How to build a running shoe rotation

Obsession or necessity? Hoarding or collecting? There is an important, albeit sometimes subtle, difference between stockpiling hundreds of shoes and building up a sensible running shoe rotation. Some runners have multiple pairs of shoes, and there’s more to the story than an incessant need to have the latest iteration of their favourite model. All runners can benefit from having more than one pair of running shoes. This article outlines how rotating your running shoes can improve your running experience.

Why should you rotate your running shoes?

Rotating your running shoes can help improve your running experience and reduce your risk of injury. Adding one (or more) running shoe to your rotation can provide a number of benefits, as described below.

You can choose shoes to suit your session and how you feel

Running shoes are designed to deliver different levels of cushioning and support. From very soft to very firm, and neutral to stability. The way we run may vary from day to day, depending on how tired we are, the time of day and what type of run we’re doing. Runners will benefit from using different types of cushioning (or even support) for different lengths and intensities of runs.

  • Running in ‘Responsive’ shoes with firmer cushioning is usually beneficial when running at harder or faster efforts. It will result in muscles doing more work, as joints will flex more. Greater flexion in muscles and joints will result in more energy being returned via the stretch shortening cycle. 
  • Running in ‘Soft’ shoes with softer cushioning is in theory more beneficial for slower paced running or when we are tired. Softer cushioning can make running feel easier as our muscles don’t have to work as much. Reducing flexion at joints such as knees can reduce the stress going through them. When running slowly or in a more fatigued state, our feet will be on the ground for longer each foot strike.

Learn more about Choosing the right running shoes: Neutral or Stability? 

You can choose shoes to suit your terrain

If you run on roads and trails, having a road shoe as well as a dedicated trail shoe can extend your shoe’s life. Road running shoes are designed to meet the demands of tarmac, and taking them off-road can compromise their durability. Trail running shoes are built with more durable outsole rubbers and have greater levels of reinforcement in the upper. While these features make for an enjoyable trail running experience, the added weight to the shoe can leave the trail shoe feeling a bit clumpy and harder work on the road.

It allows the shoe’s foam to recover from a run

The midsole foam (cushioning) in a running shoe bears the brunt of any impact as you run and requires time to fully recover afterwards. The foam compresses over time and loses its ability to absorb impact. It may deteriorate quicker if the same running shoe is used with little (or no) time to recover i.e. rise back up in between runs. For instance if you use your running shoes for walking too, or if you run everyday.

If you want to know more about the life expectancy of running shoes, read How long do running shoes last?

It reduces the chance of overuse (reducing the chance of injury)

This is especially relevant for road running. On road – a typically smooth, hard, and even surface – running movements and motions are repetitive and uniform (though higher-impact), especially if you don’t vary routes, distance and intensity. As a result, the repeated stress can lead to an injury in some way. Rotating shoes featuring different levels of cushioning, and of different weight and profile, can be the variation runners need to reduce the chance of injury or overuse. 

Note this is just one of several ways you can help reduce your risk of injury. Developing a good warm-up and stretching routine, and integrating strength and conditioning into your training, are equally important preventive measures.

What shoes should I have in my running shoe rotation?

Running on the road

If you’re a road runner, you may decide to rotate one or two pairs of ‘Soft’ shoes and one or two pairs of ‘Responsive’ shoes, if that will benefit your training.

Do you stick to roughly the same distance at the same pace? If yes, rotating two pairs of ‘Soft’ shoes would be most beneficial. If you’ve already found a running shoe that you love and that suits your running, you can simply rotate two pairs of that same model. This shoe can be a ‘base shoe’ – one that fits all your needs. 

If you run different distances, for example a longer run at the weekend and shorter runs on weekdays, then having a ‘Soft’ shoe for the longer run, and a ‘Responsive’ shoe for your shorter runs or tempo runs, would be a good option.

Lucy’s running shoe rotation

Members of our Dundee team share their current running shoe rotation as examples below. Lucy runs on the road and currently has 3 different pairs to choose from depending on the session and her mood.

