Runner’s World Shoe Guide: Autumn/Winter 2015

Asics Gel Cumulus 17

‘It’s a good, stable shoe but nothing out of the ordinary,’ said tester Kirsty Hewitson, and that’s a good way to sum up the latest version of this long-standing favourite, a mid-to-high-end shoe for neutral runners and supinators. It’s extremely cushioned – putting your feet in these is like stepping into a bowl of marshmallows – so if you prefer a firmer ride, this is not the shoe for you; and the wide heel section and firm crash pad make for a reliable experience on the run. However, this comes at the cost of weight: the Cumulus 17 was one of the heaviest shoes on test, which isn’t necessarily bad but does put it in the ‘traditional running shoe’ camp. On the downside the laces come up a little short (a bafflingly common problem with the Cumulus) and the forefoot fit is on the narrow side in the toebox.

Bottom line: Soft and reliable

Heel cushioning: Extremely soft

Forefoot cushioning: Very soft

Flexibility: Extremely stiff

Weight: 323g (M), 263g (W)

Height: 35.9mm (heel), 26.4mm (forefoot)

Asics Gel Pulse 7

This narrowly lost out to the Nike LunarGlide for the Best Buy award. It’s cheaper and, for the most part, performed well in tests, but a couple of issues held it back. It’s a fairly simplistic design and a few testers said it felt ‘boxy’. However, the cushioning is impressive and Asics has introduced a few new features since the previous iteration: some weight has been dropped – mostly due to the use of a lighter, bouncier midsole foam – and a guidance groove running the length of the outsole helps to promote a smooth transition, both of which are noticeable. But the heel fit was variable and we had a few reports of rubbing, while the forefoot rubber degraded quickly and the midfoot section didn’t hold the foot in place properly when cornering.

Bottom line: Sturdy, unspectacular and good value for money

Heel cushioning: Extremely soft

Forefoot cushioning: Extremely soft

Flexibility: Extremely stiff

Weight: 329g (M), 260g (W)

Height: 38mm (heel), 27mm (forefoot)

Brooks Aduro 3

Based on the basic shoe outline of the Brooks Ghost, this is an entry-level, almost budget-option shoe that has been created especially for the European market. Aimed at neutral runners, it does the basics well, offering few bells and whistles. It was one of the more cushioned shoes tested in the RW Shoe Lab and, in fact, some testers thought this came at the expense of ground feel. In the same way, the 11mm heel-to-toe drop felt almost old school in the current climate of responsive, low-to-the-ground models. It’s worth stressing that these aren’t bad things, merely a matter of taste. The fit through the midfoot was variable, but the wide toebox and Brooks’s addition of DNA cushioning in the heel were extremely popular with testers.

Bottom line: A capable workhorse at a reasonable price

Heel cushioning: Extremely soft

Forefoot cushioning: Quite soft

Flexibility: Quite stiff

Weight: 297g (M), 252g (W)

Height: 35mm (heel), 24mm (forefoot)

Brooks Ghost 8

WINNER: EDITOR’S CHOICE

One of the reasons this shoe won our top gong is that, apart from the superb technical capabilities, several testers noted how much they simply ‘enjoyed the shoe’. All the component parts – the superb cushioning, flexible upper, snug fi t, good weight and breathability – came together to provide a shoe that’s just fun to run in. One of the biggest innovations would be quite easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it: the upper has been re-engineered to be thicker and more supportive in some areas and less constrictive in others, limiting rubbing hot spots. Runners heavy and light praised the responsiveness and feel, and despite the 12mm heel drop and the extension of the crash pad along the length of the shoe, the Ghost was fast and flexible enough to be used as a multipurpose shoe.

Bottom line: Stabled, cushioned, comfy

Heel cushioning: Quite soft

Forefoot cushioning: Quite soft

Flexibility: Extremely stiff

Weight: 309g (M), 241g (W)

Height: 35mm (heel), 23mm (forefoot)

Brooks Glycerin 13

It can be tricky to keep evolving a shoe that your customers already love, which is why Brooks deserves praise for making some sensible tweaks to the Glycerin without throwing the baby out with the bath water. This premium neutral shoe still offers the uber-soft, superbly cushioned but responsive ride that its fans have come to expect, but there’s now a retouched upper, which moves better with your foot, keeping it in place without restricting movement, while the longitudinal grooves in the midsole have been deepened to improve fl exibility, help reduce shock and quicken the heel-to-toe transition so your foot spends less time on the ground. In fact, the Glycerin came out as the most flexible shoe tested for this guide by the Runner’s World lab in Oregon.

