With carbon-plated, super-cushioned racing shoes now dominating distance running, we've decided to create a power index of sorts, much like how NFL or NBA teams are ranked on major sports sites, week to week, over the course of a season.
Our regular power rankings will be updated frequently as more races finally happen in 2021, and new shoe updates and models are released. We'll be maintaining this page and changing the rankings as they shift over time, so be sure to check back and see which shoes dominate, and which fall behind. For more on how we make this list, see our ranking explainer at the bottom.
If you missed our inaugural shoe rankings a couple weeks back, you can take a look at where each shoe stood right here:
For this edition of the power rankings we've also added a "trust score." It takes into account how readily a runner would, if given the choice between all these shoes, go for a particular model in order to achieve a big result. We also added little position movement arrows and where the shoe sat on the list previously, for your reference.
On to ranking the shoes!
This ranking takes into account last weekend's The Marathon Project in Arizona. If it were a normal year, this event probably wouldn't have come to be, but it ended up playing an outsized role as a showcase for brands at the close of 2020. The race certainly helped Adidas and Asics, and perhaps hurt Hoka and Brooks. Saucony was under the feet of an inspired breakthrough, but also a disappointing flame-out. For non-sponsored athletes (or those sponsored by brands like Mizuno, that don't yet have a super shoe), Nike remained the clear flavour of choice for fast marathon running.
Trust Score: 99%
The Next% remains the gold standard in road racing shoes to close out 2020. It's by far the most trusted shoe for running a goal marathon, among recreational runners as well as elites. As an example, at last weekend's Marathon Project, pretty much every runner who wasn't sponsored by a shoe brand opted for the Next%, and many did quite well. And although Nike didn't make it atop the podium, second place finish Keira D'Amato had a massive breakout performance with the seventh fastest time by an American woman in history.
The "shoe wars" seem to be dividing runners along a specific fault line: those with financial contracts with smaller brands, and those who do not and opt to pay for (mostly) Nike shoes.
Nike has hit the sweet spot with the Next%. Right now, it's probably the single most important running shoe ever created. It'd have a perfect 100% trust score, if it weren't for the fact that there are now other very real options that may be just as reliable.
Trust Score: 97%
Marathon Project winner and Reebok-sponsored athlete Martin Hehir crushed the final 10K of the race in a manner we're seeing more often during this super shoe era. He ran much faster than he'd ever run before, and although he's with Reebok, he did it in a pair of Adios Pro. That's because Reebok are owned by Adidas, and instead of child company developing their own Adios Pro variant, its athletes have been rockin' the real thing, and with great success. Hehir's teammate at the Reebok Boston Track Club, Colin Bennie, finished in third, also in the Adios Pro, running sub-2:10.
The Adios Pro has stormed onto the scene in the second half of the year, and Adidas athletes have set multiple half-marathon records in the shoe. It's a legit contender for fastest shoe in the world, and runners now have a very real Nike alternative to consider.
Its trust factor isn't 100%, however, due to an issue with the (lack of) traction in the outsole, which was on full display at the World Half Championships in Poland. Rumour is that this will be fixed in version two.
Trust Score: 85%
The two fastest humans to ever run the marathon had a tough fall. Kenenisa Bekele didn't even make it to the start line at the London Marathon, citing a leg injury. He also suggested that the Nike Alphafly didn't really work for him, and he would have raced instead in the Next%. A shocking concession, given that the shoe is widely seen as the most advanced ever. Then, Kipchoge, in the Alphafly, struggled. Of course, it's unlikely that the shoe had anything to do with the Kipper's ear and balance problems on race day, but it still got people talking about the Alphafly's eccentricities. The common understanding is that the Alphafly "isn't for everyone."
But for those who it is for, it's one hell of a fast shoe. A few athletes at The Marathon Project opted for the Alphafly, and raced to stunning results.
We also gave the Alphafly a bump in the standings due to the overwhelming market hunger for the shoe — especially the "Kipchoge" version. Will we one day look back on the Alphafly much like we view the Air Jordan today?
Trust Score: 100%
It's tough to evaluate a shoe that few people have ever worn. But those who have, including American marathoner Sara Hall, do special things in it. Hall has run two marathons this fall, placing second in London (and sprinting the final mile, suggesting this magic shoe makes the first 25 miles a breeze on the legs), and winning The Marathon Project just nine weeks later. Oh, and she came pretty close to taking down the American record in the process. Two of her brand teammates, Emma Bates and Mick Iacofano, also had strong races.
This "Metaracer prototype" (because it looks like that model, only with about twice as much midsole foam) will be the most desirable shoe Asics has made in a very long time. The Japanese company needed to create something special, as it has lagged so far behind in terms of both technology and market share in recent years. It's first (non carbon plated) Metaracer model came at the exact wrong time — just as Nike was rolling out the 4%. It felt like a checkers vs. chess situation. With this prototype, the narrative has quickly shifted.
Of course, our opinion of this shoe may drastically change once there's more than a sample size of one. That also goes for our trust score, which we are putting at 100% only because, well, thus far the shoe hasn't disappointed.
Trust Score: 90%
The Endorphin Pro fell the most number of spots from our previous rankings. This isn't because it hasn't performed well in the limited few opportunities in the last month, or is seen as less desirable in any way. It's mostly just due to the gains other shoes have made.
The Endorphin Pro did get first billing at The Marathon Project. Two key American Saucony athletes — Jared Ward and Noah Droddy — were headliners going into the race. Ward in particular was a pre-race favourite, but struggled badly from 30K on, and positive split by over seven-and-a-half minutes. But Droddy had the race of his life, running about a three-minute personal best and coming in second overall. So, we'll call the Endorphin Pro's day in the Arizona desert a split decision.
