Monday, January 11, 2021

Jacob Brady's Year in Review & Favorite Road and Trail Running Shoes of 2020

 Article by Jacob Brady

My picks for trail and road shoe of the year


2020 was defined by the COVID-19 virus, which resulted in race cancellations, soon substituted with virtual races (basically formal time trials). 2020 was going to be my first year running the Boston Marathon having qualified in 2019—the virtual version wasn’t as exciting. The lack of races lowered my structure and mileage, but I kept my running streak (at least 2 mi a day) which is now nearing 1000 days in a row, averaging around 50 miles a week. Testing shoes was a great way to stay motivated. I also got a puppy (Astro, Australian Shepherd) in April. 

Young Astro interrupting the Brooks Ghost 13 + GTX A/B test photoshoot

Raising a dog took all my time away from surfing (not something I can do with the pup) and long distance (> 15 mi) running (not enough time). That time was replaced with shorter trail running and hiking with the dog. I hadn’t been into hiking since I was in college but did around a dozen mid-length hikes in the rugged White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine in Fall 2020 alone. I was pretty evenly split between trail and road running and did several virtual races, including two marathons and a PR half in a time trial (1:18:33). I didn’t specifically train for any of these though, nor did I have any training plan the whole year. I always put in the work and stayed consistent, but running is more about enjoying the outdoors, health, and fun than competition for me.

Astro, the Inov-8 Terraultra G 270, and the upcoming Saucony Freedom 4 (on foot)

2020 was not a great year for racing or travelling, but it was a great year for running shoe technology. There was massive progress in the carbon-plated marathon racer realm and the first full year of the carbon-plate revolution where nearly all major manufacturers got involved. At the beginning of 2020 Nike still dominated the plated-racer realm with the Vaporfly NEXT%. 2020 saw the release of plated racers from all the top brands as well as the official inclusion of a maximum stack height and plate-specific rules for road and track racing by World Athletics. Now the industry is regulated and runners have a plethora of fantastic choices and world records and individual’s PRs are getting quicker. The soft foam + plate design has also spread into the trainer realm and innovation in running shoes continues.


I tested 17 new road shoes in 2020. Most were quality shoes that I enjoyed running in—I ran in new versions of classic trainers and top of the line plated racers from Brooks, Saucony, Adidas, New Balance, and Skechers. There were many fantastic shoes, however, after a few weeks of testing many sat unused on my shelf despite liking them a lot while testing. A few shoes stood out either from staying in my rotation or from providing a ride or experience that was remarkable in some regard. 

Daily Trainers

Firstly, the ASICS Novablast (RTR Review) comes to mind. I have a preference for softer, bouncy midsoles, so the super-soft and smile-inducing bounce of the Novablast appeals to me.

Fresh Novablast — initial try-on

The Novablast is one of the bounciest, highest trampoline-effect non-plated shoes I’ve ever run (sort of like the Hoka Mach 4). The Novablast was my primary trainer when training for the Boston Marathon in February before it was canceled. It is a great high-mileage, general purpose trainer. Cushioned, smooth, forgiving, and also fast. It is one of only two road shoes I passed 250 miles on this year. Fit issues often ruin a shoe, but I was able to deal with minor lace bite and insecurity as the ride of the Novablast is just so fun. The shoe feels great on a fast long run or a recovery run. It can have a place in any runner’s rotation, from single-shoe beginner to massive quiver veteran.

ASICS has been pumping out sweet shoes in 2020, and they even got another into my top picks for daily trainers, the ASICS Dynablast (RTR Review)

Foggy night first run in the Dynablast—brough my phone just for a mid-run photoshoot

The Dynablast uses a similarly bouncy and energetic midsole as the Novablast, but in a less dramatic way. It is simple and straightforward underfoot—lightly bouncy, fun, and unexpectedly fast, as well as stable, smooth, and enjoyable at all paces. It largely fixes the fit issues with the Novablast and is a significant drop in weight as well. In addition to all those positives, it’s only $100. The bulk of my mileage is in 0mm to 8mm drop shoes, so I was initially put off by the Dynablast’s 12mm drop, but it doesn’t feel too dramatic. Highly recommend giving it a shot if you’re in the market for a do-it-all daily trainer, especially if you have a small quiver and want a shoe that can do it all.

Lastly, one of my favorite road trainers of all time: the Saucony Freedom 3 (RTR Review)

Freedom 3 at night

I received the Freedom 3 for testing over a year ago, in December 2019. It is still on my main shelf and I run in it at least monthly, along with walking in it and occasionally just wearing it around for general use. It is incredibly comfortable, a true 10/10, being soft and foot-conforming both above and below the foot. It is dramatically soft, bouncy, and flexible. The crystal rubber outsole contributes to this feeling and it is the most flexible shoe I’ve ever tested, reminding me of the Nike Free RN. It has just enough structure in the heel to keep it feeling stable on the run. The Freedom 3 strikes a perfect balance of cushion/protection and ground feel, where it isn’t too muted like the more cushioned Triumph 18 but still has enough cushion for 15-20 mile runs and recovery runs. It has great traction and can handle trail/road mix . It is easy to slip on already tied with its stretchy and soft tube laces and I pop it on frequently for daily dog walks or if I’m heading out and may be going for a run. I love the Freedom 3 for everything except workouts, where the energy return is less directed and it is hard to lock in. It will stay in my rotation until I’ve worn through the outsole.

