(This guide has been updated with current models for July 2019)
First, we’d like to clarify what ‘running’ means in the context of this article.
This curated list is relevant for road running only; if you’re running on treadmills, then please refer to the list of recommended shoes here. If you’re an XC, track, or a trail runner, then this guide does not apply to you.
People begin road running for a variety of reasons. For example, we’ve dispensed footwear advice to readers who ran only cross-country or track and wanted to begin road running.
At times, road running under certain external conditions such as unsuitable climate (extreme snow) or infrastructure (lack of roads) might not be workable. So once a person relocates to an area with (more) conducive conditions, he or she might begin road running.
Some first-timers decide to go road running as a variation of their favorite athletic activity like biking or swimming.
And in a large majority of cases, keeping fit is a powerful motivation for taking up running.
So far, so good. Road running is a gift; it doesn’t take an expensive gym membership or fancy equipment. All you need is some apparel and a good pair of running shoes.
This is where it can get a bit tricky. With no footwear history to guide you, buying your first pair of running shoes can be a daunting task.
Some people get a super-expensive running shoe, with the misplaced notion that a higher price equates to a better product.
Don’t do that.
Once you breach the $100 retail price barrier, running shoes are more or less the same in the matters of everyday performance. Instead of getting yourself the most expensive product, you should find a shoe which serves as a good starting point.
Your first road running shoe should be all about finding the middle ground first and then building on that foundational experience.
Your footwear taste will evolve once you’re past a few hundred miles. Your capacity and distance will improve with time, and so will your shoe rotation.
Over time, you’ll come to know whether you need a softer or firmer shoe, lighter or heavier, snugger or looser, and other things like your preference of heel drops.
This curated list helps you find that middle ground of shoes. You might not like 100% of the shoe, but it’ll give a better idea of what more (or less) you prefer in your future shoe, including the quality of upper fit.
So what is solereview’s criteria for selection here?
Price: We only chose models which had an MSRP (Full retail price) of $120 or less. The final price will depend on where you live, though.
Category: This list only contains neutral shoes which feel supportive. This will also help you decide if you need a medial-posted shoe later.
Heel offset: The heel drop is the difference in height between the thickest part of the heel and the forefoot. The suggested shoes have an 8–12 mm offset; we have not included lower drops because they might cause initial soreness.
Cushioning: None of these models are overly soft or hard. This will allow you to assess the comfort level you want, and apply that to your next purchase.
Accessibility and distribution: Most international (non-US) locations will have at least one of the five models listed below. That’s why we have stuck with popular brands and not the esoteric ones. That’s the reason why you won’t see a Hoka or Salming on this list.
And as with all running shoes, buy a size which leaves a thumb’s width of margin in the front. And gradually build up your road running mileage; don’t go from 0 – 30 miles in a single week!
Without further ado, here’s our list of top six running shoes for beginners:
1) Asics Gel-Cumulus 21
As far as running shoes go, the Asics Cumulus 21 is a very safe choice. And therein lies its appeal.
The dual-density Flytefoam midsole with its visi-Gel pad has a non-intimidating road character. The cushioning softness is just right, being neither too soft nor too firm. As long as you don’t rush it, the Cumulus works for a variety of runs, be it daily training or the occasional long-distance workout.
It’s interesting that the Cumulus has a softer ride than the more expensive Nimbus 21. So if you’re looking for a cushioned neutral from Asics, it makes more sense to buy the Cumulus over the Nimbus.
The upper looks a bit old school with welds and an unsleeved tongue but it’s comfortable and fits just right.
2) Brooks Ghost 11
If we had to distill this entire guide to just one shoe, then it would be the Ghost 11.
The multi-density midsole does an excellent job of melding cushioning and stability. The interior is smooth, breathable, and spacious. Brooks’s premium material package offers plenty of comfort.
The Ghost is an excellent starter shoe. You can use its well-rounded personality as a base to fine-tune your running shoe preferences.
3) New Balance 880V9
The 880V9 has all that one needs to begin logging road miles. The cushioned and stable midsole doesn’t rush things as you slowly begin to build your pace. The outsole has a dependable carbon rubber and blown rubber combination for grip and longevity.
This is New Balance we’re talking about, so the 880V9 sells in many widths for a customized fit experience.
4) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36
Are you looking for just one Nike running shoe to do it all? Look no further than the Pegasus 36. Whether you’re just getting started or a seasoned pro, the Pegasus gets most things right.
The ride is cushioned yet on the firmer side, making it versatile enough for various pace and distance ranges. The midsole has a full-length Zoom Air bag cupped inside an EVA foam casing. And here’s what a Zoom Air bag inside the Pegasus looks like.
The upper has lots of room inside and sells in multiple widths.
If you’re trading your Pegasus 35 for the 36, know that both shoes share the same midsole, and thus the same ride. Needless to say, you could get the Peg 35 instead if you’re getting a better deal.
You should know that the Pegasus 36 has a more minimal upper with a race-tongue – unlike the Pegasus 35’s padded tongue. This isn’t good or bad, but rather a matter of personal preference.
5) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy
Reebok had dropped off the running shoe industry’s radar for many years, but they’ve recently made a strong comeback with a line-up of shoes based on the Floatride platform.
The Forever Floatride Energy is a recent add – and an excellent one at that. The midsole cushioning is superlative, offering a rare combination of low weight, responsiveness, soft cushioning, and decent levels of stability.
If you can get past the minor bugs on the upper design, (it fits a bit long) then the Floatride Energy is our top pick as a comfortable daily trainer.
6) Saucony Ride ISO 2
The Saucony Ride ISO 2 appeals to runners of all experience classes and it’s easy to see why. By using an Everun topsole over an EVA foam midsole, the Ride ISO 2 delivers a perfect middle-ground between cushioning and stability.
The ISOFIT upper used to be a hit or miss on some of the older Saucony models, but recently the design has seen vast improvements. The Ride ISO 2’s upper is sleeved and comfortable with just the right amount of space.
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