Runblogger’s Top Running Shoes of 2010

I’ve been contemplating for a few weeks about whether to put together a top shoe of the year list. Part of my hesitation was that I find it hard to rank shoes in numerical order – some are good for some things, others are good for other things, and very few (none?) are good at everything. So, instead of doing a traditional Top 5 or Top 10 list, I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach.

I’ve written a few times here about my preference for rotating my shoes depending on conditions. Since I do reviews and get media samples, it’s fairly easy for me to do this, and my shoe collection now numbers over 20 pairs. However, let’s be honest, I don’t need 20 pairs of shoes to fill out my rotation. So, my tactic in this post is to answer a seemingly simple question – if I had to reduce my rotation to only 3 shoes, which shoes would I keep? The first two choices are easy, and will probably come as no surprise to readers of this blog. The third choice was difficult as no other shoe really stood out. Here goes:


1. Saucony Kinvara
I have a strong fondness for the Saucony Kinvara. Perhaps it’s because the shoe carried me quite comfortably to a Boston Qualifying time at the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon in early October, or perhaps it’s because the shoe rescued me from two ITBS scares as I detailed in my previous post about the New Balance Minimus Trail, but the Kinvara gets first nod as my favorite shoe of 2010.

Saucony Kinvara

The Kinvara is a special shoe for a number of reasons. As I explained in my full review of the Saucony Kinvara, it has gotten rave reviews from runners all over and has been a big seller for Saucony. As a gateway/transitional minimalist shoe, it will also be remembered by many runners as their first foray into the world of less shoe. It’s success also seems to have convinced Saucony that minimalist style shoes can be big sellers, and they are moving forward with a number of new shoes clearly designed to capitalize on the success and popularity of the Kinvara (e.g., the Mirage, Cortana, Peregrine, and Hattori).

If there are knocks against the Kinvara, it would be that it has a moderate heel lift (4 mm without the insole, 6.5 mm with the insole) and durability can be an issue for some given the minimal amount of outsole rubber. I have run 150+ miles in mine and they still look fine, but I don’t yet have a sense of how many miles I will be able to get out of them. Though they fit me great, some find them to be on the narrow side (Saucony should make these in widths!), and they are on the softer side in terms of cushioning. Regardless of these potential complaints, they work fantastically well on my feet, and are my go-to shoe for mid- to long distance runs. The Kinvara is simply a great shoe, and I look forward to seeing what Saucony has in store for the Kinvara 2!


2. Vibram Fivefingers Bikila
If I was only able to run in three pairs of shoes, an ultra-minimal, true zero drop shoe would definitely be one of them. Barefoot style running shoes are an essential part of my training, if for no other reason than that they provide an incredible strength workout for the legs and feet. Among shoes that came out in 2010, the Vibram Fivefingers Bikila would be my top choice (see my more detailed review of the Vibram Fivefingers Bikila here).

vff_bikila

The Vibram Bikila was not my first pair of Fivefingers – that honor would go to the VFF KSO, which I purchased in mid 2009. However, it is the Vibram that I most enjoy running in, mainly because of the fact that it really hugs my foot like a glove (my KSO’s are a size too large I think). Additionally, unlike the KSO, which has given me heel blisters, the Bikila is an ideal sockless shoe, which really enhances the minimalist experience for me. Some have complained about the Bikila having a bit too much cushion, but I don’t mind a bit of give, and for me it’s just about right. Perhaps most importantly, the Bikilas are an absolute blast to run in. Vibram will be seeing some stiff competition in the zero-drop, ultra-minimalist market next year with new offerings set to arrive from companies like Altra and Merrell, but for 2010, the Bikila is my top choice in the ultra-minimal category.


3. Brooks Mach 12
The third spot is a real tough one for me. My initial thought was to go with a trail shoe, but to be honest, I really haven’t done all that much trail running in 2010. After a few genuine trail runs in the New Balance MT101 I’m liking it a lot, but my experience with the NB Minimus Trail has taught me to be a bit more cautious about first impressions (my gut tells me that the NB MT101 would be #3 if I had put more miles on it at this point).

Putting the trail shoe idea aside for now, my next choice would be a lightweight shoe built for fast racing and speedwork, particularly one suitable for running on a track (the Kinvara has a bit too much cushion to work well on a rubberized track). I have yet to find the perfect shoe in this niche – the Mizuno Wave Universe and Saucony Grid Type A4 are both nice, but have their drawbacks as well. If pushed to make a choice, I would probably go with the Brooks Mach 12 spikeless cross country flat (I’d actually probably go with the Mach 11 over the 12, but it’s now a discontinued model).

