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To many treadmill jockeys, owning multiple pairs of running shoes may seem like pretentious overkill — akin to the mediocre pool player who shows up to the billiards hall with his own cue in a black case. But here’s the thing: if you’re even the smallest bit more serious about your running regimen than those workaday joggers, a regular sneaker rotation is the smarter play over the long run.
Just ask Mario Fraioli, running coach and founder of the newsletter and podcast The Morning Shakeout. “Rotating your running shoes can actually help them last longer,” he says, “allowing the midsole foam ample time to fully rebound between runs.” A similar logic applies to your feet. Not unlike how switching up weight training workouts hits your muscles in new ways, different shoes stress your feet differently, which can keep them fresher — and make them stronger.
[Go read our guide to the best running shoes available in 2021.]
There’s a mental benefit, too. “Wearing different shoes for different types of runs can help put you in the right mindset for the specific task at hand,” Fraioli says. “When I pull out my lightweight trainers for speedwork, I know I need to focus because there’s a tough workout on tap, whereas sliding on my heavier everyday trainers for an easy run puts me in a more mellow, relaxed mindset.”
So how many shoes are ideal? Fraioli recommends three: one pair for speed days, another for easy recovery days, and a third for tempo runs — those sustained, near-max efforts that make your body better at moving blood and oxygen.
Granted, springing for three pairs of shoes at once can feel like a big hit to your wallet. But considering the fact they should last at least three times as long as a single jack-of-all-trades pair, while also making you a better, healthier runner, the question you should really be asking yourself is, Can I afford not to begin a little rotation?
Slow and Steady
Nike’s latest injury-prevention shoe features the same foam as the brand’s record-breaking Alphafly NEXT% and a sole that expands out beyond a normal footprint, particularly at the heels and the balls of the feet. That makes for a stable, supportive base that’ll help your feet tread safely and smoothly, mile after mile.
The fact that Ultraboosts are already beloved doesn’t stop the brand from trying to make them a little better each year. The first major 2021 upgrade is six percent more Boost foam, the shoe’s bouncy, not-at-all-secret secret ingredient. The second is Linear Energy Push (LEP), an insert between the midsole and outsole that mimics the springy return provided by carbon plates in racing shoes.
Up the Tempo
The original Carbon X was the first shoe with an energy-returning carbon plate designed for everyday runners, a distinction that earned it a place in the GP100. Its successor helped Jim Walmsley run the second-fastest 100 kilometers ever, thanks to Hoka’s beloved lightweight foam and an oversized, rockered heel that encourages a rolling stride.
Light, springy, comfortable. The first FuelCell Rebel was one of the shoes of 2019. Thankfully, New Balance didn't mess with a winning formula for this 2021 update. The shoe features a flared midsole design (something it shares with New Balance's 5280 racing flat, which inspired the Rebel), offset medial lacing and mesh upper. It's a smooth, comfortable ride that likes to go fast — no carbon-fiber plate required.
Streamlined to a light and lively 7.8 ounces, Saucony’s quickest shoes pack a bit of stability and a bunch of performance-enhancing prowess. That’s mostly thanks to the brand’s Speedroll tech, an angling of the forefoot ramp that nudges your hip position forward during toe-off for swifter, more powerful strides.
These 8.6-ounce speed demons boast lighter cushioning than their predecessors, plus a new air mesh upper that provides a secure, comfortable and breathable fit. They also feature additional blown rubber in the forefoot to simultaneously speed transitions and increase durability. The price is quite nice, too.