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Best triathlon race-day run shoes reviewed

To provide you with a triathlon boost, it’s wise to have some lightweight specific race-day shoes in your triathlon kit bag. James Witts and Kelly Stokes tests and rates 13 pairs of race-day run shoes…

best triathlon running shoes

All being well, by the time you read this you’ll be one step – one stride – closer to swapping your overused training kit for your dust-collecting race apparel.

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To celebrate the new normal, you can instead put the duster away and bag yourself sparkling new gear. Cue a pair of lightweight race-day running shoes.

What are the best shoes for running?

As triathletes, we know that weight matters. Which is why a pair of lightweight road running shoes really can pay off. Okay, we may only be talking 100g or so per shoe over your training shoes, but throw in a cadence of around 120 strides per minute over 5km, 10km, 21km or 42.2km, and that soon adds up.

If those weight savings are equal to energy savings, in theory race-day trainers mean not only faster leg turnover, but glycogen saved for the final push, too. We say ‘in theory’ as these aren’t for everyone. Beyond weight, triathlon-specific features include elastic laces, drainage holes and heel loops.

The best race-day running shoes for men 

Hoka One One Rincon 3

(Credit: Hoka One One)
  • £105

Fondly remembered by boys of a certain age, the plot of Weird Science involves two high school kids creating their dream woman. Swap those computer nerds for a pair of serious triathletes and the resulting creation could well have been the Hoka Rincons 3, as they tick every box for multisport.

They’re impossibly light (197g for a UK7) yet cushioned, suitable for training and racing from 5km to the Ironman marathon, with swift drainage, a breathable upper and even a heel loop and race-focussed tongue.

After the gentle refinement of the still impressive Rincon 2s, the 3s have seen more of an overhaul. Weight comes down thanks to the ultra-slim asymmetrical tongue, outsole grooves and slender mesh upper, and it’s now available in standard and a new wider version.

But it’s long-term durability, an oft-cited criticism of previous Rincons, where the major overhauls have taken place. Extra rubber has been added to the outsole and the midsole has been reinforced, yet not at the expense of propulsion from the Meta-Rocker.

The heel-to-toe drop is Hoka’s standard 5mm (heel height is 29mm), but there’s nothing just standard here. These are Hoka’s best shoe yet. Matt Baird

Verdict: A barnstormer for Hoka fans new and old. And at a decent price, too.

Score: 94%

Under Armour Flow Velociti Wind

(Credit: Under Armour)
  • £125

If the last year’s several lockdowns were characterised by long, steady runs to get out of the house (and to take a break from Zwift), then the impending end of lockdown has to be characterised by a renewed optimism at the prospect of returning to racing – and the associated return to speed training.

With that in mind, we’re also swapping out our muddy trail shoes for something a bit lighter (see p57 for our race-day run shoes grouptest), which is where the new shoe from Under Armour sits well.

Designed with light weight at its core (227g for a women’s UK7 as tested here), the designers have done away with the rubber outsole, replacing it with the ‘UA Flow’ foam, which aims to be lightweight yet sticky on all surfaces. With an 8mm drop, this shoe had a traditional feel which we appreciated, and we liked the springy, propulsive feel.

They do flex on toe-off rather than having a more ‘rocker’-like design (as seen in Hokas et al.) yet the soft lining and light mesh fabrics make them a good choice for running barefoot in triathlon – just add a set of triathlon laces for speed.

We did find we got a bit of a hot spot on the bony top of our feet where the laces tied over a padded tongue section, but a pair of socks solved that problem, (which we’d want for longer distances anyway).

Our only other issue was that the curved sole made us feel a little bit unstable at first, but we quickly adapted. Helen Webster

Verdict: Light, breathable shoe that has a lot to offer for PB-hunters.

Score: 80%

On Cloudboom Echo

(Credit: On Running)
  • £210

Slip on these sleek, wafer-thin kicks and you’ll feel the propulsion from the very first step. At only 186g (per shoe, UK size 5.5), the Cloudboom Echo really is ‘shaped for speed’.

