Best running shoes for 5K races

by Solereview editors
Published: Last Updated on

Runners in a 5K road race.

This article has been updated with current models for November 2023.The Saucony Type A9 has been removed.

The Hoka Mach 5 on the road.

5K training runs and races are great. Most people in reasonable shape can do it, and even if you trod along at a very leisurely pace, the run is over within 30 minutes. You don’t have to train for months or go through a carb-loading ritual, and for most runners, recovery is a non-existent problem.

But where’s the fun in taking over 20 minutes to finish a 5K?

These short-distance races are where you’re likely to set your personal best. It is possible to maintain a rate of speed that is otherwise hard to sustain in distances of half-marathon and beyond. It’s like a road version of your speedy track workouts.

And shoes – that’s what we’re here for, yes? You need the right pair of running shoes to make the best of those 20 minutes.

5K is a distance that’s best served by racing flats and their ilk. The fact that they aren’t very cushioned is irrelevant given the short distance. In lieu, you get a featherweight shoe with a superlative road grip – exactly what a 5K entails.

On the following list, most of the shoes loosely belong to the category of racing flats. We say ‘loosely’ because only zero-drop shoes qualify as true racing flats. Here, only the Asics Tarther RP3 and Saucony Type A9 bear a close resemblance to traditional racing flats.

This guide also includes more cushioned models like the Hoka Mach 5. Thus, most of the shoes here can be used for 10K races too. In case you’re searching for cushioned speedsters, read our other guide here.

One of our selection criteria was to choose shoes with a DSP outsole. A Dual-Stencil-Process (DSP) construction uses small pieces of outsole rubber attached to a fabric base. As a side note, we wish that New Balance still sold the Hanzo S. We still have our reviewed pair, by the way.

A DSP outsole gives the shoe a superior grip advantage, as the small lugs do a better job than regular rubber slabs.

And boy, do they feel good on short runs; the crunching sound that the DSP makes when biting the road is addictive. That, and there’s a far better sense of connection with the road. On this list, none of the shoes have a true DSP sole, but the Asics Tarther RP3 comes close with its specialized outsole.

In the spirit of brand diversity, we’ve put together recommendations from various manufacturers.

The following list is in Solereview’s order of preference:

1) Cushioned and durable 5K racer: adidas Adios 8

The adidas Adios has always been a popular choice for short-distance races and speed training, and with good reason. The low-profile midsole hits the sweet spot between transition-friendly firmness and ride comfort.

The forefoot design is optimal for quick turnovers. The softer Lightstrike Pro foam cushions the landings, whereas the Continental rubber outsole and Torsion shank (aka EnergyTorsion) make the transitions efficient and connected. The plastic shank is articulated into three ‘fingers’ or sections for better mobility.

The traction is excellent, and that’s not surprising considering how generous the outsole coverage is.

The rearfoot has Lightstrike 2.0 (an EVA foam blend) for support. Do note that the Adios 8 has been thoroughly redesigned, so the ride is more forgiving than the Adios 6 and 7.

The ultra-breathable upper also has increased interior space over the previous model.

2) 5K racer with soft cushioning: Hoka Mach 5

With the Hoka Mach 5, ride comfort and softness is prioritized over long-term durability.

This Hoka shoe doesn’t have an outsole per se, but rather a layer of firm foam. On top is the softer cushioning layer that Hoka calls ‘Profly’ – presumably an EVA foam blend that adds comfort and reduces weight.

The Hoka Mach 5 in a marathon.

The soft-firm foam layer works very well across a wide range of distances and speeds. The firm layer creates a transitional base for speeds as quick as 3:30 min/km (5:30 min/mile), and the softer (upper) part of the midsole makes the Hoka Mach 5 comfortable enough for even a half marathon.

The lightweight upper has a secure and true-to-size fit.

The only downside is that the Hoka Mach 5 won’t last as long as say, an adidas Adios 8.

3) 5k racer with specialized outsole: Asics Tarther RP 3

If your heart longs for the New Balance Hanzo S V2, consider the Asics Tarther RP 3 as an alternative. While the latter differs from the Hanzo with its heavier weight and comparatively low-tech design, several features make the Tarther RP3 an excellent 5K shoe.

The previous versions of the Tarther RP (V1 and V2) had a forefoot outsole with Dual-Stencil process (DSP) lugs, so that produced an exceptional grip for quick push-offs.

The RP3 no longer has true DSP lugs, but comes close with its honeycomb-shaped micro lugs. These resin-like lugs have an effective bite on the road.

The plastic midfoot shank adds torsional rigidity to the low-profile midsole. Though there’s no high-tech foam in use here, the Flytefoam Blast midsole is adequately cushioned for 5 – 10k runs.

There’s plenty of ventilation in the traditional racer-style upper. A spacer mesh shell and synthetic suede panels create a snug-fitting and breathable upper.

4) 5K racer with a 2E (wide) upper: New Balance SC Pacer

This racer weighs less than 7 ounces, but it isn’t harsh on the feet as a true racing flat. The soft Fuelcell foam midsole keeps the ride comfortable for 5k runs, and the Carbon fiber transition plate (Energyarc) prevents the foot from sinking into the foam core.

New Balance SC Pacer on road.

The plate makes the SC Pacer’s transitions efficient and speed-friendly. There isn’t a lot of outsole rubber, so the SC Pacer is not suitable for everyday mileage, but rather a focused tool for 5K road races.

The lightweight, breathable, and minimally constructed upper complements the low-profile midsole. It locks in the foot without being constrictive or stuffy.

5) 5K racer with soft PEBA cushioning: Nike ZoomX Streakfly

When used as a running shoe for 5K races or speed runs, there are a couple of things we like about the ZoomX Streakfly. The full-length ZoomX midsole delivers enough comfort for 5K and 10K runs, and the transition plate helps with quick turnovers.

The forefoot grip of the Nike ZoomX Streakfly.

The heel bevel of the Nike ZoomX_Streakfly

The lightweight upper disappears on the feet, and so does the midsole – this is a featherweight 6-ounce shoe.

The Streakfly isn’t perfect, though. The exposed areas of ZoomX foam under the heel tend to take a beating, and the foam bottoms out when loaded. As pointed out in our comprehensive review of the Streakfly, the outsole traction doesn’t have the bite of shoes like Saucony Type A9, Asics Tarther RP3, or the adidas Adios 8.

6) Entry-level 5K racer: Asics Hyperspeed 3

The Asics Hyperspeed used to be a long-continuing series that culminated with the Hyperspeed 7 – a traditional-looking distance racer with a firm ride.

The updated Asics Hyperspeed is a reset of the series and bears no resemblance to the Hyperspeed 7. The first version made its debut a couple of years ago, and borrowed its design lines from the Carbon-plated Metaracer.

The Hyperspeed 3 is very similar to the last couple of versions. The Flytefoam (an EVA foam blend) midsole delivers a smooth and cushioned ride that feels fast enough for 5K and 10K runs. On the road, treadmill, or track, the horseshoe-shaped rubber outsole has excellent traction. We do miss the smaller lugs from the Hyper Speed 1 though.

The soft and comfortable upper fit well, and is surprisingly well put together for its $90 retail price.

Do you own any of these shoes? Improve this review by sharing your insights – submit a review here.

Other reviews and guides