Bottom line: Plush and pillowy

Heel cushioning: Quite soft

Forefoot cushioning: Very soft

Flexibility: Very flexible

Weight: 313g (M), 253g (W)

Height: 35mm (heel), 25mm (forefoot)

Hoka One One Constant

The latest from the market leader in maximal shoes, Hoka’s Constant model is very light for a shoe that offers such stability. Instead of inserting a medial post, Hoka has simply created a last (basic shoe outline) that, width-wise, is flat, wide, chunky and difficult to overpronate on. From heel to toe the shoe is curved, with the pivot point under the ball of the foot; this is designed to keep the foot on the ground a little longer and provide extra security for those who are looking for a comfortable ride rather than something super-responsive. The results from testers were as you’d expect: lighter speed demons didn’t approve but steady overpronators couldn’t get enough of planting their foot down and knowing the shoe would take care of the rest.

Bottom line: Lightweight but with reassuring levels of stability

Heel cushioning: Very soft

Forefoot cushioning: Extremely soft

Flexibility: Extremely stiff

Weight: 292g (M), 255g (W)

Height: 37mm (heel), 34mm (forefoot)

Mizuno Wave Enigma 5

This is a triumphant update for a top-of-the-range neutral shoe. Mizuno has significantly overhauled this model and it’s all for the better: the wave plate in the heel (a plastic insert that helps to dissipate shock) has been joined by a U-shaped version in the forefoot, underneath which Mizuno has added it softest forefoot foam. The result is a level of bounce and cushioning that rated among the highest ever tested in our lab. Elsewhere, the toebox has been widened, the outsole on the forefoot is flared for greater stability, and the upper has been revamped so that not only does it give a snugger midfoot wrap but it flexes and bends with your foot. Meanwhile the sockliner is plusher, as is the foam around the ankle collar, which has been increased by 2mm. Our testers loved it all.

Bottom line: Heel-striking heaven

Heel cushioning: Extremely soft

Forefoot cushioning: Very soft

Flexibility: Very stiff

Weight: 312g (M), 256g (W)

Height: 38.2mm (heel), 25.7mm (forefoot)

Mizuno Wave Sayonara 3

Opinions on this one depended on whether the tester was a lighter or heavier runner. Although it has been designed as a mass-appeal shoe that’s speedy but stable, our feedback showed that smaller, lighter runners found it just a little too boxy and wide in the forefoot for their liking, while heavier runners loved the mix of low weight, responsiveness and cushioning, which they didn’t think was possible for people of their build. Updates to the latest version include blown rubber in the outsole for a softer ride (although two testers noticed some degeneration after 100 miles), the mesh has been widened for greater ventilation and some overlays have been removed to cut down on weight.

Bottom line: Lightweight cushioning, a great race-day option for heavier runners

Heel cushioning: Quite soft

Forefoot cushioning: Quite firm

Flexibility: Neither very flexible nor very stiff

Weight: 258g (M), 207g (W)

Height: 32mm (heel), 23mm (forefoot)

Mizuno Wave Ultima 7

WINNER: BEST UPDATE

If ever there was a shoe that demonstrates why running companies have moved away from categorising their products as ‘neutral’, ‘stability’ and so on, the Ultima 7 is it. The feedback showed that this was all things to all runners – which will be music to Mizuno’s ears, as the company intended it as a shoe to ‘provide maximum cushioning for the neutral runner covering medium distances.’ The changes that Mizuno has made were met with much acclaim: beefed-up midsole cushioning that’s bouncier but lighter; a more luxurious foam around the ankle collar; a thicker outsole made from blown rubber, which is springier than the carbon rubber normally used; a lighter, more breathable mesh upper; plusher sockliner and an improved midfoot fit; all came into play to give a ride that mixed speed with comfort.