These shoes feel extremely light, with an almost translucent 100% recycled polyester mesh upper and light foam midsole. Simply by shifting your weight to your forefeet from standing, you’ll feel the extreme rocker thrusting you forwards and into motion.

While we wouldn’t wear these to log super long training miles, the Echo was made to compete and requires less energy to run fast than your typical sub-£100 road shoe.

Those aiming for the lightest and most responsive ride can’t do much better than investing in a pair of these marathon speed machines. Kate Milsom

Verdict: Incredibly high-tech and fast marathon runners, but pricey.

Score: 94%

Hoka One One Clifton 8

(Credit: Hoka One One)
  • £125

The Clifton is arguably the quintessential Hoka shoe. It was given an overhaul in 2020 and receives one again in 2021. The Clifton 8 boasts a new upper, outsole and midsole.

The latter is 15% lighter than the Clifton 7’s midsole foam, yet the shoe is somehow a little heavier (though still light at 250g). A stack height of 29mm and a 5mm drop remain, as does that oversized heel tab of which we’re still yet to see the benefit.

What also remains is just how comfortable this shoe is for logging the long, slow-to-mid tempo miles (we can also see Ironman run leg appeal), with the comfort aided by the soft mesh upper and supportive foam. Good, then, but this tester’s still a Rincon man. Matt Baird

Verdict: Welcome updates make this one of the better Cliftons

Score: 85%

Scott Speed Carbon RC

(Credit: Scott Running)
  • £170

From the brand’s DH tri-bars to Ali Brownlee’s Plasma 6 triathlon bike, Scott has a long heritage in multisport innovation. Yet it’s far from the first to the party when it comes to carbon-soled run shoes.

So does this loud latecomer have enough tech wizardry to stand out from the increasingly-crowded carbon market? The Speed Carbon RC shoes come after a reported 10 years of continued R&D which, for a run shoe, displays either a painstaking pursuit of perfection or some serious gestation issues.

The key specs are a Carbitex DFX carbon fibre plate in the midsole, an Evolved Rocker2 for forward propulsion and the Kinetic Light Foam, which keeps the weight of the shoe down to 250g despite a high 30mm heel height.

The heel-to-toe drop is a relatively low 5mm. It’s the above numbers that make Hoka’s Carbon X our point of comparison; both are lean yet oversized, both encourage a fore/midfoot strike and both don’t come cheap (£160 for the Hokas).

Yet the Scott seem to belong in the 5-15km category. They’re great going down and up hills, too, but they lack the Hoka’s long-course versatility. No matter how many times we ran in them or tried various lacing combinations, they just failed to secure the back of our feet (possibly due to the incredibly thin materials).

This looseness led to inevitable sore spots and a reluctance for us to fully hit top gear. Hopefully this’ll be sorted when the inevitable Carbon RC sequels arrive as there’s much to admire, especially in the midsole and vented upper. Matt Baird

Score: Propulsive midsole and quality upper, let down by loose ankles.

Verdict: 77%

Scott Pursuit 

(Credit: Scott Running)
  • £130

In the rugged, racy and durable Kinabalu and Supertrac, Scott have produced this reviewer’s current favourite trail shoes. And yet we’ve never clicked with the brand’s limited road range, which has for 2021 clearly been influenced by the oversized shoe movement (surely here to stay).

Released at the same time as Scott’s Speed Carbon RC (£170, see issue 395), the Pursuits boast the same hefty, supportive yet lightweight midsole wedge (heel height is 30mm, heel drop 8mm and overall weight 236g for a UK 7) and they’re certainly worthy of the ER2 Evolved Rocker tag as there’s plenty of forward propulsion.

Similar to the Rincon 3s, there’s a quality one-piece mesh upper that’s breathable and durable, though we ditched the cheap supplied laces right away. So far, mostly so good, but once again we had trouble indoors.

Where the Speed Carbon had a lack of security in the heel, the Pursuits have a very high arch, which caused intense rubbing on our instep from about 5km onwards, no matter how much we applied lube or broke them in. Supinators or runners with high arches might not fare as badly, but trying before you buy is essential here. Matt Baird

Verdict: Impressive midsole and upper, but internal issues

Score: 74%

Kiprun Ultralight

  • £69.99

Don’t be deceived by that swoosh and the ‘Kip’ moniker – which made us think of Nike-sponsored legend Eluid Kipchoge – these are actually from Decathlon’s in-house brand, which makes them far more affordable but similarly impressive.

They’re one of the lightest, race-ready shoes here, coming in at just 220g (UK10.5), which shows as they came into their own in intervals and 5km time trials. Their sparseness doesn’t come at the expense of propulsion thanks to what Decathlon term Up’Bar technology beneath the sole.

Comfort’s equally impressive, even sockless, thanks to a relatively seamless inner. Replace the traditional laces for triathlon ones and, even without a heel loop, you have a cracking triathlon race-day shoe.

Verdict: Sub-£70 for such a lively, controlled race-day shoe’s a winner in our books

Score: 88%

Zoot Ultra TT

  • £140

US brand Zoot is a bona-fide multisport brand, and is credited with inventing the tri-suit back in 1983 after Kona resident Christal Nylin noticed the short-and-singlet brigade needed something a little more swim, bike, run versatile to race in.

This is the most tri-specific shoe here thanks to water drainage holes punctured into the outsole, a tongue and heel loops, plus elastic laces. It feels – and is – low to the ground thanks to the 3mm drop. Concerns about a flat feel were dispersed during the first sprint session, though they didn’t match the turnover speed of the Hokas or Kipruns.

Comfort and weight (292g) are fine, despite being all-out racers, and while the rather floppy-looking upper had us questioning durability, they performed fine on test.

Verdict: A solid – if not sparkling – tri-specific shoe form the original triathlon brand

Score: 77%

Hoka One One Rocket X 

  • £160

The run-shoe phenomenon of recent years describes this shoe as an “insanely responsive racer geared for elite athletes”. As this ageing age-grouper can testify, it’s not solely the peak of the performance pyramid who’ll benefit from the Rockets, as these are durable and comfortable enough to train in, even proving their worth up to half marathon.

Their 234g weight defies their far-from lithe looks and comfortable feel, and that’s thanks to Hoka’s ‘lightest foam they’ve ever used’. We can only agree, especially when the shoe features a carbon plate for added rebound force, enhanced further by Hoka’s MetaRocker.

This tester would still stick with the lighter-weight Evo Rehis for racing, but that’s a personal preference and doesn’t detract from a cracking shoe.

Verdict: Another fine mile-muncher from the Hoka crew

Score: 84%

Brooks Ricochet 3 

  • £120

We’ll admit, we have a soft spot for Brooks after an older model helped ease our long-standing ITB issues and rectified our sloppy gait. We’ve found Brooks to be one of the comfiest shoes around, and so it is with the Ricochet 3.

The woven upper, minimally stitched inner and sewn-in stretchy tongue cradle your tootsies like its life depended on it. Throw in the tried-and-tested combination of DNA AMP and BioMoGo DNA cushioning and you have the most comfortable shoe on test.

The problem is, at 309g they’re just not designed for top gear. Yes, toe-off is springy and propulsion is good. But when it comes to the marginal gains over Olympic distance and lower, it falls short. Still, a possible for half-IM and above (it has a heel loop!). And definitely for training

Verdict: Would contend for best training shoe…but this is for race day

Score: 80%

Skechers GOrun Ride 8

  • £110

First up, we’re not a fan of the Ride 8’s looks; in fact, they’re reminiscent of the budget run shoes our mum would buy us as a youngster. But that’s just us. More importantly – the ride.

