Fair warning: I have a running shoe fetish.
There is a reason I am known among my friends as the “Shoemelier” and the “Imelda of Running.” As a gear editor for a number of publications, I’ve had the chance to test more than a thousand running shoes over the years, which probably hasn’t helped. That being said, I still believe that there are very good reasons why you too should have your own ‘quiver’ (in sporting parlance, a collection of different types of a piece of sporting equipment) of running shoes.
A die-hard skier has her quiver. It includes powder pontoons, all-mountain cruisers, a skimo setup for ascending, and classic and skate Nordic skinny skis. She may also have rock skis and skis that are stiffer or softer for different conditions. Similarly, a serious cyclist has his full-suspension MTB, cyclocross, road, commuter, townie/cruiser/vintage bikes, and may even have a new fat bike.
Runners are no different. They need a quiver of running shoes as well.
A runner’s quiver should include everyday training shoes, at least one pair for trail and another for road. It should also include lightweight speed and racing shoes as well as recovery kicks and a pair of foul-weather shoes.
My collection may be a little over the top, but there are good reasons for you to have multiple pairs of running shoes.
The most important tool in a runner’s toolbox is an everyday, high-mileage training shoe. Depending on a runner’s natural gait and propensity to run forefoot, midfoot, or land on one’s heels, the trainer may integrate structure, support, cushioning, and pronation control technologies. Those who run more naturally toward or on their toes, those who are higher-cadence and don’t make much in the way of sound when they run, and runners who are less prone to injury are able to train on minimalist footwear and can get away with much lighter, low-profile shoes than those who are heavier-footed.
Training shoes are the single most important purchase a runner makes. You may get chafed by ill-fitting or non-wicking running apparel or the lack of skin lube, and your pacing could be off if your GPS watch isn’t accurate, but those issues pale in comparison to the risk of overuse injury resulting from training shoes that aren’t well-selected, properly maintained, or still fresh.
Since you will be doing most of your running in these shoes, they should be durable and built for regular, sustained use. Firm midsoles tend to hold up well without compressing or collapsing, protecting the foot from bone bruising or impact injury. It is also crucial that you get the fit right when choosing your training shoes since you’ll be spending so much time in them. When in doubt, err on the side of going a half size larger so you can snug them down and then loosen the lacing if your feet swell as the result of long distances, altitude, or heat.
Just as you wouldn’t ride rugged rocky, rooty, or muddy terrain on a road bike, trail runners seldom go off-road on road shoes. Trail shoes are built for added traction and push-through protection, together with lateral support, rugged uppers and often a toe bumper. The trail shoe world is a diverse one, from minimalist versions that provide little more than a slipper to hiking boot-like, high-top burly trail “running” shoes. Depending on how often you run trails you may want to have a sub-quiver of trail shoes to accommodate a variety of different types of trails and conditions or your training goals for specific outings.
Those who run in winter conditions may need a pair of snow and ice shoes as well. Some winterized shoes come with built-in carbide or tungsten spikes and/or gaiters and water-resistant uppers. There are also a good number of after-market traction devices or inexpensive screws to alter an existing pair of shoes for “hobnail” grip.
Even if your goal is to run long and steady, integrating tempo efforts—be it through track sessions, fartleks (speed play), intervals, or just picking up the pace between telephone poles or angry neighborhood dogs—into your training will make you more efficient and fitter. Speedy shoes are light and tend to be low in profile, allowing for plenty of flexibility and “feel” for the road or trail. These are not shoes most can wear for longer distances and they aren’t necessarily built to last.
You probably have “dress up” clothes that you reserve for special occasions; your speed shoes fill a similar niche in your shoe quiver. They are your race-day shoe and for the days when you are going to pick up your knees and really stride out with zeal. Some choose to do their tempo work in racing flats that are typically form fitting, if not a bit tight, giving a snug, compressed feeling for high-cadence running. Luxury is less important since the goal is performance and high turnover, getting your workout done so you can unlace these rockets and slip into something more comfortable for your cooldown.
Sometimes it is difficult to eke out an extra training run on tired legs or beat-up feet. That’s when many would resort to the couch or turn to cross training but, thanks to the advent of cushy footwear, you can log extra miles with reduced damage to aching muscles or shocked joints. New marshmallow-like “maximalist” shoes with stack heights approaching 4cm, rocker shaped midsoles and wider platforms allow runners to tack on extra runs in their training week, offering the ultimate in comfort from impact-absorbing midsoles made of airy compounds so these shoes weigh less than most training shoes.
Many have found that adding a pair of recovery shoes in their array of running footwear keeps them running when they otherwise wouldn’t. The runs may be slower but added days on foot often pay dividends thanks to a better training foundation that, in turn, staves off potential injuries.
On particularly messy days it is convenient to have a pair of semi-retired shoes that still have some life in them in the form of midsole resilience and outsole traction so you can extend the life of your other training shoes. These shoes become the sacrificial pair that you pull on to take on wet, slushy, muddy, sloppy conditions. After a number of these deleterious runs your muck shoes can be relegated to lawn mowing or gardening footwear, the last incarnation of a running shoe.
Alternatively, if you are running somewhere in wet conditions and want dry feet upon arrival, such as a run commute to work, and the route doesn’t involve any river crossings or deep enough puddles that water penetrate your shoe from the ankle gusset, a pair of Gore-Tex, eVent, or one of many proprietary waterproof or water-resistant fabrics are worth considering. Just make sure to avoid getting water or melting snow in the shoe because once you get them wet, you won’t dry out during the run. For those conditions, run in highly breathable shoes and wool socks so that you have easy in and easy out while your feet stay relatively warm thanks to the wool.
Wearing running shoes for non-running activities, such as at the office, travel, errands, or social occasions is an insult to the integrity of the product. Running shoes are made to run and wearing them to walk causes unintended wear and tear that jeopardizes the integrity, causing wear in the wrong ways and stressing the uppers. Use a dead pair for that, not a fresh trainer. Or, better yet, show your love for running by honoring its heritage and going old-school with retro shoes that many companies offer.
While it may sound like investing in all these shoes would cost a fortune, the reality is that having a full quiver allows you to save in two ways. First, you save because you prolong the life of each type of shoe, using it for its intended purpose and sustaining the life of each so that the whole of your quiver lasts much longer. Second, you save yourself from injury—for instance, having effective traction when you need it will prevent slips and falls. Training on dialed-in training shoes, designed to take on the roads or trails with gusto, speeding things up with tempo shoes and then recovering with phat shock absorbers, will keep you ticking with both quality and quantity.