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As race season heats up, be sure you have the right shoes to chase down a new PR. We recruited a diverse crew of testers to put the very latest footwear through the paces. Meet your new favorite run shoes, handpicked fresh just for you.
Saucony Kinvara 5
Is the Kinvara a racer or trainer? Somewhere in the middle—it is built on a semi-slim layer of absorbent and malleable cushioning, with other speed-friendly attributes that give it the lively feel reminiscent of an aggressive race shoe. “The cushioning was perfect,” said one tester. “It provides a smooth ride without getting too soft and feeling like an energy sink.” Despite weighing more than most dedicated race shoes, the Kinvara 5 is eager to elevate off the pavement, agreed testers. Fleet-footed testers lauded it as a long-distance race option, while those who typically train in heavier trainers selected the Kinvara 5 for both mid-and short-distance races. Compared to earlier versions of the Kinvara, this shoe feels more robust and cushioned. It isn’t as snappy or nimble as the first few iterations. Expect a slipper-like fit from the first wear. “The upper was light and flexible without being sloppy,” reported one tester.
Pearl Izumi EM Road N0
This is not a hybrid, do-it-all shoe—the N0 is only for going fast. “As long as you’re comfortable with a stripped-down racing flat, the N0 makes you feel fast and light,” said a tester. With a low heel-to-toe drop and thin yet firm cushioning, Pearl Izumi’s newest lightweight shoe is a throwback to traditional race shoes. Testers unanimously raved about the feel of running fast in this shoe—it perfectly complements a quick cadence. Some testers felt comfortable wearing it for up to a 10K, and others view 5K as the longest appropriate distance. “The barely there seamless mesh upper contributes to an airy feel,” according to a tester. This shoe suits sprint- and Olympic-distance racers—no hot spots or unusual friction. Swap in a pair of quick laces and this becomes an ideal short-distance race shoe.
Zoot Ovwa 2.0
Strap the Ovwa 2.0 to your feet and you’ll know you’re in a Zoot shoe from its ride feel. It’s a slightly sturdier version reminiscent of the brand’s popular race shoes such as the Ultra TT, bolstered with a classic lacing system that makes it a great choice for training as well as racing. “The fit around the arch is solid and adjustable,” one tester said. “I prefer the way this shoe holds my foot compared to other Zoot shoes with elastic laces.” The bond between the foot and the shoe is predictable and solid. Firm and responsive ride characteristics are similar to Zoot’s race-specific models. Whether landing with the mid-foot or heel, this shoe helps propel the runner to a speedy takeoff. Pronounced lateral stability directs the foot’s path through a stride.
Adidas Energy Boost 2.0
No shoe exists that is perfect for every running speed and workout type, but the Energy Boost gets as close as any to that elusive ideal. Faster testers who favor a quicker stride liked it for an everyday shoe capable of crossing over into the realm of speed work, while those who typically prefer a more robust shoe were drawn to the Energy Boost for fast training days and races. All testers regardless of their speed or running style benefited from the unique sole. One tester described the feeling as having extra “bounce” in every stride. It has the explosive feel usually reserved for a race shoe but with substantial shock absorption and a little bit of supportive stability. Fit is very slim; try going up a half-size.
New Balance 980
Just because you prefer a highly cushioned shoe doesn’t mean your footwear needs to feel like a block of wood. The 980 is lively and still protective. “The weight is what you would expect from a traditional trainer, but it feels lighter on your foot—not at all cumbersome or heavy,” said one tester. And the unique foam used in the sole creates a natural feel. Several testers reported that the 980 has a smooth ride that seems responsive and never mushy, especially compared to equally robust trainers. The forefoot has a tight fit—the toe box snugly presses down on the foot. The rear of the shoe, however, holds the foot more loosely. Runners looking for subtle corrective stability will appreciate the laterally firm sole that prevents arch collapse without over-correcting.
Skechers GoRun Ultra
Think of this shoe as a very soft-soled version of a speed-and-distance shoe hybrid. Its weight feels very low, yet the cushioning, not the mass, is the most noticeable feature during runs. “This shoe feels like running on pillows,” described one tester. “It’s soft, cushioned, absorbent and comfortable, but not exactly speedy.” Thick and forgiving padding encourages a delicate landing. Some testers enjoyed the extreme cushioning and still felt light in the shoe, but others thought the sole was too soft. To lock the foot in place, be ready to tightly cinch the laces down and accept some gentle pressure on the arch.
Mizuno Wave Hitogami
Testers just about exhausted a thesaurus-worth of adjectives for a fantastic racer when reviewing Mizuno’s latest speedy shoe. Responsive, firm, secure and light are just some of the words describing the Wave Hitogami’s ride. Not only does it feel fast, but it boasts “a surprising amount of cushion for such a minimal shoe.” Though this shoe was created without triathlon in mind, it boasts several features that make it a great multisport race shoe. First, it’s fairly substantial 9mm heel-to-toe drop takes some strain off fatigued calf muscles following a bike ride. Second, taped seams make the inner lining smoother than most, which prevents hot spots, even when running sockless. Runners who prefer more substantial shoes also liked Mizuno’s newest race shoe for the occasional high-speed workout or race. “For being so lightweight, I still feel like I’m getting the support and stability I need,” said a tester. The heel and arch anchor the foot in place and the broad toe box provides enough space for the foot to move naturally.
