There is just an entirely different level of enthusiasm that runners have, when it comes to stepping outside and clocking the miles. Runners need their daily fix, irrespective of whether it is a sweltering summer, a freezing winter or stiff rain. Maybe even the Coronavirus, or COVID-19 scare in India and around the world, wouldn't hold them back. They will not compromise it for anything. But just any shoe cannot become a running shoe. What you need is something that is comfortable, offers good cushioning yet offers the sort of pushback beneath the foot that propels you forward, doesn’t compromise on protecting your foot from the stresses and jarring impacts that running on harder surfaces bring to the table yet also offers the sort of minimalism that makes it an extension of your feet. Oh, and also look good while at it. Chances are, the shoe you have isn’t the ideal running shoe.
What we have here is your guide to the best running shoes that you can buy in India right now, among the ones we have experiences, and some simple tips on what constitutes a good running shoe and what you must look out for when buying the pair that will be your partner for many kilometres ahead. It is truly the time to splurge.
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What does your marathon-spec running shoe need?
To be honest, it isn’t really a complication. Yet, no one size fits all. In reality, the running shoes that you may use for daily running are exactly what you need for marathons too. The ideal running shoe offers great cushioning for those long hours of wearing them, a responsive midsole for regular feedback and the bounce-back that helps as you run along and they should also be lightweight because you don’t want to lug heavy weights around as you try to clock the kilometres.
That being said, the mid-sole cushioning is very important. Footwear companies understand that too, and a lot of money and research hours are being spent trying to achieve and improve on the perfect balance between comfort, responsiveness and longevity. At first glance, the mid-sole cushioning may look fine and same as any other midsole, but remember, it has to hold up to the rigours and stresses that come with long distance running. And all this, while adapting to your preference of cushioning, energy response and grip levels. The upper of the shoe should also allow enough ventilation to keep your feet cool. At the same time, it has to be stiff enough to keep your foot proper locked-in so that roll and the strain that comes with it is minimized. The outsole needs to be robust and should have enough grooves to offer traction even if the surface beneath your feet is changing or inconsistent.
Now that you know what to look for as you go around shopping for the perfect running shoe, here are some top picks that we recommend.
Nothing Like This, if you can find one: Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%
As far as running shoes go, there is nothing that comes close. So much so that rivals are spooked. The Nike Sport Research Lab has spent a lot of time creating a shoe that no one has been able to match, let alone beat. For starters, there is the VaporWeave upper, which is a material lighter than Flyknit and also absorbs far less water. This moisture wicking means the weight remains controlled. The outsole has been redesigned for better forefoot traction, after feedback from athletes including Kipchoge, British distance runner Mo Farah and American long distance runner Shalane Flanagan. The ZoomX mid-sole has also seen significant upgrades, including the reduced offset from 11mm to 8mm which runners believe means better propulsion during foot strides. And not to forget the carbon-fibre plates, that along with condensed and thick midsole provide the sort of forward push that shaves off a few seconds from your lap times. Strava, the global social network for athletes, has said that the median marathon finish time for runners in the Vaporfly Next% was 8.7% faster than runners wearing the next fastest shoe, the Adidas Boston—that’s a lifetime on the track. If you want the benchmark in running shoes, look no further. The costs around Rs19,995.
Underrated brilliance: Puma Hybrid Speed Orbiter
Puma’s Hybrid of the Ignite foam and the NRGY beads have proved, time and again, to be quite underrated. Sitting under your foot is a dual-layer midsole that offers a good amount of energy return as you run, but still retains a good amount of cushioning. The NRGY beads are made of cushioned polyurethane foam, and apart from increasing the tech quotient, they add to the visual appeal too. These run the full length of the shoe, from heel to toe, and you’ll really notice the extra cushioning these offer on a hard surface. This has a 12mm heel to toe drop (also known as offset) which you might take a couple of runs to get used to. The Puma Hybrid Speed Orbiter also gets something known as PROPLATE, which is integrated within this midsole to provide that pushes your toe forward during foot transition. A great option to consider, particularly at this price. These cost around Rs9,099
When the past meets the present: Reebok Zig Kinetica
These are the running shoes from the past, but completely redone for the modern times. You will probably admire the looks for a while, particularly the Sunbaked Orange, Vivid Orange and Black colorway. But there is a lot of substance beyond just the looks. The upper is a complex mix of embedded lines. But it is beneath your foot is where a lot of thought has also gone. The Floatride Fuel midsole builds on the good work that Floatride has done over the years, and improves on the responsiveness that you experience while running. Around the sides of the midsole, acting as a frame, is what Reebok calls the Zig Energy Shell, which has just one job—to hold and return the energy that is released as you run, and help provide the sort of pushback that can be used to propel forward movements. And then there is the Zig Energy Band outsole, which is designed to expand and contract, so that you get a spring-like push forward. These are priced around Rs11,999
Simplicity and precision: Asics GEL Nimbus 22
Asics have really improved on the already very good GEL Nimbus 21 with the even better GEL Nimbus 22. The GEL Nimbus shoes have traditionally be neutral shoes, designed for high mileage. The Gel Nimbus 22 has a 10mm offset. The upper is made from a monofilament mesh which is smoother than before, is more flexible, offers more ventilation than before and is also lighter than what the predecessor offered. The additional room inside becomes apparent as soon as you slide your foot in. This grows up to get the full FlyteFoam experience, complete with 2 millimeters more of the cushioning compared with the predecessor. Asics also says that this now sits closer to the running surface, which allows for quicker and deeper compression as the foot hits the ground. In my experience, the feedback and the bounciness is certainly a notch above what the predecessor offered. These will cost you around Rs 13,999.
Total smartness: UA Hovr Phantom RN
Now this is one brilliant looking shoe. To be very honest, I am quite liking what Under Armour have done over the past year or so with their running shoes. You will immediately notice the knit ankle collar provides a snug and bootie-like fit. If you like high collar shoes, then the UA Hovr Phantom RN should surely be on your radar. Beneath your foot is the UA HOVR foam. I still believe this midsole technology and composition is quite underrated. You get the HOVR coverage through the length of the shoe. You’ll be amazed how well it does in terms of balancing the requirements of suppleness, cushioning and energy feedback. From whatever I have experienced with the HOVR midsole, it absorbs the harshness from the running surfaces—this is great if you run on hard surfaces or even the treadmill. The cherry on the cake is the smart tracking, which logs the steps you take and distances you run, and puts all that data carefully in the UA MapMyRun app for Android and iOS. You will spend around Rs 13,999 for this pair.
Rocking its way to your heart: Nike React Run Infinity
The newest kid on the block is the impressive Nike React Run Infinity. The React foam, which first landed with the Epic React Flyknit back in 2018, is essentially a single piece of foam making up the midsole and the outsole. The latest edition has an even thicker foam stack, and believe me when I say this, the React foam is just all-round brilliance. There is more rubber on the outsole, in fairly wavy patterns, that really should take care of the grip irrespective of the surface you are running on. The upper is an even lighter evolution of the Flyknit, yet is more durable than before. The offset is just 9mm, which would be more in line with what some runners prefer. Slip your foot in, and you’ll notice the React foam midsole has been given a slightly more curvaceous shape, which adds to the feeling of being pushed during toe-off. You’ll really enjoy rocking these. Save up around Rs13,995 for these.