Purchasing your first pair of running shoes for triathlon might feel complex and intimidating. You don’t want to simply walk into your local sporting goods store and grab the cheapest pair of shoes you can find. There are a few simple factors you need to consider, such as “heel drop,” overall weight, and the structure of the shoe itself to make sure you get a shoe that works for you.
If you’re new to triathlon and find yourself asking, “What’s the best triathlon running shoe for beginners?” Fear not! In this article, you’ll learn:
- 4 key factors in determining which beginner running shoe you should buy;
- Where to easily find the best running shoe for you; and
- The best triathlon running shoes you can buy for under $100.
4 Key Factors for Triathlon Running Shoes
What is Heel-to-Toe Drop and Why Should You Care?
Oftentimes beginner runners grab the same pair of shoes as their friends or the ones with the funkiest color scheme. What happens next is they end up injured or in pain because the shoes weren’t the best option for their particular feet, the amount they run, or their individual running technique.
A 2016 study(1) found that for new runners who run less than 3 times per week, the injury risk was significantly reduced for those wearing shoes with a small heel-to-toe drop, which is the difference between the amount of cushion under the heel and under the forefoot. If you’re running three or fewer times per week and have only taken up running in the past couple of years, you’ll want a small heel-to-toe drop shoe.
A heel-to-toe drop of 6 mm or less is a shoe that allows you to run in your normal range of biomechanics. Once you develop lower leg strength and endurance, you can start to dabble with larger drop-offs in cushioning.
The ideal weight of your next running shoe for triathlon
One of the biggest challenges newer runners face is a high heart rate early on in their triathlon journey. A heavier shoe only exacerbates that. As you might expect, this study(2) found that a heavier shoe raised heart rate and required added leg strength. That’s why I recommend a shoe that weighs 7 to 10 ounces.
Shoe structure reduces (or increases) risk of injury
If you’re considering running shoes for triathlon that have the 6 mm or less heel-to-toe drop and weigh 7 to 10 ounces, there’s still one additional factor you must weigh: how much “structure” the shoe has (structured shoes are also known as “pronation control shoes” or “stability shoes”).
According to this 2018 study(3), more cushion isn’t necessarily better. In fact, it determined a less cushioned shoe is better for newer triathletes running less than 3 times per week. The less structured shoe allows you to run with your normal biomechanics in your technique and stride.
Unless otherwise prescribed by a doctor, what you’re looking for in your beginner running shoes and beginner triathlon shoes is a neutral shoe.
Shoes for speed on the run and in transition
As you progress in your triathlon journey, you’ll look for areas to save you a few seconds or even minutes. One of those areas is during the transition. To help, find a flexible shoe to slip on and off easily without having to untie and retie the laces.
Look for running shoes that stretch or work well with a pair of elastic laces.
Where to find the best running shoes for triathlon
You can find anything on the internet; however, websites like www.runningwarehouse.com make it super simple to input the parameters I shared here and populate a list.
Regardless of what website you use to purchase your running shoes, make sure you look for the following:
- A neutral shoe
- A shoe with 6mm or less of heel-to-toe drop
- A size that has a thumb-width of room at the front to allow your feet to swell throughout your runs and races (yes, this happens)
- A shoe that weighs 10 ounces or less
- A shoe that is roomy enough in the front toe box so that your feet aren’t squished
The Best Triathlon Running Shoes for Around $100
Once you have your list, you can pare it down even further with more reputable brands that offer a ton of value for less than $100.
The following shoes all satisfy the recommendations we’ve made, are affordable, from a reputable shoe brand, and have great reviews online.
Saucony Kinvara 11
If you could only buy one pair of running shoes for triathlon, this would be it. This lightweight shoe features just a 4 mm heel-to-toe drop and provides huge value at around $65 USD. Gear Patrol named it the Best New Running Gear for Spring 2020.
($65 USD, amazon.com)
This shoe really allows your foot to move in its natural biomechanics. This shoe features a wide toe box, which allows your toes the space to spread out and function in their normal movement pattern.
($130 USD, amazon.com)
These are really good shoes. I use them often myself. However, they might have just a bit too much cushioning for a beginner runner. If your heart is set on Hoka, go with the Rincon if you’re just starting out.
($120 USD, amazon.com)
Purchasing the right triathlon running shoe
It might take you a few different pairs to find your perfect running shoe. When you find the right pair for your feet, your biomechanics, and your budget, running becomes that much more enjoyable and rewarding. If you need a training plan to go along with your new shoes, check out my Beginner Guides to all the triathlon distances (Ironman, Half Ironman, Olympic, Sprint). Each guide comes with everything you need to know for each distance, plus a free training plan!
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