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No matter your pace during a race or workout, it’s fun to feel fast. Whether you’re doing short intervals on the track or racing up to 10K on the roads, you’ll want a shoe that can help you unleash your top gear. This used to mean lacing up the lightest-weight pair you could find, since the fastest options typically offered just a stiff sole with tread or spikes to grip the track. But, serious innovation in recent years has radically changed what was speed shoes look like; even road-racing models with thicker midsoles and tall stack heights are well-suited for your speedwork sessions.
Spikes or Racing Flats?
For serious racing and training on the track, you’re still best served by a pair of track spikes—extremely lightweight, stiff-soled shoes that envelop your feet and have spikes (aka, “pins”) attached underneath the forefoot. Track spikes for sprinters feature multiple pins under the forefoot and minimal structure in the heel, while spikes for middle and longer distance have fewer pins and thicker midsoles for a bit of comfort. The pros of track spikes are that there’s no faster footwear for track running. The cons are that, no, you can’t wear them anywhere else.
Racing flats, which are lightweight shoes meant to maximize a race effort, are more versatile than track spikes—you can wear them to run and race both on the track and on the road. Unless you’re a pro, even lightweight running shoes will work just fine on the oval, though they’re not quite as fast around the turns as track spikes. The biggest benefit is your legs (especially your calves) don’t get beat up as badly in road shoes.
How We Tested
Between our staff and 250-runner-strong wear-test team, we laced up every single pair of the 13 spikes and road racers below. We hit our local tracks to see how they performed in both wet and dry conditions during demanding speed sessions including ladder workouts, wind sprints, and 400-meter repeats. On the pavement, we evaluated the spike-less options on this list for their fit, cushioning, and comfort during longer tempo runs and in real race situations. In addition to our on-foot impressions, we also considered the data we collected from mechanical tests in our RW Shoe Lab to determine the best use for each model.
Nike Air Zoom Victory
Weight: 4.6 oz. (men’s size 9)
Type: Middle distance
The right shoe for: Front-runners looking to win a 5,000-meter race
The most futuristic track spike on the market today is the all-new Victory. It uses a combination of a two-piece Air unit and springy ZoomX foam, plus a stiffening carbon-fiber plate to help you rocket around the track. The shoe feels entirely weird the moment you step into it—its tippy, and you notice two distinct bulges under your foot. As you run, it comes alive. However, the sensation isn’t springy, like you might expect from ZoomX, a Pebax-based foam (the same used in the Vaporfly) that’s extremely lightweight, well-cushioned, and has boatloads of energy return. Instead, you feel tension build and the shoe load up as you press your weight down into it, then launch forward with toe-off. The sole isn’t soft in the general sense, but it’s less punishing than a conventional track spike without being slowed by cushioning. Finally, unlike the fit of long and skinny like spikes of old, there’s a little bit of a flare that squares up the forefoot to accommodate wider feet.
Weight: 4.8 oz. (men’s size 9)
The right shoe for: Early adopters going no more than one lap
The MetaSprint is wildly different from your usual track spike. The entire outsole is made of a carbon-fiber plate, but the forefoot doesn’t include any metal pins. Instead, there’s a honeycomb pattern of jagged edges that bite into the track. Beyond the traction component, the shape of the sole is novel, too. The plate is curved and forces your foot to roll inward on toe-off so that you’re pushing off directly over your big toe for maximum propulsion. It’s a noticeable effect that feels off initially, but smooths when you turn on the speed.
Footwear tech has been under scrutiny in recent years, and the MetaSprint calls to mind Puma’s “brush spikes” from the late ’60s. Those had dozens of tiny needles on the bottom for grip, helped runners set world records, and were banned. Current World Athletics regulations stipulate a maximum of 11 pins on the sole of a track spike. It’s unclear how they count a shoe like the MetaSprint—which has eight clusters of raised hexagonal shapes—but it’s been approved for competition by World Athletics.
Brooks QW-K v4
Weight: 4.7 oz. (men’s size 9)
The right shoe for: 200- to 400-meter races
The downside to a featherweight shoe with a hard plastic sole is that you’re going to feel every step. Therefore, reserve the QW-K v4 for its intended purpose: short sprints that are over as fast as possible. The conventional construction delivers reliable performance yet the shoe does derive a surprising level of comfort from its fit and materials. The v4 runs a little short—our testers say not quite enough to go up a size—but its woven upper feels great against a sock-less foot, and a sueded saddle secures you over the sole. With seven metal pins under each foot and a row of plastic teeth lining the perimeter of the outsole, the QW-K v4 gives you excellent grip and control through the turn on a 200.
