A running shoe revolution has been afoot for the past few years, but only recently have a wide variety of lighter, more minimally designed shoes hit the stores. Why the dramatic changes? Research has confirmed that lighter, more flexible, lower-to-the-ground shoes enable feet to move similarly to how they move when barefoot, and that allows the most natural and efficient form possible. We've found the best new road, trail, and "barefoot" shoes, plus the gadgets and apps to take your run to the next level. —Brian Metzler
Trail: Salomon XR Mission
Photograph courtesy Salomon
With an extra-wide base and a copious amount of cushioning, the XR Mission serves up a stable platform on uneven terrain by creating maximum contact with the ground. Built in the likeness of a softly cushioned road-running shoe, the ride is as soft and plush on dirt roads and smooth rolling trails as it is on pavement. It’s not as light or low to the ground as some of its contemporaries (and it has a relatively high 10 mm heel-forefoot differential), but its additional girth absorbs sharp objects underfoot and fends off sidewall abrasions with ease.
Best For: A less experienced runner seeking extra stability on mildly rugged terrain or smooth rolling trails
Get It: $110; 11.5 oz./10.3 oz.; www.salomon.com
Motorola MOTOACTV Fitness Tracker and Smart Music Player
Photograph courtesy Motorola
If George Jetson were a fitness fanatic, he would have had one of these years ago. For the rest of us, the future has arrived just in time in the form of a do-almost-everything fitness device. MOTOACTV packs music, real-time heart-rate tracking, GPS data collection, and the functionality of a standard stopwatch into a lightweight, compact wristwatch. Synced with wireless Bluetooth headphones, it’s intuitive, easy to use, and hassle-free. Whether you’re running on roads, trails, or track, this all-in-one combo is the only device you need.
Get It: $249.99; www.motorola.com
Yurbuds Ironman Inspire Pro
Photograph courtesy Yurbuds
Don’t write off corded headphones as a thing of the past just yet. Yurbuds has taken running headphones to a whole new level with the iPod- and iPhone-compatible Ironman Inspire Pro. With a three-function, in-line control, the Inspire Pro allows quick, one-handed volume adjustments and song changes on the fly. Plus, an in-line microphone allows you to take iPhone calls in stride. But perhaps the best aspect is the secure fit of the customizable ear buds—a variety of sizes are available, and two sizes come with each unit—that snugly and safely fit just outside the opening of the ear and channel sound directly into the ear canal.
Get It: $60; www.yurbuds.com
Best Running Apps
Illustrations courtesy (l to r): Runner's World; MapMyFITNESS; Competitor Group & Haneke Design; Abvio
Runner’s World SmartCoach - $1.99
Interested in training for a race with a simple but very effective custom-tailored training plan? The Runner’s World SmartCoach app, powered by Training Peaks, can create an individualized training plan up to 16 weeks long for distances from 5K to the marathon. After answering a short questionnaire about your running goals and background, it uses proven training methodology to create a program just for you, with daily workout suggestions and advice at your fingertips.
iMapMyRUN+ - $2.99
From the ultimate route-mapping site, this app allows a runner to track and save data from a run—interactive maps, photos, videos, elevation profiles, etc.—and share it with others in a worldwide community at www.mapmyrun.com. The app also comes with access to website features like nutritional plans and the ability to challenge other runners.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series - Free
Any good running coach worth his or her salt will tell you that you need to know the course—and train for its specific features—if you expect to run your best race. This free app puts the biggest and fastest growing half-marathon and marathon series in the U.S. right at your fingertips. In addition to helping you choose your next race, the app gives you access to course maps and elevation profiles, training suggestions, and social media comments from other runners.
Runmeter GPS 6.0 - $2.99
This app can turn an iPhone into a motivational running coach. Not only can it suggest and track workouts and give detailed feedback about your fitness, but it also has audible announcements and reminders to encourage you along the way. With this app, you can share your training and racing data with others via social media or just save the maps, graphs, and charts of your efforts for future comparisons.
