Running Shoe Reviews Are a Waste of Time (Mostly)

I remember several years ago when I subscribed to Runner’s World magazine and I loved when their annual shoe review issue would come out. Excitedly, I would pore over each review, reading each little detail including the shoe weight, sole material, and type of cushioning. I would write down my favorites or tear out the page from the magazine and include why I thought they would work best for me.

Was I a shoe geek? Maybe but since I’ve only ever owned three pairs of running shoes at a time, I never thought I was. I’ve known other runners with 20 or more pairs of running shoes at a time. But then again maybe how many pairs of shoes you own at a time doesn’t make you a shoe geek but just a hoarder (no offense if that’s you!).

I thought it was fun to research my favorites (at least in theory) and look for the best deal. I enjoyed getting to try entirely new running shoes. It worked out pretty well in the beginning but then I started having issues.

For someone who hates photos of other people’s feet, I have a surprisingly large amount of photos with my feet (well, at least they’re not my bare feet)! And that first one got chopped off in the collage!

One example of how trying entirely new shoes turned out poorly for me stands out in my mind. Several years ago, I bought a pair of On running shoes. I had never even heard of the brand On before but they looked cool and had good reviews by Runner’s World so I tried a pair. Not too long after that I also tried a brand-new-to-me pair of running shoes by the company Topo Athletic. I loved both my On running shoes and my Topo running shoes; they were cool-looking, felt good, and they were different from any other brand I had tried before. Different is not always better.

I started to notice my calves were a bit tight after I would go for a run so I began making sure I would stretch and foam roll after every run. The calf tightness got worse and worse and one day on a run I had to stop and stretch my calves a few times before I finally just called it a day and went home, stopping my run early. I thought, “Surely it’s not my shoes that are causing my calf pain. They’re brand new.”

When the pain got so bad it hurt just to walk, let alone run, I started digging deeper to try to figure out what the problem was. At first I thought it was my On shoes but then I realized that both my On shoes and Topo shoes had a low heel-toe drop ratio. The heel-toe drop is the difference in stack height from the heel to the toe box of the shoe. Minimalist shoes have a zero drop, meaning the heel is at the same height as the toe box. Both my On and Topo shoes had a 3 or 4 mm heel-toe drop, meaning the heel was either 3 or 4 mm higher than the toe box (one was 3 and the other was 4, I’m not sure which was which at this point).

Upon even further digging, I determined that my previous running shoes, a pair of Asics had a 10 mm heel-toe drop and in fact all of the shoes I had run in for the last few years had anywhere from an 8 to 10 mm heel-toe drop. I had NEVER had calf or Achilles problems before. I threw both pairs of those shoes in my pile for Goodwill so quickly it was ridiculous and immediately got a pair of new running shoes with a 9 mm heel-toe drop. My calf pain miraculously went away. Lesson learned. I need running shoes with an 8 to 10 mm heel-toe drop.

The real lesson here was that what works for some people does not work for others. Just because a shoe review claims a particular shoe is a “soft, cushiony ride great for long runs and shorter runs as well” or whatever they write may seem appealing doesn’t mean it’s a good shoe for you. I know lots of people rave about HOKA shoes but I personally don’t think they would work for me. They’re at the opposite end of the spectrum from minimalist shoes and are often referred to as “maximalist” shoes due to their ultra-cushioned soles. I need shoes that are neither minimalist nor maximalist but somewhere in the middle.

Now when I see a shoe review, I just look at the one thing that I’ve found matters to me, heel to toe drop. If it’s not in the right range for me, I don’t even bother trying them. Everyone’s different, though. For some people, they can get by with shoes with a much lower heel to toe drop, like 4 or 5 and be fine. The most important factor for someone else might be the toe box and if it’s wide or not. For someone else it could be how wide or narrow the shoe fits overall.

My point is, figure out what matters to you personally in a running shoe. I like to track my shoes on Strava and I still have older shoes listed on there that I can look up the stats from. If you don’t use that app, there are plenty of others where you can track your running shoes like Garmin or you can always go old-school and log your miles and shoe info on a spreadsheet or on paper if you’re really old-school.