Asics Gel-Super J33
For the sensation of a little extra snap during fast workouts without sacrificing cushioning, the J33 is a perfect choice. “It rides like a regular trainer, but with racing flat weight,” said one tester. The mid-width sole snaps off the ground like a race shoe, yet the forgiving sole and generous upper offer a little extra protection needed from an everyday workhorse. One tester described it as “perfect for those looking to move on from the traditional, bulky trainers.” Fit is reminiscent of a dedicated trainer—it’s fairly loose and forgiving. Neutral striders are the best match for this shoe, as the sole allows the runner’s natural gait to guide the shoe.
Scott eRide AF Trainer 2
Runners with an affinity for traditional training shoes will feel at home in the eRide. It retains a substantial 12mm drop from the heel to the forefoot while many high-mileage shoes have migrated to a less dramatic drop. Heel-striking testers said it felt natural, and helped drive their foot through a stride. “The rocker helps roll the foot forward and allows for a more fluid foot plant,” a tester reported. Weight is substantially lower than some robust trainers, giving this shoe a more agile and fun feel than many equally supportive shoes. Fit is snug through the mid-foot, yet spacious in the toe box. The sturdy upper effectively pins the foot in place in the shoe.
For all the talk about the demise of the “minimalist” running shoe movement, Brooks’ latest cushioned trainer proves otherwise. While the Transcend does have some characteristics of a traditional high-mileage shoe—thick cushioning, stability, protection from the road—it moves more naturally with the foot thanks to a few attributes inspired by minimalism. Its relatively low heel helps transition from landing to toe-off with a little extra propulsion. “The first thing I noticed was it felt like I was running on springs,” said one tester. “The shoes were very bouncy with lots of cushioning.” Even runners who tend to prefer lighter shoes liked this pair for recovery days. “I’m a neutral runner but the stability was nice to have and not a problem,” a tester reported. They are not, however, a light shoe. Their bulk translates directly to ample shock absorption and support without dominating the runner’s stride.
Newton Motion III
Just because a shoe is comfortable, structured and supportive doesn’t mean it has to be a clunker. Even racing-flat lovers need a pair for recovery days. If you are a committed mid- to forefoot striker looking for a shoe that facilitates your running style while taking some of the stress off your lower body, the Motion III fits the description. “I found myself going back to this shoe for recovery runs because of the comfortable upper and firmly cushioned sole,” says one mid-foot-striking tester. It puts tension through the calf muscle, similar to other Newtons, and engenders a quick turnover while providing a more laterally stable forefoot base and bracing impact with the ground.
Nike LunarEclipse 4+
Nike’s newest stability trainer is divisive: Runners looking for substantial cushioning and support loved it and those preferring more minimalistic shoes couldn’t get out of it fast enough. One tester who is inclined to like high-mileage shoes lauded the shoe’s cushioning and support, calling it “ideal for the heel striker looking for a road trainer that is light, supportive and can handle speed over long distances.” It’s more stable than earlier versions and the forefoot feels forgivingly cushioned. The heel breaks impact with the ground, spreading the shock over a slow and steady descent, but rocking from landing to takeoff is slow and deliberate—those looking for structure appreciate the help. If you look forward to slipping on a pair of slipper-like racing flats, however, this shoe isn’t the right choice, even for easy runs.
Hoka One Conquest
Hokas are known for their ability to swallow rocks and other bumps in a road or trail while softly bracing the runner from the ground. The Conquest is true to Hoka’s heritage with its thick cushioning, but puts a new twist on the stilt-like shoes. “This version is much firmer and more responsive than any of the others I have tried,” said a tester. “You can feel the difference in firmness immediately.” Some of the shock absorption is sacrificed in favor of additional responsiveness. The Conquest pops off the ground with a little more spring than other models from Hoka, and it retains a deceivingly low weight. Some testers enjoyed the rigid foundation, but others longed for the ultra-plush ride of earlier Hoka shoes.
Think of the FluidFlex as the merger of a Hoka One One with a Nike Free. It can flex and bend in any direction with almost no resistance, just like a Free, yet is so thickly padded that the soles replicate some of the Hoka-style feel of running on marshmallows. Despite the softer sole, testers requiring a little extra support still felt comfortable in the FluidFlex, as it didn’t collapse to the sides. Testers also loved them for occasional trail runs for their “seriously amazing” traction and ability to absorb bumps in a trail, even though protection from sharp objects is limited. Fit runs large, so consider sizing down a half-size.