Which Sole Is Best For Running Shoes – The battle to produce the lightest, most efficient, most comfortable, durable and ultimately fastest running shoe has been raging for a long time. But more recently, the focus of that battle has shifted to the sole, with the biggest advances on the bottom half of your shoes. From Nike ZoomX foam to Adidas Boost, through Hoka One One’s CarbonX and ASICS MetaRide, it’s now as much about what’s under your foot as what’s around it.
In an effort to work out what’s what, we asked our gear expert, Kieran Alger, to flip through the latest shoes from the biggest brands to see what their bottoms would deliver.
Which Sole Is Best For Running Shoes
The successor to the popular 4% – but actually a closer match to the Vaporfly Elite shoes used during the breaking2 project – Nike says the all-new ZoomX Vaporfly Next% is its “fastest running shoe ever”. On some athletes in some tests, they said, the combination of 15% more ZoomX foam, a carbon fiber plate and a lightweight upper increased performance by 5%.
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And when Eliud Kipchoge wore them to win the 2019 London Marathon, many wondered if the technology in the shoes was so good that it actually amounted to “shoe doping” – a sort of unfair advantage for those lucky enough to lace them on. Let’s face it at £239.99 and limited edition, it’s not going to get many people.
The ZoomX foam is Nike’s proprietary blend made from Pebax – a type of high-tech polymer that is soft and elastic and somehow returns some of the energy when the foot hits the ground and transfers it to the toe.
While the ZoomX foam is part of the unique mix, the real magic may actually be in the carbon fiber plate, and not necessarily in the way you might think. Although the plate is widely believed to act as a spring and add a spike-like drive during toe-off, research suggests that the plate actually provides stability to the ankle and reduces energy expenditure, leading to overall performance gains.
Combined, the ZoomX foam and carbon fiber plate create a running feel that noticeably feels like you’re moving forward. And with the world’s fastest marathoners breaking records in various versions of this tech-laden shoe, it’s little surprise that, like the 4%, the Next% technology is already in demand.
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Who benefits the most: Striking front sprinters looking for the percentage points that will push them through the race’s biggest time barriers. And those with larger bank balances.
Interestingly, it was further research into the potential efficiency benefits around the ankle that also led ASICS designers to create their revolutionary shoe, the MetaRide.
Launched in March 2019, the MetaRide features an all-new arched sole design that physically lifts the toe off the floor so that when you lay them flat on the ground, there is clean air between the shoe and the asphalt near the toes.
The sole consists of a number of different components, including ASICS’ proprietary Flyte EVA foam. In the heel is a substantial wedge of FlyteFoam Lyte (ASICS’ answer to Adidas Boost and Nike ZoomX) which works together with a rear gel to cushion the initial heel strike.
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Towards the front of the shoe you get Flytefoam Propel, a variable density foam that is there to help with toe-off response and propulsion. Somewhere in between is a plate that helps guide the foot through the full range of motion from heel down to toe, which is critical to reducing ankle angle and maximizing efficiency with each foot strike. Together, this is what ASICS calls Guide Technology. Crucially, this shoe is not designed to help you go faster, but to be more efficient, especially if you’re a heel striker.
That is how it works? According to ASICS research, carried out in collaboration with Loughborough University-based Progressive Sports Technologies, the Guidesole only provides a 20% reduction in energy loss around the ankle, which is significant.
“There’s no doubt it’s a very good shoe,” says Kerry McCarthy, editor of Runner’s World Gear. “The logic behind the design is sound and it is extremely comfortable.” “I personally felt that it made me run not only faster but also lighter.”
At £225.00, you’ll be paying a premium for this technology – it’s actually not much cheaper than the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% – but as with Nike, we’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t make its way into cheaper shoes shortly.
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While Nike’s unique technology has underpinned marathon distance running records, Hoka One One has done the same for ultras. As part of his Carbon X ultra project in #breaking2, Jim Walmsley recently broke the 35-year-old 50 mile world record, running 4:50:08 (equivalent to 5:48 min/mile) in the Hoka One One. Carbon X.
Carbon X is one of two ultra-friendly shoes that have a combination of Hoka One One large sole shell, Metarocker and carbon fiber plate.
The meta rocker has long been a feature of Hoka One One shoes – and definitely predates ASICS’ curved sole. It has twice the midsole volume of most standard shoes in an arched shape that allows the runner to move through the gait cycle in a rolling fashion, maximizing efficiency.
With Carbon X soles, that midsole is further supported by a carbon fiber plate that runs the length of the shoe from heel to toe. According to Hoka One One, this improves rocker efficiency and encourages faster foot roll for a fast feel when putting on the shoes.
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Walmsley’s track record suggests it works, and a Runner’s World tester, who was set to run in the Carbon X at the record-breaking Tour of California, agrees. “Out of the box, the effect of such an obvious rocker is annoying – like you’re going to crash headfirst at any moment,” says Isaac Williams. “But after a few acclimatization runs, the rocker’s effectiveness shines through, and that go-to-roll cycle kicks into gear.”
At £160, you don’t have to spend that much to get a taste of Carbon X technology.
In addition to the unique CloudTec cushioning that made On’s shoes immediately stand out from the rest, the Swiss brand has also put a plate in the midsole of the shoes for a long time. We saw this at Cloudflash with the pebax Speedboard designed to facilitate efficient transfer of power from landing to takeoff – or forward propulsion in your run. And it’s in the latest shoes On, Cloudswift too.
With the new Cloudswift – a shoe designed specifically for urban running – the famous Clouds are combined with a Speedboard made of polypropylene (slightly less aggressive than pebax) and a new Helion foam, made of OBC, olef-blocked polymers.
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Wednesday’s answer to Boost, ZoomX and Flyte, Helion foam provides firmer foam elements with softer sections that, according to the claims, can remain light but offer good energy return, responsive yet cushioning. It also withstands temperature changes better and is altogether more durable.
According to On, they can also adjust the foam density to control these properties and create different rides. The Cloudswift is the only shoe we’ve seen so far and in this design the Helion foam is much firmer underfoot than you get from ZoomX or Boost. There’s none of that spongy feeling when you step into the shoes and this definitely makes for a more stable run than you’d find in a flagship from Nike or Adidas. Although we would also argue that these are not built to go “fast” like the following %.
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1. Think about where you plan to run. Do you often go on the road? Or walk on gravel paths and trails? Your choices are road running, trail running or cross training shoes.
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2. Decide if you want more or less cushioning underfoot. Do you want to feel like you’re running on a cloud with maximum cushion or feel the ground under your feet? Cushioning – the thickness of the material under the midsole and the firmness of the foam – and heel drop are two factors to consider when building a running shoe.
3. Find out if you need a specific type of support for your walk. Most runners will be able to choose a neutral shoe, but if the foot tends to roll outward or inward, there are shoes that can help.
How long should running shoes last? In general, a pair of running shoes should last between 400 and 500 miles of running (3 or 4 months for regular runners).
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