What are the best running shoes?
By Henry Howard
As a running coach and reviewer of running shoes, I’ve fielded quite a few questions about arguably the most important equipment for runners. While there is no single shoe that will work well for every runner, there are some guidelines that will help you decide about what footwear might work best for your specific gait and goals.
Let’s start out with one of the most common questions asked.
What is the best running shoe?
This is such an individual question. While I have my personal favorites for trails and roads, they may not be the best option for you.
For runners, especially those just starting their journey, my go-to advice is to visit a specialty running store. There, a staff member will analyze your gait, ask you various questions and bring out some options to try.
It’s important to understand whether you are a runner who pronates (like the majority) or is a neutral runner (like me). Running shoe manufacturers create shoes to support runners and their various gaits. The running store employee will be able to match your specific gait, preferences (support, cushioning, etc.) with available options.
Try them out and don’t worry if the pair you select doesn’t feel right during your first few runs. Most stores and brands allow 30 days for runners to try new shoes. If they don’t work well for you, just return them.
How many running shoes should I have?
I recommend having at least two pairs of running shoes for each surface you run on. So if you take to the roads and trails, have at least two pairs of each kind.
Among the reasons for having multiple pairs is partly injury prevention. In fact, this study showed that runners who rotate their shoes through at least two models were 39% less likely to get injured.
By rotating shoes (and running surfaces), you are using and strengthening different muscles in the lower legs and preventing muscle imbalances. There are subtle differences in shoes and by constantly using the same pair, the chances for a repetitive stress injury increases.
That said, the shoes you use should have commonalities. If you pronate when you run, each of your shoes should be made for that type of runner.
If you are running on the roads four times a week, aim to not wear a single pair of shoes more than twice.
How long should running shoes last?
The average lifespan of most running shoes can be anywhere from 300 to 600 miles roughly, though I usually count on mine for around 500. Among the variables that will determine how many miles a particular shoe will last includes:
• The running surfaces.
• Frequency of your runs.
• Quality of the shoes.
• How frequently you rotate them.
• How heavy or soft you land.
Whether you log your shoe miles or not, here’s a way to help determine whether it’s time to donate a pair: Hold one sneaker by the heel in your palm. With the other hand gently but firmly push the toes toward the laces. If it's too easy to push, the integrity of the shoe is weak and they need to be replaced.
When is the best time to buy running shoes?
Before you absolutely need them.
But honestly, there are a lot of variables to consider when determining the best time to buy running shoes. Among them:
• How close you are to retiring another pair or pairs.
• Their affordability. Previous models often get significant markdowns when the newest version is available. If the older version works well for you that might be an opportunity to invest in what you know works.
• When your next race is, especially if it is a goal race. For races, you want to have run enough miles in the shoes so they are broken in but not too many so that they are beginning to weaken. For a race like a half marathon or marathon, I’d recommend having about 50 to 75 miles on them. For shorter races, you can probably get away with fewer or even more miles since the distance and time you’ll be running is so vastly different.
Another thing to consider is that the major brands generally don’t have a common release schedule. Some new models are unveiled in late winter or early spring, ahead of spring marathon season, while others will land at different times of the year.
If you have a preference for specific brands, stay tuned to their websites and social media to get an idea of when they might launch their newest models.
How do I make my running shoes last longer?
As mentioned previously, it is highly recommend to rotate them. Some runners fret that two pairs of shoes means twice the cost. But face it: you would have needed the second pair after the first one was done. And by rotating them, you might also get more miles — and lifespan‚ out of them.
Reframe it this way. It’s an investment, now instead of later. And, in the long run, it will be worth the upfront cost for your wallet, and the health of your lower legs and feet.
Another good way to keep running shoes in your rotation as long as possible is to use them only for the sport. When you use them for walking, cross training, yardwork or other activities, the subtle changes in your foot pattern can weaken the shoes, hastening their demise.