Brooks Elmn8 v5
Weight: 4.3 oz. (men’s size 9)
Type: Middle distance
The right shoe for: One- to four-lap racers who love a next-to-skin fit
Thanks to a carbon-fiber plate plus a snappy outsole plate, this spike has a springy feeling at quicker paces. Carbon fiber’s strength-to-weight ratio and ability to bend and rebound is especially noticeable, making the shoe’s forefoot stiff and ready to rip. Brooks updated the plate to cover the entire forefoot, with extra ridges and cutouts to save weight. But compared to the previous version, the upper is where this shoe really shines. Brooks also upgraded the v5 to the exceptionally fine woven fabric it’s used in shoes like the Hyperion Elite with great success. It keeps the upper extremely thin yet provides outstanding strength and locked-in support without requiring additional reinforcements—it’s the kind of shoe we would have worn without socks back in high school and college. We noticed the v5 runs a little long and narrow, but none of our testers reported any pinching or discomfort.
Hoka One One Rocket MD
Weight: 4.1 oz. (men’s size 9)
Type: Middle distance
The right shoe for: Middle-distance races, where you want great grip through the turns
What sets Hoka’s spikes apart from the competition? It designs the spike configuration to optimize grip on the track’s curves. The brand started that concept with the flashy Speed Evo R spike worn by Leo Manzano and carried it into this budget-priced spike that delivers for events from 400 meters to the mile. Underfoot you’ll see that the pins closest to the outer edge of the track are placed farther forward on the shoe. The asymmetrical design doesn’t impede you when you’re running the straights, however, and it went completely unnoticed by one of our testers. However, we did feel the lack of any heel cushioning. Younger legs might not be bothered, but we were hoping for just a little more padding there when landing heel-first. Fortunately, the spike plate is built in a way to create a slight pivot under the ball of your foot, so it’s most comfortable if you stay up on your toes.
Nike ZoomX Dragonfly
Weight: 4.7 oz. (men’s size 9)
The right shoe for: Long track races to 10,000 meters
Another crazy new shoe from Nike, the Dragonfly looks more like a conventional spike, albeit one with an exceptionally thick sole. That’s made possible only by the use of ZoomX foam. The result is a shoe that takes out the sting of running hard but doesn’t slow you down. Most of that foam, however, is centered right behind the ball of your foot—you feel a noticeable bulge there, and then the padding drops off at the heel. So, it’s not for easy-paced runs. Our testers all raved about the accommodating yet locked-down fit; the shoe has a square toe box, almost like a normal shoe, which makes it comfortable for long distances. Tip: Go sock-less. The mesh is smooth against your bare foot, and a hole at the back of the shoe wraps around your heel, acting like a flexible heel counter to keep you securely locked to the sole.
Nike Zoom Superfly Elite 2
Weight: 5.2 oz. (men’s size 9)
The right shoe for: Less than one lap at elite speeds
To rip a straightaway or lap as fast as humanly possible, you’re going to need to be locked to the track. The Superfly Elite 2 does that, thanks to eight metal pins under each forefoot—four are positioned in a line directly under the ball of your foot. One tester described the shoe’s grip as “trust”—trust that they’ll deliver no-slip speed. The shoe also eliminates any extra foot movement, due to the unbelievably tight-fitting upper. We all had trouble even getting them on and off. (One tester ripped the tongue loop getting into the shoes; I nearly dislocated my shoulder taking them off.) But, once on, the AtomKnit fabric is breezy yet secure.
Under Armour SpeedForm Sprint 2
Weight: 6.3 oz
The right shoe for: 100- to 200-meter sprinters
This unisex shoe feels as unique as it looks. The super-stiff, forward-leaning platform reflects iridescent rainbow colors from its outsole as you charge down the track. “This is a shoe you want to wait to put on until right before you get in the blocks,” one tester said of the sole’s uncomfortable stiffness. But once you’re off and sprinting full bore, that same stiff platform made us feel like we were flying. Credit the full-length Pebax plate, which has a convex shape under the midfoot to launch you forward. The raised part of the plate is cored out for weight savings. An upper made from UA’s breathable threadborne material molds to your foot, and is reinforced with a TPU film for added security. Plus, we found the interior is even comfortable enough to race sock-less.
