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Navigating The Running Shoe Maze

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published May 24, 2013
  • Updated Nov 6, 2013 at 12:49 AM UTC
Photo: Nils Nilsen

How to pick a shoe to match your running speed.

Triathletes can learn a lot from golfers when it comes to picking out their running shoes. Take a look inside a golfer’s bag. You’ll find a few clubs to hit the ball long, some for midrange shots and another couple that only come out for the short stuff. Sure, you can use a 2-iron for a 60-yard chip shot, but it’s probably not the best option.

When it comes to choosing which pair of running shoes to wear for different types of workouts and races, it can be beneficial for triathletes to adopt the same mind-set. Yes, you can wear a 6-ounce racing flat for the marathon during your next Ironman, but a 10-ounce lightweight trainer is a better choice for most athletes.

With numerous brands offering a slew of choices in various shapes, weights and heel-to-toe drops, it’s possible—and advisable—to have different options for easy distance runs, midrange tempos and long races, as well as shorter, faster workouts and races. Having a variety of footwear options for the different types of running that you do can help you get the most out of your next workout or race.

For many triathletes, particularly newer ones, running in a traditional cushioned or stability trainer like the New Balance 890 V3 is like driving a car with an automatic transmission. You just put ’em on and go for a casual jaunt. These shoes are typically on the heavier side (11–13 ounces for men; 9–11 ounces for women) and feature a heel-to-toe drop (the difference between the heel and forefoot height of the shoe) of 12mm or more.

The more minimal the shoe, the more akin it is to driving a car with a stick. Your feet and lower legs are forced to do more work and you’ll need to have a greater awareness of your body at all times.

Lightweight trainers including the Mizuno Wave Elixir 8, weighing 8–10 ounces for men and 6–8 ounces for women with a heel-to-toe drop in the range of 4–10mm, serve as the go-to shoe for faster run workouts and races. Opt for these when you want a shoe that’s light on your feet and offers more protection than a racing flat.

Racing flats represent the final footwear tool in your arsenal. These next-to-nothing, slipper-like shoes, such as the Zoot Ultra Kiawe, weigh less than 8 ounces for men and less than 6 ounces for women, and most have a heel-to-toe drop between zero and 8mm. Since you’re carrying less weight, you’re also using less energy, and the shoe’s lower profile will help your foot strike the ground more efficiently. Using them in small doses can strengthen your feet and lower legs, and help improve your mechanics.

RELATED: Basic Running Gear For Beginner Triathletes

New Balance 890 V3
$110, Newbalance.com

Best for:
Recovery runs and longer, easier efforts when hitting a specific pace isn’t an issue.

Zoot Ultra Kiawe
$120, Zootsports.com
Best for:
Shorter, faster interval workouts and sprint- and Olympic-distance races.

Mizuno Wave Elixir 8
$120, Mizunousa.com
Best for:
Longer interval workouts and tempo runs. They also function as a great race-day shoe for distances over 10K.

RELATED – 2013 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Running Shoes

Follow Triathlete on Twitter @Triathletemag for inspiration, new workout ideas, gear reviews from our editors and more.

FILED UNDER: Gear Tips / Run

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College, he coaches both elite and age-group runners and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica at the 2012 Olympics. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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