These road-runners all make for a soft landing.
These road-runners all make for a soft landing. (Photo: Inga Hendrickson)

6 Cushy Trainers for Hitting the Road

Road-running shoes are turning up the foam again

These road-runners all make for a soft landing.

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New Balance Fresh Foam ZanteV2 ($100)

Best for: Speedy Veterans

(Courtesy of New Balance)

Think of the Zante as a racing shoe that’s beefed up for training. You get the hyperquick turnover of a sub-nine-ounce trainer with just enough foam underfoot that a half marathon won’t completely ravage your feet. Still, as a trainer it will appeal mostly to lighter and more efficient runners for anything longer than half a dozen miles. There’s enough forgiveness in the heel to handle a lazy strike, while the thin, snappy forefoot explodes off the pavement. This Zante is built to cook, not coddle. (8.6 oz; 6 mm drop)

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Nike Free RN Distance ($120)

Best For: Cheating Minimalists

(Courtesy of Nike)

Fans of the Gumby-like flexibility and natural feel of the Nike Free series will find a thicker, softer landing in the Rn Distance. Built for smooth, middle-distance runs by athletes who lack iron feet, it has four millimeters of extra foam in the forefoot for a more casual, easy-going ride than the next-thickest Free. Up top, the stretchy but snug knit upper is the most comfortable of this batch, providing an almost tailored fit. Is the Rn Distance supportive or stable? Neither, but the pared-down heel is liberating. (8.8 oz; 4 mm drop)

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Brooks PureFlow 5 ($110)

Best For: Midfoot Strikers

(Courtesy of Brooks)

The PureFlow 5 is a minimalist that’s plumped up in a good way. It still pays homage to the natural running” DNA, with a hyperflexible midsole, rounded heel, midfoot-striking orientation, and no-sew upper. But a fairly substantial slab of cushion imparts plenty of rebound and makes it a mainstream player that won’t feel under-built on long hauls. The peppier, more responsive feel comes courtesy of a firm ride,especially in the heel. If you have wide feet or land heavily on your heels, look elsewhere. (9.2 oz; 4 mm drop)

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Under Armour SpeedForm Gemini 2 Record Equipped ($150)

Best For: Data Junkies

(Courtesy of Under Armour)

Record Equipped” refers to the accelerometer buried in the Gemini’s midsole: it captures your pace and mileage, and syncs with your phone
to upload everything to the MapMyRun app. Cool tech aside, the Gemini is a pulled-back, neutral trainer with a stretchy, bootie-like upper and structureless heel—with just enough meat for moderately long runs. Although not the smoothest shoe on these pages, it’s definitely the smartest. Best to size up: these run about a quarter-size small. (10.4 oz; 8 mm drop)

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Saucony Hurricane ISO 2 ($160)

Best For: Big Dudes with Broad Feet

(Courtesy of Saucony)

This is a whole new species: a stout, plush support shoe that clips along reasonably quickly at under 11 ounces and doesn’t feel like a brick underfoot. Strikers who hit toward the back will appreciate the soft, decoupled heel and unobtrusive post in the midsole, which squelch pronation, while a flexy cage of overlays locks in the midfoot. The ride is on the firm side, but that means the Hurricane can swoop low over the ground for greater stability. Fitness cruisers with wide flippers and flat arches, this is your low, slow, and steady companion. (10.8 oz; 8 mm drop) 

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Hoka One One Vanquish 2 ($170)

Best For: Heavy Landers

(Courtesy of Hoka One One)

The Vanquish is the lightest max-cushioned Hoka and the most refined shoe we’ve seen from the king of big foam. Quick and springy, with a perfect second-skin upper, it somehow makes deep-dish plush feel lively on the road. And despite having two independent layers of foam—one suspended over the other—the Vanquish feels surprisingly stable and responsive. That double helping of cushion provides a bottomless landing zone in the heel, while the moderate drop also caters to midfoot strikers. (9.8 oz; 5 mm drop)

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