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Published Apr. 20, 2021

Staying in shape and forming up for unit PT can be a drag. It can also be a way to challenge yourself, bring out your inner beast, and shatter personal records. The choice is yours. While plenty of people are lining up to make excuses for themselves, American icon Shelby Houlihan is out there dominating everything on two legs (shoutout to everyone who says female Marines can’t run an 18-minute PFT). To be fair, there’s more to run times like that than grit and determination. You need to train smart, seek sound advice, eat with purpose, and invest in the right gear. We’ve all gone for a run in lousy shoes, and it sucks. It can even set you back weeks in your training if you injure yourself. That’s why we picked these seven running shoes to help you bring your run times to the next level.

Running shoes are an extremely personal purchase, and it’s critical to wear shoes that are appropriate for your stride, body geometry, and foot shape. We searched high and low to make sure there’s something on this list for everybody.

Brooks is known for making supportive shoes, and the Ghost 12 is so surprisingly light that it just might help you crush your personal best time. This popular shoe is designed for runners with a neutral stance who want one shoe to tackle multiple kinds of running. The foam sole is light and lively, but strong enough to pile on the miles or even hit the gym occasionally (just don’t mistake these for dedicated lifting shoes). Inside the sole, a series of shock absorbers work to reduce strain on your joints and facilitate smooth heel-toe transitions. This is another design that uses 3D printing to create a lightweight, naturally-shaped upper that conforms to your foot. Bonus feature: they come in plaid. ‘Merica.

The Saucony Guide 13 provides the support you need to run comfortably day in and day out. Relatively thick cushioning in the sole provides long-distance comfort without being mushy. You’ll still get plenty of stability from this shoe’s firm, but flexible, upper. An internal frame provides extra support to help your foot follow the most efficient path through each stride. Be aware that this type of running shoe can take some getting used to, especially if most of your running has been in soft street shoes. Once you adjust to this shoe’s structure, we’re confident you’ll appreciate the strong foundation it provides. If you rack up miles at a time, and need a shoe that can augment your stability, this one deserves a serious look.

If you’re more likely to scramble up a mountain trail than jog down the sidewalk, the Salomon XA Pro 3D V8 is for you. This hardcore trail running shoe is designed to take all the abuse you can throw at it. Splashing through standing water is no problem–this shoe’s Gore-Tex upper provides waterproof protection. The incredibly aggressive tread pattern locks into mud, gravel, and other loose surfaces to keep your footing stable, safe, and fast. A unique lacing system will save you from messing with dirty double-knotted shoelaces at the end of every run, and get rid of floppy loops that could get caught on underbrush. These probably won’t be the lightest or most supportive running shoes you’ve worn, but we’ll be shocked if they aren’t the toughest.

Nike is one of the biggest names in running, and the Air Zoom Wildhorse 5 delivers on the brand’s reputation. The unique heel section absorbs impacts for runners who strike the ground heel-first. Advanced synthetic materials in the upper secure your foot without restricting airflow for a supportive, comfortable fit. The outsole features large lugs for traction on dirt and grass. Thin, water-repellant panels are strategically placed to keep your feet dry without impeding breathability or adding unnecessary weight. This isn’t a hardcore trail shoe, but the combination of traction and light weight make it a fantastic all-rounder for running on inconsistent terrain. Remember that Nike tends to run narrow, so you might need to order a half size up for the perfect fit.

Runners who want a quality running shoe that won’t blow the budget should consider the New Balance 1400 V6. Sometimes, less is more; and we love this shoe’s minimalist approach. This option prioritizes comfort with a forgiving foam sole and a design that uses fewer stitched seams than traditional running shoes. Lightweight foam adds comfort and support while keeping weight to a minimum. The mesh upper enhances airflow to keep your feet cool. With reduced stitching, there are fewer opportunities for your feet to rub against the shoe and develop hot spots. The rugged outer sole is durable enough to give you plenty of use before it’s time to replace these shoes. The price of this shoe makes it quite a bargain. Don’t let the affordability mislead you, this is a serious contender.