Bottom line: A light, multitasking dream

Heel cushioning: Extremely soft

Forefoot cushioning: Extremely soft

Flexibility: Extremely stiff

Weight: 290g (M), 220g (W)

Height: 25mm (heel), 13mm (forefoot)

New Balance Vazee Pace

If the running-shoe industry was still splitting its products into categories (a system that’s increasingly obsolete as the distinguishing characteristics between models become increasingly blurred), this would definitely go in the minimalist section. It’s extremely light – the heel drop is only 6mm, giving a low-to-the-ground feel, and the midsole cushioning looks like it’s been stripped down. In fact, it’s New Balance’s Revlite foam, which gives more bounce for less weight. While the toe spring (or upturn) is quite high, the midfoot section has been stiffened a little, meaning it’s suitable for speed sessions or long, steady runs. Testers loved the slim fit and heel cushioning but some thought it needed more in the forefoot, which felt thin and a little unresponsive.

Bottom line: Run fast, run long or do both to your heart’s content

Heel cushioning: Neither very firm nor very soft

Forefoot cushioning: Quite firm

Flexibility: Extremely stiff

Weight: 230g (M), 188g (W)

Height: 26.2mm (heel), 20mm (forefoot)

Nike Air Zoom Elite 8

Something of a rarity these days: a Nike shoe that falls into the ‘average’ category. That being said, the Air Zoom Elite 8 still has plenty to recommend it. It’s designed as a lightweight, high-mileage shoe for neutral runners; we found the combination of weight, comfort and security just right and the asymmetrical lacing helped keep the foot secure without pinching across the top. Durability was excellent, as was the mix of breathability and weather protection from the mesh. However, what the shoe gained in cushioning it lost in flexibility and responsiveness, with testers reporting that it felt ‘clumpy’ and some found it difficult to pick up their feet quickly through the gait cycle. A shoe with potential, but there’s some room for improvement.

Bottom line: This is a good option for long Sunday runs

Heel cushioning: Neither very firm nor very stiff

Forefoot cushioning: Very soft

Flexibility: Quite stiff

Weight: 281g (M), 232g (W)

Height: 31mm (heel), 23mm (forefoot)

Nike Free Flyknit 4.0

RW Editor Andy Dixon was one of the testers for this shoe and his summary reflects the views of others: ‘A lightweight, stripped-down, flexible shoe that really just offers a line of cushioning between your foot and the floor. It doesn’t intrude, correct or get in the way.’ The whole Free range of shoes has had an upgrade: the previous waffle design on the outsole has been switched for a hexagonal groove pattern that allows your foot to move even more freely, while the Flyknit upper has been revamped. It’s now formed of two pieces as opposed to the single-piece ‘sock’ of the previous version – it’s less compressive but still hugs the foot securely for a personalised fit. This is a fantastic option for speed training and short races up to 10K.

Bottom line: A shoe that feels like a super-speedy second skin

Heel cushioning: Quite firm

Forefoot cushioning: Quite firm

Flexibility: Very flexible Weight: 216g (M), 172g (W)

Height: 26.5mm (heel), 19mm (forefoot)

Nike LunarGlide 7

WINNER: BEST BUY

It’s increasingly difficult to find true value in a running shoe for under £100, but what you can do is look for bang for your buck, and this seventh version of Nike’s support shoe in the Lunar range gives just that. For the first time the LunarGlide has Nike’s Flyknit upper – a material made from a woven knit-look mesh to give a closer, more flexible fit. The weave is denser in some parts than others to provide support in vital areas, such as around the heel. This, coupled with fi ve Flywire overlays in the midfoot, helps to give a personalised fit. A two-piece, dual-density support wedge in the heel gives excellent anti-pronation support – the more you overpronate the more it supports you – while the outsole has denser rubber in key strike zones for extra durability.

Bottom line: Solid option for overpronators

Heel cushioning: Neither very firm nor very soft

Forefoot cushioning: Very soft

Flexibility: Quite stiff

Weight: 266g (M), 213g (W)

Height: 33.5mm (heel), 23.4mm (forefoot)

On Running Cloudcruiser

This is the latest offering in On Running’s range of unusual-looking shoes – the unique outsole pods are designed to squish down on impact, lock together and then spring apart to help push your foot back off the floor as you move forward. The company has paid even more attention to this feature on the Cruiser, as the shoe is designed as a long-distance training model. The level of cushioning is good and the firmness of the ride depends on your weight – the lighter you are, the more the pods will spring back and the softer the feel. One feature our testers particularly noticed was the laces – they pull the whole of the shoe’s midfoot – rather than just the top section – closer around your foot, giving a snug fit without creating pressure points.

