mechanics. Over time, the wear on the body from running with poor form in minimal shoes can cause injuries and added fatigue that can to some degree be dampened or sometimes avoided by wearing a more built up, cushioned shoe. These shoes can include the Asics Gel Kayano, Mizzuno Wave Rider, Nike Pegasus, or Brooks Ghost.

Specialty Shoes
These are shoes that kind of step outside the norm. They fall into two categories, racing shoes, and everything else. Racing shoes are made specifically to go fast and are good for races in the 5K-10K range, but not really great for anything past that. They also have very little support or cushioning, making them similar to the true minimalist shoes with the difference being that they have a little bit more cushioning and generally a slight heel to toe drop. These shoes really are only used for racing or doing workouts on the track, and are generally only used for elite or highly competitive runners, since they need the competitive advantage and the faster you run, the more difference they make. These shoes include the likes of the Brooks T7, Asics Hyper Speed, Nike Zoom Streak, Newton MV3, and others.

The “everything else” shoes are the ones that cater to a very specific population. These can be things like stability control shoes that have specific padding for pronation or supination, maximalist (super padded shoes like Altra and Hoka) and trail running shoes. This are meant for certain people that need a special shoe for the type of running they do. For example, I do a lot a trail running on rocky, uneven trails and therefore need a sturdy trail running shoes with a lot of grip and a solid sole.

So as you can see, there are no real answers to the questions about what is the best running shoe. There isn’t one. It just doesn’t exist! In reality, everyone runs a little bit differently and has different goals. A basketball player running in off season has different goals than an elite marathon racer. For each kind of person, there is a different kind of shoe. The perfect shoe for you can very easily be the perfectly wrong shoe for someone else. Hopefully this helps give you some direction when you start looking for your next pair of shoes!