Timex Ironman Run Trainer With GPS Technology
Photograph courtesy Timex
Welcome to the sensible, intuitive modern running watch. The Ironman Run Trainer is loaded with runner-friendly features, including a large, easy-to-read (and customizable) display, hydration/nutrition reminders, pace alerts, and a quick-touch night light. It knows exactly when you've run one mile, two miles, three miles, etc., so it can take splits during a race or run without the user having to push a button. With an ANT+ compatible foot pod or heart-rate sensor, it tracks real-time pace, distance, altitude, and heart-rate data that can be seamlessly downloaded for analysis in TrainingPeaks software.
Get It: $275, with heart-rate monitor strap; www.timex.com
Barefoot-Style: Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa
Photograph courtesy Vibram USA
At long last, this is a sleek, barely-there racing model from the brand that put the minimalist movement in motion a few years ago. While the zero-drop SeeYa might look a bit ornate and feel strange at first, its glovelike fit, on-the-ground sensation, and independent toe articulation provide the ultimate freedom of movement for a runner’s feet. The SeeYa is one of the very lightest and most streamlined minimalist shoes yet (not counting a few next-to-nothing, slip-on silicone models from Inov-8 and Zem Gear), with a lithe stretch-mesh upper and an ultra-thin outsole/midsole configuration. The only way to run in these featherweight flyers is with a good upright running posture dictated by a midfoot/forefoot running gait, as even a few steps of light heel-striking would be too harsh to bare.
Best For: An experienced barefoot-style minimalist runner who is comfortable wearing next to nothing on his or her feet while running fast on hard surfaces
Get It: $100; 4.8 oz./3.7 oz.; www.vibram.com
Apple iPod Nano
Photograph courtesy HEX
Running with music can put a charge in your stride, but carrying even smallish devices and managing headphone cords can be annoyingly cumbersome. Wearing an iPod Nano is a no-brainer because of its diminutive size, but wearing it on a wristwatch-style band like the Blackout LunaTik can reduce the hassles even more. Simply plug in the headphones and run the cord up your arm under your shirt and you’ll be running hands-free with your favorite tunes amping you up. Changing playlists, adjusting the volume on the run, and getting workout data feedback (via shoes enhanced with the Nike+ platform) is a breeze midstride.
Trail: Montrail Rogue Fly Shoe
Photograph courtesy Montrail
This low-profile off-road fiend is the ultimate high-speed racing flat for the trails. It has a lightweight, easy-flexing demeanor that promotes high-cadence running on smooth trails and allows a runner to nimbly dance over roots and rocks like a mountain goat. A race-ready snugness, a thin layer of foam cushioning, and a matrix of low-profile outsole lugs combine for a stable connection to the ground underfoot and the ultimate performance-oriented fit. The Rogue Fly has a relatively high 10 mm heel-forefoot height differential, but it’s a performance-enhancing design; the low-to-the-ground forefoot aids in a runner’s ability to feel the ground and run nimbly when high-speed handling and sure-footedness is crucial, while the slightly thicker heel comes in handy for controlled braking on steep descents and an extra layer of comfort for long runs.
Best For: An experienced trail runner who is light on his or her feet and can run nimbly on trails that include rocks, roots, gravel, wet leaves, mud, and roller-coaster profiles
Get It: $105; 7.7 oz./6.6 oz.; www.montrail.com
Belkin FastFit Armband
Photograph courtesy Belkin International, Inc.
Sometimes you can’t leave your phone behind, even while you’re running. But as much as an iPhone can keep you connected while also blasting your favorite tunes, it can be quite cumbersome and heavy several miles into a run. The sleek FastFit Armband comfortably secures an iPhone to your upper arm with a breathable stretchy wrap closure that allows an easy-to-adjust, customizable fit. A cable capsule pod helps keep headphone cords organized and out of the way.
Get It: $34.95; www.belkin.com
Trail: Scarpa Spark
Photograph courtesy Scarpa
The Spark is a surprisingly light and agile shoe built for technical mountain trails, one that offers a good amount of protection and durability without sacrificing the flexibility needed for nimble movements and precise footsteps on craggy trails. One of the keys to the Spark’s agility is its moderate heel-forefoot drop (only 6 mm), which helps ensure flat, stable foot placements on unstable terrain. It also has a snug heel and midfoot fit and a slightly wider toe box that allows for the inevitable toe stubbing and foot swelling on rugged mountain routes. The low-profile outsole lugs offer good traction on a variety of surfaces and, combined with a flexible nylon protection plate buried in the midfoot, keep sharp objects from painfully poking the bottom of your feet.
