Training for my first New York City Marathon introduced me to the concept of "runner's math." A 10-mile run is really just two five-mile runs; an 18-miler is basically six 5Ks; and a marathon is just two 10-mile runs with a 10K finisher. But while this kind of mental gymnastics may make the miles feel like they're going by faster, there's a whole lot more work that goes into actually making them go faster—and finding some fast running shoes is a key part of the equation.
When I started my training plan back in July, my average mile time was 13 minutes per mile—which is pretty slow. While I had no expectations of breaking any records come race day (crossing the finish line at all was enough of a goal for me), I did want to finish before it got dark out, so I knew I had to pick up the pace. In addition to adding speed workouts into my weekly routine, I scoured the internet for sneakers that promised to make me faster—and landed on six runner-beloved favorites that might be able to help.
Over the course of two months, I put all of these kicks to the test on countless early-morning and late-night runs. And while there are a lot of factors that go into how fast any given mile goes—how you slept, how you ate, how you feel, how much you've trained—I've gotta admit: The right shoes do make all the difference. With the right kicks, I was able to shave three full minutes off of my average mile time.
Average 5K pace: 10:13
It was love at first step for me and the Hoka Rockets, which immediately replaced my old APLs as my go-to training sneakers and wound up being the shoes I chose for race day.
The speed mechanism here is a propulsive carbon fiber plate, a new-ish type of technology you’ll see in a number of the other speed-friendly sneakers on this list. The plate works as a sort of shock absorber, which rebounds as you run so that you can push off the ground harder and with less effort—which explains why a recent study found that 100 percent of runners who raced in carbon-plated shoes said their kicks helped with their performance. In the case of the Hoka Rockets, the carbon plates are surrounded by two layers of foam that offer soft but high-rebound cushioning for a zippy push-off.
Not only did these shoes carry me through hundreds of fast, comfortable miles during my training, but they also helped me finish 26.2 with almost no foot pain to speak of. At this point, my Hoka Rockets so well-loved that they need to retire, but you better believe I’ll be replacing them with another pair.
Average 5K pace: 10:06
When I heard that Adidas was marketing these sneakers as “illegally fast,” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little bit—how much faster could they really make me?
Turns out, a lot. Not only did I crack my first ever 10-minute mile in these babies, but I kept up the same-ish pace for nearly 9 miles—which was a shock considering I’d set out only planning to run 3.5.
The key here, once again, is carbon plates—only these sneakers have two of them in each shoe instead of the usual one, and they are padded with a whole lotta foam. This means that they a massive 50mm high (which, by the way, is what makes them “illegal” for elite runners to race in by World Athletics shoe regulations), and have an intense rocker quality that made me nervous to wear them for any long runs. That said, they put a whole lot of spring in my step that made my miles feel easy-breezy and fast. If I take on a shorter race in the future, these are the shoes I’ll choose.
Average 5K pace: 9:43
It may have been the Barbie pink that got me excited to lace up these Saucony sneaks for the first time, but it was the endless comfort and speed they delivered that had me going back to them time and time again throughout the training process.
The nylon plates in this shoe are S-curved, meaning that they have slight wings on the sides to keep your foot in place while you run. As someone with a tendency to overpronate, this made a world of difference in terms of stability—I noticed early on in my initial run in them that my arches weren’t rubbing up against the shoe nearly as much as they do with other styles. Blisters were additionally kept at bay thanks to the nice, wide sole that provided a solid base for my feet, and a breathable mesh upper that really gave my toes a chance to breathe (yes, even on hot August afternoon runs). With a 36mm stack height, they don’t feel super-high off of the ground in the way other options on this list do, and they provide nice feedback every time I strike the ground.
These shoes may not have been my favorites of the bunch, but I still really loved them—and only partly because they brought me fuschia-induced joy every time I looked at my feet during a particularly grueling mile.
Average 5K pace: 10:51
On has become the darling of the sneaker world in recent years (seriously—it feels like everyone I know has a pair of these in their arsenal), and as a newbie to the brand I was endlessly excited to try its take on speed shoes.
The Cloudmonsters promise to—surprise, surprise—make it feel like you’re “running on a cloud,” and boy, do they deliver. All of On’s running sneakers feature some version of the brand’s signature “clouds,” but this design takes things to the next level with even more vertical and horizontal cushioning to soften each step. Unlike the other rocker-style shoes on this list, these sneakers offset their thick heels with an upward angle at the toe for some bonus bounce every time you push off the ground.
While these shoes didn’t necessarily help me clock my fastest miles, they did make for some of my most comfortable—which was a win in itself. I found myself turning to these sneakers on days when I didn’t really want to run, but knew I could get through it as long as there was no pain in my feet or legs during the process.
Average 5K pace: 10:13
Puma’s been playing around with rocker shoes for years, and the recently launched Deviate Nitro 2 takes all of the brand’s learnings and puts them to work.
Building on the original Nitro shoe, which is known for its foam cushioning, this new version pairs two layers of foam with a carbon plate to create a sort of “lever” to propel you forward every time your toe strikes the ground. They weren’t necessarily the most exciting sneakers I tested (in that they didn’t stand out to me the way some of the others did), but thanks to A+ traction on the soles and minimal heel slippage, they became my go-tos for treadmill sessions and speed workouts that required me to push myself past my limits.
Average 5K pace: My feet didn’t make it that far…
I wanted to like these shoes so badly. Not only are they endlessly cool (because, let’s be honest, no other brand in the running world has quite the same swag factor as Nike), but they also happen to be the shoes Eliud Kipchoge wore when he unofficially ran the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon. Sadly, though, they just weren’t for me—which goes to show you that when it comes to running shoes, one man’s treasure is another woman’s charity donation.
But though the Vaporflys didn’t work for my wide, over-pronated feet (they gave me blisters on my arches that required me to quit a run halfway through), it doesn’t mean that they aren’t seriously badass sneakers. The full-foot carbon plate is paired with ultra-responsive foam and Nike’s signature, breathable FlyKnit material, which allows you to push off the ground with comfort and ease. If you’ve got narrow feet that don’t roll inward (or outward) as you move, these are a great pick.
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