Honorable mention: if you’re into a plated shoe for general do-it-all mileage (I tend to use them for workouts, racing, and long runs), the New Balance FuelCell TC  (RTR Review) is a top pick. More on this one in the “Road Shoe of the Year” section.


Released last year, the Nike Vaporfly NEXT%  is still my pick for marathon racing (I have not run the Alphafly).


Vaporfly NEXT% on my first run, on the finishing chute at a hometown 10-miler 

That pick is partially due to the race experiences I’ve had in it—it holds my 10mi and half marathon PRs—the similar Vaporfly 4% Flyknit led me to my 5k, 10k, and marathon PRs. With the release of Saucony’s Endorphin Pro, then Brook’s Hyperion Elite 2, Skechers Speed Elite, I kept waiting for a shoe that compared to the Vaporfly series. The Speed Elite was too low stack/rough (not effortless enough); I tried racing both the Endorphin Pro and HE2, for 5k and 20mi respectively, and was let down. Both are lacking the effortless speed and fluid fast cruising sensation that a well-implemented carbon plate provides—I have to work too hard to run in them. For both races (virtual) I knew I’d have performed better if I’d worn the NEXT%. 

Towards the end of 2020, I received the New Balance RC Elite  (RTR Review) and adidas Adizero Adios Pro  (RTR Review). Both these shoes were inspiring.

The Adios Pro has the most exciting ride in a plated racer since the NEXT%. 

Adios Pro after first test run

I have not yet raced it, which is the ultimate test, but I have done several workouts between 10k and marathon pace and it is amazingly effortless-feeling. The fit and ride are also just exceptional. It is heavier than all its competitors, but on the run the weight isn’t an immediate negative and gives its ride a quality the lighter racers don’t have. The Adios Pro is smoother, more comfortable, and more forgiving than the Vaporfly series—and still fast. It’s less aggressive but possibly nearly as fast, only race experience will determine that. The additional comfort and more enjoyable ride may be worth any tradeoff in raw speed. I’ll race it the next chance I get for the half or full marathon.

I was really excited to test the RC Elite after loving the trainer companion the TC (my “shoe of the year” pick), and I was not let down by the performance. 

Pre-start of RC Elite first run, impromptu virtual NYC marathon

I have run in the RC Elite only two times so far and both were virtual races. My first run in the shoe was a full marathon, after having it on my feet for only a few minutes out of the box. I did not train, didn’t look at my watch the whole run, and ran shockingly much faster (3:02) than I thought I was running despite suffering the last four miles and feeling like I was barely moving. The second race was a 4-miler which I ran fairly casually and still a good pace. The RC Elite is a comfortable, smooth, lightweight shoe with great traction and a natural feel. Both the RC Elite and Adios Pro are perfect examples of “effortless-speed” while being more forgiving, smoother, and less dramatic than the Vaporfly series.

Road Shoe of the Year

My pick for road shoe of the year is one of the first shoes I tested in 2020, the New Balance FuelCell TC  (RTR Review). 

Trying on the TC for the first time, an exciting day!

The TC arrived at my front step without explanation or reference material in January/February when I was training for the Boston Marathon, pre-COVID. My first run was a fast 5k, entirely unplanned and unexpected, right out the door—an amazing first run. Once I determined the TC wasn’t even a racer (this was still before promotional material), the TC was an immediate long run favorite, now my favorite long-run shoe of all time. If I was running over 15 miles, I chose the TC. I did several cruising (not just easy chilling) 20-26 mile runs in the TC, including running the full marathon distance for fun on the day of canceled Boston.

The TC is effortlessly fast, comfortable, and just takes me for a ride. I can chill out and cruise along without trying and my legs stay fresh. It’s like a plated racer in its easy fast running feel, but more forgiving, comfortable, and durable. Perfect for long runs, but it is versatile as well as durable. The TC can do recovery days, workouts, long runs, races, and everything in between. It is the highest mileage I reached on a shoe this year, breaking 300 miles (which is uncommon for me with my huge quiver and many new shoes to test)—an awesome shoe.


I tested far fewer trail shoes than road shoes this year, less than 10 new 2020 trail releases. My trail quiver still included shoes I’ve had since early 2019. Though my frequency of trail vs road running is similar, I do less miles on the trail and it takes me longer to wear out shoes.

