(The Gear Loop) - From controversial carbon plates, to explosive super foams and ultra lightweight uppers, running shoe technology has propelled the sport to a new level. Records have fallen on track, trails and Tarmac with such regularity that it even forced the World Athletics Association to change its rules on what constitutes a race legal shoe.
But the new wave of super shoes doesn't only promise performance enhancements for elite athletes. Regular runners can also benefit from the magic combination of minimal uppers, a high stack of lightweight but highly responsive super foam and those spring-like load-and-release plates that assist with a more explosive running gait.
However, with most carbon fibre racers topping the £200/$200/€200 mark, you'll pay a high price for being at the bleeding edge of running tech. But if the budget stretches and you're serious about those marginal gains, here are the best high-performance running shoes you can buy right now.
The best high tech running shoes
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%
- Record-breaking shoe
- Explosive running performance
- Tight squeeze for wider feet
- Not very stable
When Eliud Kipchoge wore a version of Nike’s flagship carbon racers to break the sub-two-hour marathon barrier, it guaranteed this high-stacked speedster a place in the history books.
Despite stiffer competition, it's still the most effective running shoe ever made for chasing marathon personal bests. They pack a winning combination of PEBA ZoomX midsole foam (a mighty wedge at that), a high-sprung carbon plate and AirZoom Airpods in the forefoot for extra power and propulsion when you push off.
The knitted uppers provide just enough support, though the booty-style tongueless uppers can be a squeeze for wider, taller feet. Some runners find the ride a little more clunky than the Vaporfly, so don’t expect stability on tight corners.
They also lack a little forgiveness, so if fatigue wrecks your form deep into a marathon PB hunt, there's nowhere to hide in these.
Saucony Endorphin Speed 2
- Really versatile
- Very stable
- Great cushioning
- No carbon plate
The only shoe on our list without a carbon plate, the Speed 2 packs a nylon plate instead. That means you don't quite get the kick you’ll find in the other carbon plate-super foam combos.
However, there's still plenty of performance boosting benefit from the big stack of high-responding PWRRUN PB foam - the same midsole material you find in Saucony's carbon plate Endorphin Pro 2.
The Speed 2's added stability makes this a much more versatile training and racing option than its carbon cousin.
In fact, if you could only buy one shoe and wanted something with the range to cover everything from slower, easy miles right up to all-out interval sessions, this shoe does the lot and does it very well indeed.
Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 2
- Stripped back desig
- Amazing midsole
- More geared towards racing
Like Nike's leading carbon shoes, the second-generation Adios Pro 2 has helped elite runners score podium places and toppled the odd record.
It's a fairly stripped back racer with very lightweight, minimal uppers but the real magic happens in the midsole where you'll find a high stack of Lightstrike Pro foam and a set of claw-like carbon rods that splay outwards to place one under each toe and give more controlled push off power.
The toe box is noticeably roomier - an improvement on the original Adios Pro - and makes this an excellent racer for distances up to the marathon.
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2
- Carbon plate
- Super light
- Ultimate racing shoe
- You'll pay for the privilege
Look around at the start of any major city half or full marathon and you'll see a sea of Vaporflys. Despite the Alphafly’s obvious performance credentials, this latest spin on Nike's original carbon plate racer is still hugely popular.
It features similar tech to the Nike Alphafly with ZoomX foam midsole, a foot-long carbon plate and a stripped back weight saving upper, combining to create one of the punchiest, most responsive rides going.
But as carbon shoes go - and particularly compared to Alphafly - the lighter foot feel makes for a little more natural run with more stability too. Dare we say it, but these would make an excellent - if a tad expensive - all-round running shoe for those regularly racking up the miles.
ASICS Metaspeed Sky
- Plush, soft landings
- Explosive push-offs
- Looks cumbersome
It's taken ASICS a while to join the world of carbon racing shoes' leading pack but its first high-tech speed machine features a full foot-long carbon plate that propels it right up there with the best.
Though the plate takes the headlines, that impressive performance is actually thanks to a brand-new nylon-based FF Blast Turbo foam that offers a killer combination of soft landings and explosive push offs in a shoe that's designed to increase your stride length when racing.
It's a shade more stable than some high-stacked racers and the lightweight mesh uppers also offer decent space for wider feet. If you're smashing round tight urban streets, the grippy rubber outsoles are great, too.
What to look for in a pair of running shoes
Get a good fit
Don’t make the mistake of buying a running shoe for its looks, because that will only lead to an ill-fitting shoe and a painful run. Work out how wide your feet are and select a shoe with a roomy toe box, so it doesn’t pinch.
The same goes for the back of the shoe - at the ankle collar - as you’ll need some good padding here to reduce impact on the achilles tendon, and make sure it doesn’t slip or rub when running.
Cushion the impact
This is arguably the most important consideration, as it is best to balance cushioning, stability and the amount of feel for the ground you get underfoot. Some shoes go wild with heel cushioning, often making the running experience feel a bit unstable.
These typically require solid running form to get the most out of, so sometimes it is good practice to give up a little cushioning for greater stability and ground feel.
Heel-toe drop and general shape
Again, every shoe is different and the height between your heel and the ball of your foot will vary massively depending on the design and intended use.
Above all else, try and get a sense of how the shoe feels by trying it on and running a few steps in it, even if it’s only indoors. Extreme designs can completely alter running strides for some people, so it’s worth getting this right.