Best For: A trail runner who regularly runs on rugged trails strewn with rocks, logs, and other debris
Get It: $115; 9.5 oz./8.2 oz.; www.scarpa.com
Photograph courtesy Suunto
The latest and greatest do-everything adventure/fitness watch for trail runners, the Suunto Ambit uses a full-feature, accelerometer-integrated GPS that accurately tracks pace, speed, and distance, while a heart-rate monitor tracks heartbeats from a comfortable chest strap. All GPS devices are prone to big fluctuations in speed reporting based on discontinuity to satellite connections, but instead of "smoothing" (a.k.a. reporting an average pace over several seconds), the Ambit uses a process called FusedSpeed, which combines GPS-derived figures and real-time 3D accelerometer data based on your arm swing rate to provide consistent pace read-outs. The Ambit also tracks barometric pressure, temperature, altitude, and can, with a 3-D compass, record movements in topographic detail. It might be a bit too much watch for someone training for a marathon, but it’s an essential piece of equipment for a data-savvy mountain runner training for an ultra-distance race like the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.
Get It: $500; www.suunto.com
Road: Skechers GOrun
Photograph courtesy SKECHERS
Long known for hip teen sneakers and firm-your-buns fitness shoes for soccer moms, Skechers turned heads by entering the performance running category and signing 36-year-old, 2004 Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi in the summer of 2011. With Keflezighi’s help, Skechers designed a superlight shoe with a unique rockered (convex) outsole and a 4 mm heel-forefoot differential that encourages a centered foot strike and the efficient, upright running posture and forward momentum that go along with it. This shoe has a soft ride like a traditional training shoe; the get-up-and-go of a racing flat; and the lithe, barely-there feel of a modern minimalist shoe. As for Keflezighi, he won the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon on January 14 in Houston and will be racing in a pair of red, white, and blue GOrun in the Olympics this summer in London.
Best For: A race-fit runner with dynamic core strength and good form who is interested in running fast times in everything from a 5K to a marathon
Get It: $80; 6.9 oz./4.9 oz.; www.skechers.com
Mophie Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition
Photograph courtesy mophie
The Mophie Juice Pack Plus is the ultimate trail runner’s control panel. Bundled with the free Mophie Outdoor app and contained in a lightweight external hard shell, it transforms an iPhone into a dedicated GPS receiver that tracks elevation, distance, and geo-referenced data (for example, exact coordinates of photos you take on a scenic trail) on an epic run in the mountains or a simple run around your neighborhood. It also adds a layer of protection, while a built-in rechargeable backup battery doubles the charge-life of the phone. A free one-year content subscription puts five million square miles of hi-res U.S. maps, zoomable to 1:8000 scale, at your fingertips.
Get It: Mophie Juice Pack Plus $119.95, subscription $29.99 after the first year; www.mophie.com
Road: New Balance 1080 v2
Photograph courtesy New Balance
The 1080 v2 is a good example of a shoe that has been updated for the better. Taking some of the elements of its uber-minimalist Minimus line of shoes, New Balance incorporated lighter, more responsive midsole foams; a lower-profile heel (and a moderate 8 mm heel-toe drop); and a wider toe box for natural forefoot splay into the second incarnation of this neutral-cushioned model. The changes were subtle but significant, resulting in a high-mileage trainer that encourages good running form (by reducing high-impact heel striking) without forgoing the cushion, comfort, and support most runners want (and need) for long-distance running.
Best For: An avid runner who is interested in transitioning into a more minimally designed shoe without having to drop down to a barely-there minimalist model
Get It: $135; 10.6 oz./9.3 oz.; www.newbalance.com
Jabra Sport Bluetooth Headphones
Photograph courtesy Jabra
The Jabra Sport Bluetooth Headphones make running with music a sublime experience. Essentially a pair of wrap-the-ear bud modules connected by a short cord that sits behind the head, they offer up stunning sound quality and a secure, comfortable fit. Start a playlist or turn on the built-in FM radio, stash your music device or smart phone, and head out for a run, knowing you can easily adjust the volume on the right earpiece without slowing down. It comes with a free download of the Endomondo Sports Tracker fitness application, which can keep track of time, speed, and distance traveled during your run.
