Running is the most accessible sport in the world. It does not require specialized equipment, fancy facilities, or loads of money to get started. The only thing you shouldn’t skimp on is a good pair of running shoes.
But what is a “good” pair of running shoes?
For years, companies have tried to make this as complicated as possible. They positioned products on a spectrum of arch support, or limiting pronation, and told runners we needed a prescription for a shoe to avoid injury.
But it is not true. The scientific evidence is there. It’s a myth created to sell more expensive and over-built running shoes.
As runners became disillusioned with this old pseudo-science, two new trends popped up: minimalist & maximalist shoes. Both promised to reduce injury, but again the evidence isn’t good for these claims either. Indeed, it could be claimed that both minimalist and maximalist increase chance of injury.
So with the old systems proven wrong, what should you do? Thankfully the answer is simple: run in a shoe that feels good for the run you are doing.
Really. That simple.
So to that end, here are the 5 main categories of running shoes, and how most runners use them.
When sprinting on a track or around a cross-country course, reach for the spikes.
Spikes are the lightest running shoes you will find, often weighing less than 5 ounces (142 grams). As their name implies, spikes are fitted with a set of plastic or metal spikes at the forefoot for better traction. These spikes get you on the balls of your feet, and for some shorter sprint races you’re heel won’t even make contact with the ground.
Spikes are generally the stiffest shoes, with the plastic plate on the bottom making them very rigid. Spikes for longer races like 10,000m or cross country may have some cushioning, but it will be minimal compared to other shoes.
You’ll likely do very little running in spikes, only for your hardest track workouts and only if you’ll be racing in them.
Examples of spikes are ASICS hyper MD 6, Altra Golden spike, Saucony spitfire, New balance XC among others.
There’s a clue in the name. When you’re doing a road race, you’re going to want your racing flats.
Racing flats are also known simply as flats. Like the spikes, racing flats are lighter than training shoes and stiffer than a trainer. You’ll find flats with a range of cushioning options from minimal for mile road racing to substantial cushion for marathons.
You should do some training in your racing flats so you know how they’ll feel for race day. But otherwise, they’ll spend most of their time in the closet because as a lightweight shoe they aren’t built to withstand the rigors of daily training. Furthermore, as they’re often stiff, you’ll want to do most of your training in a more flexible shoe that builds your foot strength through a full range of motion.
Some racing flats in the market include Saucony Type A6, Adidas Adios, Brooks Hyperion, and Nike Vaporfly.
When it’s time to dial up the speed in training, the lightweight trainer should be your shoe of choice.
Light-weight and flexible, they are ideal for speed workouts for example sprints, tempo runs, intervals and fartleks. Unlike racing flats, they’ll be flexible to allow you to build foot strength but otherwise might feel similar. Indeed, some people prefer racing in light-weight trainers.
If you’ve only ever run in more cushioned trainers, when you first start using a lightweight trainers you should make sure to ease into the transition. Start by walking in the shoes to build foot strength. Eventually, do some shorter runs and gradually increase use week by week.
Our debut shoes, the Enda Itens are an excellent lightweight trainer. Others are New Balance Zante, Brooks PureFlow, and Altra Escalante. Most minimalist shoes would also fall into this category.
For most runners, these are the shoes you’ll do most of your running in. Easy runs, long run, recovery runs, any other time you’re at an easy aerobic pace, this will likely be the most comfortable choice.
Generally moderately cushioned and built using more durable and heavier materials, these shoes are designed to hold up to the rigors of daily use.
Most maximalist shoes could be considered daily trainers, they’re just far more cushioned than other trainers. For every runner, there will be a tipping point of cushioning at which it starts to alter your natural gait. So if you’re trying out shoes with a heel-to-toe drop of more than 6mm or a “rocker” style midsole, make sure you’re still running naturally in them.
Our Lapatet is the best-in-class daily trainer, being lighter weight, lower drop, and more cushioned than the competition. Some others in the category are the Saucony Ride, Nike Pegasus, and Brooks Ghost. Maximalist entries include the Hoka Rincon and Sketchers GoRun Ultra.
Trail shoes are designed for off-road routes with rocks, roots, mud and other obstacles on uneven surfaces.
There is huge diversity amongst trail shoes — from lightly cushioned shoes that look like a racing flat to big bulky shoes that look more like a hiking boot. Your choice of trail shoe will depend on how far you are running, weather conditions, and what sort of terrain you are running on.
However, there are a few commonalities across trail shoes:
- Lugs: trail shoes have an enhanced tread for solid traction on loose or slippery surfaces, each individual tread is called a lug. For running on hard-packed dirt, you’ll likely want fairly low-profile lugs, but if you’re going to be on wet grass look for something with larger lugs.
- Rock plate: to prevent sharp rocks from poking through the midsole and into your foot, many trail shoes will have a rock plate. This is a thin, firm layer of material that prevents the rock from poking through into your foot.
- Reinforced upper: trail shoes will generally have a more durable and heavier upper. Trail shoe uppers are likely to scrape up against sticks and rocks and need to be more durable to withstand the abuse.
Examples of trail shoes include Saucony Peregrine, Altra Lone Peak, and Salomon Sense Ride.
In essence, what you do actually need are different types of shoes for different runs and not different types of shoes for different anatomical foot structures. Different categories of shoes exist and should exist for different types of runs.