Before anything else, 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 given 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 cold or heat) or infrastructure (lack of roads) might not work. 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 to complement their favorite athletic activity like biking or swimming.
In a large majority of cases, keeping fit is a powerful motivation to take 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 pair of reliable running shoes.
This is where it can get a bit tricky. With no footwear history to guide you, the task of buying your first pair of running shoes may seem daunting.
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 that 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 what the shoe offers, but it’ll provide a clearer sense 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 that 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 supportive neutral shoes. 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 drop models 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 that 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.
Interestingly, the Cumulus’s ride softness is at par with the more expensive Nimbus 22, except for the latter’s greater cushioning depth. So if you’re looking for a cushioned neutral from Asics, the Cumulus makes sense if you do not want to pay the Nimbus premium.
The upper looks a bit old school with welds and an unsleeved tongue but it’s comfortable and fits just right.
2) Brooks Ghost 12
Do you know what’s the best thing about the Brooks Ghost 12? It doesn’t excel in one specific area.
And how is that good?
The balanced ride and fit character of the Ghost makes it the ideal starter shoe. The midsole is cushioned yet supportive by not being overly soft. The plush and spacious upper fits a wide range of foot types, and an optional width is never far away.
Hence, it’s a great idea to use the Ghost 12 as a launchpad for your future running shoe purchases.
3) New Balance 880V10
In the past, we’ve often singled out the New Balance 880 as being one of the ‘last conventional trainers’.
Well, with the 880V10, we can’t label the shoe as such – not anymore.
Replacing the dual-density midsole of the V9 is a new Fresh Foam stack glued to a redesigned true-to-size knit upper.
That doesn’t change the 880’s beginner-friendly demeanor. The 10 mm drop midsole is just-right in its cushioning delivery and strikes the optimal balance between ride comfort and stability.
Did we mention that this shoe sells in four different sizing widths?
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 is a crowd-pleaser.
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 2
We loved the inaugural edition of the Floatride Energy – the ride was responsive, comfortable, and low-profile enough to feel efficient. The minimal and breezy upper had a slightly long-sih fit but disappeared on the foot during runs. Combine all that with a $100 retail price, and you had a winner in the starter running shoe category.
The Forever Floatride Energy 2 carries over the same midsole and outsole, so the ride character is identical to the superlative V1. The upper is still comfortable, though we have mixed feelings about the ‘lip’ heel design and the added stiffness of the toe-box and lacing eyestay.
Regardless of the changes, the V2 is an excellent beginner shoe – just like the V1.
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 versatile 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.
Saucony is divesting out of the ISOFIT design, so this is the last Ride with an ‘ISO’ suffix. The version – namely the Saucony Ride 13 – will launch in summer 2020.