Running has been a sanity saver for many during the pandemic – an efficient way to stay fit, gain some headspace and give you a quick hit of feel-good endorphins.
And investing in the right pair of shoes will help your running career last an awful lot longer – they’re not cheap but they’ll last you for hundreds of miles (about 400 – 500, in fact).
A gait analysis at a running shop can tell you whether you need a stability shoe to stop you overpronating (where your foot rolls excessively inwards), or a neutral shoe if your foot lands centrally and doesn’t roll.
Aim for a thumb’s width of space at the end of the shoe – usually a half or whole size up from your street shoe size.
We would also suggest that you choose the ones that feel the best, rather than those that look the best.
We’ve tested these women’s running shoes on 10K runs and longer but, of course, what works for one runner may not work for another, depending on your foot shape, biomechanics and preferences on cushioning.
As a rule of thumb, shoes at the lighter, less cushioned end are for when you want to run fast, usually over shorter distances, but they’re not for the bulk of your miles.
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Brooks adrenaline GTS 21
GTS stands for “go-to shoe” because it’s an all-rounder, offering cushioning alongside stability for runners who overpronate. Brooks’ Guiderail technology hasn’t changed in this latest version – it kicks in when it’s needed but is unobtrusive when it’s not, making it less clunky than some stability shoes. Comfort is still king in this update, and the DNA Loft (a mix of Brooks’ DNA foam, air and rubber) now runs all the way through the midsole, giving a responsive but highly cushioned ride. You’re not going to break any speed records in this shoe but we’d happily do the majority of our miles in it. A newly designed upper hugs the foot nicely, but then we didn’t have a problem with the previous one! It comes in a variety of widths – narrow, normal, wide and extra wide.
New Balance fresh foam 1080v11
This cushioned neutral shoe got our best buy seal of approval when compared to Allbirds last year, and the ride is still as fabulously bouncy, propulsive and gazelle-like. Despite its lack of internal padding, the smooth, thoughtful design makes it extremely comfortable for long runs. The change comes in the upper, and while the sides of the slightly wider toe box feel supportive and secure, and the knit over the top of the toes more breathable, it is also more stretchy and flexible – not secure enough for our liking. Whether you like these changes or not is down to preference – they’ll suit you if you’re wide-footed and don’t like a held-down feel over your toes.
Asics gel-nimbus 23
The gel-nimbus is a flagship shoe that does its job very well. It’s maximum cushioning and comfort all the way with this traditional neutral trainer, from underfoot to the heel collar and tongue. It still manages to provide a fairly lively energy return, and the gel pod in the heel absorbs impact on landing like a familiar, reliable friend, making it a great companion for long runs. The upper is now made from a softer mesh, but it still feels durable and supportive. For those who already love this shoe, the winning formula hasn’t been messed with, but if you’re new to it, try it on for size as it suits narrower footed runners.
Hoka One One carbon X 2
This neutral endurance racing shoe will give you a greater level of comfort than many in its category. With a carbon plate running through the midsole, it’s very responsive, and the rocker shape gives excellent propulsion – you’re practically thrown forwards. Despite looking like a hefty shoe, it’s only 198g, and has just a 5mm heel drop (the difference in cushioning height between heel and toe). If you like to feel the ground through the sole, this is not your best option as you’re on top of quite a stack, but this provides ample cushioning for distance racing. The lightweight, breathable mesh upper fits well to the foot (although it has a narrow fit in the toe box with not much give) and there’s just enough cushioning in the heel collar. The heel extending out creates a nice landing pad and a smoother transition from heel to toe that you will struggle to find elsewhere. Most racing shoes are at the pricier end of the spectrum and this is no exception.
Adidas ultraboost 21
The ever popular ultraboost is back with a 2021 iteration, and we tested it over several runs, mostly in the rain and one in the snow. A shoe that draws a following with a price tag as steep as this is obviously doing something right, and existing ultraboost wearers will be pleased with this new version – extra boost, a more responsive toe-off and nicer aesthetic are all an improvement. The cushioning really comes into its own for runners who come down hard on their shoes (especially their heels) but the weight stops it being an all-rounder. Read our full review of the pair here.