Brooks Mach 12 Spikeless

My reasons for choosing the Mach 12 are that it fits pretty well for a racing flat (XC flats are notoriously narrow), and it has worked very well for me for both 5K racing and track workouts. It rides low to the ground, has a low heel (about 4mm drop from heel to forefoot), and has a fairly firm sole (perfect for the track). I even managed to run a hilly 20 mile long run in the Mach 12 without too much trouble, so it can handle distance in a pinch. Despite these positives, the Mach 12 does have one big drawback that will bother some people – huge toe spring. Toe spring isn’t usually much of a problem for me, but the spring in the Mach 12 is the most exaggerated in any shoe that I own. Despite this, I still find the Mach 12 to be a nice shoe, and until someone makes a cross country flat with a roomy toe box, the Brooks Mach series will suffice for me. You can read my full review of the Brooks Mach 12 here.

So there you have it – my top picks for 2010. I should emphasize that these are simply my personal preferences, and represent the shoes I would keep if I could only run in three at this moment in time. In reality, I enjoy running in many more shoes than are listed here, some of which I have only recently started running in (e.g., Saucony Grid Type A4, NB MT101, Newton Distance Racer, Vibram Trek Sport). In fact, some of these may become favorites as the weather starts to warm back up and I get back into more regular speedwork, and some of the shoes on this list may fall by the wayside given the crop of exciting minimalist shoes set to arrive in 2011. Either way, you can be sure you’ll hear about them all here on the blog.

How about you – what are your top 3 shoes of 2010?

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. 1) MT101 – Love these trail shoes
    2) Brooks Mach 11
    3) Brooks Launch

    I was very excited about the Kinvara, but unfortunately they did not work on my feet. I got major blisters on my big toes. I guess they were too narrow for me?

  2. My 3 favorites for 2010…
    Glad to see some love for the Adidas Rockets here in the comments. I picked some up on closeout at Running Warehouse because they fit my criteria for a winter running shoe… light, low, no holes in the soles (a la A4 or Asics Piranhas), cheap, have decent traction and look cool. I wish I’d bought a couple more pairs because I love them. I’m a bit surprised I’ve seen so little mention of them by minimalist runners.

    The Bikilas are awesome. My wife has been raving about them all year and urging me to get a pair to replace my KSOs. I resisted, saying the KSOs were good enough for me. She finally broke down and bought a pair of Bikilas for me for Christmas and I got out for my first run in them yesterday. They are every bit as good as advertised.

    The Green Silence is nice, is very eco-conscious and fits my feet great (like all Brooks!). I’ve given up on it for winter though since the traction on any sort of ice and snow is terrible. The Launch fits great but bothers my shins every time I go for a run longer than 8 mi in it so I’ve given up on it. I really hope that Brooks enters the true minimalist fray here sometime soon. I love Brooks as a company, but they are getting left behind. To date they don’t really offer anything that I’d really consider “minimal” so it’s great to hear that they might have something under development.

  3. 1. Kinvara White
    2. Kinvara Green
    3. Kinvara Orange

    These shoes just work for me! I have hyperspeeds but they beat up my feet too much if I run in them to often. My feet just like the cushioning in the Kinvaras.

  4. I was looking for your 2011 top 3. Or actually, I would like a top 10! Hope it comes soon. As for my choice: very happy with the Saucony Kinvara. Run a few records on them (marathon, 10k, 15k and coopertest) but I recently bought a new pair of Nike Free 3.0 v3 (actually two pairs, first via internet, prooved to be fakes – it took a real run2day shop owner a while to see, but than it was obvious to me too). With a new real pair I must say that I like them a bit more than the Kinvara. 
    Good third: Vibram Fivefingers Bikila, but for 10k max. And than I have small blistes already. I like them especially on the treadmill. I tried to run on it without shoes. That hurts! More than on tarmac.

    For reviews: very interested in the Brooks Pure Flow, Asics 33 series and your opinion on the Nike Free 3.0 v3!

