Runblogger’s Top Running Shoes of 2014
Posted on December 18 2014
Putting together a list of top running shoes can be a challenge. Each year I run in a lot of great shoes, but few are 100% perfect. Furthermore, a shoe that I didn’t like might be an ideal shoe for someone else, and a shoe that I loved might have been a bust for someone with a different stride, smaller/larger feet, etc. So what I do is simply pick the shoes that worked best for me among the many that I have tried during the year.
This year I thought it might be helpful to put my list into context by explaining at the outset the general characteristics that work well for me in running shoes. I’m not going to break my list up into categories this year since I didn’t try many trail shoes, so I’ll address my preferences for training shoes, racing flats, and trail at the outset.
My Preferred Characteristics in Running Shoes
1. First of all, I’ll point out that my feet are of average width (I always by D width shoes), but are fairly high volume (thick from top to bottom). As such, certain shoes can present depth problems in the forefoot (e.g., Nike Free 5.0). I generally like shoes that don’t constrict my toes or squish them together, and that allow a bit of vertical volume for my forefoot.
2. For slower or longer miles I prefer shoes that have a softish heel and a firmer forefoot. I am a light heel striker who loads mostly from midfoot forward. A hard heel above a certain stack height (not sure exactly what it is) can torque my ankle a bit and makes for a harsher ride (e.g., original Mizuno Sayonara). I don’t like too much squish in the forefoot as it makes me fell like I have to work too hard (e.g., Hoka Clifton, Skechers GoRun Ultra). I’ve become more tolerant of shoes varying in heel-forefoot drop, but generally prefer less than 8mm offset.
3. For racing flats and speed workouts I like shoes that are lightweight, low stack height, low drop, and firm. I also like a bit of extra stiffness to make a flat more responsive.
4. I don’t run trails too often, and those that I do run tend not to be very technical. I generally like a trail shoe that can handle mixed road and trail routes, and big lugs aren’t necessary for most of what I run. I also tend to use trail shoes often in the winter when conditions warrant (e.g., crusty ice and snow), so grip is helpful. I like a firmish midsole on trails, but not so firm that a shoe feels harsh on stretches of road.
Let’s move on to the top shoes! The list below is in no particular order, it just includes the shoes that I had the best experiences with in 2014. None are 100% perfect, and in each summary I point out pros and cons where warranted.
1. Saucony Kinvara 5
I have been a Kinvara fan since v1, but version 4 was a bust due to a poor fit in the forefoot. Saucony remedied the issue in version 5 and my old favorite was back in top form (my Kinvara 5 review here). I love the Kinvara because it’s affordable, light, and provides a softish ride that is a great match for my stride. It’s not a shoe I’d choose for speed, but for me it’s the perfect shoe for long or easy miles. The only issue I had with the K5 was a hot spot under my big toe on the first few runs, but that seemed to alleviate with further use. Great shoe, and glad to see it return to my top shoe list! Purchase at Running Warehouse or Wiggle (UK).
2. Asics Hyper Speed 6
I’d call the Asics Hyper Speed 6 the best buy of the year (my review here). At an MSRP of $85 it’s quite a bargain, and can be found on-line much cheaper at a variety of retailers (I like inexpensive shoes!). In my Hyper Speed 6 review I ranked it right up there with the New Balance 1400v2 and adidas adios Boost, and I think those are both reasonable comparisons. The Hyperspeed has a softish heel, firm forefoot, and weighs in at under 6oz – great shoe for speedy runs where you want a bit more cushion than a typical flat will provide. The Hyper Speed would be ideal as a half-marathon racer for me, and might even work for a full. I also love the upper of the shoe, and it offers a roomy forefoot fit for a racing shoe. If I was pressed to choose my all-around top road shoe of the year, this might be it. Purchase at Running Warehouse or Wiggle (UK).
3. Skechers GoRun 4
Given that the GoRun 4 is a pretty significant update from top to bottom (my review here), I was worried that Skechers might ruin a shoe that I loved. Instead, they produced what is in my opinion the best version of the shoe to date, and I fell in love with the GoRun 4 on my first run in it. Softish sole, good flexibility, and a perfect fit for my foot – pretty much ticked all of my boxes. I could do without the Quick-Fit portal on the heel tab, and the upper mesh isn’t the most breathable, but in all other respects the GR4 is a great match for me. And like the Kinvara and Hyperspeed above, the GR4 is affordable at an MSRP of $100 (notice a trend here?). Purchase at Running Warehouse or Shoebuy.
4. Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit
The Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit might be the best Nike Free shoe I have worn (my review here). The Flyknit upper is extremely comfortable, sole flexibilty is fantastic (as with all Free shoes), the forefoot is nice and wide, and the ride is nicely cushioned. My only real problem with the shoe is that I get a bit of pressure on top of my foot with extended wear (my high volume foot acting up again!). It’s generally not a problem while running, moreso when I wear them all day casually (which I do quite often). Great shoe for easy runs. Purchase at Running Warehouse or Wiggle (UK).
5. adidas adios Boost 2
This one is all about the sole (my adios Boost 2 review here). I found the upper/fit of the adios Boost 2 (top shoe in image above) to be a step back from the original (bottom shoe in image above) – tighter fit up front and a not as comfortable. However, the adios Boost 2 retains one of the best soles on the market. The Boost midsole material shines under the heel by providing a forgiving ride, and the forefoot is firm enough to provide more than enough responsiveness. I used the adios Boost 2 for everything from track workouts to long runs, and it may be one of the more versatile shoes in my arsenal. Improve the upper and reduce the price a bit and this might be one of the best shoes on the market. Purchase at Running Warehouse or Wiggle (UK).
6. Pearl Izumi EM Road N0
The Pearl Izumi EM Road N0 is a no-frills racing flat that impressed me quite a bit (my review here). I love the simplicity of the shoe, the ride is firm and responsive, and it fits my foot like a glove. It’s unfortunately named as I think some people expected N0 to imply that it’s zero drop – it’s not (I measured 6mm drop). I also think the shoe looks great. An all-around good choice if you’re in the market for a shoe for racing or speedwork. Purchase at Running Warehouse.
7. Salomon Sense Pro
I only tried a few trail shoes this year (see David Henry’s roundup of the best trail shoes of 2014 for more), and the Sense Pro was my favorite (view my Sense Pro review here). At first I thought the fit was too narrow, but they broke in well and I grew to really like the performance-like fit. They feel kind of like a racing flat for the trails. Lugs are not huge so they also handle bits of road adequately. I also like the Sense Ultra, but given the price difference I’d opt for the Pro between the two since the shoes are pretty similar. Purchase at Running Warehouse.
Altra The One 2 – This was the first Altra shoe I have tried that offered a sufficiently forgiving and flexible ride for longer miles on roads. I enjoyed the pairing of a softer sole with the wide Altra toe box, but I’m still not sure how crazy I am about the bowling-shoe style upper (I go back and forth on it, can’t decide!). Very comfy shoe! Read my review here.
Newton Kismet/Fate – I lump the Kismet and Fate together because they are basically the same shoe, with the Kismet having just a bit more girth in the sole at the midfoot for added “stability” (not sure it does much of anything). I like the 5-lug platform that Newton now uses – it makes for less medial-lateral roll than the old 4-lug platform. I don’t see much reason to spend $50 more for the top-line Newton shoes like the Gravity/Motion when the Kismet/Fate run so similarly at a lower price point. Read my Newton Kismet review here (I never reviewed the Fate because they are so similar).
I should have a reader survey of favorite shoes posted soon, but if you’d like to share your personal favorites in a comment please feel free to do so!
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