There’s nothing wrong with shoe reviews per se, but armed with your own personal needs, you can make much better decisions when buying new running shoes based on these reviews. Doesn’t that sound like a better idea than just randomly choosing a pair of shoes based on how they look? Another great way to buy a new pair of shoes is to go to a local running store and try them on and have a person working there help you figure out if they would work for you or not. I did that with my daughter when she first started running on her high school cross country team and that worked out well.

Do you read running shoe reviews or just skip them entirely thinking they’re a waste of time? How many pairs of running shoes do you currently have? If you have a lot, do you consider yourself a running shoe geek or a hoarder?

Happy running!



Author: runningtotravel

I'm a long distance runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US, which I completed in 2021. I also love to travel so I travel to other places when I'm not running races. Half the fun is planning where I'm going to go next!

12 thoughts on “Running Shoe Reviews Are a Waste of Time (Mostly)”

  1. Donna – I wish I had read reviews before buying my Asics Gel Nimbus 23. They are a pretty big departure from the Nimbus I’ve been wearing since like #15 and I do not like them at all. However in searching for shoes that are similar to the old Gel-Nimbus I haven’t found reviews to be very helpful. I even went to a specialty store as many recommend, but the salesman’s knowledge seemed to end at the price and how popular various shoes were. Still struggling to find my next shoe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw how much more cushioning the 23’s have now. I used to wear Nimbus for many years but switched a few years ago. I don’t think the current model would work for me.
      It can be frustrating trying to get reliable help with running shoes. Good luck finding new ones that work for you!


  2. I hate that Runners World spends so many pages on shoe reviews…

    Shoes are so individual. What works for me may be bad for you. We all have different feet, different gait and stride.

    I have worn almost every brand except ON… I loved New Balance and then I loved Mizunos. Even ran a full marathon in them.

    Once I started having neuroma problems, I switched to Topos. They are fairly ugly – white, black, gray but my feet are much improve and that’s all that matters to me now. No pretty patterns for me (Brooks have too narrow a toe box sigh.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, they spend so many pages on shoe reviews. Obviously it’s profit-driven.
      Yes, shoes are so individual and I would even say that varies over time for many people as well (during and after pregnancy, aging, etc).
      Glad you found ones that work for you!


  3. I’ve been running long enough now that I know what works for me and what doesn’t, so I don’t bother with reviews unless it’s something new and different – like the Rens Original coffee shoes (which didn’t work out BTW, but that’s an upcoming post of my own). We’re the opposite, actually – over a 4mm drop and my Achilles acts up. Low-to-zero drop shoes are what I wear, and Hokas are great for me if they fit well. Everyone’s different!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. yep, you’ve gotta try and compare and find someone or a store you trust…..and know that drop/offset/ramp (each brand seems to have their own label for that) and it’s not even just that, cushioning is always different (ASICS gel, ON those pods)……I have a selection of shoes, and even though I need some support, I’m leaning to shoe that guide rather than force….also, when I do make a huge change (I’ve been trying ALTRAs which are zero drop)…I take my time…short runs to start and build……and yeah, reviews, it’s like our shoe wall, we show weight, support and cushion ratings, but that means nothing, because wach shoe does all 3 differently, that’s not a good comparison…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I read reviews for fun but always buy Brooks Ghost or New Balance 880s. I hate how different versions of the same shoe can seem totally different even when reviews imply not much has changed. I hate the Ghost 11s, they caused calf aches in both me and my dad. I had 3 pairs of the 10s and they were my favorite version to date. I tried on a pair of Hokas once and didn’t see the appeal, I have narrow feet yet found them to be tight and pinching the sides of my feet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great point about shoe manufacturers changing their shoes so drastically sometimes. I think one little tweak can sometimes make a huge difference in some people. Good luck finding a replacement for the Brooks Ghost!


  6. Totally agree! Periodically I see people asking which hiking boots or backpack is best and I always say ‘whichever one fits you best.’ It’s so individualized. On the other hand, I can see the usefulness of reading reviews to learn more about the features of things. For example, I’d never heard of the heel-toe drop before. Now I’m curious where my running shoes fall on that spectrum.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: