When embarking on a running kick, the one piece of kit it’s really worth putting some time into selecting is a top-notch pair of running shoes.
You can of course run in any old shoes, but that could well put you on the fast track to injuries, sluggish times and a generally unpleasant experience. In contrast, the right pair of shoes will help you find the motivation to get out there and pound the pavements.
What makes for the perfect pair depends on an individual’s aims, speed, running style and even fashion sensibilities. Don’t disregard the last factor – you want to feel good in these shoes if you’re going to be covering hundreds of miles in them.
Below you’ll find our favourite running shoes. Everything’s based on our experience of running in them but different runners will get different things from every shoe, so make sure to factor in your own experience when picking your new kicks. But hopefully somewhere on the list is a pair that’s set to carry you to PBs across every distance.
Nike Epic React
What’s it for? Bouncing through long runs at speed
Standout feature: Nike’s new React foam, which is springy, light and durable
Road test: The Epic React gives more and more back the faster and longer you run. It’s impressively lightweight too, so it can handle speedy outings and sprint sessions, plus it’s stylish enough to wear around town. And given that Nike reckons it will last at least 800km (the top end of what you’d normally expect), you might as well wear it everywhere. Those looking for a fast but still well-cushioned marathon shoe should definitely check it out. £129.95, buy on nike.com
RECOMMENDED: Nike Epic React Review
New Balance Fresh Foam Zante 4
What’s it for? A jack of all trades for those who prefer a firmer shoe
Standout feature: The snappy ride which feels quick even when you’re not
Road test: When making a shoe fit for all kinds of running many brands lean towards a soft, cushioned sole to make sure easy runs are comfortable. New Balance’s Zante line favours a firmer, more responsive ride than can just about handle long distances, but shines on faster efforts. If you only have one shoe in your locker and like to race regularly, the Zante v4 should be a strong contender. £100, buy on newbalance.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: New Balance Fresh Foam Zante 4 Review
Adidas Adizero Adios 3
What’s it for? Race day and track sessions
Standout feature: The lightweight design coupled with a slice of Adidas’ Boost foam
Road test: The Adios is fast enough for the elites to set world records over marathon distance in but, unlike a full racing flat, it also has a small amount of Boost cushioning so the non-elites of the world can use it too. It is still quite flat though, so mere mortals might want to restrict it to races of up to half marathon distance and wear something more cushioned for the full 42.2km. But whenever you wear it, the Adios will make you feel superhumanly fast. £85, buy in store or on runnersneed.com
RECOMMENDED: Adidas Adizero Adios 3 Review
Under Armour Hovr Phantom
What’s it for? Cruising through your daily training
Standout feature: The energy-returning HOVR foam, which is UA’s answer to Adidas’ Boost
Road test: UA made big claims about the tech in its new HOVR foam, promising a “zero gravity feel” to running in the Phantom and Sonic, the latter a lighter shoe for racing that also has HOVR foam in the midsole. While we can confirm gravity does still apply when wearing the shoes, the HOVR foam is a success – cushioned and spongy when running slowly, but springy when you up the pace. The Phantom is no race-day speedster, but it will carry you through all your training in comfort. £115, buy on underarmour.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Under Armour Hovr Phantom Review
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34
What’s it for? Everything. Bow down to the the king of all-rounders
Standout feature: Doing everything well and costing less than £100
Road test: Runners looking for a do-it-all shoe have flocked to Nike’s Pegasus line ever since the first edition of the shoe came out in 1983. The ride is just firm enough to let you run at your fastest in races, but it doesn’t feel like it’s lacking in the cushioning department during training runs. And because it’s such a successful shoe, a new Pegasus comes out every year, meaning you can nearly always snag a past version at a bargain price. £72.97, buy on nike.com
RECOMMENDED: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34 Review
Hoka One One Mach
What’s it for? Pretty much everything – this is a top-notch trainer/racer
Standout feature: All the cushioning, none of the weight: the Mach weighs just 231g
Road test: The Mach is fantastic to run in, with a snappy heel-to-toe transition that almost makes it feel as if you’re gaining speed every time you touch the ground. It still has the trademark Hoka chunk of lightweight cushioning, so you don’t need to be shy about taking it out for long plods, but it’s also stiff and responsive enough for race day and sprints. If you want a low-offset (5mm), highly cushioned shoe that can do it all, the Mach is your best bet. UK RRP £120, buy on hokaoneone.eu
RECOMMENDED: Hoka One One Mach Review
Hoka One One Clifton 4
What’s it for? Racking up training miles in complete comfort.
Standout feature: The dreamy, marshmallow-soft ride provided by Hoka’s signature cushioning.
Road test: It only takes one step to fall in love with the Clifton 4, which is exceedingly comfortable to run in due to the maximal cushioning and smooth heel-to-toe transition. You’ll be amazed how quickly the miles tick by on your long runs and the Clifton is light enough to step up the pace in too, although for all-out sprints you might want a slightly more responsive shoe. £110, buy on runnersneed.com
RECOMMENDED: Hoka One One Clifton 4 Review
Adidas UltraBoost All Terrain
What’s it for? City runs in adverse weather conditions.
Standout feature: The Primeknit upper has a weather-resistant film over it to stop rain making it through to your feet.
Road test: Adidas has made several adaptations to the standard UltraBoost with the All Terrain, including the water-resistant upper, a high collar and an outsole with more grip. The result is a fairly heavy shoe, but one that still offers a bouncy, responsive ride thanks to the Boost midsole. It’s a great option for winter if you stick to city streets and parks, and it’s stylish enough to wear when not running too. £169.95, buy on adidas.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Adidas UltraBoost All Terrain Review
Nike Zoom Fly
What’s it for? Breaking personal bests in long-distance races.
Standout feature: The full-length carbon-infused nylon plate in the midsole, which pushes you forward.
Road test: The Zoom Fly feels like no other shoe when you first put it on, with the plate tipping you forward with every step. The stiffness in the shoe eases after you break them in, lessening this forward thrust to leave you with a responsive, lightweight shoe that’s cushioned enough for half and full marathons. You can expect to see the Zoom Fly, and the pricier (and lighter) Zoom Vaporfly 4% adorning the feet of many runners on marathon start lines over the next year. £129.95, buy on runnersneed.com
RECOMMENDED: Nike Zoom Fly Running Shoe Review
Brooks Glycerin 15
What’s it for? Comfort on your long runs.
Standout feature: The super-soft cushioning with Brooks Super DNA midsole tech that adapts with each stride to provide support where you need it most.
Road test: The Glycerin 15 is an absolute pleasure to run in, with its bountiful cushioning and the plush fit of the upper ensuring every step is as comfortable as possible. You won’t want to take it off when you get home – even your slippers won’t be as pleasurable to wear. The Glycerin 15 is undoubtedly at its best on long, steady runs when you’re not keeping tabs on your time, but the transition is smooth enough to pick up the pace if you must. £135, buy on brooksrunning.com
RECOMMENDED: Brooks Glycerin 15 Running Shoe Review
Saucony Kinvara 9
What’s it for? Runners who prefer a low-offset shoe but still want cushioning.
Standout feature: The 4mm heel-to-toe drop provides a natural feel to your running.
Road test: The Kinvara 9 is one of the most comfortable low-offset shoes, and its lightweight frame makes it suitable for all kinds of running, from speedy track sessions to weekend plods. The small heel-to-toe drop favours midfoot and forefoot strikers, but even heelstriking runners will get on with this shoe, and if you’re looking to move from a high-offset shoe to racing flats the Kinvara 9 makes for a good stepping stone. £115, buy on saucony.com/uk
Adidas Ultra Boost
What’s it for? Long-distance running, but not for those who need stability.
Standout feature: As always with Adidas running shoes, the Boost midsole, made from congealed foam “energy capsules”.
