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2013 Running Shoe Guide: Road Tested

We wear-tested some of the best running footwear to evaluate the attributes most important for each shoe style.


The most important lesson learned from the minimalist running shoe explosion is that every runner needs different footwear for different workouts. There is no perfect shoe. We wear-tested some of the best running footwear—from slipper-style minimalists to sturdy trainers designed for maximum support—to evaluate the attributes most important for each shoe style. The shoe you need is probably in here—just don’t count on filling all your needs with a single pair.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.

Lightweight Trainers

Falling between a traditional trainer and a race flat, these are suited to any run, from a jog to an interval workout.

Altra Torin
Buzzwords: Zero-drop, broad
$115, Altrazerodrop.com

Responsiveness
This shoe feels punchier than most cushioned trainers thanks to the moderately stiff zero-drop sole. “It doesn’t exactly launch off the pavement but feels more lively than a typical high-mileage shoe,” said our tester.

Weight and support
Despite the zero-drop sole, the robust yet semi-firm cushioning makes the Torin a dependable platform for both slow and fast workouts. This shoe hits the mark for athletes looking to adopt a mid-foot strike, or for current mid-foot strikers looking for a trainer suited to slower efforts.

Fit
Torin is the opposite of the slipper-like fit of many traditional racing flats. “My arch felt solidly connected to the shoe, but my toes still had plenty of room to spread out,” said our tester. The heel also has a bit of freedom.

Skechers GOrun2
Buzzwords: Speedy, flexible
$80, Skechersperformance.com
*Best Value*

Responsiveness
The ride feels like the combination of a barefoot shoe and a racing flat. “It’s got a racy feel and puts you in touch with the road,” our tester said. “It’s super flexible and provides good energy return.” Extreme flexibility makes it best as a strength-building tool to be used during strides and short tempo workouts.

Weight and support
The sole is very unstructured. While it provides a little more stability than the Nike Free 4.0, this shoe was the second most malleable. It feels feather-light on the foot—just don’t count on it for support.

Fit
Despite lacking the overlays that add structure to the fit of many shoes, the GOrun2 has a slipper-like feel that secures the foot without squeezing it. The tester found no restriction in the fit, yet it seemed solidly connected even when running hard.

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Lightweight Trainers

Ecco Biom Evo Racer Lite
Buzzwords: Explosive, versatile
$130, Ecco.com

Responsiveness
The shoe is very responsive and is reminiscent of a racing flat, but with a little more material and support. “It definitely explodes off the ground,” said our tester. “Striding on my forefeet was easy and felt natural with this shoe.” It’s best suited to faster runs because landing on the heel felt “unnatural” in this shoe.

Weight and support
This shoe is capable of accommodating any run stride. “It’s so light and pliable that I didn’t feel it forced my foot to move or stride in any certain way,” said our tester. Striking the ground below the hips felt natural and easy.

Fit
The upper wraps effectively around the foot, binding the shoe to the runner without creating any pressure points. “It fits well without constricting or rubbing,” said our tester. He gave it one of the highest compliments a shoe can receive, saying, “It felt so comfortable and naturally fitting that I didn’t think about it during the run.”

Nike Free 4.0
Buzzwords: Cushioned, flexible
$95, Nike.com

Responsiveness
Ample cushioning takes the sting off the pavement that many equally flexible shoes send up to the runner. Their sensation when running fast, however, is less energetic than other minimalist shoes. “It provides substantial cushioning, but reduces a bit of the springiness compared to some others,” said the tester.

Weight and support
Of all the shoes tested in this category, the Free challenges the runner most to provide his or her own stability. A 65-minute run left the tester’s feet feeling “fatigued,” even after acclimating to the shoes. While it isn’t ideal for racing or long runs, this shoe is great for building strength that is truly running-specific.

Fit
The arch fits snugly and creates a “sock-like” feeling, said our tester, but the elastic upper also allows for a bit more flexibility than in most shoes. While tighter and more secure than many Nike shoes, the Free 4.0 didn’t constrict the tester’s foot.

Avia Avi-Mantis
Buzzwords: Explosive, good value
$80, Avia.com

Responsiveness
When running fast and landing toward the front of the shoe, the Avi-Mantis feels “propulsive and springy,” according to our tester. It has a discernable “pop” off the ground that inspires fast running. Land on the heel, however, and the shoe gives way without much resistance, making it a good choice for mid-foot strikers only.

Weight and support
When landing on the forefoot, “the sole is plenty robust,” said our tester, “but it falls short when heel striking.” It snaps off the ground and feels “exceptionally light” without the flimsy feeling of some pure racing flats.

Fit
The smooth inner liner prevents any hot spots and firmly holds its shape without stretching or expanding. It is cut for slightly bigger feet and fits much more generously than other equally explosive shoes.

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Lightweight Trainers

K-Swiss Blade-light Run 2
Buzzwords: Cushioned, forgiving
$95, Kswiss.com

Responsiveness
While its cushioned sole is more absorptive than explosive, “running in [the Blade Run 2] reminds me of more minimal footwear because it conforms to my stride instead of forcing me to run a certain way,” reported our tester.