  5. Gerald Kielian says:

    After suffering a femural neck stress fracture eighteen months ago while running in Asics Keyanos (with orthotics !!!) I decided to do a 180 turn upon my return to running influenced by reading Born To Run during my convalescence. I began running again in July. The three shoes I bought in this new phase in my running career ( I am 63 years old and have been running for 47 years) and the order in which I purchased them:
    1. Nike Free Run +
    2. Saucony Kinvara
    3. Vibram Bikilas
    I bought these shoes before I began reading your excellent blog and feel very intelligent in comparing my purchases to your list!
    I won’t/can’t rank these three but the combination has worked very well for me.
    Keep up the good work,
    GGKUSMC

  6. Ghgreyhound10 says:

    Top 3 would be
    Brooks Green Silence
    Saucony Kinvara
    Newton Distance Racer
    Honorable mention: Brooks Launch

  7. You should try the Puma FAAS, Puma’s entry to the minimalist entry point line. The Puma upper feels better on my feet than the Kinvara upper. The only negative would be that it feels even cushier than the Kinvara, but is not unstable.

    I also like the Adizero Rockets (see Samwine 2′s post) because they ARE fast, but my legs feel beat up after running in them.

    So — my top 3, based in large part on race results over various distances:

    1) Adizero Rockets
    2) Puma FAAS and
    3) Saucony Kinvaras.

  8. Nils Janson says:

    Saucony Kinvara
    Brooks Mach 12
    Brooks Mach 11

  9. Min is in. Best three shoes;

    1Saucony Kinvara
    2Brooks Green Silence
    3Brooks Launch For the long runs

  10. Jason Fitzgerald says:

    I bought a pair of Kinvara’s two weeks ago and have done runs from 4-9 miles in them. They’re simply superb. I’m constantly surprised how easy it is to land on your mid-foot!

    I tend to find a shoe that works for me and stick with it. I don’t have the same level of shoe addiction that you do Pete :) But my old school favorites are: ASICS Speed Stars (first edition) and the Nike Pegasus Racers. Too bad they’re not around any more.

  11. My current 3 favorite shoes:

    VFF Bikila
    NB 790
    Mizuno Wave Universe 3

  12. 1. Brooks T7 Racer- limited edition lightweight running shoe worn by Chrissie Wellington for ironman. Comfortable and enough cushioning
    2. Adidas Adizero Adios- These shoes are slightly heavier than a true racing flat but provide abit of support for longer distances. worn by Haile Gebrselassie when he smashed the marathon world record!
    3. Brooks Mach 13- terrific for track training, firm sole

  13. Sounds like this is becoming a Kinvara fanclub and I would have to add my name to that. I bought a pair of them a couple of weeks ago after reading the review here and after a run in them got that warm fuzzy Eureka moment feeling that after a long and frustrating search I had finally found my life partner. 3 days ago I did one of the senseless things we all do when first falling in love and wore them for a marathon despite only have run in them twice beforehand….and they were awesome. Now to stock up before Sacony make major changes as they are sure to do with the next version….

  14. Sam Winebaum says:

    My 2010 Favorites:

    1) Hoka One One Mafate-totally different yet minimal in a way. For long, long hauls and recovery runs.

    2) Saucony Kinvara-solid minimalism, light and cushioned, good for every distance and speed

    3) adidas Rockets- very light fast and responsive yet also firmly cushioned. A bit narrow over the instep and hard to put on.

    Runner ups:

    Golite Flash Lite- first zero drop “shoe”. Solid smooth trail runner. Road runnable. Very comfortable walker If you need to take one shoe for multiple purposes this is it.

    Ascis Hyperspeed- similar to Rockets but not quite as snappy on the go.

  15. Having just come in from a run IN THE SNOW in my Invisible Shoes, I’ll have to make a write-in vote for them ;-)

  16. My favorite is the New Balance MT101. And I have done some mileage in them . . . enough to like them a whole lot.
    They are so very light, yet enough cushion to run even on pavement (which at this point has been most of my running, due to the snow and ice around here).
    I tried the Kinvara. My friends run in them exclusively, and I wanted to like them. . . and I did except . . . they cut into my ankle bone. I don’t know why, since I own 2 other pair of Saucony’s (Jazz Low Pro and Bullet). Has anyone else had that problem with the Kinvaras?
    I would wear them if it weren’t for that.

  17. 1. Nike Free Run+. I know these bring out some very polarized views, but these are my first more mininmalist shoes, practically solved my shin splints, and helped me to my first 10K in a very reasonable time and in comfort :)

    2. Saucony Kinvara. Pete, you’re responsible for this particular expenditure this year ;) Working great for me for light trail running.

