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Spring 2021 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Running Shoes

From super shoes to super trainers, find the right fit for your feet.

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Yellow and white Brooks Hyperion Elite 2

Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 | $250

Fit: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Cushion: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Performance: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Weight: 7.6oz | Offset: 8mm

Basics

This is Brooks’ updated carbon-fiber-plated super shoe with more resilient, durable foam. The second version has a slightly different midsole foam and shape, giving it a noticeably springier feel than the original. The nitrogen-infused DNA Flash cushioning dampens impact forces and smooths the ride without excessive squishing or bouncing.

Pros

  • Balance of super shoe performance and comfort
  • Update retained its semi-firm feel and smooth ride
  • Upper is smooth, simple, and true-to-size
  • Moderate, unobtrusive rocker accelerates your cadence without rearranging it

Cons

  • Not as snappy as some other super shoes on the market
Blue, yellow, and white HOKA Rocket X

HOKA Rocket X | $180

Fit: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Cushion: ★ ★ ★ | Performance: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Weight: 7.4oz | Offset: 5mm

Basics

Playing off HOKA’s firmer, lower Evo Carbon Rocket and wider, softer Carbon X2, the Rocket X is the brand’s sleekest lightweight carbon fiber racing shoe, using a new lightweight compression-molded EVA midsole and a 1mm curved carbon-fiber plate for a responsive, firm, relatively low-profile performance shoe. At $180, it is also relatively affordable as a carbon-plated super shoe.

Pros

  • Speed, speed, speed

Cons

  • Could be hard on tired legs after the bike
  • Not for everyone; doesn’t kick into gear until well forward in the gait
  • Female testers found the fit bigger, especially in the toe box

Nike Vaporfly Next % | $250

Fit: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Cushion: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Performance: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Weight: 6.6oz | Offset: 8mm

Basics

There’s a reason these have become the most popular racing shoe in running: speed. The second shoe in Nike’s Vaporfly line has more cushion and stability than its predecessor, with all the original groundbreaking technology. It has 15 percent more ultra-light ZoomX midsole foam, a slightly lower heel-toe offset, a lighter woven mesh upper and better traction to the outsole rubber.

Pros

  • You buy these for one reason: to go fast and set PRs
  • Improved traction is key for triathlons, where the original Vaporfly could often slip on wet surfaces

Cons

  • Yes, you can “fall” off of them if you corner too sharply
  • The somewhat bouncy, awkward ride can take some getting used to
  • No such thing as free speed, comes with a high price tag
Rainbow-colored Asics Noosa Tri 13

Asics Noosa Tri 13 | $130

Fit: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ | Cushion: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Performance: ★ ★ ★ ★
Weight: 7.9oz (men’s), 6.5oz (women’s) | Offset: 5mm

Basics

Noosa fans will notice a rather dramatic update from the 12 to the 13. The 13 is more rockered and uses Asics’ Guide Sole tech with a greater stack height. Features an early rocker that almost immediately rolls you forward from stance phase into a medial push-off from the big toe, making for a snappy experience.

Pros

  • Perky snappiness makes them fun
  • Runs like a carbon-less super shoe
  • Firm yet energy-returning midsole

Cons

  • Instability of a dramatic rocker
  • Past models have caused blisters, but update to fit appears to have resolved

Read the extended review

Light blue and white NB 1080v11

NB 1080v11 | $150

Fit: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Cushion: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ | Performance: ★ ★ ★
Weight: 9.2oz (men’s), 8.1oz (women’s) | Offset: 8mm

Basics

Plush meets performance with the Fresh Foam 1080 remake. A brand new upper features an engineered knit and stretch zones for an adaptive, close-to-the-foot fit that is stretchy, supportive, and breathable.

