Too often these days, we read one review and our minds are made up, meaning we rush into choosing a replacement without exploring all the options. In a world of information and opinions, it’s easy to find a million different thoughts and choices for finding the right pair of shoes. To help navigate it all, we’ve compiled a list of techniques for choosing the best road running shoes for you.
What makes the best road running shoes the ‘best’?
Road running is the most common type of running. Most runners run on asphalt, man-made sidewalks and concrete paths. The world’s biggest marathons are road running events and cross-disciplinary sports like triathlon also feature road running route. On the flip side, even though road running is common, it’s a tough activity for human body to handle.
The impact of running on hard, artificial terrain can lead road runners to succumb to more injuries than those that run on grass, trails, hills and even athletic tracks. This means the shoes you choose for road running play a bigger role in keeping you injury free. The best road running shoes are therefore the ones that give road runners the protection they need.
Of course, injury prevention is just one, albeit important, aspect of choosing pair of road running shoes. It has to deliver the performance to meet your goals too. It all comes down to finding the shoe that matches your needs. Below, we’ve listed the questions to ask yourself to uncover what you really want from a road running shoe.
1. What kind of runner are you?
The first thing to know is what kind of runner you are in terms of foot strike. Being a forefoot runner means your needs differ from those of a heel striker or midfoot runner. Knowing how your foot strikes the floor helps narrow your choices when it comes to finding the best running shoe for your needs – and can also help make sure your shoes last as long as possible.
A simple test to determine your foot strike is to grab your current pair of road running shoes (or those with the most wear and tear), and see where the sole is most worn down. If the back has lost the most grip and tread it likely means you’re a heel striker – if the middle and sides are the most worn areas, then you favor the midfoot – and if the front shows the most use, you’re likely a forefoot runner. This is a quick indicator of course, but it’s not conclusive. Analysis in a reputable running store is the best way to go, but getting a friend to film you as you run can also help identify how your foot strikes the floor.
2. What is your goal: speed, distance, comfort?
Knowing your goals is crucial when searching for the best road running shoe. Most of the time, goals fall into one of three main categories. The first is speed: running to be faster. For this goal, a light and responsive road running shoe like the Cloudflash, for example, that is lightweight but a little less supportive, might be the one you’re after. Be aware though, that unless you’re well trained, these shoes are likely better suited to shorter distances.
If your goal is long distance running, support becomes more of a consideration as ensuring that your ankles and foot strike remains in the correct position throughout your run. The lightweight Cloudflyer and the zero-compromise Cloudace are examples of supportive running shoes that help you out through any longer run in comfort and with a gentle amount of support to limit injuries.
Finally. there’s the goal of running comfortably on hard surfaces. Cushioning is the feature to look for here and, although all the best road running shoes will have some elements of cushioning, some trade a lightweight feel for more cushioned-comfort. That’s never been the On philosophy, and is one of the biggest benefits of On’s patented CloudTec® cushioning. Its hollow elements offer big impact cushioning while keeping wait low – hence the feeling of running on clouds. For a cushioned sensation like no other, we recommend the Cloudstratus as it has two layers of Helion™-enriched CloudTec® for ultimate comfort.
3. Training, racing or recovery?
Hand in hand with your goals comes how you will use your shoe. For instance, a training shoe will get much more use (and often have a much shorter life-span) than your competition shoe which may only be used on race day or in key training sessions. A recovery shoe for road running often has more cushioning, to support you as you ease back into training after a race, injury or harder training session.
Most coaches recommend alternating between at least two shoes, as each will work slightly different muscle fibers. Having a pair on rotation will also prolong the life of both pairs of shoes (see our guide for how long a pair of shoes should last for more tips). When it comes to finding your perfect pair, think about what you’ll really be using them for, combined with your goals. From there, choosing the right pair becomes that little bit easier.
There is a wealth of information available to help uncover new shoes, and feedback about what the shoe is actually like to run in. Today, we as runners are luckier (or is it cursed?) with more information and insight than ever before. From runners you follow on social media or your run apps, to the shoes showcased running shop windows, information about new shoes and shoe tech is everywhere. Of course, everyone has their own unique opinion and experience, which may not apply to you. To help find the voices to listen to, find a few key websites, shoe awards and of course, athletes you admire and respect. Focus on tapping these sources find the information you need to make a decision that feels right for you. The best running shoes will likely have a reputation that all those sources you care about agree upon (as much as they can, anyway), so can hopefully help you make your mind up.
5. Down to what you like
At the end of the day, the best road running shoes are the ones you’re going to love using. Studies have shown that when you feel good, you increase performance and overall satisfaction. If a shoe feels good but looks like something Frankenstein would wear, chances are you’ll enjoy your run more in a pair that people compliment you on. When it comes down to it, looks matter, so if you’ve found what you think might be the right road running shoe for you but hate a smaller detail like the color or laces, check to see if there are other choices. A great running shoe is no use at all if you’re embarassed to be seen in it.
Where to go from here: starting the search for your best road running shoes
With this all in mind, it can still be tricky to narrow your choices down to just a few pairs you that will suit your needs. If you’re still feeling unsure as to what your best shoe looks like, head over to our shoe finder here, answer a few questions and see what results you find for your next new pair. We’ve also highlighted some of our road running fan favorites and most popular models below – is your next pair one of these?