They’re 316g – not light – and feel more like a training shoe than racer. Arguably, that’s down to the 6mm drop that’s packed with the company’s Hyper Burst midsole. It’s a cushioned foam number that purportedly lowers weight.

It doesn’t, but it does heighten comfort; that said, a rather stiff heel counter takes a little getting used to before bedding in. The neatly woven upper’s highly breathable.

In theory, this’d suit barefoot race running but no socks equals no comfort, so we’d advise against. They’re efficient, though not fast, so an option for miles over maximum momentum.

Verdict: Moderate training shoe that lacks a certain spark

Score: 71%

Saucony Type A9

Credit: Zappos.com
  • £100

The Type A9 is an out-and-out racer. And a damn good one at that. It’s the lightest on test at 197g and one of the loudest. That’s a good thing as racing’s not a place for the meek of heart.

Comfort is high for such a stripped-down shoe, yet the 4mm drop hints at a modicum of cushioning that derives from the Super Lite EVA midsole. That said, it’s not enough to have us slipping into these for 70.3 and above.

Fit is excellent. We put that down to a thin fabric skeleton within the shoe that clamps to your feet when tightening your laces. It’s a simple idea but works well. The upper breathes well, too.

Verdict: Speed and comfort for Olympic distance and below

Score: 89%

Asics Gel-DS 24

  • £120

The DS are now at chapter 24. But are they improving with age? They’re the comfiest here, with a solid heel counter stabilising your feet that’s then cradled by an EVA sockliner.

This is a midsole forged from two different densities of material that dampens the impact of landing and also smooths out pronation issues. Transition from landing to toe-off is proficient, and maximised via a band beneath the midsole that prevents twisting and torsion.

You do feel fast in the DS, though not up there with the Saucony, which comes down to weight. At 282g, these are over 90g heavier than the Type A9.

Verdict: A comfy and swift shoe for the heavier triathlete

Score: 81%

New Balance 1500 T2 BOA

Credit: Boafit.com
  • £110

The 1500T2 is a brash beast – its colourway and Boa closure system screaming triathlon race day. Yet there’s substance behind the shouting as this is one fine shoe. NB has come to terms with Boa.

Gone are hotspots; instead, your foot comfortably clamps into place, all at transition speed. And all without weight as, despite the added circular mechanism, it’s only 232g.

Despite a minimal build, there’s comfort thanks to a REVlite midsole that’s said to be 30% lighter than other foams but without losing stability. The knit uppers add breathability, while a heel loop adds more tri appeal.

Verdict: Transitions– and your final leg – just got brighter

Score: 92%

Top women’s race-day runners

On Cloudflash 

  • £130

Hailed as the fastest On ever, the Cloudflash has been designed with the help of elites, including multiple world champ Javier Gomez, for distances up to 10k. At 210g, the Cloudflash felt light and airy and at speed it was one of the top performers.

Two layers of ‘Helion Powered Cloudtec’ offered consistent cushioning throughout the foot roll, which, along with the carbon fibre infused ‘Speedboard’, gave a zippy and responsive race-day feel.

The no-sew support in the forefoot claims to assist feet as they tire towards the end of a race, which may well be true, but as it’s narrower around the forefoot area this would most benefit those with slender feet. For all the tech, laces seem to be have overlooked, with the thin offering creating notable pressure points through the slim tongue.

Verdict: Fast and responsive, just slightly lacking in fit and comfort

Score: 83%

361° Fierce 

  • £109.99

Only founded in 2016, Dutch brand 361° has been put on the map by the Fierce model. With an engineered knit upper and an Ortholite sockliner, they offer cushioning and flexibility while effortlessly moulding around the contours of your foot.

The ‘Stayput’ tongue proved to be comfortable and unobtrusive with the ‘Quickspring’ sole reducing compression and, as the name would suggest, putting a light spring in our step. Although the shoes don’t feel as fast as some, the 361° Fierce performed surprisingly well across all distances.