Get It: $99; www.jabra.com
Road: Brooks PureCadence
Photograph courtesy Brooks
The PureCadence is one of a new generation of shoes that enables a stable ride by first focusing on a runner’s gait—namely by getting the runner to land with a lighter midfoot strike instead of a heavy heel strike. The relatively flat profile (the PureCadence has a 4 mm heel-forefoot differential), wide outsole, and unobtrusive foot-stabilizing midsole platform all play a role in creating a smooth transition from impact to liftoff. That it’s also very light, has a plush interior, and offers a cushy ride are a few other ways it avoids the confined feeling of a traditional stability shoe.
Best For: An aspiring half-marathoner/marathoner who has worn motion control or stability shoes in the past to offset weak ankles and/or pronation issues
Get It: $120; 9.5 oz./8.3 oz.; www.brooksrunning.com
Photograph courtesy Griffin Technology
One of the challenges of running with an iPod or smart phone is that carrying a device that size can be cumbersome. (Although those who ran with first-generation Sony Walkmans in the 1980s will probably find that amusing.) There are several armband carriers available, but few come close to the AeroSport for comfort, stability, and simplicity. It’s made primarily from stretchy Lycra, which offers the necessary flexibility as your arm moves during a run, and it has an extrawide closure band that stays put without cutting off circulation.
Get It: $30; www.griffintechnology.com
Soleus GPS 1.0
Photograph courtesy Soleus
Not so long ago, GPS-enhanced watches were nothing if not pricey, not to mention as big as a small clock. But now there’s a new generation of GPS running watches available at affordable price points that are no bigger than a typical running watch. Designed with easy-to-use functionality, the Soleus GPS 1.0 has a high-sensitivity GPS receiver that allows it to track speed, pace, caloric burn, and current and total distance. (And yes, it still has a chronograph stopwatch, the basic function that most runners care about most.)
Get It: $99; www.soleusrunning.com
JayBird Sportsband Bluetooth Headphones
Photograph courtesy JayBird
If you’re just not comfortable with earbuds while you’re running, JayBird Gear’s Sportsband headphones might do the trick for keeping your groove on a run. They’re lightweight but fit snug and don’t bounce or slide out of place, even while running fast. Once connected to your smart phone as a Bluetooth device (there’s a plug-in adapter sold separately to make an iPod Bluetooth-compatible), you can operate all of the controls from the buttons on the right side of the headphone apparatus.
Get It: $99; www.jaybird.com
Barefoot: Altra Instinct (men), Intuition (women)
Photograph courtesy AltraZeroDrop
For years, running shop employees Golden Harper and Brian Beckstead were helping runners nurse their way back to health from common overuse injuries by trimming most of the foam out of their traditional trainers. The idea was to get them into a level, or zero-drop, platform (meaning the foot sits level between the heel and forefoot) that simulates the natural movements of a barefoot running gait while still offering some of the necessary protection and cushioning for running on roads. Their insights led to the Instinct (and the women’s Intuition), which offer a common-sense approach to barefoot-style running shoes (thanks to 10 mm of semifirm cushioning underfoot) with a bulbous foot-shaped forefoot design. The extra roomy toe box allows the metatarsal arches to naturally spread upon impact, allowing a runner to maximize muscle activation in the feet and lower legs to mitigate shock absorption and enable optimally efficient form.
Best For: A runner of any experience level interested in transitioning to more natural running form with the idea of increasing strength, health, and longevity
Get It: $100; 8.8 oz./8.1 oz.; www.altrazerodrop.com
Garmin Forerunner 610
Photograph courtesy Garmin
The consummate fitness runner for runners, the Forerunner 610 tracks and charts speed, time, distance, running cadence, elevation, and heart-rate data with a touch-screen interface that’s easy to use (even with gloves) and isn’t compromised when water or sweat drips on it. If you’re a detail-oriented runner who likes to track precise workout performance, you’ll appreciate things like the autopause function (which automatically pauses your workout data collection in the event you’re forced to stop running at a stoplight) and the watch’s ability to automatically calculate your mile splits during a run. All of that data is automatically transferred to your computer (when it’s in close proximity) so it can be analyzed later at www.garminconnect.com.
