Want to PR this summer? Check out these 10 light and fast racing flats!
You’ve trained for weeks for your race, logging plenty of long slow miles and leg-fatiguing workouts in your everyday trainers. But on race day you want to feel light and fast so you can tap into your fitness and run like the wind. However, not all racing flats are created equally, which is why you need to select your weapon of choice carefully before heading to the start line. We tested 10 of the top racing flats available at stores this spring and offer up details about the fit, feel and ride of each one.
BROOKS LAUNCH, $90
men’s: 9.3 oz. \ women’s: 7.8 oz.
Best as a marathon-and-beyond shoe for neutral runners, the Launch isn’t a shaved down, low- to zero-drop racing flat. Instead, it provides the supportive comfort of everyday trainers with less weight. Featuring a slightly lower-profile midsole and moderate heel-toe drop (10mm), breathable upper and ample width in the toe box, the Launch offers a springy, responsive ride with plenty of energy return. The Launch doesn’t feel as quick and peppy for short races or faster workouts, but it can double as a high-mileage trainer for neutral runners who prefer a cushioned shoe. The ride is soft and consistent, but the relatively thick midsole foam won’t offer any stability for severe overpronators. www.brooksrunning.com
PUMA COMPLETE SLX FUUJIN J, $110
men’s: 7.8 oz. \ women’s: 6.7 oz.
The Complete SLX Fuujin J is a good introductory racing flat for those new to shoes built with less structure, as it provides just enough cushioning for an easy adjustment and has a moderate heel-toe drop (10mm). Runners who appreciate a cushioned ride will like the shoe’s multi-density shock-absorbing midsole. It’s not an ultralight minimalist model, but more of a smooth-riding cruiser with some substance under foot. However, runners with wide feet will need to size up, as the shoe runs a little small and has a narrow fit. www.puma.com
INOV-8 BARE-X LITE 150, $120
men’s: 5.3 oz. \ women’s: 4.8 oz.
Probably the closest you’ll ever get to a barefoot feel in a racing flat, the Bare-X Lite 150 certainly lives up to its name. With an extremely flexible zero-drop configuration (meaning the foot sits level in the shoe), the Bare-X Lite encourages you to land near the front of your foot and will fall into favor with lightweight runners who have efficient mechanics. Devoid of any additional arch or heel support, this isn’t a good option for heel strikers, overpronators or someone who is looking for a lot of cushion. The Bare-X Lite 150 has a one-piece upper that provides plenty of freedom around the midfoot and its speed-lacing system allows for some flexibility in regard to fit. Its smooth outsole performed well on dry ground, but slipped on wet surfaces. www.inov-8.com
NEW BALANCE RC 5000, $125
men’s: 3.2 oz. \ women’s: 2.5 oz.
Based on its fit, feel and aesthetics, the RC 5000 could almost pass as a track spike with its diamond-shaped outsole, ultra-lightweight construction and snug race-ready fit. Runners who’ve been training in minimalist shoes will enjoy this shoe’s barely-there feel and energetic ride thanks to the combination of lightweight, responsive materials in the midsole and outsole. One of the lightest racing flats on the market, it fits like a glove and the low heel-toe drop (4mm) caters to forefoot/midfoot strikers and enables a fast transition in the gait cycle. However, the shoe has an anticipated wear-life of only 200 miles, so it’s a shoe that might be best kept as a marquee racer and not a midweek speed workout shoe. www.newbalance.com
MIZUNO WAVE RONIN 4, $105
men’s: 7.0 oz. \ women’s: 6.0 oz.