Take advantage of innovations in shoe technology with the Asics Gel-Cumulus 22. This unique shoe uses a 3D-printed upper to achieve a more natural shape and eliminate the need for stitching. That means enhanced comfort and fewer things to wear out. The sole’s high elasticity provides a little extra bounce to keep your stride energetic from start to finish. Gel cushioning in the heel and forefoot absorb impacts as your foot lands and pushes off. This shoe is best for runners with mild supination or a neutral stance. It might not be the most aggressive mile-eater, but it’s a capable running shoe with undeniable quality. If you ask us, being comfortable leads to running more often, and that’s a pretty good way to improve your pace.

If lacing up the Saucony Showdown 5 doesn’t get you amped up for some speed work, nothing will. Don’t expect your command to let you lace up a pair of these for a graded event, but you can absolutely use them to your advantage. Sprint workouts are valuable to any runner’s training program. Even if you’re preparing for a marathon, having some extra juice on those uphill sections makes a huge difference. These shoes are designed for short sprints in which your heels never touch the ground. They also need to be worn on a track, since the sharp spikes will rip right through dirt and actually reduce grip on pavement. If you want to get serious about developing as a runner, throw a pair of these in your gym bag and hit the base track like a cheetah at dinner time.

Related: 8 pieces of fitness equipment you need in your gym bag

Types of running shoes

Running shoes tend to look pretty similar to one another, but the reality is that they’re often drastically different. For starters, there are dedicated shoes for running on roads, trails, and tracks. The more unpredictable the terrain, the more support a shoe needs to provide. That’s why trail shoes come with chunky treads and water-resistant exteriors. On the other hand, the track spikes you might see at a meet are as light as possible. It’s ok if they aren’t very supportive because they won’t be worn very long, and weight savings more than make up for lack of comfort. Shoes are also designed for different kinds of runners. In addition to your foot size and shape, it’s important to consider how your foot strikes the ground, and whether your ankles tend to pronate, supinate, or remain neutral under load. 

Key features of running shoes

  • Intended use: The first thing you’ll need to decide is how you plan on using your running shoes. If you’re looking for a trainer to run on sidewalks or the side of the road, look for something that balances support and lightness. If you want to shed a few seconds off your PFT, it might be time for a dedicated race shoe.
  • Materials: Running shoes get better every year. Cutting-edge materials save weight without compromising strength. Think about things like breathability and water-resistance, and look for a shoe that will keep you comfortable mile after mile.
  • Fit: There’s no such thing as a perfect running shoe. What feels like Cinderella’s slipper to another runner might as well be a torture device for you. In addition to the length and width of your foot, think about arch support and consider adding a footbed for a custom fit.
  • Weight: Lighter shoes tend to be faster, but that doesn’t necessarily make them better. Find a supportive shoe that allows you to log training miles with as little wear and tear on your body as possible, then switch to a speed shoe for timed events. 
  • Structure: Running shoes are designed for specific types of runners. Before buying, find out how your foot strikes the ground, how your joints articulate throughout the stride, and what kind of arch you have. 

Benefits of running shoes

A good pair of running shoes can be your best training partner. When you have an efficient stride, comfortable feet, and healthy joints, you can train harder and shed chunks off your run times. If you’ve ever suffered through numb feet or removed your socks to find painful blisters, it’s time to make a change. If physical pain is holding you back, your shoes could very well be to blame. Let us help you find the right shoe so you can run faster and longer with a smile on your face.

Running shoe pricing

Don’t be lured into a pair of inexpensive athletic shoes by their appealing price. Squishy soles and soft uppers might be great for walking the dog or wearing to the gym, but they’ll destroy your feet within a few miles of actual running. Expect to pay somewhere in the ballpark of $100 for a pair of running shoes. A bargain might be available for less, and premium options will cost a little more. Keep in mind that shoes have a shorter lifespan than most people realize. Even the best running shoe for you will deteriorate with use and need to be replaced. Stay on top of your shoes’ condition and extend their usability by rotating through multiple pairs depending on the conditions each run presents.

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