Walking into a running specialty shop can be a daunting experience. As soon as you step inside, you’ll likely run headlong into a massive wall covered with shoes of every imaginable brand, color, and style. The multitude of options can be overwhelming.
It can also be a bit perplexing if you’re new to running. Why the need for so many options? Isn’t running just running?
Not exactly. If you’re simply logging a few easy miles a few times a week, an entry level pair of running kicks might have you covered.
However, if you’re planning on logging some serious miles in preparation for a marathon, tackling the trails as you gear up for an ultra, or wanting to address your need for speed, you’re not just going to need any shoe — you’ll need just the right shoe (something Fitted’s Shoe Consultant can help you find!).
I’m not necessarily suggesting you need half a dozen pairs of running shoes in your arsenal. But, depending upon what you’re tackling, it might make sense to at least pick up one additional pair to suit different needs, because there is a shoe for all seasons.
For the long haul
One of the key components of any marathon training plan is the long run. Over the course of ‘x’ number of days, weeks, and months, this long run will gradually get longer.
Eventually, it may creep all the way up to 18-22 miles. For the average person, 18-22 miles is probably going to require 3 hours (or more) to cover. This is a lot of time to spend on your feet.
Long runs demand A LOT. There’s a very good reason why you typically feel a bit fatigued and beat up the day after a long run.
For long runs, I gravitate towards shoes that provide a bit more substance, support, and cushioning. I want a shoe that’s going to help manage some of the impact, wear, and tear that inevitably accompanies longer distances.
I’m particularly fond of any shoes with the Nike React or Saucony Everun technology (like the Saucony Triumph ISO). I’ve also found many of the Hoka models well suited for road runs in excess of three hours. I seek out any shoe that can help soften the blow, so to speak.
If you want to run faster, you’ve got to run faster. Incorporating some fartlek, track intervals, or tempo running can help you address your need for speed. But, the right pair of kicks can also help your cause.
To be clear, lacing up a specific pair of shoes will NOT magically enable you to run that personal best you’ve been chasing. BUT, lacing up the right shoes for some fartlek, intervals, or tempo running can encourage faster running.
Most shoes designed for faster running include a midsole design that is firm, responsive, and springy. Shoes with this kind of design encourage quicker turnover and less ground contact time.
Additionally, most shoes designed for faster running tend to weigh a bit less. A few less ounces to carry around can make a big difference when you’re neck deep in a session of 800M intervals.
When I’m feeling the need for speed, I like to lace up a pair of the Nike Flyknit Racers. I’m also a fan of the On Cloudflash. These freaky fast kicks weigh a scant 7.4 ounces and always serve me well while spending quality time at the track.
For the trail
I generally think all runners should spend some time on the trails, even if the road is what you gravitate towards. Trail running can help strengthen your core, improve your biomechanics/form, enhance your proprioception, and much more. Trail running can make you a better road runner.
But, a typical trail includes hills, rocks, roots, and uneven terrain. You might be able to navigate the demands of the trail with a pair of shoes designed for the road, but it won’t be easy. Ideally, you need a shoe that can tackle the challenges of the trail head on.
A quality trail running shoe will likely have a firm, responsive midsole. Many trail runners also include a rock plate to protect your feet from any particularly hard, rocky sections of a trail you might encounter. Lastly (and most importantly), whatever you lace up when you head out onto the trail should include a rugged, aggressive outsole that will help you navigate the uneven terrain nimbly.
When I’m heading out for some quality time on the trails, I gravitate towards the Brooks Caldera. These kicks do a great job of hugging the trails without weighing me down. If you’re looking to pound out some really serious mileage, a high-cushion trail runner like the Altra Timp Trail might be more your speed.
For the personal best/coup-de-grace
There’s a special pair of shoes that lurks deep in the dark recesses of my closet. It’s a shoe that doesn’t come out very often. In fact, it might only come out a few times a year.
I think of these kicks as my ‘Excalibur’. I’ll pull them out for the races where I lay it all on the line. When I’m swinging for the fences, going for a personal best, and taking no prisoners, I will lace them up.
Typically, these shoes are even lighter and faster than what I’d wear for a tempo run or an interval session at the track. They’re designed to last for only a couple hundred miles (at most). They’re built for speed and nothing else.
While they don’t make them anymore, my magic shoes (of which I still have one pair) are the Nike Air Zoom Hayward +3. These shoes were allegedly inspired by a design Steve Prefontaine put down on a napkin.
In a more current vein, I’m a big fan of the Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit. The price tag for a pair of these is steep ($250), but can you really put a price tag on a personal best? I’ll likely never own a sports car, but the Vaporflys are the next best thing.
If you’re on a budget, you may not have the luxury to pick up an additional pair of running shoes. But, if you’ve got a little extra cash and want to take your running to the next level, consider picking up another pair geared towards the kind of running you’re interested in. Your running will thank you.
Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at www.marathonmatt.com!