At 229g they were the heaviest on test, but still felt light and breathable and also offered the most comfort. At shorter distances this may not be a priority, but for 10k+ they come into their own and allow your feet to feel as fresh as they did in the first km.

Verdict: The Fierce is a great all-rounder option without the hefty price tag

Score: 88%

Topo Athletic Cyclone 

  • £120

With a focus on ‘natural running,’ the Cyclone features Topo Athletic’s familiar wider toe box which accommodates toe splay during running. This offers forefoot comfort but also gives the shoe more of a streetwear look.

The sole features a ‘ZipFoam’ core that gives a bouncy feel off the tarmac, while the ortholite footbed offers good arch support and claims to provide anti-compression and anti-microbial properties.

The rubber outsole is designed for increased traction and durability, but it lacked flexibility, resulting in an overly stiff foot roll. The shoe is designed for all distances, which is possibly its failing.

It doesn’t offer top-end speed nor longer distance comfort. Granted, it’s at a lower price-point than some here, but it doesn’t give the same race-ready feel.

Verdict: Performs great as a casual trainer, but is lacking in performance

Score: 79%

Salomon S/Lab Phantasm

  • £165

Bold, bright and daring, the Phantasm is designed to feel dirty fast. The upper mesh is super breathable and featherlight, helping to bring the weight down to only 199g. As a result, there’s minimal cushioning, but there’s still support where needed.

The reverse camber design means you spend less time on the ground, while the midsole is designed to deliver a bouncy energy return, which, despite being a forefoot design, gives plenty of support around the midfoot and arch.

The Contagrip sole has flat wide lugs, designed to grip on flat hard surfaces. Over the shorter distances, the Phantasm was lightning fast so if you’re looking for 5k PBs, this is the number one choice. But for training or anything above 10km, you’ll want something a bit more forgiving.

Verdict: If you can justify two separate shoes for racing/training, this one will fly

Score: 86%

Newton Gravity 10

  • £155

The eye-catching Gravity 10 is setting new standards when it comes to sustainability. The laces and mesh upper are made from 100% recycled material while the EcoPure sole is designed to breakdown into nontoxic biomatter 75% quicker than standard trainers.

The gender-tuned fit is snug but comfortable and flexes to support your foot’s natural movement. At 204g they’re breathable and light, while Newton’s distinctive ‘lugs’ come with Action/ Reaction technology that increases responsiveness and reduces energy loss with every stride, making them one of the fastest shoes on test.

For those new to Newtons, the minimal 3mm drop claims to be the most natural position to run in but adjusting to this can take time. For those who persevere, the Gravity will reward

Verdict: Sustainability and performance in one package; hard not to be impressed

Score: 89%

Best road running shoes verdict

Thankfully, the flash exteriors seen here aren’t compensating for inferior technologies below. In all honesty, there isn’t a bad shoe here, although some clearly tick the race-speed box with more elan than others.

We all want PBs on race day but picking the best shoe to help achieve that can be a minefield. Over a 5-10k distance in the women’s racers, the electric speed of Salomon’s Phantasm is hard to ignore and provides energy with every stride over a hard surface.

Above this distance, and especially in hot conditions, the all-day comfort offered by 361°’s Fierce gives you confidence your feet will keep going for as long as it takes.

But for versatility across the distances, the environmentally friendly Gravity 10 is lightweight and responsive and provides the optimal balance of speed and comfort to take top spot. W

It was a mixed-bag on the men’s side with the Skechers’ and Brooks’ models more for training than racing. Many of you will be attracted to the Hoka Rocket X’s – and with good reason.

They’re a swift shoe, are extremely comfortable and, let’s be honest, who’s not persuaded by a strip of carbon (especially when it does seem to aid propulsion). We’d recommend them to all.

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But they’re not the winners. Simple, fast, effective, the Kiprun UltraLight from Decathlon takes the prize. With a staggering RRP, their performance, price and colourway are hard to ignore.