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Christopher Bradley  •  Running Gear •  21.03.2022 •  6 min read

How to build a running shoe rotation

“They said this sport was simple. Just a pair of shoes and you’re out the door… Do I really need to think about a running shoe rotation?” – Literally every runner since running shoes were invented at some point along their journey.

"You don’t, but you really should…” – Literally every runner who’s thoughtfully implemented a running shoe rotation when asked the previous question.

Reasons to rotate your running shoes

Running is easy to overcomplicate. You don’t need a road shoe with foam tailored for each session’s prescribed pace-window to get serious about hitting those PBs, nor is it a prerequisite to have a war room of trail shoes divided by season and terrain to get after that first mountain race.

But just because it’s not necessary to have every base covered with its own special shoes doesn’t mean that adding an extra pair or two can’t significantly improve your running.

Different shoes for different runs

If you are starting to periodise your training – sprinkling in some speed work with your regular easy runs – building a shoe rotation gives you specific tools for specific jobs. You could have something soft for comfort on the longer easy days, and something responsive for efficiency and rebound when you’re hammering short interval sessions. 

Extend the life of your shoes

And yes, while an extra pair of running shoes might be £125 out of your pocket today, remember, running shoes aren’t like milk - they’re not going to just expire after a short period of time. Their lives are measured in miles. In fact, having more than one pair to rotate between will help you get more distance out of your shoes. This is because the midsoles will have longer to recover between uses, delaying that feeling of lifelessness that typically kicks in between 300 and 500 miles (or 500 and 800 kilometres).

Reduce your risk of injury

Rotating between a few different styles of shoe is also good for protecting your body. Running on flat, uniform surfaces like roads, the almost inevitable risk is an overuse injury. Switching between models with different heel-to-toe drops, levels of cushioning, and weights, can give the body the variation necessary to reduce that risk.  

Things to consider when building your running shoe rotation

Running shoes are designed for different purposes, so when building your rotation, you should know what your purposes are.

If you like plush-feeling soft shoes, and tend to do all your running at a steady pace, it could be worth having two pairs of soft shoes to switch between. If you’ve discovered there’s a specific model that works best for your gait, alternating between two pairs of the same shoe will be good for getting the most use out of both.

If you’re incorporating lots of tempo work and intervals, with eyes on a specific marathon time, it would be worth having at least one pair of  responsive shoes that feel faster and more efficient, and maybe even a pair of carbon-plated shoes for tempo work and race day.

If you’re looking for one shoe to hit roads and trails, to quite literally do everything, think about the ratio of roads to trails in your weekly mileage, and think about the nature of the terrain when you ditch the concrete for the dirt. 

Smooth, well-groomed forest trails? A pair of Nike Pegasus Trail or HOKA Challengers will perform with aplomb. If it’s steep, sloppy hills or bogs, your door-to-trail shoe might not cut it - similarly, a hill running shoe will feel uncomfortable and wear down fast against asphalt. Building a considered, strategic running shoe rotation minimises compromise. 

My road running shoe rotation

For my base miles, recovery runs, and long steady distance, I’ll use the Saucony Endorphin Shift, which has a very similar update built on the same midsole in the Endorphin Shift 2

It has a high stack height and is built on a rocker-shape, similar to HOKAs, and a lot of the more modern silhouettes we’re seeing on running shoes these days. What I like about Saucony’s rocker (called SpeedRoll) is that there’s a very distinct tipping point through the forefoot, making it feel very efficient. Wearing this shoe feels like you’re the boulder chasing Indiana Jones at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark - this is great for long easy runs and recovery runs as you just feel like you could roll along forever. 

two pairs of running shoes in the sun on a kerb

For most races, faster sessions, and any long runs where I’ll throw in some marathon or tempo pace intervals, I use the Nike Zoom Fly 3, which has a similar update in the Zoom Fly 4.

This uses a high stack of Nike’s non-Newtonian React foam, which feels soft at steadier efforts, but gives plenty of rebound at faster speeds when more force is applied - it also benefits from a full-length carbon plate, making it a really efficient shoe that could be used for anything on the roads, but I personally like it for race-pace down to tempo efforts. 

My trail running shoe rotation

For long runs and most ultra-distance events, especially on rocky trails, I like to use the Speedgoat 4, soon to be succeeded by the highly-touted Speedgoat 5. This is the update on the game-changing shoe designed to run 100 miles over technical, rugged terrain. 

It features a wonderfully cushioned midsole that carefully treads the line between giving a plush, forgiving ride, while not making you feel unstable. The high stack height is countered by having your foot sit inside the slightly flared midsole, rather than on top of it, giving confidence on uneven, ankle-hunting injury traps. For me, they’re like a pair of downhill mountain bike tyres especially for your feet. The Vibram Megagrip outsole makes this shoe durable enough to handle trail runs with drawn-out stretches of tarmac, and grippy enough that on icy days they cross over for use on the roads. 

two pairs of running shoes in the sun on a pavement

For mountain days and most hill runs, I’ll bring out the Salomon Sense Pro 4. With a lug-depth of 5mm, these give excellent traction in the mud compared to most trail shoes, and at only 255-grams and a low stack height, I’ve worn few trail shoes that feel this nimble and fast. 

If I need more precise footing, or it’s an interval session on trails like hill repeats, I reach for the Sense Pros. On any longer trail runs that mix in some extended periods of concrete, or even if I’m just feeling a little beat up, I’ll opt for the cushioning and durability of the Speedgoats. 

The long and short of a good running shoe rotation

Running shoe technology has come such a long way over the past few decades that you have some really strong “Swiss Army shoe” options that can handle a speed session as well as serve for your long outings and recovery runs. Shoes like the ASICS Novablast and the Nike Pegasus for some examples, give great energy return at faster paces but are soft enough to make recovery runs feel comfortable too.

However, given the potential to be more specific and precise in your sessions, the economy of prolonging the lives of your shoes, and the reduced injury risk, building out a shoe rotation really makes a lot of sense for anyone wanting to chase PBs and build their mileage.

The key to an effective running shoe rotation is to know the different purposes of your runs, and try the shoes that are built to serve those purposes. A great first step is to book a free +runlab appointment at your local shop to consult with a team member. Alternatively, check out the information on our shoe advice page.

If you are starting to periodise your training – sprinkling in some speed work with your regular easy runs – building a shoe rotation gives you specific tools for specific jobs.

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