There is no such thing as the perfect running shoe – there is only the perfect running shoe for you. Depending on your speed, weight, stride pattern – whether you strike with the heel, the midfoot or your toes – and the unknown quantity that makes every runner unique, you will have your own requirements for a shoe.
That unknown quantity has been called many things: understride, over-pronation, barefoot or neutral are all words used throughout the decades to sell shoes (here’s a secret that many don’t want you to know: everyone pronates to a certain degree – if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to run without intense pain). The main thing is that if you can run without injury then whichever way you plant your foot, it is the right form for you.
Then there is the terrain you wish to run on. Is it a treadmill? An athletics track? A grassy field? A slippery, tree-rooted trail or a rocky alpine route? And how long will you run for? A quick 20 minutes? A gruelling 20-mile pre-marathon slog? A weekend in the hills? Well, whatever kind of runner you may be, you’re bound to find your shoe nirvana in the following 10 pairs.
Altra Escalante 1.5
These shoes are seriously comfortable. They’re made by a company which specialises in zero-drop shoes – footwear that has no difference between the height of the heel and toes – which promotes a natural running style.
The cushioning is squishy yet responsive and the foot-shaped last means there is a cavernous space for your toes to splay out. The lack of heel-toe drop means that if you’re not used to them, your calves and Achilles tendons will need some conditioning, but once they are… bliss. Even track sessions are fun in these shoes.
Asics Dynaflyte 3
One thing is for sure: these look snazzy. And beyond cosmetic details, they’re a dream to wear for short, quick runs. There is enough cushioning so as your feet don’t get trashed, but there is a welcome absence of arch support and other reinforcements.
The fit is wide as well – and, if we may return to the looks, you could almost wear them in the office without anybody noticing. There is enough protection to handle a chunky distance, although some may find the shoe gets a little warm after an hour or so.
We will admit it: these shoes feel slightly odd on first wearing, due to the 18 “cloud” pods that provide the cushioning on the bottom of the shoe. But once you get used to them (and the sound they make on impact with the road) the shoes provide the runner with a responsive ride.
Because there is not a lot between you and the road, you’d need a decent amount of conditioning if you were to run long distances in these shoes, but the trade-off is that there is so little weight to carry.
If you’re after a minimal shoe, then this could be the pair for you. One thing though: they are narrow in the foot, so if your feet are platypus-like, opt for something else.
Saucony Triumph ISO 5
At first glance, there seems to be a lot of shoe here in the fifth iteration of the Triumph line. But that massive slab of spongy goodness is worth its weight in gold on a long run.
The company’s Everun compound is, it says, less liable to lose its responsiveness when warmed up and it is lighter than older foams. And in the time we wore them, that claim seemed to hold up– as did the shoes. Even after a long run, there was less fatigue in the calves and Achilles. If we were going to run another road marathon, these would be our long-run shoes.
New Balance 890v6
If you like running shoes that are lightweight but still have a bit of structure to them, then go for this pair, the return of New Balance’s much-loved training shoe.
The midsole is stiffer than a lot of shoes in its category, resulting in a firmer ride, and the relative lack of cushioning, especially in the forefoot, means these are best for quicker workouts for all but the most efficient of runners. On longer runs, the stiffness tends to grate a little.