Lucy’s road running shoe rotation
  • Brooks Transcend 7 (now the Glycerin GTS 19): “My all-time favourite go-to running shoes which I use for pretty much everything.”
  • HOKA Arahi 4: “Although I love the Brooks Transcend, I reach for the Arahi if I want a lighter feeling shoe for my longer runs. They provide me with great protection, and I like the dynamic support they provide.”
  • Brooks Hyperion Tempo: “I use this for my faster-paced shorter runs. They are a very lightweight that give me great energy return.”

Running on the road and trails

If you like to mix things up and run on different surfaces, then you’ll benefit from having a pair of road running shoes and a pair of trail running shoes. Again, the decision is yours and you need to think about what would suit you best. Are your runs exclusively road or trail? If not, what’s the split between tarmac and trail? How hilly and soft are the trails you run on? Do you race on roads, but train on trails? 

Thinking about the above will help you decide on the best shoe to add to your running armory.      

The benefits will also be huge in terms of durability. Road running shoes are carefully constructed to meet the demands of tarmac. There’s no real problem with taking a road shoe onto a bit of off-road terrain but it’ll compromise their durability. Trail shoes are built with more durable outsole rubbers and have greater levels of reinforcement in the upper.

Megan’s running shoe rotation

Megan enjoys running on the road and trails and her current shoe rotation includes the On Cloudventure.

Megan’s road and trail running shoe rotation
Road shoes
  • On Cloudflow: “I use them for faster-paced runs, I like how ultra-light they are!”
  • ASICS Gel-Cumulus 22: “I use them for steadier paced runs, the soft though responsive feel is amazing.”
Trail shoes
  • On Cloudventure: “It is my current go-to trail shoe for routes that include a mix of road and flowy, hardpacked trails. I’m excited to put it through it’s paces and try it out on more technical terrain after lockdown.”

Running on the trails

A trail runner may benefit from having a couple of pairs to suit different types of off-road terrain and different distances. Not all trail running shoes for example will perform well on hills or muddy/soft terrain. You can of course get versatile ‘do it all’ door-to-trail models, but they’ll generally perform less well on gnarly, technical terrain. 

If you run on both trails and hills, you may want to rotate a hybrid trail shoe with a more aggressive hill or trail running shoe. Examples of hybrid trail shoes that will offer great feel and protection on mixed terrain include the Saucony Peregrine, HOKA Challenger ATR and Salomon Sense Ride. More aggressive counterparts designed for more technical terrain include the Saucony Peregrine ST, HOKA Speedgoat and Salomon Speedcross.

Runners who run on trails but at a variety of paces may want to rotate a hybrid trail shoe, ideal for slower-paced or longer runs; with a nimble, more responsive trail shoe, ideal for faster runs or races. Lightweight pared-back aggressive trail and fell racing shoes from Salomon and Inov-8, along with models like the adidas Terrex Speed Pro and Nike Terra Kiger are designed for moving at fast paces over technical terrain.

John’s running shoe rotation

Now it’s John’s turn to present his winter running shoe rotation.

John’s trail and road running shoe rotation
Trail shoes
  • HOKA Speedgoat 4: “Great grip and cushioning in my go-to mileage trail shoe. The Vibram outsole copes with pretty much anything underfoot.”
  • Altra Timp 2: “I use this shoe on shorter runs, when I want to zip along the trails, nice and flexible and I have a real connection with the ground in them.”
Road shoes
  • ASICS Novablast: “A really bouncy shoe with excellent energy return that I have just really enjoyed the feel of, similar to the New Balance 1080 V10 which I love.”
  • ASICS Gel Nimbus 23: “Super plush feeling mileage shoe with the added responsiveness in the forefoot, comfort all the way!”

If you live in Scotland, why not visit us in-store? You can book a +runlab appointment at run4it.com/book.
Alternatively, take a look at our shoe advice page via the link below.