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Best Running Shoes for Beginners

by Zach Nehr

Blog ▸ Best Running Shoes for Beginners

Getting into running is easier said than done – “You just need a pair of shoes,” everyone says. But there are a million kinds of shoes to choose from!

Should you go with a wide or narrow shoe? Is “heel drop” a good thing? And what’s the difference between $75 running shoes and $300 running shoes? In this post, we’ll be answering all those questions and more. This is our list of the best running shoes for beginners. 

When shopping for your first pair of running shoes, there are a number of things you want to look for. We’re going to run through four critical factors you need to consider when purchasing your first running shoes. 

We’ll also tell you where to find the best running shoes for beginners, and how to find the best shoes for under $100. 

Running Shoes for Every Budget

If you’re just starting out in running, triathlon, duathlon, trail running, or even swimruns, it is critical that you buy a dedicated pair of running shoes. Your old sneakers will only last so long, and you are more likely to end up injured than fast. 

A dedicated pair of running shoes will help increase your performance and prevent injury. Running is a high-impact sport and the #1 reason that people avoid running is the risk of injury. Even when you’re only running a mile or two at a time, you will immediately notice the difference in a new pair of running shoes. 

You don’t have to spend a fortune on running shoes either. Some of the best running shoes for beginners cost less than $100. Whether you are looking at a Nike Zoom Air, Brooks Ghost 14, New Balance Fresh Foam, or Hoka Clifton, we will help you find a pair of beginner-friendly running shoes.

red and blue nike athletic shoe

3 Key Factors for Running Shoes

If you’re just starting out, you may have never heard these running terms before. Don’t worry – we’ll explain each one and why it matters to you. Here are the main factors to look for in a pair of running shoes if you’re new to running: 

  • Heel-to-toe drop
  • Weight
  • Structure

Heel-to-toe Drop in Running Shoes

First, let’s talk about the heel-to-toe drop, defined as the difference between the amount of cushion under the heel and under the forefront of the shoe. 

Beginners should look for a pair of running shoes with a small heel-to-toe drop. One study found that low heel-to-toe shoes significantly reduced the chances of injury in new runners because these shoes allowed the athletes foot to function in it’s normal range of motion. 

Specifically, look for shoes with a heel-to-toe drop of 8mm or less; this will allow your foot to work in your normal range of biomechanics and ideal for beginners to running. Once you develop enough lower leg strength and endurance, you can try running shoes with a larger heel-to-toe drop. 

Injury prevention should be your #1 focus when you first get into running. As tempting as it is to increase your mileage and run faster right away, remember that running is hard on the body. Overdo it early and you could wind up injured for weeks.

Ideal Weight for Running Shoes

In general, you’ll want lighter running shoes but not at the expense of cushion. With every step, you are lifting your foot off the ground, pushing it forward, and pushing off again. The heavier your foot (and the shoe on the end of it), the harder it is to run. This study found that a heavier running shoe raised runners’ heart rates and required more leg strength. 

Lighter shoes are typically more expensive – as a beginner, you don’t need the best of the best. Beginner runners should look for a running shoe that weighs 7-10 ounces which an excellent balance of light and cushioned.  

Best Structure for Running Shoes

The structure of your running shoes also plays a significant role in running performance and injury prevention.

Sometimes called “stability shoes” or “pronation control shoes,” structured running shoes look thicker and bulkier than other shoes. They are meant to provide extra cushioning and protection for your foot, but this isn’t always the case. 

A wide-ranging review found that neutral running shoes can improve running economy, improve the stiffness of the Achilles tendon, and improve ankle joint loading compared to more cushioned running shoes.

Another study found that highly cushioned shoes can increase both leg stiffness and impact loading. 

Is More Shoe Cushioning Better?

green and black nike athletic shoe

Highly-cushioned shoes have not been shown to reduce the chances of injury in running, and they might actually increase it. 

We recommend neutrally cushioned shoes for new runners who run less than three times per week. Less structured shoes are the best beginner running shoes because they have little impact on your technique and stride, allowing you to run with your normal biomechanics. 

The only exception is those who have been prescribed highly cushioned running shoes by a doctor. Beginner runners should look for a neutral or less cushioned running shoe. 

Running Shoes for Every Budget

Now we have our three key factors to look for in a pair of running shoes: heel-to-toe drop, weight, and structure. Each shoe on our list is slightly different, and we’ll be going through the pros and cons of each. At the end of this post, we’ll compare and contrast each shoe, and help you choose the best running shoe for you. 