Feel the road in this slipper-like neutral shoe that’s light, fast, bouncy and smooth. The G3 sole really grips the road, making it the perfect flat for wet, slick conditions. For those accustomed to cushioned or supportive trainers, it will take a few workouts to get used to the firmer, functional cushioning these flats provide, but that’s the price of speed. It has a moderate heel-toe drop (10mm), which means it’s a good option for runners not ready to jump into more minimally designed shoes. It has enough cushioning to be a marathon shoe for more advanced runners, but most runners will find the sweet spot in the 10K to half-marathon range. www.mizuno.com
ADIDAS ADIZERO HAGIO, $90
men’s: 6.0 oz. \ women’s: 5.0 oz.
Light and low to the ground, the Hagio offers a firm, fast feel that is ideal for 5K or 10K racing, track workouts and up-tempo training. Its super-thin, flexible upper wraps the foot like a glove while offering a lot in the way of freedom and ventilation. The Hagio features a secure heel fit and provides a very snug midfoot wrap, but offers a generous toebox that is amazingly accommodating for a variety of foot types. It has minimal heel-toe drop (5mm), which is ideal for runners with efficient form, midfoot to forefoot foot strikes and a quick cadence. Overpronators beware: The Hagio offers nothing in the way of additional arch support. www.adidas.com
SAUCONY GRID TYPE A5, $100
men’s: 5.6 oz. \ women’s: 5.2 oz.
Snug as a glove with its light, breathable upper, the Grid Type A5 is half an ounce lighter than the A4, making it light as a feather while still offering just enough cushioning. The flexible and bouncy midsole provides a minimal but effective barrier between the foot and the ground that requires a forefoot or midfoot strike while encouraging quick leg turnover. Best for racing shorter distances, the minimal support of these shoes and the slight 4mm heel-toe drop might require an adjustment period for less advanced runners or those without efficient form. Designed with drainage holes throughout the sole of the shoe, the Grid Type A5 is great for rainy races or for runners venturing into triathlon. www.saucony.com
K-SWISS KWICKY QT2, $144
men’s: 9.7 oz. \ women’s: 7.8 oz.
The fraternal twin of the Kwicky Blade Light, the Kwicky QT2 was built for triathlon racing with a bungee lacing system that’s easy to get on in a transition area. It features the same flexible, yet supportive midsole as the Kwicky Blade Light, making it a relatively lightweight option for mild to moderate overpronators. It has a moderate heel-toe drop (10mm) and offers a firm ride while still providing protection underfoot. The thin, seam-free upper feels very comfortable against the foot, while its unique lacing system is highly adjustable, allowing you to dial in the fit that feels best. www.k-swiss.com
ASICS GEL-DS RACER 9, $100
men’s: 7.7 oz. \ women’s: 6.2 oz.
The Gel-DS Racer 9 straddles the line of being both a lightweight, minimally designed shoe and one with enough cushioning to comfortably cover race distances from 10K to the marathon. Although it’s light and low to the ground in the forefoot, it has a more traditional heel-toe drop (11mm). The heel and forefoot are decidedly soft, but a wedge of firmer foam at the midfoot gives this shoe a more stable feeling than most. Those factors limit its responsiveness, flexibility and all-out speed a bit, but the added stability will come in handy when your form starts to collapse as you fatigue late in a race. Like previous editions, this version of the DS Racer has a race-ready snug fit, but our testers felt this one has a bit more wiggle room in the forefoot that allows toes to spread out upon impact. www.asicsamerica.com
NIKE FREE RUN+ 3, $100
men’s: 9.3 oz.\ women’s: 7.6 oz.
The Free Run+ 3 is light and cushiony with a soft, wrap-like fit that feels almost like a slipper. But, as with previous versions, its best feature is its extreme flexibility—despite the foamy feeling under foot, this shoe allows your feet to move almost as if they would if you were barefoot. This version retains some of the arch support built into previous editions of the Free, but the combination of soft, lightweight cushioning, moderate heel-toe drop (8mm) and dynamic flex pattern make these best for neutral runners with strong feet and good form. They’re versatile enough to race 5K through half-marathon distances for most runners, but only if you’ve been training in them for a while first. www.nike.com
This review first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Competitor magazine.