Get It: $349-$399; www.garmin.com
Barefoot-Style Shoes: Merrell Road Glove (men), Pace Glove (women)
Photograph courtesy Merrell
A poster child for the modern minimalist movement, the Road Glove (the women’s version is called the Pace Glove) is a stripped-down running shoe that encourages a primal connection with the ground. With a zero-drop design profile, a miniscule amount of cushioning (a mere 4 mm of firm, compression-molded EVA), and virtually no structural support, this shoe demands a natural, midfoot-style running gait—heel-striking would be very painful on hard surfaces in this shoe. The thin amount of material lets your feet “feel” the ground for better proprioception, and a durable Vibram rubber outsole provides good traction while also offering protection against gravel, pebbles, and other small items that could otherwise be quite painful when stepped on.
Best For: A fit runner who has worked on his or her form and core strength and is ready to experience barefoot-style running on paved roads and concrete sidewalks
Get It: $110; 6.9 oz./5.4 oz.; www.merrell.com
Photograph courtesy Correct Toes
This toe-spacing device made from medical-grade silicone allows a runner’s toes and metatarsal arch to properly splay when the forefoot hits the ground to maximize stability and forward propulsion. Developed by podiatrist and competitive runner Ray McClanahan, Correct Toes can help increase foot strength and eliminate a variety of minor foot problems such as corns, bunions, ingrown toenails, and limited toe agility. It’s a relatively simple piece of equipment that has garnered rave reviews from health professionals and minimalist running experts.
Get It: $65; www.nwfootankle.com
adidas adiPure Trainer
Photograph courtesy adidas
Unlike the other toe shoes on the market, this new one from adidas isn’t necessarily made for running. Instead, it’s best used as a training tool geared toward strengthening your feet and lower legs as you transition to minimally designed running shoes. The individual action of the toes and the on-the-ground feeling of the thin rubber outsole allows a foot to move dynamically, engaging and conditioning dozens of smaller muscles that tend to be underutilized in more traditional running shoes. Wear the adiPure Trainer for strength and form drills or for other cross-training activities such as CrossFit, weight lifting, or your next pedestal core routine.
Get It: $90; www.adidas.com
Photograph courtesy Strutz, Inc.
These padded neoprene arch supports, held in place directly under the elastic compression straps, are easily slipped on or off over your socks and made to be worn in or out of shoes for all-day shock absorption and pain relief. Independent research conducted at the University of Ottawa suggests that these simple Strutz Pro accessories may offer considerable, immediate relief for arch-related pain.
Get It: $30; www.lovemystrutz.com
Photograph courtesy Feel The World, Inc.
One of the ways you can condition your feet to run in minimally constructed running shoes is to wear flat, barely-there shoes during everyday life. Invisible Shoes sells a do-it-yourself kit for making a version of huarache sandals similar to those worn by the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. The kit comes with a thin layer of durable rubber material (you can choose either 4 mm or 6 mm) and nylon/polypropylene laces that wrap the foot and ankle to create arguably the simplest shoe in the world. (You can also pay $40-45 to have Invisible Shoes make the shoes for you.) Running in Invisible Shoes can evoke a primal experience, one that can connect a runner to mankind’s ancient roots while also modernizing a runner’s physique and technique in line with current thinking about minimalism. You can feel the ground considerably more than in traditional shoes with thick foam midsoles, and that allows you to run with greater agility and immediately put yourself in optimally efficient running posture.
Get It: $20, invisibleshoe.com
Photograph courtesy LIVESTRONG by Johnson
For years, indoor cyclists have enjoyed virtually riding through scenic courses while sitting on a training bike in the gym. Now there are finally similar equivalents for runners on treadmills. Outside Interactive’s pre-paced DVD series ($20-$40, outsideinteractive.com) takes runners through popular running locales—including the 26.2-mile course of the Boston Marathon and through the roads and trails of Central Park in New York City—with a variety of run-specific information (including mile makers and elevation) that appear on screen. On the other hand, the AFG 7.1 AT ($2,000; afgfitness.com) and the Livestrong LSPRO2 treadmills ($2,000; livestrongfitness.com) can provide virtual-reality running workouts through a variety of cities and scenic places via high-definition, cinema-quality video footage played on a big-screen TV. The treadmills incline or decline according to the type of terrain on the screen, and the scenery speeds up or slows down depending on the pace of the runner.
Get It: Livestrong LSPRO2 treadmills $2,000; www.livestrongfitness.com