Let’s jump into our list of the best running shoes for beginners. 

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38

Best all-around shoe for beginner runners

The Air Zoom Pegasus 38 is one of Nike’s best all-around running shoes and it is perfect for beginners. This model is often on sale and if you look hard enough you can get it for under $100. This shoe offers a medium cushion and the same responsive foam that Nike shoes are known for. 

There is a wide toe box that increases comfort and a mesh upper that is light and breathable. Speaking of weight, the Air Zoom Pegasus 38 weighs in at 9.7 ounces which is just on the heavier side of running shoes. This is because of all the padding and material that makes this shoe so comfortable – even then, it doesn’t tip the scale past our recommendation of 10 ounces. 

Air Zoom Pegasus 38 is best for beginner runners because it is designed as an all-around running shoe. This shoe is not specialized for road running, trail running, or racing – instead, it is a solid option for everything.

The Nike Pegasus line-up is known for being very comfortable which is, again, ideal for beginners in their first running shoe. 

One of this shoe’s most unique features is the slightly studded outsole which provides plenty of traction on dirt or other slippery surfaces. However, there is a 10mm heel-to-toe drop which may be a bit much for beginners.

What you need to know: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 is one of the best all-around running shoes for beginners. It has a bit of a steep heel-to-toe drop, but it is also wide, comfortable, and well-fitting. Despite all the padding and material, the shoe weighs 9.7 ounces which is not too heavy for beginner runners. With extra traction on the outsole, you can take the Air Zoom Pegasus 38 out on the road, trails, and more. 

Pros:

  • Secure and comfortable fit
  • Comfy mesh upper
  • Extra traction compared to other running shoes
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Can run hot
  • 10mm heel-to-toe drop
  • Weighs 9.7 ounces

Saucony Ride 14

Most breathable running shoe for beginner’s

The Saucony Ride 14 is known for being one of the more comfortable beginners running shoes. It is simple and versatile, designed for more than just road running. Unique to this shoe is Saucony’s PWRRUN cushioning which is comfortable but not overwhelming. 

Saucony is also a stylish brand and there are tons of different color schemes to choose from in the Saucony Ride 14 – even on a budget, you can find a beginner’s running shoe that looks good. The outsole also features grippy rubber that is good for off-road terrain and wet roads. 

The Saucony fits into our performance parameters, weighing in at 9.8 ounces. It has an 8mm heel-to-toe drop which is a solid fit for beginner runners. The upper provides plenty of breathability while also fitting a variety of foot shapes.

From its appearance, you can already tell that the Saucony Ride 14 is more breathable than other beginner running shoes. The out mesh is heavily perforated which makes this shoe ideal for hotter runs. 

What you need to know: The Saucony Ride 14 might be the perfect beginner’s running shoe. That said, the only downsides are the shoe’s weight, toe box, and cushioning. Of course, some runners will prefer the Saucony Ride 14 as is, while others might find it a bit stiff or uncomfortable. Overall, the Saucony Ride 14 is one of the very best beginner’s running shoes and we give it a strong recommendation. 

Pros:

  • 8mm heel-to-toe drop
  • Extremely breathable
  • Stylish
  • Grippy outsole 
  • Supportive over long distances 

Cons:

  • PWRRUN cushioning isn’t as bouncy as others
  • On the heavier side
  • Unique toe box tapering design

Asics Gel-Cumulus 24

Most versatile running shoe for all-weather conditions

Asics is one of the leaders in the running world, and we believe that their Gel-Cumulus 24 is the best for beginner runners. This latest design is comfortable and bouncy, which is something you don’t always get in a beginner’s running shoe. 

While there is a lot to be said about the Gel-Cumulus 24’s cushioning – this shoe features Flytefoam and FF Blast cushions – this shoe only offers neutral support. Most beginner runners will prefer neutral support over heavier padding, but it is still up to personal preference. 

Like the other shoes on our list, the Gel-Cumulus 24 features Asics LITE outsole rubber which provides off-road grip and protects against shoe damage. You can take these shoes on the trail or the open road, or almost anything in between. 

Overall, the Gel-Cumulus 24 offers a medium amount of breathability. The Saucony Ride 14 is even more vented than Asics’ shoe, but the Air Zoom Pegasus 38 is even more closed off. The Asics Gel-Cumulus 24 is one of the best running shoes for beginners in all-weather conditions. 

