One of the secrets to successful long-distance running is alternating sneakers. You already know you should have a new pair of shoes for race day, in addition to the pair of sneakers you train in, but if you expand on that, you might notice a difference during your speed, tempo and long runs. Whether you’re running your first marathon, your 10th or a shorter distance, “the necessary footwear remains the same,” Jess Movold, Mile High Run Coach, says. “It’s important to identify what this shoe is to you as the runner at the beginning of your training cycle.” Once you have your one base shoe, it’s time to expand your sneaker closet.
Rotating sneakers is a great way to help prevent injury — runner Rachel Coogan of Boston Athletic Association introduced a third pair of sneakers to her training, just this year, and she found it helped heal up a bout of plantar fasciitis. Research backs this up: running in more than one pair of shoes is a preventative protection for your body.
Shoe rotation benefits both your muscles and your shoes. “Just like your body, your running shoes also need time to recover between workouts. When you run, you compress the midsole foam of a shoe, and that foam needs time to rebound between efforts so it can perform as intended,” Mario Fraioli, running coach and founder of the newsletter and podcast The Morning Shakeout, says. Especially as the weather changes, different types of foam react differently to the rising and falling temperatures, so it’s best to continue to give them time to adapt.
“Just as a golfer uses different clubs for different types of shots, a runner can, and should, have different shoes for easy runs, long runs, track workouts, etc.,” Fraioli says. “Long runs mean a lot of time on your feet. A little extra cushion and protection can go a long way in the latter miles of such an effort.” For a track workout, your shoe might not need to provide as much support. “A track workout is usually lower on the volume, but higher in speed and intensity and means you’re running a little more aggressively. Your feet are (or should be) spending less time on the ground. A lightweight trainer or racing flat usually works well for these types of sessions.” You can likely use that same shoe for something like a 5K race or even 10K, depending on the level of support you need. “Tempo runs fall somewhere in the middle: you’re running faster, usually for a bit longer, at speeds that more closely resemble your half marathon or marathon pace, so a lighter to mid-weight shoe that provides more protection than a racing flat, without being as bulky as an everyday trainer, tends to fit the bill,” Fraioli adds.
Rotating sneakers also helps your mental game. “When I pull out my Nike Vaporfly 4%, for example, I know it’s time to go to work,” Fraioli says. “Designating a specific shoe for a particular purpose helps me set up a distinct tone for every run,” Coogan says. “For example, when I lace up my Adidas Adizero Adios Boost, I know it’s time for speed, whether that’s on the track or in a race.”
While it’s not feasible for everyone to have three pairs of sneakers — even just one pair can be expensive to buy — if you can do it, your feet will thank you. “Even just having two in your rotation — one that provides a little more support and protection for long and easy runs, and another lighter weight option for faster workouts — will help each shoe last a little longer, and can go a long way toward keeping you healthy,” Fraioli says.
We polled some real-world runners to get a feel for what their sneaker rotation looks like. Remember, this is exceptionally individualized, but we recommend you use these picks to help you find your perfect trifecta.
Rachel Coogan, Boston Athletic Association Runner
Photo: Emily Maye
With a PR of 2:44 in the marathon, you might be surprised to learn the shoe rotation concept is new for Coogan. “I’ve found physiological and psychological benefits to shoe rotation. After plantar fasciitis sidelined me in the spring, I started rotating between three shoes, adding a ‘recovery day’ shoe.”
“The addition of the third shoe has helped me stay injury-free during my lead-up to the Philadelphia Marathon.” Her race day and speed day pick is the Adidas Adizero Adios Boost — “a minimal shoe designed for speed,” Coogan says. For long runs and tempo days, she’ll swap in the Adidas Adizero Boston Boost, “a great utility shoe.” And then for recovery days, she’ll pick up the Hoka One One Clifton 5, a maximum cushion, minimum weight shoe.
Sam Roecker, Tracksmith Runner
Photo: Emily Maye
Sam Roecker is on her feet all day long as a nurse, and then goes out and logs her miles. The Philadephia-based runner alternates between New Balances and Hoka One Ones. “I’ve been training in New Balance since college and have always loved the 880s. I typically have at least one pair in my rotation. As a marathoner, I steer clear of flats, but will occasionally use the New Balance 1500s for track workouts, and I have been racing in the Vazee Pace since 2017. I find Hokas to be super comfortable to wear to work and provide the support that I need, yet also serve a purpose when I leave directly from work to go for a run.”
Jeanne Mack, NYC Runner
Photo: Emily Maye
“As I prepped for the Chicago marathon, I used upwards of six different pairs of shoes throughout the five months. I felt like Goldilocks at times, but I believe the mixing up of footwear weekly, if not daily, was instrumental in keeping injuries at bay.” She began running in Asics GEL-Nimbus 19s, “it was the most structured, supportive and comfortable,” and for her first few weeks of training, she only ran in those. After that she transitioned into Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34 and then the 35, slowly alternating with another pair of Asics (the GEL-Nimbus 20) after logging close to 400 miles on the 19s. Her race day shoe was initially the Nike Zoom Fly, but after some issues with her Achilles and heel, she swapped to the Nike Zoom Fly SP and had no blister issues at all.
Mario Fraioli, Coach
Photo: Justin Britton
Fraioli picks up the Hoka Clifton for easy runs and long runs — “I love this shoe because it provides a ton of cushion in a lightweight package. I can put them on and go in cruise control.” For tempo days, he’ll put on the Nike Vaporfly 4%. “This is my go-to shoe for my long tempo runs and half-marathon and marathon races. It’s lightweight and responsive, but provides plenty of protection for the last miles when fatigue sets in and my mechanics start to get a little sloppy.” And then, for days when he hits the track and logs speed workouts, the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante works well. “I love this shoe for its versatility. Whether it’s a track workout, fartlek session or shorter tempo run, the Zante has served me well. It has got enough substance to it to protect my feet, but it’s lightweight, low to the ground and responsive enough for various types of speed workouts.”
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