Bottom line: Personalised shock absorption for everyone

Heel cushioning: Quite soft

Forefoot cushioning: Very firm

Flexibility: Extremely stiff

Weight: 307g (M), 250g (W)

Height: 36.4mm (heel), 24.7mm (forefoot)

Saucony Kinvara 6

Since the Kinvara was introduced it’s been Saucony’s bestselling shoe, and with good reason: the mix of fantastic responsiveness, quick heel-to-toe transition, superb cushioning, low weight and lateral stability have made it a firm favourite for runners of almost all shapes and sizes. Unless you’re a heavy runner who needs a lot of overpronation control, the chances are this shoe will do the business, whether you’re transitioning to a more stripped-down style, speed training or looking for reliability at a low weight. The only reason this wasn’t in contention for an award is that we felt Saucony hadn’t changed enough to justify consideration (a slightly wider mesh and a couple of repositioned overlays were the only tweaks), but it remains a fantastic shoe.

Bottom line: The perfect companion for half-marathon glory

Heel cushioning: Very soft

Forefoot cushioning: Extremely soft

Flexibility: Quite stiff

Weight: 222g (M), 183g (W)

Height: 27.9mm (heel), 22.8mm (forefoot)

Saucony Redeemer ISO

It came as no surprise that this was the heaviest and least flexible shoe tested in the RW lab (the women’s version was the only one to weigh in at over 300g) – it’s a monster, with your heel sitting a whopping four centimetres off the ground, a large medial post providing excellent support for severe overpronators and a very chunky midsole foam that came out as the most cushioned on test. The Redeemer is so built up that it goes beyond the traditional motion control of, say, a Brooks Beast and would sit instead in a maximal-shoe category, were we to have one. It’s a niche offering, best suited only to those who really need the heft and guidance it offers, but those who do fall into that group absolutely loved running in it.

Bottom line: Firm, strong and super-supportive

Heel cushioning: Extremely soft

Forefoot cushioning: Extremely soft

Flexibility: Extremely stiff

Weight: 359g (M), 303g (W)

Height: 40mm (heel), 32mm (forefoot)

Saucony Ride 8

‘The fit and comfort were first class and the first time I went out in them it was like running with two old friends.’ So said tester Steve Davis, and he wasn’t the only one who felt this way. The Ride is Saucony’s offering for runners who want a secure high-mileage training option that’s still got a bit of a kick to it. Judging by the enthusiasm from almost everyone who wore it, version eight has achieved what it set out to. The cushioning was plush but not too squishy – shock attenuation in the heel was good, as was forefoot flexibility. The ride through the midfoot is a little stiff, which would better suit heavier runners or steady-state training runs, where a quick transition isn’t key. Overall, an excellent shoe that only narrowly missed out on an award.

Bottom line: Pure luxury for high-arched runners

Heel cushioning: Quite soft

Forefoot cushioning: Extremely soft

Flexibility: Quite stiff

Weight: 274g (M), 233g (W)

Height: 33mm (heel), 25mm (forefoot)

Under Armour Speedform Fortis

WINNER: BEST DEBUT

If forefoot flexibility is what you’re after, then look no further. The RW lab scored the Fortis highly in this area, thanks to its deep outsole grooves. As a consequence, our testers loved tackling hills in this shoe. The lab also found it one of the lightest and most cushioned shoes on test, especially in the heel, where the midsole foam proved extremely bouncy and durable – a couple of ultra-running testers found no deterioration in the cushioning after more than 100 miles. The only two small criticisms are that several testers needed to wear longer socks to counteract rubbing from the high-cut collar, and the one-piece knitted mesh upper, while breathable and stretchy, was no match for rain or puddles, so keep these for dry runs.

Bottom line: Long-lasting comfort for distances of 10K and upwards

Heel cushioning: Extremely soft

Forefoot cushioning: Neither very firm nor very soft

Flexibility: Quite stiff

Weight: 246g (M), 203g (W)

Height: 31mm (heel), 20mm (forefoot)