This race shoe designed for road running is from a brand known for its excellent trail shoes. For so little weight (199g), it offers a surprising amount of cushioning, giving just enough to reassure you without losing speed. A rocker profile facilitates a smooth heel-to-toe transition which we found helpful rather than extreme, and while there’s no carbon plate, there is enough stiffness to give an energetic ride. The most obvious place it’s saved on weight is the upper, which is a thin but sturdy mesh through which you can see the outline of your feet. This is fine on a dry day but rain went straight in on a wet run, as did road grime (on the other hand, it makes it very breathable so it will be great in the summer). With a 6mm drop, these are also not for beginners – you need good form and strong legs to run in shoes like these. Even then, it will take getting used to if you haven’t run in a minimalist shoe before, so build up mileage slowly. However, if speed is your goal, these won’t let you down.
Nike react infinity run flyknit 2
This is a very comfortable, lightweight trainer that gives a highly cushioned, responsive and smooth ride – as with version one, it’s an all-rounder for putting in the miles, rather than speedwork. The new and improved upper is breathable and locks the foot in extremely well, while the wide base gives a feeling of stability. The rocker design propels you forward and the arch support is very present (you may not like this if you don’t like feeling the support pushing upwards, but we do). Backed by studies, it claims to reduce the risk of running injury – as we said about the original, causes of injury are unique to every runner and usually arise from either overuse or a muscular weakness, so we’re a little sceptical, but it is a supportive, well-designed shoe that will see you through long miles.
This is a neutral shoe positioned solely for shorter runs on the road, and it does that well – stray off the concrete, though, and you’ll get all sorts stuck in the outsole. This second generation version released at the beginning of February is a softer ride but it’s still firm, with reassuring cushioning rather than plush – the forefoot cushioning in particular feels good underfoot. The shoe is light at 220g, has a reasonably bouncy energy return and the rocker shape gives a propulsive ride. If you have high arches, you’ll love it as the arch support is superb, and the lacing system runs through two sidebands that pull in to hold your feet firmly in place. We also love that the secure mesh upper is 100 per cent recycled.
Saucony guide 14
These are both comfortable and stable, thanks to an L-shaped guidance frame on the inside edge. It’s cushioned but will suit those that like a firmer ride for their training miles (if you want stability but plusher cushioning, try the hurricane 23) and it rolls through smoothly from heel to toe. The padded heel collar is extremely comfortable and the heel counter is snug and secure, while the upper is reassuringly supportive. It has less bulk than many stability shoes, and may not suit those with a high foot volume – if you usually go up half a size in your runners, go up a full size in this as it comes up on the small side. And while aesthetic makes no difference to performance, we love the bright pops of colour.
This smaller brand has been around for a while now and it’s done a good job with this lightweight, neutral shoe that’s a bit more affordable than others in the market. Extremely comfortable out of the box, it gives a flexible, smooth ride with reasonable energy return and firm cushioning, while a good upper and lacing system keeps the foot in place. It’s marketed as a balance between value and performance and we’d agree with that. No bells or whistles, just a decent shoe that will serve neutral runners well.
Veja condor 2
This is the second version of this neutral running shoe from the fashion trainer brand known for its eco credentials. It’s very comfortable and stylish, but we found it a little too clunky in the heel upon landing, with too little energy return for long runs. It would make a great gym trainer or one for shorter runs. The outsole has excellent traction and feels like it will have good durability, important when so many trainers go to landfill too quickly. We include it here because Veja’s eco efforts are a leading light for change in the trainer industry. It’s 57 per cent bio-based and recycled, with components made of (among others) rice waste, banana oil, sugar cane. We were also impressed to see the lining, laces, backloop and cords are made from 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles.
Mizuno wave inspire 17
This stability shoe gets the balance just right – its stability is reliable and it is beautifully cushioned without being too squishy, while being light enough for long miles. As always, it’s super comfortable, with a wide toe box and snug heel counter. This new version has Mizuno Energy foam in the heel wedge, making it 17 per cent softer and giving a 15 per cent higher energy return – relatively small numbers, but you can really feel the difference from the 16. A durable, supportive upper has well-placed support panels on either side of the midfoot, and while they’re not the nippiest ride, they’re great for long miles.
The verdict: Women’s running shoes
It’s hard to choose just one shoe when it really depends on what your preferences are, but the Brooks adrenaline GTS 21 is a good bet for beginners and seasoned runners alike – supportive, responsive and, above all, comfortable, plus it suits a variety of foot shapes with its multiple width offerings.
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