Whether you’re new to running or a veteran with thousands of miles under your belt, shoes are arguably the most important piece of your kit. They can truly make or break your recreational running career.
If you don’t know which type you need, go for a gait analysis at a running shoe shop and they’ll be able to tell you whether you overpronate (your foot rolls excessively inwards), supinate (your weight rolls to the outer edges of your foot) or if you’re neutral (your foot lands centrally and doesn’t roll). Stability shoes can help with overpronation and neutral designs are generally for non-rollers and supinators (but you need the addition of cushioning if you supinate).
Nathan Kehel from Runner’s Need, a specialist running brand, told us that it’s worth getting your gait re-analysed before you buy new shoes, even if you’ve been running for years: “It’s not static across time and there’s a good chance it may have changed as you’ve gained strength and muscle mass.”
With so many marketing claims, technologies and shoes aimed at different kinds of run, it can feel like you need more than one pair. “For beginners, just one pair of reasonably cushioned shoes with the right support for your gait will do just fine,” says Nathan. “If you’re training for a marathon or ultra, something with more cushioning is wise. If you’re pushing for a time, a faster, lighter shoe is a good option for speedwork sessions and racing.
The difference in weight between shoes is not huge but a heavier shoe that’s highly cushioned and with less energy return (the energy that’s absorbed by the shoe as you land and returned as you push off) feels like more work when you’re trying to run fast.”
As for fit, Nathan recommends going up a half or whole size from your street shoes. “‘You want about a thumbs width of space at the end of the shoe. And try not to be led by aesthetics – if a shoe looks good but feels slightly uncomfortable, it’s going to feel seriously uncomfortable within minutes of running.”
We tested a range of shoes with at least 10K of road running and have included both new releases and the latest updates on old classics, with a selection of neutral and stability shoes.
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New Balance fresh foam 1080v10
This fairly light, neutral shoe is billed as having an “energetic rebound” and that couldn’t be more true – it gives a gazelle-like spring. It comes in different widths but the standard is fairly wide already and supremely comfortable. The heel design is the perfect balance between secure and gentle, cupping the heel comfortably.
The sublime cushioning kept our legs feeling fresh on a 15km run – these are high-mileage shoes and we would happily train for a marathon in them. The grooves in the outsole that help to flex the shoe are well placed for a smooth and effortless ride.
Nike react infinity run flyknit
Released in January 2020, this shoe is designed to help reduce risk of running-related injury. This claim is backed up by Nike’s collaboration with the British Columbia Sports Medicine Research Foundation (BCSMRF) for an external study on 226 runners, which showed that runners wearing the Nike react infinity had a 52 percent lower injury rate than in a Nike motion control shoe.
We’re still sceptical as the causes of injury are unique to every runner and usually arise from either overuse or a mechanical weakness, but there’s no getting round this being a great shoe. It’s light and extremely comfortable – the flyknit secures your foot well without feeling pinned down – with a roomy toe box and reassuring arch and heel support.
Its wider heel and forefoot is designed to provide stability and it does; high levels of react foam make for a cushioned but springy ride and you can feel its slight rocker shape propelling you forwards.
Hoka One One mach 3
Hoka became known for its super-maximal shoes, but has expanded into pared-back, faster models. The recently released mach 3 manages to combine a low weight with substantial enough cushioning that feels punchy. Its midsole design with a curved outsole and low heel to toe drop of 5mm gives the usual propulsive feel of a Hoka shoe. Not a shoe for beginners – we’d put it in the bracket for improving performance in a speedy but cushioned package.
If you have a high foot volume and like your Achilles to be well cupped, these may be lacking for you but they have nice details like cut-outs in the tongue to improve breathability (we tested them in winter but it should come into play for sweaty summer speed sessions).
