The best running shoes to buy on a budget

In 1960, Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila raced through the streets of Rome to win one of the most memorable Olympic marathons in history. The slim 28-year-old crossed the finish line in two hours, 15 minutes and 16 seconds to become Africa’s first Olympic gold medalist and new world record holder. Even more impressive: He did it barefoot.

Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia crossed the finish line in two hours, 15 minutes and 16 seconds to become Africa’s first Olympic gold medalist and new world record holder.The Associated Press

Bikila’s stunning, likely blistering performance has never been repeated (not even by him: Bikila wore shoes at the next Olympic marathon in Tokyo in 1964). Except for a few fads, barefoot running has steadily gone out of fashion since the legendary marathon runner’s victory, and then all but disappeared five years ago with the advent of a new, paradigm-shifting footwear technology.

According to the story, Bikila got used to walking barefoot because sneakers were too expensive. The majority of today’s runners can understand it: the widespread improvement in running shoe quality justifies a hefty price hike and runners now need to be careful about how they invest. In general, top brands tend to sell running shoes in three categories: super light racing shoes (super shoes) for around $320, a cushioned version of these racing shoes for training sessions (let’s call them super trainers) for around $250, and then classic carbon Shoes. less training shoes for about $180.

In 2017, Nike released the VaporFly 4%, the first commercially available “super shoe”: a running shoe with a carbon plate and a thick layer of lightweight midsole foam woven together for better energy return and faster finish times. Soon after, Saucony, New Balance and many of Nike’s contemporaries released their own versions of super shoes for racing and training sessions. Since then, multiple studies have shown that they make everyone—including Olympians, weekend warriors, and beginners—several minutes faster in road races from 10Ks to marathons. Bikila’s 1960 world record, for example, would not put him in the world top 500 today.

With major running companies now making high-performance versions of super shoes, super trainers and traditional sneakers, choosing the right tier of shoes has become more important than choosing the right brand. But choosing between multiple tiers of expensive sneakers can get dizzying, especially if your running shoe budget is less than $1,000 per season. To help you make the right decision, I’ll dive deep into the three categories of running shoes and three investment strategies to choose from as you prepare for your fall races. And a note for beginners and casual runners: rest assured you won’t have to break the bank.

Meet the 2022 shoe family

1. The super shoe

The super shoe lets you run the fastest. You could potentially improve your finish time by as much as 5 percent – a huge range in a marathon. But they tend to lose some of their pop after about 200km. As such, it’s best to buy a pair and only keep them for races and important training sessions to maintain your edge for as long as possible.

You might like: Nike ZoomX Vaporfly; Saucony Endorphin Pro; New Balance FuelCell RC Elite 2; Brooks Hyperion Elite 2; Altra Vanish Carbon; On Cloudboom Echo; Puma Deviate Nitro Elite

2. The traditional trainer

The advent of super shoes has made these flagship zero-carbon sneakers seem a bit ordinary, but running in them doesn’t make you a Luddite. Wearing more economical traditional shoes in training can give you a psychological advantage on race day when you switch into your super shoes and feel that extra bounce. However, wearing traditional shoes on race day puts you at a speed disadvantage.

You might like: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39; Saucony Kinvara 13; New Balance 880 V12; Brooks Ghost 14; Altra Provision V6; On cloud boom; Cougar Speed ​​Nitro 2

3. The super trainer

Think of these sneakers as a middle ground between the super shoe and the traditional sneaker, both in terms of performance and price. They tend to boast of midsole foam and a carbon sheet, all wrapped in more padding than the super shoes, adding weight but allowing them to retain their bounce a little longer. Their carbon plate also makes them a popular upgrade from traditional sneakers as they can help the lower legs and feet absorb landing forces and push off the ground. Super trainers are perfect for those long, important training days, as they mimic some of the springy feel of a super shoe, while offering more cushioning and being easy on the wallet.

You might like: Nike Air Zoom Tempo; Saucony Endorphin Speed; New Balance FuelCell Rebel V3; Brooks Hyperion Tempo 2; Altra Vanish Tempo; On Cloudflash; Puma Deviate Nitro 2

Choosing the right buying strategy for you

Now that you know more about the main tiers of running shoes and their price point, it’s time to start building your footwear arsenal for the season. Here are three standard buying strategies:

The standard

Buy shoes of each level and rotate them accordingly: easy runs in the traditional trainer, workouts in the super trainer, races in the super shoe. I recommend this strategy for best results and to get through the season without wearing down your sneakers.

At the beginning of my season I stick to this strategy. To save costs, I always ask sellers if they carry last year’s shoe models. Most brands release new versions of their shoes every year, and earlier versions are often sold at a discount despite feeling similar to their update.

Approx. cost: $800

Just the brackets

Save money by buying a pair of sneakers and a pair of super shoes while forgoing the super trainer. Use the traditional shoe for easy runs and most workouts and break out the super shoe for your two or three most important building and racing workouts. This saves you money, but depending on how much you run, your training shoe may wear out before the end of your build.

Approx. cost: $550

On a budget (great for beginners and casual joggers)

Buy a super trainer and wear it on all your runs, including your race. This tactic doesn’t work well for someone planning to run more than 1,000km in their body, but can work well for beginners who aren’t looking to break the bank.

Approx. Cost: $200-250

Finally, when you walk (or run) to your local sporting goods store to shop for your fall shoes, never forget the most important part of shoe shopping: finding what works for you. Your feet are unique (and probably even different): they might roll inward a bit, ours outward when they land. They may be wide, narrow, with a high or low arch. All of these traits can make you respond better to some shoes than others. So when you land on something you love that keeps you fit and healthy – be it a super shoe, a super trainer or a traditional trainer – stick with it.

Alex Cyr is a Toronto-based writer and runner. As a former varsity conference champion, he’s hoping shoe technology will continue to improve so he can finally beat his old personal bests.

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