All runners need running shoes. That’s the basic necessity of the sport.
In reality, though, this is just the starting point for many. Serious runners commonly have multiple pairs of shoes. Long-distance runners and experienced racers understand the difference between training and running shoes and often have both.
Running shoes come in a variety of different styles for different purposes. You may need both road and trail running shoes if you regularly run outside, alternating between routes on asphalt and paths on more natural terrain. If you plan to race, you may need separate training and racing shoes.
So, what is the difference between running and training shoes?
What Are Training Shoes Vs Running Shoes
As the name suggests, training shoes are the pair of sneakers high-level athletes wear when training. Generally speaking, most of the models on the market fall under the general category associated with trainers, and these are the most common, basic form of running shoes.
The key characteristics of training shoes are durability and protection. Trainers hold up to many, many hours of pounding the pavement. A good-quality model that offers adequate foot support, and will last a minimum of 300 – 400 miles before the running shoes get worn out, makes for an ideal option.
Training shoes should also include adequate structure and cushioning for the runner’s specific foot needs. These aspects of the shoe can significantly reduce the risk of injury, offering support for multi directional movement, lateral movement, and proper arch support. Many can also be used as a cross training shoe and can be used for all kinds of physical activity. This makes these kinds of shoes more practical for everyday use, and you may even be able to use them as a walking shoe, weightlifting shoe, or even basketball shoes.
The main difference between training shoes versus running shoes is that the latter is built for speed and performance. High-level athletes will often reserve their lightweight racing shoes for wearing for long distance running on race day. This way, the racing shoes last longer.
The Benefits Of Racing With Lighter Running Shoes
A study from 2016 proved the long-held belief that long-distance runners can improve their race times by wearing lighter shoes. The research found that increasing the weight of shoes by 100 g (3.5 oz) resulted in an average increase in runtime by about 1%. In other words, the runners were about 1% slower when wearing the heavier shoes.
Reducing the weight of shoes enhances the running economy in fairly predictable patterns. Racing flats are as light as possible without sacrificing other functionality needed for peak performance, like basic cushioning and support. That’s why runners aren’t going around barefoot.
Since lighter shoes mean faster runtimes, runners should always wear the lightest pair of shoes possible, right? Wrong.
The reality is that, while racing flats are excellent for optimizing runtime, they are less durable, and the shoes get worn out quicker than the heavier, more durable training shoe. That lighter weight often comes at the sacrifice of other features like cushioning, which means that the shoes can increase the runner’s risk of injury over time.
Racing shoes are as lightweight as possible to optimize performance and runtime. One of the downsides to this is that they’re noticeably less durable, with some lightweight shoe manufacturers recommending replacing the pair every 200 miles!
Lightweight running shoes get holes easier because the upper is as thin and light as possible, and heels are known to wear down quicker, too, because these models typically feature less heel lift. Issues like the treads wearing down, holes forming, and the shoes losing their stability mean that it’s time to replace them.
Another thing to consider is how often you need to wear your favorite running shoe. If you plan to go to the gym or do other activities while wearing your running shoes, it’s wise to purchase a more durable pair than racing flats – at least for these purposes. Wearing trainers outside of running still wears them down, increasing deterioration.
Similarly, if you want to train by running on the backroads, those racing flats aren’t going to protect your feet from hazards like sharp rocks and twigs — and chances are, the material will get ripped. When you notice physical signs of your shoes wearing down, it’s probably time to buy a new pair.
Lightweight running shoes, or racing flats, also increase the risk of injury if used regularly, which doesn’t mean that wearing the shoes will injure you. Rather, training shoes offer better support to prevent repetitive use and strain injuries from running.
Our feet hit the ground with approximately four times our body weight when we run. That force puts pressure and strain on the body’s joints and muscles. For heavier runners or people with foot posture problems like overpronation or underpronation, that strain can cause many physical issues, from Plantar Fasciitis to joint pain and even back problems.
Racing shoes will offer some shock absorption, but not as much as other, heavier shoes. A cushioned shoe has extra weight, so, generally speaking, racing shoes have less weight than other models. The lightweight racing shoes also feature less heel lift, so wearing them puts more strain on your Achilles’ tendons when running.
Bottom Line: Having Training Shoes AND Running Shoes Makes Sense
Racing running shoes are a smart choice for when you want to be at your personal best – whether that be an official race or just a chance to challenge yourself. When you want to run as fast as possible and want your runtime as short as possible, you need the right shoe. For the reasons we mentioned above, lightweight racing shoes are the best shoes.
Still, to get to that personal best, you need to train, and training in lightweight shoes poses many problems. This is especially true for runners who need a lot of cushioning in their shoes. The best bet is to have a pair of training shoes that will help prevent injury and a pair of racing flats for the big day.
If you have a good training shoe and a different shoe for running, remember that you need to break in your running shoe. This doesn’t take a lot. Just wearing your racing shoes for a few speed walks before your first race should do it.
Can’t decide which shoes to choose? See our guide to the top rated running shoe brands.