What you need to know: Asics Gel-Cumulus 24 is a neutral, all-day running shoe designed for beginners. With a medium amount of support and cushioning, this shoe is both comfortable and versatile. It is a bit heavy for a beginner’s running shoe, but it offers an ideal amount of heel-to-toe drop at 8mm. 

Pros:

  • Upgraded midsole
  • 8mm heel-to-toe drop
  • Neutral support
  • Very comfortable 
  • Affordable for an Asics shoe

Cons:

  • Heavier weight at 10.1 ounces
  • On the expensive side

How to Decide Which Running Shoes to Buy

While running shoes aren’t as expensive as a new triathlon bike, they’re still a big investment. You want to make the right decision, but it’s impossible to try out every pair of running shoes on the market. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for a trial run (no pun intended) with a new pair of running shoes. It may take you a few tries to find the perfect pair, but it is always worth it. 

As a beginner, look for a shoe that fits your foot, works with your unique biomechanics, and fits your budget. Once your set with a new pair of shoes, you can start training for your first race!

Comparing the Best Running Shoes for Beginners

There is no “one size fits all” running shoe for beginners, but we can tell you why one shoe is better than the other. Certain designs will suit certain body types and running styles, and in this article, we’ve covered a few of the best all-around running shoes for beginners. 

Here’s how you can narrow your choices down: 

  • Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38
    • Best for runners who want a do-it-all shoe. This shoe is wide and comfortable, making it ideal for beginners. The sizing may still be a bit tight around the toe box, and it can run hot due to the thicker padding. It’s not ideal for racers, but that won’t concern most beginner runners
  • Saucony Ride 14
    • With a wider fit, the Saucony Ride 14 is one of the best-fitting options for beginner runners. It is not as narrow or tight as the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 which can also run hot. In fact, the Ride 14 is extremely breathable and a bit lighter than the Air Zoom Pegasus 38. Lastly, Ride 14 has an 8mm heel-to-toe drop which is less than the Pegasus 38’s 10mm drop. 
  • Asics Gel-Cumulus 24
    • Like the Ride 14, the Asics Gel-Cumulus 24 has an 8mm heel-to-toe drop which is less than the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38. The Gel-Cumulus 24 offers neutral support, so it can be a bit stiffer than the other two pairs of shoes. Many runners will prefer the neutral support, while others will prefer the extra padding of the Air Zoom Pegasus 38. 

Something you should do with any running shoe you own is rotate it in and out of use which allows the foam to recover between runs. You should have at least two pairs of shoes so you can allow shoes to rotate through your run training plan so the so can always provide great cushion.

Also, runners will often wonder how long they should use the same pair of running shoes. Many runners have hard an fast rules of 200 miles, or 400 miles; this is misleading because everyone wears out running shoes at a different rate and all running shoes have different lifespans. As a rule, if you find that your foot or lower leg is tender after a run it’s probably time for a new pair of shoes.

Where to Find the Best Running Shoes for Beginners

Of course, you can find just about anything on the Internet, but you can also find plenty of options at your local running store.

In-person stores give you the luxury of trying on different pairs of shoes and sizes to see which ones fit best. You might learn that your shoe size has changed recently, or that you prefer a wider shoe to a narrower one. 

Online, you can find all of the best running shoes including the best running shoes for beginners. Go to websites like runningwarehouse.com to search for specific shoes. This is one of many websites where you can input certain parameters to narrow down your list. 

What to Look for in Running Shoes for Beginners

  • Neutral shoe (less cushioned)
  • 8mm or less of heel-to-toe drop
  • Weighs 7-10 ounces
  • Size that allows you to fit a tumb-width of room between your toes and the front of the shoe (this allows your feet to swell during runs and races)
  • Size that creates a big enough front toe box so that your feet aren’t painfully squished together 

Conclusion

Buying your first pair of running shoes can be very intimidating, but there are a few easy ways to narrow down your options. Price, shape, and biomechanics are the main things to look out for in a beginner running shoe. 

In this post, we’ve given you three of our favorite running shoes for beginners. Whether you’re training for a marathon or running around the block, you will notice a huge difference in a new pair of running shoes. 

Sources

Zach Nehr

Zach Nehr

Zach has a degree in Exercise Science and Psychology. He is a certified coach, Cat 1 cyclist, and is a freelance writer having been published in many of the worlds largest endurance sports publications.