Weight and support
This sole feels almost as cushioned as many high-mileage trainers—flexibility is the biggest difference between the Blade-light and more robust trainers. “It bends and moves with my foot but still feels extremely padded,” our tester said. It’s sufficiently sturdy for heel strikers looking for a more liberating shoe.

Fit
For a mid-volume foot, the Blade-light fits perfectly. “It seems to hold every part of my foot without any irritation,” explained the tester. It creates a “solid” connection with the runner and doesn’t allow excessive wiggling within the shoe while still allowing enough room in the toe box.

Saucony Virrata
Buzzwords: Springy, cushioned
$90, Saucony.com
*Top Performer*

Responsiveness
“Springy” is the best way to describe the experience of running in the Virrata. Even with this propulsive feel, it’s still exceptionally well cushioned. It’s flexible and designed for mid-foot striders, but not excessively so. It is up to the task of daily runs and is not just a special-use shoe.

Weight and support
Our tester was uncomfortable running long in these shoes because of its 0mm heel-to-toe drop, but still selected it repeatedly for shorter runs during the week. “I’d wear it for almost every other type of workout, and I think it’s still light enough to race in,” he said. Arch support is almost nonexistent, so it’s best suited to neutral runners.

Fit
Despite initially feeling a bit loose, our tester found the shoe to be tight in all the right places. “It cinched down nicely, especially around the arch,” he said. The seamless upper gave the Virrata a stress-free fit “like a sock.”

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High-Mileage Trainers

Durable and solid, these are best for heel strikers in need of support.

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 13
Buzzwords: Roomy, sturdy
$110, Brooksrunning.com

Responsiveness
The Adrenaline is built to provide a soft, smooth ride. The cushioning has some give, and not as much spring as the tester experienced in the Newton or Adidas shoe, but it’s flexible enough for stability seekers to use for speedy efforts.

Weight and support
With a firm medial post, the Adrenaline serves over-pronating heel strikers (and heavier runners) well for high-volume training. “They are stable and durable without that ‘hefty stability shoe’ feeling,” our tester said.

Fit
The toe box is incredibly roomy and best for wider feet, but the eyelets lend themselves to a tighter fit in the necessary spots. “Even with a spacious front end, my narrow foot felt secure, especially compared to past Adrenaline models,” our tester said.

Adidas Energy Boost
Buzzwords: Springy, flexible
$150, Adidas.com
*Top Performer*

Responsiveness
Adidas’ new “boost” technology truly does give the shoe the bouncy, responsive feel that it claims. The springy return is especially obvious for heel strikers.

Weight and support
Best for neutral runners, the cushioning is ample but light, and the soles are flexible. “The combo of a stretchy, comfortable upper and general bounciness kept me going back to these shoes for all types of runs,” our tester said.

Fit
Comfort is one of the best qualities of the Energy Boost, with a “perfect out-of-the-box” feel, according to our tester. The sheer, mesh upper serves feet well in hot temps. Adidas recommends sizing up a half-size for a traditional fit, and the width is best for narrow feet.

Newton Gravity
Buzzwords: Quick, fun
$175, Newtonrunning.com

Responsiveness
Because the Gravity is meant to encourage (but not force) mid-foot striking, the cushioning is more minimal than other long-distance trainers. However, this shoe definitely feels more structured than the typical lightweight shoe and is built for everyday training.

Weight and support
For traditional heel strikers, the Gravity serves as an efficient intro to mid-foot striking. “These will be my go-to for quick runs when I’m focused on form,” our tester said. At 7.6 ounces for the women’s version, the Gravity is best for shorter efforts—ease in, heel strikers—or neutral runners who are accustomed to training in lighter shoes.

Fit
The upper is soft, roomy and breathable, the toe box has plenty of space without being excessive, and the heel has a nice grasp. “They have a nice conforming feel without suffocating any part of the foot,” our tester said.

RELATED – 2013 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Running Shoes

Racing Flats

Created specifically for fast workouts and races, they’re typically best for runners with solid form and stability.

Mizuno Wave Ronin 5
Buzzwords: Snappy, balanced
$105, Mizunousa.com
*Top Performer*

Responsiveness
The sole is rigid and highly responsive. It feels firm underfoot and sends energy back up to the runner during a fast 5K or 10K. The Ronin 5 jolts off the ground yet provides “plenty of protection” for a 70.3.

Fit
The redesigned upper is “less restrictive and more breathable” than prior versions of the shoe, according to our tester. Despite these benefits, it still locks the shoe into place with a fit that feels balanced from the front to back and is anchored by a dependable heel cup that prevents slippage.

Support and cushioning
Despite the low weight and flexible sole, the Ronin doesn’t require a massive adjustment for athletes accustomed to heavier trainers. With a 10mm heel-to-toe drop, it helps support calf muscles fatigued from a hard ride.

Karhu Flow Light
Buzzwords: Protective, comfortable
$110, Karhu.com

Responsiveness
Robust cushioning under the mid-foot “provides a feeling of protection underfoot,” said our tester. Although it rode nicely for longer tempo runs, it lacked the extreme snap required for fast intervals and track workouts.

