By Austin Bonds
NOTE: The content of this article was written after I first reviewed the Run Repeat shoe study on October 20th. Upon returning to the Run Repeat website a few days ago, I noticed that many of the figures that are included in this article have since changed, along with the ranking of the Saucony Cohesion and shoes related to this model, a training shoe that I note late in the article. Please keep this in mind as it appears that Run Repeat has made updates to the site since the study was released.
I’m fond of the title of this post as it rhymes, but I believe that it will serve to underscore the fact that a good pair of shoes will make for a happy gait and many, many miles of enjoyable runs on the road or the trails. I don’t review running shoes much right now though I hope to add my voice back into the conversation at a later date in time. That said, I was recently forwarded a shoe study conducted by Run Repeat. The title of the study will undoubtedly facilitate some good, thought provoking conversation too: “Expensive Running Shoes Are Not Better Than More Affordable Running Shoes.”
I’ll preface my remarks regarding this study with a brief synopsis of Run Repeat. The site lets visitors and experts (“shoe geeks” according to Run Repeat) rate running shoes on a scale from one to five stars and write a review on what they like or don’t like (though this option appears to be gone at last check for site visitors). These ratings and expert reviews are collected to create an overall score from 0-100.
The study lists the results of 134,867 reviews from 391 shoes across 24 brands. At first glance, I’ll admit that I’m struck by the amount of data that is presented here based on this sizable amount of reviews and models; however, this is where additional scrutiny is necessary.
As a starting point, I was intrigued to see what shoes were listed as the most affordable in the study as the average price came out to $61. Though I’ll acknowledge that I’m not familiar with many of the models on this affordable shoe list, I did notice that two of the shoes are spikes (the Adidas Arriba and the Puma Haraka XCS). Spikes are shoes, yes, but I’m of the belief that comparing them to training shoes is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison as the comfort factor between the two is very different underfoot.
Readers who peruse the study also need to be mindful of the number of reviews for a given model of interest. The Nike Flyknit Air Max, listed as the most expensive shoe at $225, has 110 user reviews and 4 expert reviews (as of this writing); the Mizuno Wave Crusader, listed at $50, only has 14 user reviews and no expert reviews. I’ll add that the “Run Score” on the Air Max and Crusader is 89 and 65, respectively. Based on this score, runners certainly appear to find the Nike to be a more comfortable shoe. In short, more reviews mean more consistency about the pros and cons of a shoe. The site notes this, but it can be easy to forget if you are in a hurry to find a shoe fast.
Out of curiosity I decided to look at the overall list on Run Repeat, and the Saucony Cohesion is listed as number one based on a Run Score of 94 (along with 976 reviews). After clicking the Cohesion link for more details on the shoe, a scroll down the page reveals a small section of shoes that are similar to the Cohesion, including the Brooks Adrenaline, the Mizuno Wave Paradox, the Asics Gel Kayano, and the New Balance 860.
I’m not sure if these models are similar models based on their respective Run Scores, but I’m seeing the apples to oranges comparison again as the Adrenaline, Paradox, Kayano, and 860 provide much more stability for the feet than the Cohesion – a shoe for normal or neutral pronation. As to cost, the Adrenaline and 860 are $120, while the Kayano is a whopping $160 (three times the price of the Cohesion). A proper fitting for running shoes can gauge the appropriate stability based on one’s pronation tendencies as this affects the lower body in numerous ways.
As a final point of conversation, I’ll turn my attention to the brand bar chart. The study lists Skechers as the brand with the lowest average price at just above $90; the user rating for Skechers is the highest at 89. The study indicates that runners find lower priced shoes to have a higher rating, but $90 is still a significant average price for Skechers (running shoes on the Skechers website confirms this) when it is compared to the ten most affordable shoes (and the two spikes) in the study that have an average price of $61.
In closing, I believe that the study continues the conversation that needs to be had on a major component of running footwear today and always: comfort. There are numerous models listed on the Run Repeat site, but I must note that delineation among versions of a shoe also matters. For instance, the Saucony Guide has reviews listed for versions 4, 5, 6, and 7. I’ll point out that version 9 was recently released, and needless to say, the Guide 9 is vastly different from the Guide 4. In fact, runners are not going to find the Guide 4 anywhere for purchase. Each version always fits slightly differently in way, shape, or form.
Run Repeat also has reviews for models that are now discontinued, i.e. the Vibram Five Fingers Bikila, the Brooks Trance, and the Saucony Virrata. I doubt that these and other discontinued models were included in the study, but it is worthwhile to strike them from the site completely as they will be in short supply and eventually be out of the marketplace for good.
I looked at the Let’s Run message boards as someone posted a link to the Run Repeat study on September 29th and others weighed in with their thoughts on the results. Some champion cheap shoes whereas others advocate for a “middle ground.” I’m not sure how someone could run a marathon in a pair of $15 shoes from Kmart (as one user mentioned), but I suppose that some runners are ultra efficient and can utilize every last mile out of any shoe on their feet. Incidentally, the author of that message who ran in the Kmart shoes has this to say about how they feel: “If it’s comfortable when I put it on, then I’m all good.” Perhaps this statement is an effective synopsis for finding the right running shoe. Just maybe.