ROAD RACING SHOES
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2
Weight: 6.9 oz. (M), 5.8 oz. (W)
The right shoe for: Road racing at any distance
When you make the world’s fastest shoe, you don’t mess it up. And, good news: Nike didn’t. In fact, the changes to version 2 were limited just to the upper, to improve comfort and durability. You still get exceptionally lightweight, soft, and springy ZoomX foam underfoot and a rigid carbon-fiber plate to help you bound down the road with less effort. It’s the kind of package that lets elite marathoners race well under five-minute pace, so it’ll deliver in your fastest training sessions. But, when you’re going long, you’ll find it just feels better on foot. That’s because Vaporweave has been replaced with an engineered mesh. Vaporweave, a ripstop nylon–like material, was great because it didn’t absorb water or sweat while you ran, but it also didn’t stretch or breathe particularly well. The new mesh resolves those problems.
Puma Deviate Nitro
Weight: 9.3 oz. (M), 7.5 oz. (W)
The right shoe for: Longer intervals
One of the most exciting shoes of 2021 comes from an unexpected brand: Puma. Yes, for real. The Deviate Nitro is the first indication that the company is on the right track in building performance running shoes again. Like nearly all of the fastest shoes now, it has a carbon-fiber plate. And, like those other carbon-plated speedsters, the Deviate Nitro leverages lightweight, bouncy foam—it’s TPE instead of the pricier, springier Pebax that some other brands use. The foam is nitrogen-infused, which delivers a responsive sensation underfoot that makes you want to kick your heels to your butt and feels snappy when you’re running laps on the track with comfort for longer road runs. It’s heavier than most of the other speed shoes we recommend, but on foot it feels lighter and more lively than the scale suggests.
Asics MetaSpeed Sky
Weight: 6.8 oz. (M), 5.5 oz. (W)
Type: Road Racing
The right shoe for: Ripping a fast 10K or half-marathon
The Sky is the first model available in a two-shoe collection from Asics. The reason for two shoes is because Asics believes there are two ways runners can go faster: you can either take longer strides or take more steps. The Sky is built for that “stride” runner, who you’re often going to find gliding around an oval. With a 5-mm drop and an almost uniformly thick midsole from heel to toe, it helps those runners increase their stride length while making them roughly three percent more efficient. This means runners can use less energy to cover a given distance.
The midsole isn’t Pebax, like on the Vaporfly; instead, Asics found that Nylon delivers similar benefits. (Nylon compresses easily when you land, feels squishy and soft, and firms up when you need to launch off the ground.) A carbon-fiber plate ratchets up the responsiveness and speed, too. In our testing, we found the Sky’s sweet spot to be tempo runs, but the shoe doesn’t hesitate when you want to make a sprint for the finish line.
Skechers GOrun Razor 3 Hyper
Weight: 6.6 oz. (men’s size 9)
Type: Middle distance
The right shoe for: Short races on the road or longer distances on a track
It’s no secret that we love Skechers’s GOrun Razor line. The Razor 3 Hyper is light and fast, and the “plus” model has an understated beauty. Skechers evolved on the model again in the GOrun Razor 3 Hyper Elite by embedding a carbon-infused plate in the forefoot. While we like the newer Elite model better for speed day given its lighter weight and snappier ride, this earlier version is no slouch. It’s much less expensive, and still uses the resilient Hyper Burst foam that provides just enough pop when you need it most—at toe off. We like the durable ripstop mesh upper, too. It’s nearly see-through and completely seamless, which helps prevent blisters and rubbing when you crank the speed. It comes in unisex sizing, so women should order 1.5 sizes up—a men’s 9 fits like a women’s 10.5.
Brooks Hyperion Elite 2
Weight: 7.6 oz (men’s size 9)
Type: Road racing
The right shoe for: 5K to marathon
When Des Linden won the 2018 Boston Marathon, she wore a prototype of the original Hyperion Elite. It was a light and stiff shoe, but unless you were small in stature or light on your feet, the sole felt exceptionally hard. Fear not: Version 2 has an all-new foam package that boosts underfoot comfort without sacrificing a tick from the finish line clock. The DNA Flash midsole uses a nitrogen-infused foam that is softer than the original Elite’s EVA, but not nearly as squishy as its competitors at the $250 mark. The upper really shines on this shoe, thanks to the stretchy woven fabric that is incredibly comfortable no matter how far you run.
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