Fit
With a nearly seam-free upper, the Flow Light is exceptionally comfortable without socks. “The shoe fit my foot securely from heel to toe, but was on the narrow side in the forefoot,” said our tester.

Support and cushioning
Considering its minimal weight, the Flow Light provides a relatively sturdy foundation and barrier from the ground. It feels robust laterally and doesn’t allow the foot to cave in toward the center of the body as some light shoes have a tendency to do.

New Balance RC 1400
Buzzwords: Snug, cushioned
$90, Newbalance.com

Responsiveness
Ride feel in this shoe is substantially softer than the other two race flats. Its light weight helps promote a quick stride rate, but the added cushioning provides a more forgiving feel.

Fit
The rear of the shoe is cut to average width, and the front fits like a pure, traditional race flat. “It provides a snug heel fit and wraps the mid-foot well,” said our tester. “Runners with a wider forefoot will feel squeezed in the toe box.”

Support and cushioning
This shoe feels “low to the ground but still provides a fair amount of cushioned protection underfoot, which will serve more efficient runners well over the long haul,” our tester said. “It is light enough for shorter races and speed workouts, but cushioned enough to keep you comfortable for longer distances.”

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Tri-Specific

Designed to meet the specialized needs of a triathlon run.

Zoot Ultra Race 4.0
Buzzwords: Explosive, snug
$180, Zootsports.com

Transition
Once your foot is in the shoe, a quick twist of the Boa ratcheting dial is all it takes to lock the shoe into place. “It’s even simpler to close than an elastic quick-lace,” said our tester. Getting in the shoes takes a little force, but the inner liner is soft and smooth against bare skin.

Responsiveness
“These shoes make pavement feel like the surface of a track,” exclaimed our tester. The sole snaps off the ground and helps drive through a stride. While it carries a few more ounces than some pure racing flats, it feels just as light and nimble as any.

Support and cushioning
Despite having the explosive sensation of a racing flat, the Ultra Race 4.0 provides a “sturdy and supportive” foundation, said our tester, offering a little extra support when your legs are gassed. The upper is snug but still allows the foot to slide forward in the shoe when charging downhill.

Pearl Izumi E:Motion Tri N 2
Buzzwords: Firm, cradling
$125, Pearlizumi.com

Transition
The tri-specific design is this shoe’s strongest suit. “They feel amazing sockless—like your feet are in a wetsuit,” said our tester. “There is nothing that could rub your foot the wrong way because the inside of the upper is truly seamless.” Runners with excellent form could get away with these for a 70.3, and others should keep it to Olympic distance or less.

Responsiveness
Upon foot strike, these shoes feel hard but not particularly springy. “They don’t give much back,” according to one tester. The firm sole creates the sensation of a connection to the ground, despite the substantial plank of foam.

Support and cushioning
Thanks to the firm sole, this shoe provides a solid level of protection. “These shoes are beefy,” said our tester, in comparison with other shoes of similar weight. “They soften the impact a little when heel striking, but not to the point where you could heel strike for a long run and get away with it.” The sole provides a solid foundation for runners requiring a little support.

Asics Gel-Noosafast
Buzzwords: Fast, nimble
$100, Asicsamerica.com
*Top Performer*

Transition
Even with the static laces, this shoe is “easy to yank down as firm as you want,” reported our tester. It’s even easier with the included elastic laces. Sockless wear isn’t so smooth, however. The tongue repeatedly folded during test runs, which created a hot spot when running barefoot. “Lots of friction,” she said.

Responsiveness
The ride and responsive feel of this shoe earned high praise from multiple testers. “These are the most comfortable racing flats I’ve ever run in,” said our veteran triathlete. “The cushioning doesn’t add any weight, and doesn’t take away from the minimalist feel, but makes [the shoe] way more comfortable.”

Support and cushioning
These shoes are great for people with narrow feet. “It definitely feels much more like a traditional race flat,” said one tester. They soften impact but not in a way that takes away the feel of the road. Heel striking is not recommended, so save these for fast workouts and races.

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Tester Profile 1
Favorite PR: 35:54 10K at the Chicago Triathlon
Stride type: Mid-foot to heel striker
Most interesting person spotted during a run: Keanu Reeves

Tester Profile 2
Years running: 14
Shoe fetish: Minimalist racers
Claim to fame: Beat Gwen Jorgensen in a high school track relay

Tester Profile 3
Started running: In fourth grade
Most interesting wildlife encounter while running: Brown bear
Triathlons completed: “Around 100”

Tester Profile 4
Favorite PR: 3:25 marathon
Stride type: Heel striker
Favorite post-workout recovery food: Cookies, coffee, brunch

Tester Profile 5
Years running: 16
Favorite PR: 2:28 marathon
Stride type: Mid-foot

Tester Profile 6
Number of years running: 12
Stride type: Mid-foot to heel striker
Favorite post long-run food binge: Any of the Cheesecake Factory chocolate cakes

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