The Endorphin Pro still remains a fairly trustworthy Next% alternative, and slightly more conventional than many other carbon plate shoes.
Trust Score: 80%
It's been a relatively quiet pandemic for New Balance, with few opportunities to heavily showcase their flagship racing shoe, the FuelCell RC Elite. New Balance were especially set back by all the event cancellations in 2020 because the company has gone big with marathon sponsorship as a means to communicate what it is doing as a brand. New Balance sponsors arguably the two most important marathons in the world — London and New York. London did happen, and a few NB athletes had solid runs in the RC Elite. New York, of course, was cancelled.
By all accounts, the FuelCell RC Elite is a decent shoe. Its namesake foam is considered among the bounciest on this list. New Balance just desperately needs races to happen in 2021 in order for this shoe to show more runners what it can do.
Correction: an earlier version referred to the New Balance shoe as the "TC Elite," when it is the RC Elite.
Trust Score: 60%
Hoka looked like it was going to make The Marathon Project its big coup of the year. The race was the brain child of Hoka's elite squad, NAZ Elite, and its top marathoners, Scott Fauble, Cam Levins and Kellyn Taylor, were among the pre-race favourites. All of them were sporting the Carbon Rocket X, gushing about its performance capabilities. Cam Levins fully expected to crush his own Canadian record in the shoe (note: he was wearing the earlier carbon plate shoe by Hoka in 2018 when he ran 2:09:25).
The Carbon Rocket X had a meh day in Arizona. Fauble ran sub-2:10 (but ran faster in an earlier shoe at the 2019 Boston Marathon), and teammate Scott Smith cracked that mark for the first time, which were promising performances. Rory Linkletter also took a few minutes off his personal best, but missed his big goal of making a Canadian Olympic team.
Kellyn Taylor tried to hang with Sara Hall at American record pace, but couldn't keep up. And teammate Steph Bruce DNFed.
The Carbon Rocket X was supposed to propel big-time breakthroughs in Arizona. Instead, the results were mixed.
Trust Score: 55%
As we stated in our previous power rankings, the Hyperion Elite 2 is a reputation-saving update that came in quick succession after the Elite 1 proved to be a dud.
Brooks was the brand sponsor for The Marathon Project, and had a few key athletes in the race. Serial marathoner CJ Albertson was a pre-race contender based on his pretty jaw-dropping antics throughout November (he set a 50K-on-the-track world record, then followed that up with a 2:09 marathon on a treadmill). But Albertson struggled when the Marathon Project race shifted into high gear, and although he managed a slight personal best, his 10th place finish wasn't the big statement race that Brooks could have used for its Hyperion.
One of the brand's former athletes had a massive breakthrough, running sub-2:10... in the Nike Alphafly. That's all that needs to be said about the trust level and standing of the Hyperion Elite 2 right now.
The shoe is well liked by the public, but has yet to have its moment.
Trust Score: 20%
The Cloudboom remains a carbon-plate shoe without the key ingredient that has elevated the models above it: a revolutionary midsole that improves running economy. But hey, the shoe looks nice!
Trust Score: Unknown
Atreyu is a new indie shoemaker based in Austin, Texas. Yes, "indie shoes" are now a thing. "The Artist" takes the crown for weirdest shoe model name ever. This prototype isn't yet available to the public (it's coming in "early 2021" the company tells us). It was worn by one runner at The Marathon Project, who DNFed. We slotted The Artist in at number 10 because of the incredible amount of promise it carries — imagine if Atreyu is able to prove that a small company can make legit performance-oriented running shoes? That would significantly change the industry. Others have tried with mixed results.
Also, points for the Neverending Story character reference.
Trust Score: 10%
While the GoRun Speed Elite Hyper may have the most superlatives in its name, it remains in last place on this list.
How The Ranking System Works
When a new model drops, we'll slot it into the next update to the rankings. We'll also remove dated models off the list when they are officially retired by a brand (as an example, the original Nike Vaporfly 4% doesn't appear on our inaugural list because it's no longer manufactured, even though some still race in it, and it's a great shoe). We'll make a note at the start of each new set of updated rankings with any additions and subtractions.
Lesser changes, such as colourway updates or minor tweaks that don't force its manufacturer to christen a new edition or name change will just be factored into the ranking of that current model.
We're weighting these rankings based on a few key factors:
- How the shoe performs in major competitions, particularly on the feet of the world's best runners
- The shoe's market saturation (i.e. how many pairs we see on feet at the start lines of races around the world)
- Studies that attempt to quantify a particular shoe's performance benefits
- Big technological advances in a particular model
- Public perception of the ability of the shoe to deliver enhanced performances at all levels
With future iterations of the shoe power rankings, we'll indicate if the model has moved up or down on the board with a little green or red arrow, as well as it's previous position.
We'll also provide a brief summary for why each model is in its current position, based on notable performances in the shoe and our overall read on how it is being perceived by the greater running community. Of course, these are subjective rankings, so if you disagree, by all means @ us on Twitter with your version of the leaderboard.
Our power rankings are overseen by The XC's Michael Doyle, who has tested and reviewed hundreds of running shoes for nearly a decade, and was one of the few North American journalists to cover Breaking2, Eliud Kipchoge's first attempt at cracking the two-hour barrier in the marathon and ground zero for this shoe revolution. He's also interviewed many of the designers who lead shoe design at all the major shoe brands, as well as third-party researchers who have studied the shoes, and stays in touch with them for updates on innovations. And, like everyone else who runs road races, pretty much every contributor at The XC wears these shoes at goal events, and has strong opinions about them.