Pros

  • A fine blend of bouncy cushioning without weight
  • Flexible and wide enough in forefoot to accommodate variety of shapes
  • New lasered upper, with Fresh Foam, keeps the shoe light and unbulky
  • Dependable and durable everyday trainer

Cons

  • The feel and hold of the contoured UltraHeel
White, blue, and black Saucony Kinvara 12 with yellow accent

Saucony Kinvara 12 | $110

Fit: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Cushion: ★ ★ ★ | Performance: ★ ★ ★ ★
Weight: 7.5oz (men’s), 6.5oz (women’s) | Offset: 4mm

Basics

Saucony modified its “go-fast trainer” by simplifying the upper with lightweight printing and, in so doing, shaving off some weight. It also added some ground contact to smooth out the ride, evening out the touch down to takeoff transition. The shoe carries through the PWRRUN midsole cushioning, giving the Kinvara its lightweight responsiveness.

Pros

  • Natural feel with just enough impact protection
  • Neutral barefoot-like proprioceptive sense of the ground with wide toe box

Cons

  • May lull newbies into overdoing it without enough structure
  • Not as much cushioning as similar shoes
Blue and gray Skechers GOrun Razor+ Hyper with pink accents

Skechers GOrun Razor+ Hyper | $135

Fit: ★ ★ ★ | Cushion: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Performance: ★ ★ ★ ★
Weight: 6.4oz (men’s), 4.9oz (women’s) | Offset: 4mm

Basics

The Razor+ runs light and low for a close-to-the-ground sensation that feels the same on the first step of a run—regardless of distance—as it does the last. Hyperburst midsole material is indestructible, and Skechers engineered it with just the right stack height so the energy-returning material smooshes low before bouncing back, producing a connected, minimalist feel that makes for great push-off and cornering.

Pros

  • Midsole responsiveness and durability, energy-returning bounce back
  • Pliable ripstop mesh upper is highly breathable without being flimsy
  • Flexibility accommodates wider feet

Cons

  • Some may feel need for support or motion control
  • Lack of upper hold
Flower-pattern Zoot Ultra TT with yellow-green accents

Zoot Ultra TT | $135

Fit: ★ ★ ★ | Cushion: ★ ★ ★ | Performance: ★ ★ ★ ★
Weight: 6.5oz (women’s), 7.3oz (men’s) | Offset: 3mm

Basics

A triathlon-specific shoe, Zoot’s Ultra TTs are designed with fast transitions in mind—drainage holes, quick pull-on loops, and elastic laces. When Zoot re-entered the footwear market in late 2019, it remodeled its race shoe with, what it says, are mechanics designed specifically to keep your turnover high off the bike.

Pros

  • Light and fast race shoe
  • Tri-focused features

Cons

  • Slightly narrow and small; you will want to size up
  • In the age of super shoes, unclear if the Ultra TT can compete
Orange and navy On Cloudflyer with white accents

On Cloudflyer | $160

Fit: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Cushion: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Performance: ★ ★
Weight: 9.8oz (men’s), 7.4oz (women’s) | Offset: 7mm

Basics

A workhorse shoe designed with On’s Helion superfoam and their Speedboard plate. Midfoot support tube and molded heel make this shoe one of the heftier and more stable we tested. Comes in a waterproof model too.

Pros

  • Wide footbox
  • For the level of stability and support, relatively light shoe

Cons

  • Might be a lot of shoe for some people, not a ton of give
  • On’s unique lug design isn’t for everyone
  • Definitely not a shoe that can be worn on trails
Black and sky blue Altra Torin 4.5 Plush with purple accents

Altra Torin 4.5 Plush | $140

Fit: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Cushion: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Performance: ★ ★ ★ ★
Weight: 7.4oz (women’s), 8.9oz (men’s) | Offset: 0mm

Basics

The Torin 4.5 Plush is a slight updated version of Altra’s popular shoe—.5 means just the upper has been updated from the 4. It features the company’s standard wide toe box (designed to allow your feet to splay to their natural position instead of being confined) and zero drop. With the amount of cushioning and midfoot support, it’s a minimalist/maximalist tempo shoe.

Pros

  • Very plushy ride, especially nice for tired legs
  • Uniquely wide toe box gives your feet room to move
  • Still retains a tempo feel, without any sense of restriction of movement

Cons

  • Zero-drop shoes are not for everyone
  • Almost too plushy, with odd roll through the midfoot