After working in the run-specialty industry for a while, I have a pretty good picture of how my (and most runners’) shoe closet should look.
Many closets don’t look like this and the majority of injuries we’ve seen come through our doors are due to a combination of: running in shoes past their useful life and not enough variation.
So, how do you determine how many/what type of shoes you should use?
First, know which type of runner you are. For reference, we can usually be grouped into two types of amateur runners:
- Recreational Runners/General Fitness: Logging easy miles (with a few harder workouts thrown in on good days). Maybe racing once per year. No plan.
- Amateur Racers: More targeted workouts + maybe working with a coach + racing at least a few times a year or trying to reach specific goals.
1. Recreational Runners
You should have at least two types of running shoes in your rotation.
Running is repetitive. If you follow the same route, in the same shoe, for 6 months to a year, it’s almost guaranteed that you will injure yourself in some way due to the repeated stresses of running.
Adding a second shoe does a few things:
a. Exercises different micro-muscles/changes the movement of the body with enough variation to reduce the chances of injury or overuse
People who have never been injured may tell you that the ‘micro-muscles’ thing is a load of bs so that you buy more products… don’t listen to them. They’ll learn their lessons soon enough. They are also probably not very experienced since any seasoned athlete will tell you to have multiple pairs of shoes on the go at once.
b. Allows you to strategically select your footwear for longer vs shorter runs
If you’re running just to stay in shape, switching up your footwear on shorter/longer runs will work those micro-muscles and will also save your feet!
A shoe that is great for a 5k, or a race where you run a faster pace, should not be the same shoe you wear on a leisurely 10k casual run. Similarly, you don’t need a super cushioned clunker on a warm-up jog before hitting the gym.
c. Gives you an opportunity to experiment with different brands and maybe find something better than your current go-to product
Trying different brands/models is always good because it allows you to learn what you like and dislike about shoes, and also allows you to shop the off-season/sales for a low-risk investment. If you already have a go-to product and you’re trying something new, you don’t need the latest model to experience a brand’s take on certain designs.
Contrary to popular belief, you will not die if your favourite shoe model changes or becomes unavailable.
Get something new and slowly work it into your rotation. Your body will get used to it.
What to buy?
For shorter runs, try things like:
- New Balance 1400, Zante, or 890
- Saucony Kinvara, Freedom ISO, or Ride ISO
- Brooks Launch, Ghost, or Ricochet
- Asics Cumulus, DS Trainer, or DynaFlyte
For longer or slower/recovery runs, try:
- New Balance 880 or Fresh Foam 1080
- Saucony Triumph or Liberty
- Brooks Glycerin or Levitate
- Asics Nimbus
- Hoka Clifton or Bondi
PSA: the useful life of your shoe depends on a number of things but, for *average* use of an *average* shoe, we’d recommend swapping them out before 500 miles (800 km).
Meaning: if you run 5 km five days a week you should be changing your shoes twice a year.
2. Amateur Racers
You should have at least four pairs of shoes in your rotation. Find your friend who told you “running is a cheap sport” and punch them in the arm for me.
Between multiple shoes on rotation and the price of race entries, I hope you’re prepared for a big dip in the old bank account. HOWEVER, it IS worth it to live a faster and injury-free running life. You’ll spend less on physio/rehab this way.
So, like, which types of shoes should I have?
If you’re already brand-loyal, companies actually make it very easy to buy a complete “set” of running shoes. Of course, you can mix and match from different brands based on price, preference, and availability. #GottaCatchEmAll
Take New Balance for example (stability options in brackets):
Racing Flat: 1400 (1500)
Long Distance Cushioned Training: 880 (860)
Cushioned Long Distance or Recovery Runs: 1080 (1260 or Vongo)
Having one of each type of these shoes in your rotation allows you to mix it up throughout your weekly workouts and establish a training routine that maximizes your athletic ability through your running toolkit (shoes).
Just as a mechanic doesn’t rely on a single wrench, a golfer doesn’t rely on a single club, and a painter doesn’t rely on a single brush…no runner should rely on a single shoe.
Let’s look at a Brooks lineup:
As brands expand their product line to offer innovations in cushioning, plastics, and support, you’ll find the lineup may differ slightly. i.e.
Deciding between the Glycerin and Levitate comes down to personal preference based on fit and comfort, but for all intents and purposes, those shoes are the most cushioned neutral shoes that Brooks has to offer.
How to start building your lineup
Understand how this can quickly become an expensive sport?
It’s okay though, because if you’re running for leisure you only need a few pairs of shoes in your rotation.
If you’re running to race, chances are you don’t have enough free time to spend your money on other things anyways.
Shop the sales and don’t be vain about having the latest version of whatever model you’re trying.
Questions? Comments? Opinions? Always happy to chat with fellow shoes jockies, runners, or anyone who feels strongly enough towards the content of this article to reach out. ✌️