Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Hope Wilkes Favorite Run Racing and Training Shoes of 2020

 Article by Hope Wilkes

What a year. In the wake of everything 2020 has wrought, many people are hurting. I recognize that it's a privilege to get to test new running shoes and nitpick differences in shoes that cost sometimes hundreds of dollars. This hobby is important in my life and brings me a lot of joy so I'm grateful to be able to share that with you. It's my hope that RTR's reviews, interviews, and more were a welcome distraction when you needed a break and helped you make informed purchasing decisions.

Without further ado, let's take a look at my favorite road racing and training models of 2020.


1. Atreyu Base Model (RTR review)

Plated shoes are great and all, but have you experienced the pure joy that comes from feeling truly connected to the road as you run? The Base Model distills a running shoe down to its essence: a simple, relaxed-fit upper atop a midsole that also serves as an outsole. The ride is smooth and snappy. Runners are rewarded for a midfoot or forefoot strike . Atreyu's innovative subscription model and a la carte pricing is more than fair for a model that delivers this level of durability, comfort, and style. This is easily my most-run shoe of 2020 and it's holding up beautifully. If I were pressed to nitpick, I'd point out that the grippy material on the tongue and heel is not quick to dry. Sweaty summer runs in the Atreyu had me leaving them out for a couple of days to ensure they were fully dry before running in them again. Also, the grip is solid in wet conditions, but not world-beating. After nearly taking a tumble when slipping on a muddy sidewalk, I would advise choosing a different shoe for snowy or icy roads.

2. Saucony Ride 13 (RTR review)

Saucony killed it this year. I did some training in the more race-tuned Speed which is a stellar shoe, but for training purposes I was even more wowed by the more traditional Ride 13. Both could work well for marathon duty. This shoe has no business being so unassuming and yet also so thoroughly outstanding. I usually gravitate towards lightweight trainers for most runs, but I found myself reaching for the Ride 13 long after I'd finished up the review. The Ride 13 can go fast! I love how responsive and resilient the midsole is. Grip is reassuringly solid and the no-fuss upper adds comfort and support. I have no serious complaints -- this shoe even passes muster in terms of reflective trim (my most common gripe). The Ride 13 is practically flawless and should work well for runners of all shapes and sizes except those in need of intense stability features. 

3. Skechers Performance Max Road 4 + (RTR review) 

The look of many Skechers Performance models doesn't fit my personal style. Sometimes I get kind of riled up about it because I think it holds the brand back from being taken seriously by more runners. These shoes don't get any style points from me, but they are stunning in every other respect. Feeling kind of tweaky after a long run? The Max Road 4+ is your perfect recovery shoe that will keep your legs from feeling leaden. Want to go fast and stomp through puddles in heavy rain? Max Road 4+ is your wet weather friend that is tall enough to keep the bottoms of your feet dry. Want to go for 20 miles or more? That's right, pick the Max Road 4+. I'd recommend this shoe for every run or workout you'd consider doing on roads. It disappears on my feet and runs like a lightweight trainer, not a max cush shoe. The Hyperburst midsole is light and bouncy without being aggressively springy. A slight complaint: durability of the Goodyear outsole is disappointing when compared with other name brand rubber compounds (I'm especially thinking of Continental outsoles made famous by Adidas), but is adequate. My pair is plenty runnable even with some of the heel rubber worn away from late-run shuffling. After some problems with the Max Road 4, Skechers Performance listened and made thoughtful updates. Keep an eye out for more great work from this company -- they’re serious.

Racing Flats

1. Saucony Endorphin Speed (RTR review)

I love both the Speed and the Pro, but this slightly more wallet-friendly model edged out its carbon-plated cousin because it boasts a Goldilocks level of springiness. The Pro has me bounding a bit too high for my comfort when I have the pedal to the metal while the Speed is just right. For me, top-down lace pressure is a big concern over long efforts, so I appreciate the more traditional tongue of the Speed over the hyper-thin tongue of the Pro. Likewise, I enjoy being able to do semi-regular training in my intended race shoe and the Speed's outsole is better equipped to handle training mileage, but I still would put its max life at <200 miles for all but the lightest, most efficient runners. Both shoes are great and runners who are braver or blessed with more perfect form than I am may prefer the Pro. I suspect that the difference for most people would be like the difference between the top speed of a NASCAR vehicle vs. an Indycar or F1 car -- both are wicked fast, but one is maybe 15% faster than the other. If you're below the local elite level, I suggest saving a few bucks and snagging the shoe you can wear more often over the one that's perhaps strictly speaking the fastest. The biggest downsides for me of the Speed are the lack of reflective trim (races happen in low light too!), the limited durability of the outsole (Nike's Next% wears like iron, so don't tell me it can't be done), and the sketchy grip on wet roads.

2. ASICS Metaracer (RTR review)

My first 10/10 review on RTR. I was bowled over by the comfort, style, and performance of this low-slung, carbon-plated stunner. While the Metaracer follows the carbon plate trend, the ASICS team innovated a new silhouette that didn't crib from max cushioned, max height racers already on the market (although its profile looks a lot like souped up version of the New Balance Zante). Of the elite shoes currently available, this is the one that feels most like a true racing flat. While it might not deliver enough protection to go 26.2 in total comfort for all runners, I think it will work well for everyone for distances up to a half marathon. The snazzy hydrophobic upper fits like a glove and seems to really stay dry. Outsole durability is excellent, but the main attraction here is the smooth, snappy turnover. I've never run in a racer that was this comfortable even at easy day paces. Well worth the hype!

3. Skechers Performance GoRun Razor Elite (RTR review)

Back in October I raced a virtual marathon in this shoe, meaning I was probably the first person to take this model a full 26.2 miles. On a rainy morning I put the Razor elite through its paces on a punishingly hilly course. Feedback from the plate kept me up on my forefoot even when I was tired. The overall lightweight of the shoe kept fatigue to an absolute minimum. Despite the soft cushioning, I never felt like I was "running through" the shoe or like it was bottoming out. Fans of the Razor 3 and Razor 3+ will love this model which lets the Hyperburst midsole shine while adding the right tech to keep things feeling snappy. I did a lot of training and my final three long runs in the shoe, so I have a lot of miles on them -- durability is plenty respectable. My only complaints are about the upper: the blue dye bled all over my socks on multiple runs (wear dark socks if you sweat a lot or expect wet weather!) and there's no reflective trim.

Some shoe geeks might have questioned the absence of the splashy Adidas racer that's been setting records and Nike's latest offerings. My answer is simple: I haven't tried everything! One of the great things about RTR is that we have a sizable team to provide coverage of all the new releases we can get our hands on. I encourage you to check out Best of the Year lists from my fellow reviewers.

Hope’s Bio:

Current Age Group: 30-39

Height: 5'4"

Weight: 135

Weekly mileage: ~50 when peaking for a marathon, otherwise 30-40

Favorite distance: marathon 

Hope is a lifelong resident of Northern Virginia. No stranger to hills and humidity, this mid-packer is most at home on tough courses that might make other runners stay in bed. Hope has dabbled in ultras, including three 50-mile finishes, but has turned her attention to the marathon, working hard to improve upon her 2017 PR of 3:47:40. Already passionate about sneakers when she picked up running in 2008, it was inevitable that she’d become a running shoe geek. Hope is pursuing her MBA at Virginia Tech and works full-time as a program manager. In her free time she geeks out about other things: cooking, reading, weightlifting, Magic: the Gathering, and her tabby cat, Indy.

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