Brooks adrenaline GTS 20
Brooks’ aptly named “go-to-shoe” (GTS) is still just that. It offers serious cushioning throughout the shoe for long miles but maintains a springy responsiveness. Its support works a treat, moving away from ever-present stability into stability when it’s needed. The brand started using this support design in the GTS 19’s and it’s been updated here by integrating it into the shoe. These are slightly lighter than the previous version, and are so comfortable that it’s hard not to give an audible sigh when you slip your foot in and we like the fact that you can buy them in narrow, normal, wide and extra wide.
This is a shoe that’s pushed cushioning to the max, with a focus on both vertical and horizontal cushioning. We found that it feels firm and reassuring, rather than pillowy. The shoe is billed as giving you a smooth ride and it does, along with feeling very stable. If you’re a heavier runner or you come down hard on your shoes, these are going to be a reliable companion for long runs. They are wide fitting, the natty star lacing system pulls the shoe securely around your whole foot for a comfortable fit and they have excellent arch support.
Saucony guide 13
This is a cushioned stability shoe that feels closer to a neutral because the support only kicks in if and when you need it. By using a guidance frame rather than the solid medial post of high-density foam that sits in other shoes for overpronators, Saucony has moved away from traditional forms of support, only offering stability when it’s called for.
The plush cushioning is spread throughout the shoe and gives a responsive energy return while a nicely padded heel collar tops off its comfort. This is a great choice for putting in the miles during training and longer races, where your need for stability may increase as you tire.
Mizuno wave inspire 16
A trusty steed, the latest version of the wave inspire stability shoe won’t let you down. It looks a little more streamlined than the previous model because of its new seamless upper and the toe cap has been taken inside the shoe, but its stable and responsive ride remains the same and it’s light for a stability shoe (240g). Great for wider feet and those with a high foot volume (the depth of your foot), they’re also very durable and show little sign of wear after many long runs, making them a good choice if you’re hard on your running shoes.
Salomon sense feel GTX W
If you’ve ever clomped down a pavement in full trail shoes, you’ll know why Salomon has designed this hybrid, “trail-inspired” shoe which it claims is suited to all terrains. It’s perfect if you, say, have to run along roads to get to the woods, or you run in the park partly on tarmac and partly on muddy paths. These are fully waterproof so you can crash through puddles and the lugs (the cleats on the outsole that make up the tread) are deeper than a straight running shoe to give you traction off-road, but not as deep as a full trail shoe. What they won’t do is see you down a rocky mountain trail or through very deep mud. An added bonus is that they’re light and cushioned, so you can run moderate distances, but if you need high levels of stability, go for a different pair.
adidas ultraboost 20
If you’re a fan of the heavily updated ultraboost 19, this latest incarnation won’t disappoint and you’ll be willing to shell out on its high price tag. Not much has changed – the boost midsole still gives its signature energy return, but the upper now has a more structured, controlled feel, especially around the midfoot (they don’t slip on easily – you have to wiggle your foot in), and the Continental rubber in the outsole gives a touch more traction than your average running shoe. Elastane heel cups hug the Achilles firmly but with exceptional comfort. The shoe is heavier than some people might like, but we’d say its responsiveness makes up for that.
361˚ spire 4
361˚ is a Chinese brand that’s relatively new in the UK and gradually making its mark in a crowded market. This is its most cushioned road shoe and those who like their neutral ride to be on the firmer side of cushioned will like it. The carbon fibreglass shank in the mid-foot helps a fairly light shoe feel stable on landing and it’s more flexible than most, which made for smooth transitions from heel to toe. These shoes are a little low on arch support if you have high arches, but they are comfortable and reasonably wide-fitting, and the uppers feel durable and secure.
The verdict: Women’s running shoes
The New Balance 1080v10 ticks all of our boxes for comfort and spring, providing superior cushioning without sacrificing too much speed. If you need stability but want to move away from the traditional forms of support, the Brooks GTS 20 for wider, deeper feet or the Saucony guide 13s for narrower are both a good bet.
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