My year for trail running in 2020 was different from 2019 in that I ran no ultras and did no mountain running this year, due to no races and also having less time due to raising a puppy. I did far fewer long trail runs (nothing over 16 miles, as opposed to a dozen 20+ mile road runs). I also only did one (virtual) trail race. However, I did a lot more hiking (the pup is growing to be a professional on the trails) than previous years.

There is less distinction between a trail racer and trainer than a road racer and trainer. Especially in the Ultra realm, max-cushion all-purpose trainers (sometimes surprisingly plain road shoes even) are often the winning shoes at races. Thus I’m not going to break the trail shoes into trainers and racers, but just describe three shoes that stood out this year as favorites for various, different reasons.

This year in trail for me was defined by a single shoe, the Inov-8 Terraultra G 270  (RTR Review). It is my favorite all-around trail shoe of all time and my pick for Trail Shoe of the Year.

Sunset over Back Cove on my first run in the Inov-8 Terraultra G 270

The G 270 does everything right, from fit to performance. It is top class in fit, ride, traction, and feel on a huge variety of surfaces from road to rugged mountains. For the most part does not sacrifice anywhere to be good at everything. The only close to weak point I’ve encountered is cornering fast on highly technical terrain, but it is still decent at this. It will be difficult for Inov-8 to improve on the G 270 without messing something up.

I’ve found the G 270 to be too good to be true. It is comfortable, secure, and smooth riding at any pace. It has the perfect balance of ground feel/flexibility and protection/cushion for my preferences. It is lightly bouncy and very quick feeling but still stable and connected to the ground. Traction is above average on all terrain but the outsole doesn’t get in the way on mild terrain. My favorite thing about the Terraultra G 270 is the fit. It is glove like, light and out of the way, while also being totally locked in—10/10 security. I wore the G 270 for nearly every run since receiving it as I liked it more than my other shoes for everything from a road/trail hybrid run, to a technical singletrack jog with the pup, to Strava segment efforts, and most uniquely hiking. It is now my favorite hiking shoe, replacing the Hoka Speedgoat (a very different shoe). Overall it is a fantastic all-around trail shoe and one that most runners would enjoy.

Chilling with Astro (and the G 270) at the summit of Speckled Mtn in the White Mountains in Maine

My pick for trail shoe of the year before I tested the Inov-8 Terraultra G 270 was the Topo Athletic Runventure 3 (RTR Review). 

Runventure 3 at the start of my first run, not the ideal terrain

Unlike the G 270, the Runventure 3 is not a good all-around shoe, but for short, fast runs especially on technical singletrack, it is remarkably enjoyable. The fit is comfortable and secure, with a roomy toebox but good foothold and no slop. It is flexible, feels low to the ground, but has a flexible rock plate which gives some protection without sacrificing the low, stable, almost barefoot-inspired feel. Traction is superb and it’s a lightweight shoe. All together, when I am running faster and my strike shifts towards the forefoot, I feel like I am gliding through the forest. The shoe disappears on the foot and is a seamless connection to the ground. Not enough protection for long runs, harsh on road or at recovery paces, but for shorter runs, it gives a unique ride and running free experience that I really enjoy.

The trail shoe I put the most miles on this year (just a few more than the G 270) was the Saucony Switchback 2 (RTR Review).


The Switchback’s BOA closure is a defining feature

It is defined by its comfort and ease of use. It has a soft, foot conforming, glove-like upper and a soft, flexible, low stack midsole. It slips on effortlessly and can be tightened in a second with one hand due to the BOA closure, which is a great feature. It is a comfortable and versatile shoe, and a great general-purpose shoe to wear for walking, running, or going out without a plan. It is a performance running shoe but also works as a casual shoe with great traction, ready for the impromptu run on road or trail. The comfort, ability to be quickly slipped on, and solid traction on most terrain made it my top pick for daily wear and dog walks. It is also a good hybrid road/trail option. As a running-only shoe, there are more performant options, but as a general use shoe to have in the quiver, it is unmatched.


Jacob is a runner and general endurance sports enthusiast. He runs a mix of roads and trails in the Portland, Maine area. He has been running every day for two and a half years and averages around 50 miles per week. Jacob races on road and trail at a variety of distances. In the past two race seasons has done several marathons and shorter (≤ 50km) ultras and mountain races. He has a PR of 2:51 in the marathon and a recent half TT PR of 1:18. In addition to running, he does hiking, biking (mountain/gravel/road), surfing, and nordic skiing. He is 25 years old, 6 ft / 182 cm tall and 155 lbs / 70 kg. You can check out Jacob’s recent activities on Strava here.

Products reviewed were provided at no charge for testing. The opinions herein are the authors'

RTR Team's Best of 2020 Articles
Road Running Shoes HERE
Trail Running Shoes HERE
RTR Contributors Best of Run 2020, Year in Review Articles

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