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The beginner’s guide to every type of running shoe

With so many pairs of shoes on the market, here's a guide to help you know what you're looking for

There are hundreds of running shoes on the market, which can be overwhelming for any buyer, and especially for the new runner. Even avid runners aren’t always up to date on the latest and greatest in shoe technology, so if you’re heading out to buy a new pair, here’s the Coles Notes version on each kind of shoe so you know what you’re looking for. 

It’s important to note that most runners have one or two pairs of shoes on the go at a time, selecting one shoe or the other depending on what type of running they’re doing that day. Purchasing two pairs of shoes will prolong their life of both and allow you to have the best shoe for your workout. While this isn’t necessary when you’re getting started, it’s something to consider as you incorporate a wider variety of running into your schedule, like a weekend trail run or Wednesday evening track session. 

If you’re interested in trail running shoes, hold tight, because we’ll be bringing you a trail-focused guide soon. For now, here’s a look at shoes designed for the track, road and gym. 

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Trainers

Nike Pegasus

Easy-day shoes (or trainers) are what most new runners are looking for. They’re affordable, reliable and the perfect shoe for every runner’s lineup. Runners want their easy-day shoe to feel comfortable and stable on the foot. Examples are the Nike Pegasus, Saucony Ride and ASICS NovaBlast

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These shoes might be for you if: you run. This is the type of shoe I would recommend for the beginner runner as their first pair of shoes, or for the experienced runner to have on rotation for their easy days. 

Look elsewhere if: you only want to trail run. 

Spikes

Usain Bolt's spikes
Photo: Ricky Simms via Darren Rovell

Spikes are the sharp, plated shoes that track runners wear to race. If you’re looking for spikes for yourself or your child, there are three categories: sprint, middle-distance and cross-country. Make sure you specify which type you’re looking for. If your child isn’t sure which distance they’ll be running, opt for a middle-distance spike (which is your best bet to accomplish all three event types). You want these shoes to be very snug so that your foot isn’t slipping – they should fit like a second skin. 

If you’re buying for yourself, unless you plan on training specifically for the 400m or lower, again, opt for the middle-distance shoes. Sprint spikes have a very aggressive plate, which can be hard on runners’ calves and are designed exclusively to go fast. The middle-distance spike will be a little more forgiving on your body. When trying spikes out, start with just a few strides so that your body can get used to the sensation and impact. These shoes have almost no cushioning, so work your mileage up slowly and only bring them out on the hardest workout days. 

These shoes might be for you if: you’re buying for a high schooler who is on the track or cross-country team, or you’re looking to do fast track intervals regularly. 

Look elsewhere if: you don’t have any interest in training on a track. 

Flats

Saucony Endorphin Speed

Flats are speed shoes to be worn for a fast day on the track or roads. These shoes are slight, stiff and snappy. Examples of flats are the New Balance 1400, the Saucony Endorphin Speed or the Nike Zoom Fly. These are the shoes you’d wear for interval work at a moderate-to-fast pace. To prolong the life of these shoes, they shouldn’t be worn during warmup or cool down – get yourself a pair of trainers for those easy miles.

These shoes might be for you if: you’re looking to join a team with structured workouts and want a lighter shoe for your fast days. These shoes would be purchased as a second pair for someone who’s considering racing or increasing training intensity. Flats are also a great option if you’re looking for an affordable race-day shoe.

Look elsewhere if: you’re coming back from an injury and need more cushioning, or you’re only looking to purchase one pair of shoes. 

Carbon-plated flats

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%

There are good old-fashioned flats (like those mentioned above) and then there are carbon-plated flats, which are more expensive and designed almost exclusively for racing. These can be purchased by road racers looking to run a personal best, and worn sparingly, as they’re very expensive and wear out quickly. Examples of carbon-plated flats are the Nike Alphafly, Brooks Hyperion Elite, Saucony Endorphin Pro or the ASICS Metaracer. Purchase these shoes if you’re really serious about going fast.

These shoes might be for you if: you want to run a personal best in a road race – performance matters to you and you’ve got the budget to spend some cash on your footwear. 

Look elsewhere if: you never intend to race. These shoes are really for maximizing performance. If you’re running for general health or social reasons, this shoe might not be for you. 

Long-run shoes

Photo: UA HOVR Machina

For your long-run shoe, you want a trainer that’s a little more substantial. This shoe needs to get you through your biggest mileage of the week, so you want it to be sturdy (and think about how good that distance will feel when you put lighter shoes on in a few weeks’ time). 

You want your long run shoe to be comfortable and highly cushioned. Examples of this would be the Under Armour Machina, the Nike Vomero or the ASICS EvoRide

These shoes might be for you if: you’re training for a marathon or love running big miles. 

Look elsewhere if: you rarely run over 10K at a time. 

RELATED: Why pronation is not a dirty word

Gym shoes

Nike training shoes

Gym shoes are flat and stable, with minimal cushioning – ideal for lifting and strength work. While they’ve totally got their place in a runner’s shoe lineup, don’t plan to wear them for running. That’s a serious no-go. 

If you’re looking for a one-shoe-to-do-it-all, opt for a trainer with a fairly flat bottom. This will provide better cushioning over just a gym shoe. Your shins will thank you. 

These shoes might be for you if: you’re a runner who also likes to lift and you’ve got the budget for multiple pairs of shoes. 

Look elsewhere if: you plan on running even a little bit. This shoe is for lifting weights and shouldn’t be worn running. 

Stability shoes

ASICS Kayano – stability shoe

Stability shoes are built for runners who overpronate. Pronation is the foot and ankle’s natural inward roll when a runner’s foot contacts the ground and is totally normal, however, some runners pronate excessively on each step, and would benefit from stability shoes, which offer more support and correction to this movement. Stability shoes tend to run on the heavier side and would typically be worn for a long or easy run (the ASICS Gel-Kayano is a great example of this), but the New Balance 1500 is a speed flat that offers very light posting through the midsole (propping the foot up ever so slightly).

These shoes might be for you if: you’re an overpronator who doesn’t feel comfortable in a neutral shoe or has been told by a medical professional to try a stability shoe.

Look elsewhere if: you’ve got a neutral foot or have never attributed injury to your neutral shoes. 

Winter running shoes 

Saucony Peregrine

If you live in Canada (well, anywhere but the west coast) and you plan to run outside in winter, a pair of winter running shoes come in handy. These shoes are typically a water-resistant version of a trainer that the company already sells (for example, Nike has a winter version of the Pegasus). If you’re a treadmill kind of winter runner, then there’s no need for these guys, but if you hit the streets all year long, the deeper grooves and subsequently improved grip are a good idea to combat icy and snowy sidewalks. 

These shoes might be for you if: you live in a snowy area and run year-round.

Look elsewhere if: you’re a gym-goer who usually runs on the treadmill in the winter.

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