    3. Nike Free Run 3.0 v2. Ok, not new, and another choice some people will hate. And to be honest I haven’t run in them since I only got them today. But I’m so stoked to finally get a pair of these in the UK where they have been impossible to find. Hope I still love them after my run this morning…

    Looking forward in 2011 to the Adam, and more great stuff from runblogger – keep up the good work :)

  18. campusrunner says:

    1. Kinvara – the 4-6.5mm HTD is great for a midfoot striker like i am plus i love the ample cushioning in the midfoot/forefoot area that keeps my feet fresh.
    2. NB 801MRF
    3. NB 790

  19. Hey there,
    good topic.

    Inov8 Roclite 315′s: Jack of all traits. Ran the Northern Nipmuck, Wapack 18 miler and even did a 2 day 40 mile backpacking trip in the Tetons in the same shoe.

    New Balance MT101′s: Great for my local trail/road runs. These have been great for improving my running form.

    Vibram 5Finger Classics: Great for keeping proper form in check. Only use them once a week but it seems to do the trick.

  20. sdcrunner says:

    I only ran in two shoe models — well three if you count one XC race in some very old (over 20 years) Nike spikes. But, I won’t count those since I cannot remember what model they were and since if I really want to run in spikes, I should probably purchase some new ones.

    1. Saucony Shay XC Flats – These were my everyday trainers in 2010. I am on my second and third pair.
    2. Adidas Adizero Pro – In 2011, I ran faster than I had since 2005. I won’t say it’s the shoes, but they surely didn’t hurt.

  21. The top three shoes that got me by in 2010 were

    1. The NB100- I have about 800 miles on these bad boys and still love them to death. I did a ten mile road run in them today and they gave me great traction on the snow (The NB110 was just previewed with a sweet Anton video at IRUNFAR.com)
    2. Brooks Launch- This is a shoe I did a lot of miles in but now I feel they are too cushioned after being in the NB 100 so much
    3. Mizuno Musha- Did everything from 5 to 20 mile runs in these bad boys, on and off of the trail

    Top three shoes I am looking forward too in 2011

    1. NB101- I know these are already out but I have not got a pair yet.
    2. New Balance Minimus Road- I hope to get a pair of these in time for boston to do some training and run the race in. I tried it on once and loved it. I like firm shoes (have a pair of the Kinvaras but almost never wear them).
    3. Merrell barefoot shoe with leather upper- just to kick around in

    Also I have heard rumors of minimalist shoes coming out from other big compaines in the fall, which I am very excited about.

    Have a happy holiday

    Charlie

    • Pete Larson says:

      Charlie,

      Any chance those rumors might involve a company that begins with B and ends
      with S? I may have heard that rumor as well :)

      Pete

  22. New Balance 110 – got a pair for Christmas and they were so fantastic right out of the box that only three runs in, I’m ready to bump these to the top of my list.

    Brooks Mach 11 – never got my hands on the updates, but picked up a pair of the 11′s after the favorable review here on runblogger – I initially intended to use them mostly for training but liked ‘em enough to wear them for mileages up to and including a 50K. Were it not for the 110′s, these would be my current faves.

    Patagonia Footwear Tsali – this shoe is lightweight but still not as streamlined as the 110′s or the Mach 11′s. The reason these made the list is the slick dynamic lacing that makes these shoes fit incredibly comfortably. I’ve been wearing these shoes all day, everyday but think that they’re a great running option for anyone transitioning into a true minimalist shoe or someone not wanting to pare down entirely.

  23. Contour Tomichi says:

    Here are my favorites:

    1. Nike Streak XC 2
    2. Brooks Green Silence
    3. Brooks Launch

    Couldn’t be happier with this line-up

  24. VFF Bikila’s
    Saucony Grid A4
    New Balance MT101

  25. My top shoes for 2010 are the following:

    1) I agree with you on the Saucony Kinvara- GREAT xc AND track flat flat for training, road racing, xc racing a non-spike course, and track longer distance workouts
    2) Huaraches custom made for YOUR FOOT at link to invisibleshoe.com …a modern twist with new laces (non-leather) based on what that Tarahumara ran in (in Chris McDougal’s Born to Run!) for overall warm-ups, cool-downs, easy runs, endurance runs once weaned into
    3) Nike Free 3.0 for some lighter weight fun tempo runs on crazy terrain in the rocky mountains =)

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