Gear Questions About Running Shoes, Answered

Questions About Running Shoes, Answered

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Alex Cyr is that rarest of creatures: an elite runner and also an expert journalist. Cyr, who has written for Toronto Life and frequently for the Globe & Mail, recently wrote a story about running shoes for the paper that I found informative and readable, a very difficult mix when wading into the minutia of different sneakers. I got Alex on the phone and asked him to distill the main points of his story, which you can see laid out very prettily right here. In the meantime, here’s news you can use about the wide world of shoes.

iRun: Assuming money is no option—what’s the best single running shoe on the market? 

Alex Cyr: I think that a lot of it has to do with your foot.

iRun: So assume your foot is neutral, average.

AC: It would be a “super shoe,” something with a carbon plate, and they’ve added to the metrics we knew before, the weight and stability—now it’s about height and angle. For instance, some runners say the $365 Nike Alpha Fly are the best shoe they ever put on, but some say it’s too high.

iRun: What do you say?

AC: It’s the bounciest shoe I’ve ever tried and it’s hard to beat. Nike also makes the 2% which I really like, but that’s my personal preference. Sometimes I wear New Balance, sometimes Adidas. It’s not Nike and then everyone else, like it was years ago.

iRun: So there really is no single best shoe?

AC: I don’t think so. Nike has great product, but the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 is a really great product. The ASICS METASPEED SKY is terrific. The Adidas Adios Pro is really good. It’s definitely harder to pick a “best shoe” than it was three years ago, when the best shoe was clearly the Vapor Fly.

iRun: Who needs a super shoe?

AC: Anyone who wants to run faster.

iRun: How many pairs of sneakers does a competitive runner really need? 

AC: I run in three pairs of shoes at a time. It’s good to alternate. I like a traditional trainer, something for my easy runs, like a New Balance 880 or the Nike Pegasus, and a second shoe, which is a super shoe for race day: your Vapor Fly, your METASPEED. The last thing you’ll want is a super trainer, which splits the difference between both shoes. A super trainer is like an entry level super shoe with a carbon plate and responsive foam, but not as light, or expensive, as your super shoe. It’s a hybrid between racing shoes and everyday trainers, like the Brooks Hyperion Tempo.

iRun: That’s a lot of shoes, but it makes sense, especially if you’re running three to five times a week for four months, like an ordinary marathon build. What’s a realistic shoe budget? 

AC: Something like $800 for three pairs of shoes. And it pains me to say, but you need a new arsenal every two to three months, which might be roughy 600-800 kilometres on a training shoe or even 200-400 kilometres on racing shoes. Think of it like $800 per training block, which is from day one to race day. Of course, if you’re running, say, 50K per week, or if you’re new to the sport, you don’t need to change shoes as often or spend as much money.

iRun: Does that runner need a super shoe?

AC: Again, the super shoes will make you run faster, so if you’re new to it, but want to run as fast as you can, those shoes will help. But, perhaps grow into them. Maybe a new runner might start with a super trainer: they’re quick, they’re durable, and they last longer than a super shoe. The super shoe—like the $325 ASICS Meta Speed Sky, pictured below—could be a reward after finishing a racing season.

iRun: The question on everyone’s mind: are there hacks to getting your shoes on the cheap? 

AC: Buy last year’s model. It might take some digging, but don’t get into the trap that last year’s model sucks. They don’t. Running shoes aren’t iPhones. They’re shoes. And if they were good in 2020, they’re good now—especially traditional trainers.

iRun: What’s currently happening in shoe design?

AC: The super shoes are fast evolving. We don’t know the full picture and things have changed quickly. In 2017, if you didn’t have the Vapor Fly, you were at a disadvantage. And maybe in 2023, there will be a better super shoe, but with the traditional trainers, not much has happened between now and 2020. If you can get an older model of Adidas, New Balance or Brooks, and save 50-bucks, do it.

iRun: How do I make my shoes last longer?

AC: Have a separate pair of shoes for daily activity. Don’t wear them to walk the dog or play pick-up soccer. Those miles add up.

iRun: Say I’m running the Waterfront Marathon next month in Toronto, or Montreal, Niagara Falls or Quebec, is there still time to get new shoes or do they need to be broken in by now? 

AC: Personally, I don’t spend much time breaking shoes in. If I get a pair of new shoes, I spend a day walking around in them so they’re not too hard, but shoe technology now is so good that the shoes come in made for your feet. In fact, with racing shoes, the idea is to not break them in. All that pop is precious.

iRun: That’s true. But some of them are so severe, I think, the first time, runners should take a super shoe out for a spin before showing up to race day.

AC: Oh, yeah. If you’ve never tried them, you want to know if they’re comfortable or cause you blisters. Wear them first, but, for race day, keep them as fresh as possible.

iRun: Carbon plates changed the running shoe game. What’s next?

AC: The next Vapor Fly killer? I don’t know. Super shoes are evolving quickly but it doesn’t feel like there’s a radical innovation just around the corner. That said, New Balance has an illegal shoe—something you couldn’t race in—the FuelCell SuperComp Trainer that has a 47-millimetre stack height that their athletes are wearing in training. I think that level of specificity we didn’t really see before the carbon shoes and now, with really detailed technology, that’s the future.

iRun: Is Nike the company that other shoe brands look out for and, if not, who is?

AC: Nike is always the brand to watch. Love them or hate them, Nike is Apple. Now, that doesn’t mean everyone should have an iPhone. But you can’t expect Nike to roll over and die. In 2016, Nike was ahead of everyone. Today I don’t think there’s much of a discrepancy between Nike and ASICS and Saucony and Puma and Adidas. Other shoe brands have caught up.

iRun: Last question, dude. Don’t lie. What do you wear?

AC: Alright, put me on the spot. Well, I’m eying a half marathon. Maybe Indianapolis or Philly in November, and I’m wearing New Balance 880 V11s on my easy runs. For my super trainer, I really like the Endorphin Speed 2 and also the Brooks Hyperion Tempo. And my super shoes are both the Adidas Pro 2 and the Next Percent 2 from Nike.

iRun: So you’re brand agnostic?

AC: That’s the great thing about this moment in running. Any serious runner can afford to be brand agnostic when it comes to buying shoes.

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