2015 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Running Shoes

Our team of testers put these 15 pairs through the paces and reported their insights.

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$130, On-running.com
The draw: Everyday trainer

Billed as a training shoe for all types of athletes, On’s “entry-level” Cloudster offers a structured, secure fit with a soft landing off of its 7mm heel-to-toe drop. “The circular rubber knobs on the sole feel like they grip the ground for a quick push-off,” said one tester. “It’s good for keeping speed during longer runs.” The Cloudster follows suit with On’s other models with their signature cushy tongue and breathable upper material.

$150, Brooksrunning.com
The draw: Bridge to maximalism

If you’re curious about converting to a maximalist sneaker but want to ease into the style, the Glycerin 12 offers an incredibly plush ride that still feels like a traditional shoe. It’s well suited to handle the heft of long runs and races, especially for heavier athletes. “This has become my go-to for longer or pavement-only runs,” one tester said. “It’s cushy while also maintaining a stable base.”

$140, Karhu.com
The draw: Heel striking comfort

The Fast5 Fulcrum is best for neutral, heel-striking runners with a wide foot who are logging long base miles. One tester felt the shoe cinched his foot down well vertically, but the width allowed for some horizontal movement. This shoe works for a middle-distance race—it’s neither super quick for speed nor supportive enough for a marathon. One tester pegged it as a no-frill shoe designed for a heel-striking runner looking for a comfortable and slightly supportive neutral everyday shoe.

$120, Nike.com
The draw: Stability with speed

Fans of the past versions of the classic Air Zoom may find this edition to be a little firmer and more stable. Testers said it was “extremely comfortable” and surprisingly responsive, with no constrictive areas, even with a slightly more narrow toe box. “The triple-density foam in the midsole helps reduce pronation and is comfortable at long distances,” said one tester. “My legs felt fresh after longer runs.”

$110, Thenorthface.com
The draw: Durable, light ride

Thanks to its North Face pedigree, the resilient Ultra Smooth (made with a Vibram outsole) sits between a pure road shoe and a trail shoe. One tester said the interior had a “slipper-like” feel, with a soft, suede-like track spike tongue. If you’re searching for deluxe cushioning, this isn’t your shoe, but if a supportive, minimal feel is your style, the lightweight ride could suit you for a 5K up to a half-marathon.

$130, Hokaoneone.com
The draw: Mileage builder

The originators of the maximalist movement lightened up their original model to arrive at the nimbler Clifton, one tester’s new all-time favorite shoe. The Clifton doesn’t stand out for its acceleration but makes up for it with a responsive, impact-absorbing ride that makes building mileage and racing longer distances comfortable. “Once I get going, I just have to focus on turnover and it feels like the shoe does the rest,” one tester commented.
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$120, Adidas.com
The draw: Extra pop in your step

Adidas’ proprietary “Boost” foam in the sole is much more than a marketing ploy—it’s extremely responsive, and springs the runner off the ground with a little extra jolt. The sensation is similar to running on a track. Perfect for running fast, the sole is protective enough for more relaxed workouts as well. Mid- to high-volume feet fit best in the soft, forgiving upper. Don’t expect the tightly cinched fit of traditional racing flats.

$100, Asicsamerica.com
The draw: A racer for heel strikers

Built with all the triathlon bells and whistles—heel and tongue loops, elastic laces, drainage holes—the Gel-Hyper Tri was made to race, and testers enjoyed the energetic, cushioned vibe of the ride. “I felt like I was flying along, thanks to its light weight and springy sole,” one tester said. The medium-volume width accommodates average feet, and the 6mm drop felt comfortable for prominent heel strikers.

$130, Zootsports.com
The draw: Sockless speed

Using a Boa closure system and a soft upper material, the Ali’i 14 allows for some fit flexibility. One tester enjoyed the ride for its mild “bounce,” which he said mentally helped to keep a rhythm during a longer tempo run. The inner material of the shoe is seamless and intended to be worn without socks, and the heel feels comfortably snug. “In terms of triathlon racing, it’s easily one of the best sockless shoes out on the market right now,” a tester said.

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$110, Newbalance.com
The draw: Speed workout snappiness

Experienced runners will appreciate the light, stiff feel of the 1500. Testers with a mid-foot strike responded best to this shoe and said it “has an immediate responsiveness and snappy feel.” The mid-foot is on the narrower side, with a toe box that starts decently wide and becomes pointed toward the big toe. According to one tester, the springy heel encouraged a high cadence and worked perfectly for track workouts and shorter intervals.

$130, Newtonrunning.com
The draw: Energetic trainer

Runners who naturally have a high cadence will appreciate the Fate for enhancing what they’ve already got—and runners who don’t will benefit from being forced into a faster turnover. Even the skinniest feet will feel secure with the easily cinched, stretchy upper material. Newton’s signature lugs take getting used to, but they are paired down in this version compared to original Newton models. Once adjusted, one tester found “the lugs and this shoe’s light weight make it feel like it wants to run faster than I can.”

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$100, Mizunousa.com
The draw: Responsive speed

From the first step in the new Hitogami, this shoe feels ready for race speeds. The contoured, well-structured upper locks the foot into place, bonding firmly with the shoe. Despite the sole’s thin profile, it is rigid and immediately responsive. It slaps hard against the pavement and bounces back immediately. If you’re accustomed to traditional race shoes, you’ll feel at home in the Hitogami. A 9mm heel rise takes a little of the strain off tired calf muscles during bricks and races.

$85, Skechers.com
The draw: High quality, bargain price

The GoRun Ride 4 got a facelift from previous iterations, with a new upper—tightly woven but not super breathable—and a new sole. For a lightweight shoe (6.4 ounces in a women’s 7), testers found it quite cushy, although one heel striker said absorption was best in the mid-foot. A couple unique features: It comes with a removable “custom fit” pair of insoles—which adds 4mm to drop, and there’s a cutout hole at the back of the heel (“QuickFit Portal”) for quick entry.

$110, Saucony.com
The draw: Light stability, roomy ride

Straight out of the box, the Mirage is an aesthetically cool shoe with a roomy, comfortable fit. Runners who need stability but want an alternative to the bulky shoes they’re used to will enjoy the lightweight ride that still offers plenty of support. “Some people might find the sole to be too stiff, but I really liked adding this shoe into my arsenal for tempo runs instead of a normal, heavier trainer,” said one tester.

$125, Pearlizumi.com
The draw: Long run-ready

The EM Road M3 is targeted at mild mid-foot pronators, so it’s specifically engineered to keep the mid-foot from moving laterally or absorbing too much impact. Testers said it absorbed vibration well, even on unforgiving asphalt, and one tester said she’d run a marathon in it. “It strikes that sweet spot between feeling supportive but also sprightly!” a tester said. “The mesh on the entire shoe is like built-in air conditioning.”

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