The running shoe market has gone through every fad and marketing push imaginable, and in 2017 it feels like we’re kind of back to square one; runners are again been advised to simply run in what they feel most comfortable in.
Head to the Shoe Finder on Brooks’ website for example, and the short questionnaire directs you to what you need based on your requirements, rather than telling you to change your running habits. This is quite different to the top-down approach of the barefoot running movement, a trend that’s been further called into question from a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine published in January. The study assigned a selection of barefoot-style, lightweight shoes to half a group of habitual heel strikers, and more conventional supportive shoes to the other half. The results showed greater rates of injury in the barefoot group after 26 weeks of running, and injury was more likely still in runners that weighed over 71kg.
While this study only analysed 61 runners, it reiterates the need for careful selection of your shoes based on your build, running gait and experience. The shoes here range from 210-350g in weight, with some perfect for flat-out 5-10k’s and others that tick boxes for long-course tri.
How we tested
Taking advantage of a long test period and a mild winter, each pair were subjected to at least one tempo, one longer run of 7-10 miles and an interval or track session, all outdoors. As it’s sometimes difficult to gauge the differences between shoes using them on separate runs, we also completed an extra 10 x 1km test at our half-marathon race pace, using each pair back-to-back and taking notes along the way to really feel comparatively what each shoe had to offer. We took advantage of various metrics on our Garmin 235 and Suunto Spartan Ultra GPS watches, checking cadence, power (via the Stryd running power meter), ground time and heart rate for any glaring differences between our runs at similarly-paced efforts.
Time then to test the latest and greatest runners for the upcoming race season...
INOV-8 ROAD TALON 240
Weighing in at 300g for our size 10.5, the Roadtalon is one of the heavier shoes on test, yet the 4mm drop and minimal support still gives it the appearance of a race shoe. Much of that weight comes from the upper, which includes tightly woven mesh and Inov-8’s Adapterweb system to cradle the foot and adapt to the runner’s natural movement. Inov-8 are better known for their off-road shoes and, as expected, the Roadtalons offer decent grip thanks to the claw cleat lug design. Although traction is good you feel very low to the ground, but the toe-off just doesn’t feel effortless because of the extra weight. We feel the Roadtalon is perhaps too engineered in the upper section, and as such it doesn’t really stack up as a minimal racing shoe.
Verdict: A slightly lost shoe; quite heavy and little support for the weight 69%
NEWTON DISTANCE V
Newton pride themselves on their P.O.P technology, which are basically a set of lugs on the sole that are supposed to provide a ‘trampoline-like’ cushioning system that promotes a midfoot strike. The 280g Distance V is made with P.O.P 1, the most prominent lugs Newton offer, and the drop is just 2mm.
We can see how this would promote a midfoot strike, as the lugs force you to land further forward, but there’s too much gap between them and the rest of the shoe, making it difficult to get your toes to hit the ground at the front of your stride. Changing from a traditional flat into these feels extremely strange, and it took us a good five miles before we stopped noticing the lugs. At £135 we’d seriously recommend trying before you buy if you think these are for you.
Verdict: An expensive shoe, and we just couldn’t get on with the lugs on the soles 70%
Saucony’s Fastwitch lives up to its name, as we found the 4mm drop, 220g weight and responsive midsole offered a very fast ride. Saucony’s Flexfilm overlays on the upper wrap around the foot nicely and give a snug fit, and the mesh is nice and breathable.
The Fastwitch was the first shoe to use Saucony’s Powertrac outsole rubber, which they claim provides greater traction compared to normal rubber. While we didn’t notice the grip was particularly greater than other shoes on test here, it’s impressive for the weight of the shoe. The Fastwitch is a great option for neutral runners who need minimal cushion and, if it wasn’t for the slightly rough material in the inner that would affect sockless comfort, it’d be bang on par with our test winner from Asics.
Verdict: A light, fast and comfortable ride with good grip and midsole technology 88%
Continue reading our guide to this year's race-day run shoes for men (2/3)