Road test: There’s no doubt that the Boost midsole delivers on what it promises: energy return and comfort. We found every stride was catapulted into the next almost before we realised it was happening, and the impact of a footstrike was nothing less than silky. The knitted upper is also glove-like as it moulds around your foot, but watch out if you’ve got particularly wide feet, as Adidas shoes do tend to come up narrow. £149.95, buy on sportsshoes.com
RECOMMENDED: Adidas UltraBoost Review
Saucony Freedom ISO
What’s it for? Taking on long distances at speed
Standout feature: The Freedom ISO is the first Saucony shoe with a full-length EVERUN midsole, which means it returns enough energy to keep you bouncing along mile after mile.
Road test: The Freedom ISO is an excellent all-round running shoe, with an upper so comfortable you could wear it as a pair of slippers as well as an incredibly responsive and bouncy sole that allows you to pick up the pace over any distance. For faster, neutral runners in particular, it’s a great option for 10Ks up to a full marathon. £140, buy on saucony.com/uk
RECOMMENDED: Saucony Freedom ISO Review
Asics Gel Kayano 24
What’s it for? Providing support and cushioning to over-pronators.
Standout feature: The sole, which is packed with features designed to aid your foot’s interaction with the ground.
Road test: As the name suggests, the Kayano is now in its 24th iteration, and remains one of the best shoes for runners in need of stability. In our tests the huge amount of cushioning in the sole was much appreciated on longer runs, although if you’re not an over-pronator the reinforced midsole might feel like overkill. Also of note is the updated upper, which has an enhanced fit to keep your heel in place while running. £150, buy on asics.com
Brooks GTS Adrenaline 18
What’s it for? A cushioned and supported yet speedy ride.
Standout feature: The diagonal roll bar within the midsole, discouraging the foot from over-pronating.
Road test: The GTS Adrenaline has long been a mainstay of the stability shoe options, and for good reason. Each layer of the sole is packed with features to ensure your foot remains as supported as possible throughout the gait cycle: we could feel this in action, and the latest Adrenaline also has the benefit of feeling light and springy in comparison with other structured shoes. The upper – especially the tongue – is exceptionally cushioned, too. £120, buy on brooksrunning.com
RECOMMENDED: The Best Stability Running Shoes
Road Running Shoe Buying Tips
Shankara Smith, managing director of London’s specialist running shop Run And Become – when she’s not hunting down a new marathon PB, that is – explains the basics of buying a road running shoe.
Running shoes aren’t designed to be waterproof, but they must be breathable if you don’t want your feet to overheat. “Most running shoes are made with two or three layers of mesh, which means they’re light and allow the sweat from your feet to evaporate easily,” says Smith. “But unless you’re happy to buy a new pair every time you run, you want your shoe to be durable too.”
Try the shoes on, do the laces up tight and walk around. “Make sure there isn’t too much space at the back of the heel and that it’s not too tight around your toes,” says Smith. “You’ll usually find a layer of different, stronger material around the bridge of the foot to keep it in place and comfortable.” Blisters shouldn’t be a problem if a shoe fits properly. It shouldn’t rub on the back of your heel and won’t need wearing in.
“A road running shoe must have the right kind of flexibility,” says Smith. “If a shoe is too rigid it will stop your foot flexing naturally and cause excessive stresses that can lead to injury. Instead, you want the shoe to comply with your foot’s natural movement for a smooth running stride.”
Before you even choose a shoe, get your running gait analysed. This determines the support you need to evenly distribute weight across your foot when you run. “A shoe’s support is indicated by the shape of its ‘last’, the outline of its sole,” says Smith. “If the sides of the shoe curve in (like a figure of eight) it’ll protect the outside of the sole of your foot because it promotes pronation. If the sides are straighter it’ll protect the inside of the sole because it resists overpronation.” If you have a neutral gait a semi-curved last, in between the two, is the best choice.
RECOMMENDED: Everything You Need to Know about Buying Running Shoes