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. The Reebok Run Fast Pro is almost a racing flat, but still has a few millimeters of offset. By definition, only the Altra Escalante Racer with its 0 mm heel offset is the authentic racing flat.
Others like the Brooks Hyperion, Saucony Type A9, and the Skechers Horizon Vanish 2 are ‘road racers’ rather than pure racing flats.
For this year’s list, we’ve included more cushioned models like the Asics Hyper Speed as well. 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, only the Asics Tartheredge 2 is equipped with a DSP sole.
In the spirit of brand diversity, we’ve put together recommendations from various manufacturers, so not all models have a DSP outsole. To make the selection process easier, the product description includes what the outsole is made of.
The following list is in Solereview’s order of preference:
1) adidas adizero adios 6
Our review noted, in great detail, how the adizero adios 6 was a vastly changed shoe than the adios 5.
Nonetheless, the adios 6 continues to be an excellent shoe to make quick work of a 5K run.
While the thicker midsole is made partially of the soft Lightstrike Pro foam, the firmer Lightstrike EVA works together with the large Torsion shank and grippy outsole to produce a speed-friendly ride.
We also love the aggressive Continental rubber outsole ‘ribs’ that deliver a satisfying bite on the road. It’s the closest thing to a DSP outsole since we last saw one on the adios 2.
Unlike the transformed midsole and outsole, the adios 6’s upper sticks to a safe design.
The breathable mesh and synthetic suede upper is now sleeved for interior comfort and fit security. Small changes made to the tongue design addresses some of the fit issues that we experienced on the adios 5.
2) Asics Tartheredge 2 (DSP outsole)
If you miss the New Balance Hanzo S V2, consider the Asics Tartheredge V2 as an alternative. While the latter differs from the Hanzo with its 10 mm offset and a half-ounce heavier weight, several features make the Tartheredge V2 an excellent 5K shoe.
The entire forefoot outsole is made of Dual-Stencil process (DSP) lugs, thus imparting the shoe with an exceptional grip for quick push-offs. The plastic midfoot shank adds the necessary rigidity to the low-profile midsole. Though there’s no fancy foam used here, the Flytefoam 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. The flat cotton laces are a nice touch of functional detail.
The Tartheredge 2 shares the midsole and outsole with the last year’s model. That means you can buy the V1 on sale instead and still get the same experience.
3) Saucony Type A9
Saucony has an excellent history of making racing shoes, be it for road, XC, or track. The storied legacy reflects in the Type A9 – a lightweight and padded road racer with a soft and minimal upper. It weighs only 170 grams or 6-ounces – that’s as light as it gets. It retails for $100, which is decent value for a road racer.
The 4 mm drop midsole has just the right amount of cushioning and fast feel for 5K runs. The small lugs on the PWRTRAC forefoot rubber outsole provide excellent traction for toe-offs.
The Type A9 is a racing shoe, so the upper has a snug fit for superior grip.
4) Saucony Fastwitch 9
Just like the Type A9, the Saucony Fastwitch’s $100 MSRP makes it excellent value. The grippy Pwrtrac compound is molded into a colony of small lugs to deliver excellent traction.
The firm ride translates into a speed-friendly transition that’s perfect for 5K runs. The midsole behavior is predictable; using compression-molded EVA foam results in a smooth and efficient ride.
What makes the Fastwitch different from the Type A9 is its tiny medial post. So for whatever it’s worth, this is a ‘stability’ road racer. The firmer wedge is barely noticeable, as it blends near-seamlessly into the firm midsole. If you are familiar with the New Balance 1500V6, you know what we’re talking about.
5) Altra Escalante Racer
The Altra Escalante Racer is a racing flat, and it is not – allow us to explain.
Its uniform stack height of 22 mm across the forefoot and heel makes it a zero-drop flat. However, there’s more to the Escalante Racer than meets the eye.
The extremely breezy upper doesn’t fit like a racing flat at all.
The broad toe profile translates into a secure fit, but without the narrowness that is usually the norm for racing shoes. The heel is also generously quilted with foam for comfort, and the knit mesh upper creates a smooth interior without any pressure spots.
Even the low-profile midsole isn’t as harsh as the specs may suggest. Though the ride is firm, the Escalante Racer doesn’t feel like wood – making 5K runs relatively comfortable. The outsole grip is good, if not great.
This 0 mm heel-to-offset running shoe is nice to have in your rotation as a short-distance tempo trainer and the occasional 5K racer.
6) Asics Hyperspeed
If you think you’ve heard of the Hyperspeed before, you’re not wrong. Asics had 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 previous model. The new version borrows its design lines from the Carbon-plated Metaracer, but behaves differently than the latter.
The 2021 Hyperspeed is a lot softer than the Hyperspeed 7 we once knew. The EVA midsole delivers a smooth and cushioned ride that feels fast enough for 5K and 10K runs. On the road (or track), the cluster of small rubber lugs has excellent traction.
The soft and comfortable upper fit well, and is surprisingly well put together for its $90 retail price.
7) Skechers Horizon Vanish 2
We’ve featured the shoe at the end because of its very narrow upper fit. Otherwise, there’s a lot to like about the Skechers Horizon Vanish 2.
Let’s begin with the cushioned midsole that makes 5K to 10K runs relatively comfortable. Unlike Skecher’s existing line-up of performance running shoes, the Horizon Vanish doesn’t use the firm Hyperburst foam.
Instead, the midsole is made of a softer material that Skechers calls Ultra Flight – a foam that feels and behaves like an EVA blend. The small pod-like lugs of the Goodyear outsole also softens the ride through their piston-like action. This configuration makes the ride soft, yet quick enough for peak 5K run paces.
The upper runs very tight due to the combination of the last shape, non-stretchy mesh, and the internal layers. However, if you’re narrow-footed, the ultra-snug favors the quick pacing that’s desirable for a 5K run.
8) Nike ZoomX Streakfly
At the time of writing this guide, the Streakfly is a hard shoe to find. For now, it’s mostly available from Nike’s website, but is constantly out of stock. However, if you do manage to get your hands on a pair, here’s what you need to know.
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 forefoot plate helps with quick turnovers.
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 Tartheredge, or the adidas Adios 6.