After getting blisters more often than not when running in my beloved Nike Free shoes I had a look at their mileage … and lo and behold, they seemed to be well past prime time. With some new shoes in the house, this serves as a good opportunity to give you an overview of past and current choices.
I am of firm belief that every runner needs to find their own best fit when it comes to shoes. While it is easy to recommend technical items like running watches, fuel belts, etc., shoes just don’t work this way. So please, look at this as a list of shoes I’ve tried. If some of the pros and cons I list for a shoe ring a bell, by all means go to a good shop and try them on, but don’t blame me if you can’t run with them. You have been warned. Also, for your convenience I’ve added links to Amazon.com and Amazon.de in case you want to buy online. Those are affiliate links, see the note at the end of this post.
With that, let’s start with the early days.
Asics Cumulus 12
This is the shoe that carried me through the first two years of my running comeback. I bought these in the beginning of 2010 after deciding to get back to running. I went to a local sport shop and was helped by a friendly clerk, who asked me about my running volume (not much at that time), preferences to trail or street (mostly street, as is still the case) and any potential orthopedic issues (told him about my lingering knee problems). He came back with two models, one of which being the ASICS Cumulus 12 (can’t remember the other one). Back in my triathlon days I had ASICS as well, so I tried the Cumulus first, went onto the treadmill for a few steps (including videotaping said steps) and loved the shoe. Sold.
Mind you, I was still a heel-striker back then. So what’s to like about the Cumulus 12? I found it to be very stable and comfortable while at the same time light enough considering the amount of cushion it has. Also, it is a really durable shoe; I’ve had it for over two years and it didn’t wear in any unusual way. Of course, once I tried to run with a forefoot strike, I noticed that the stability, especially in the front, got into the way and I needed something more flexible. So, if you’re not a heel striker, don’t go for this shoe.
Nike Free 3.0
This shoe carried me through most of 2011 and 2012. After transitioning to a forefoot strike I noticed that me feet, especially my toes, needed more flexibility to “feel” the ground. So off I went again to buy new shoes. There wasn’t much choice for “natural” running shoes (and I didn’t know a lot about it, either), but thankfully the clerk showed me the Nike Free 3.0. Ahh, what a revelation. I tried them on the treadmill and knew that these shoes would support my new stride.
What’s to like? The Nike Free 3.0 is super flexible, especially in the front. You can easily bend the front of the shoe all the way back. It also has very little drop towards the back, which helped me concentrate on a forefoot landing. And, thanks to the light mesh, the toes have a lot of wiggle room. Feels odd at first, but I soon started to feel confined in the ASICS in comparison.
What’s not to like? Well, I often felt like wearing a fashion statement rather than true running shoes. The design is in my opinion not very running like and this fact isn’t helped by their shape. Another thing I noticed during winter training is that the structure of the soles are prone to collect gravel. The occasional stone caught in a slot of the sole isn’t noticeable, but I’ve had runs where I felt the amount of gravel through the sole and so had to clean the shoes before the next run.
However, I think this is a very good shoe to support your transition from heel strike to forefoot strike. Once you’ve got the hang of it, though, you’re likely to move on to even more minimal shoes.
Adidas Adipure Trainer 360
After saying goodbye to the ASICS, I figured I needed a new pair of shoes to spread the load and have some shoe rotation going on again. This time I knew what to ask for in the shop and tried several different pairs of minimal running shoes. The Adipure Tr360 wasn’t my first choice, but – for whatever reason – all the others didn’t feel right (amongst them the very same Merrell Flux Glove that I bought in May this year).
What’s to like? In comparison to the Nike Free, this shoe does more look like a regular running shoe, while still being sold in the “minimal” section in the shop. It has a snug fit and is pretty flexible at the same time.
What’s not to like? Wet feet. These shoes are for dry streets only, or else: wet feet. See, part of the flexibility of this shoe comes from the special design of the sole, which has gaps in it. These gaps however have no protection towards the inner mesh. Therefore, one step into a puddle, or snow, or some other wet road and you can immediately feel your socks get wet.
On hindsight, this shoe is also the heaviest of my three current pairs (464g), but I didn’t know that when I bought them. All in all, the Adidas will probably be the least used shoe in the rotation, since I won’t be running fast or long runs with it (too heavy on the feet), nor will I run on wet streets with it (and wet streets we have a lot, this year).
Merrell Flux Glove Sport
The newest addition to my shoe family (together with the NB Minimus, below). I bought these the day after my 10km race, since I finished this race again with pretty big blisters and figured it was about time to say goodbye to the Nikes. I was hesitant to try them on, since they didn’t fit the last time I tried them (back when I bought the Adidas). However, this time I felt in heaven. Fit like a sock, light-weight, and most important, direct feedback from the ground to the feet. As I quickly found out during my first runs with the Merrells, you really feel even small gravel on the road, but not in a negative, hurting, way, but in a positive, your feet know what’s going on, way.
What’s to like? After running a couple of kilometers in them, I’m still happy I bought these. They are and feel super light (378g), the nonexistent drop helps my stride immensely and the sole is closed, which means wet roads aren’t that much of a problem (you’ll probably still get wet feet due to the upper mesh, but that holds true for all running shoes that I know).
What’s not to like? For me as of today? Nothing. They aren’t even that pricey compared to other shoes in that league.
New Balance Minimus Road 10
Bought together with the Merrell, since quite frankly, I couldn’t decide between the two shoes. I even wore a Merrell on the left and a NB on the right foot and went onto the treadmill, but couldn’t feel any real, deciding difference. The New Balance MR10 also fit like a sock (they are even advertised as barefoot friendly, so in theory you could wear them without socks; haven’t tried that yet, though), are light-weight (384g) and also have a great flexible sole which gives good feedback to your feet.
What’s to like? After about 35km in them? Everything. I’m glad that I didn’t decide for either one of those two (Merrell vs. NB) but bought both of them. I’ll happily rotate shoes, with these two being my favorites.
What’s not to like? Well, there is one thing, and that is: Wet feet. While not as bad as with the Adidas, the sole structure of the NB has also small gaps which leave the inner mesh exposed to the outside weather. For a rainy day with really wet roads you’d end up with wet feet for sure. For a dried-up street with small stretches of wetness left you will probably be fine.
All in all, I like this shoe as much as the Merrell.
I mentioned the different weights throughout the post and figured I’d quickly give prove of that. I did a weigh-in with my highly scientific kitchen scale of all current shoes (the Nike was already gone at the time, plus it probably left a lot of rubber on the street, which would result in an unfair advantage).
With three shoes in the rotation I think I’m well equipped for at least another 1500-2000km. I secretly hope that by the time I have to re-buy running shoes, NB and Merrell will still make these shoes to that I can just buy them and never try another brand again.
I hope you found this shoe overview helpful. I’m curious, though: What’s your favorite running shoe?