If you thought the Tar Heels and Gamecocks were the only bracket winners to emerge from March, you thought wrong. We extended the madness to the sport of running, giving readers the opportunity to cast their votes across four regions of sneakers in an effort to decide, once and for all, which running shoe reigns supreme.
The results may surprise you—but the numbers don’t lie.
20. Brooks Launch 4Year: 2017 1 of 21
The lightest, most responsive version of Brooks' Launch was only on the streets for a couple of months prior to the start of Shoe Madness—and that's all it took.
With improved fluidity and a sleek new design, the fourth iteration married comfort and speed in a way that few before it could. During ACTIVE #ShoeWeek, the Launch 4 was referred to as "a performance shoe in a daily trainer's body," and that's exactly what it is.
Claim to Fame: The Launch 4 features a U-Groove that both reduces shock and encourages the heel to establish a plane along its natural motion path.
19. Reebok GL6000Year: 1986 2 of 21
A list like this wouldn't be complete without the inclusion of one of the most recognizable running shoes in the history of the sport.
The Reebok GL6000 introduced a revolutionary total support system coupled with a dual-density midsole that provided cushioning and responsiveness rarely before experienced during the mid '80s.
Claim to Fame: The GL6000 has long represented the pinnacle for Reebok running shoes after the company's Pump technology failed to catch on within the sport.
After more than a decade of running shoe irrelevance, Reebok recently embarked upon a noteworthy resurgence that culminated with the much anticipated release of the Floatride Run—a shoe that has been met with positive, promising reviews.
18. Saucony Freedom ISOYear: 2016 3 of 21
Saucony's mission in designing the Freedom ISO was nothing if not ambitious—and the end result, nothing if not impressive. Apparently no one told the folks up in Lexington, Mass., "You can't have your cake and eat it, too," which has ultimately worked out well for runners.
The Freedom ISO combines outstanding energy return, responsiveness and cushioning in jaw-dropping fashion—a sneaker that's both nimble and strong. In other words, if Russell Westbrook were a running shoe, he'd be the Saucony Freedom ISO.
Claim to Fame: The Freedom ISO was the first Saucony shoe to receive a full-length EVERUN midsole—TPU foam that stretches from heel-to-toe.
17. New Balance Vazee Pace v2Year: 2016 4 of 21
Of New Balance's seemingly endless selection of simplistic classics, perhaps it comes as some surprise that one of the brand's newest shoes leads the way on this list. That is, until you consider that the Vazee Pace v2 is actually a back-to-basics daily trainer designed to endure high miles—not with hopes of an eventual comeback as a retro lifestyle offering. That being said, with a tons of color options and a relatively modern look, it's safe to say that the Vazee Pace is a bit more aesthetically pleasing than, say, the 991.
Claim to Fame: The Vazee Pace is like the '89 Jeep Cherokee of running shoes in that its basically 300,000 miles—or, in this case, 1,000 miles—waiting to happen.
16. Nike Air Pegasus '92Year: 1992 5 of 21
The Nike Air Pegasus is still a thing—but, now at iteration No. 33, it's definitely not the same thing. The Air Pegasus '92, capitalizing, in part, on the exposure provided by the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, is an icon in running circles. In fact, the premium white leather version—featuring touches of metallic gold, red and navy—was recently brought out of retirement as part of Nike's Olympic "Then and Now" pack, 24 years after the '92 Games.
Claim to Fame: The Pegasus '92 has been updated as a current lifestyle offering by Nike more times than we can count. The shoe is not just a favorite of running shoe aficionados, but of sneaker heads everywhere.
15. Brooks Pure CadenceYear: 2011 6 of 21
Brooks answered calls for a more minimalist approach with its Brooks Pure Project line during the fall of 2011. The line included the Pure Cadence, which immediately became a favorite of overpronators who were previously unable to utilize a minimalist shoe.
Today, the Pure Cadence—now on its sixth iteration—continues to be light, fast and super smooth, but the originals remain the most highly regarded of the bunch.
Claim to Fame: As the popularity of minimalist shoes was peaking, overpronators were largely left out until the arrival of the Pure Cadence.
14. New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 v7Year: 2017 7 of 21
What happens when a supremely popular shoe model like the New Balance 1080 is combined with one of the sport's most respected cushioning systems? In short, an all-time great is born—eventually.
A year after New Balance initially introduced Fresh Foam to the 1080, a few minor tweaks launched the model from mediocre to superstar status.
Claim to Fame: The 1080 has long since emerged as New Balance's go-to shoe for neutral pronators seeking maximum cushioning. The v6 introduced Fresh Foam to the model, but the v7 established the sweet spot in the 1080-Fresh Foam union.
13. Mizuno Wave Rider 20Year: 2016 8 of 21
One of running's true heavyweights, the Wave Rider has long been favorite of runners all over the globe—hence Mizuno's continued decision to renew and improve the model 19 times since the original Wave Rider was released in 1998.
While previous iterations—like the 2, 6 and 15, to name a few—played key roles in the evolution of the Wave Rider, the most recent update is arguably the greatest of them all. The 20 doesn't necessarily look fast, but it wears fast—striking the perfect balance of Mizuno's technologies.
Claim to Fame: The Waver Rider 20 is the poster child for Mizuno's Cloud Wave Technology, which provides one of the sport's most popular neutral trainers with a mind-blowing combination of cushion and liveliness.
12. Brooks Adrenaline GTS 17Year: 2016 9 of 21
If you were hoping for some more nostalgia, we hate to disappoint—but, when given the option, readers consistently chose newest iterations over earlier renditions. The Brooks Adrenaline series was no different.
The Adrenaline GTS 17 was a smash hit last year, maintaining the shoe's established place atop the list of stability-focused running shoes. Some of its popularity is likely also a result of the shoe's modest appearance. No frills. Superior run.
Claim to Fame: The Adrenaline is considered by most to be Brooks' flagship shoe. Appropriately, GTS stands for "Go To Shoe."
11. Asics GEL-Nimbus 16Year: 2014 10 of 21
The Robin to the Kayano's Batman, the Gel-Nimbus has long been a favorite of Asics loyalists who prefer a neutral daily trainer that doesn't skimp on cushioning.
More recent models have been met with some disappointment, which may be due, in part, to the height to which the 15 and 16 raised the bar. If this shoe isn't the best thing Asics has ever done, it's on the short list.
Claim to Fame: The GEL-Nimbus 16 was the last iteration for which Asics resisted the urge to make sweeping changes to what remains one of the brand's crowning achievements.
10. Saucony Hurricane ISO 3Year: 2017 11 of 21
It sure feels like Saucony's found something with its decision to go all in with EVERUN, doesn't it?
Even the Hurricane ISO 2 could be described as cushioned, yet responsive. The third iteration, with the same EVERUN topsole technology introduced by the Freedom ISO, offers energy return rarely (if ever) seen from a stability running shoe.
Claim to Fame: In addition to its full-length EVERUN topsole, the Hurricane ISO 3 features Saucony's ISOFIT—a system designed to create a dynamic, secure fit, unique to each individual foot.
9. Newton GravityYear: 2012 12 of 21
Newton's law of gravity states that a particle attracts every other particle in the universe using a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers. Whatever that means, this shoe defies it.
A shoe built for serious runners, the Newton Gravity has also become known for eye-catching aesthetics that appeal to casual runners with a colorful taste in kicks.
Claim to Fame: In general, Newton has built a running shoe empire by mastering the delicate balance of combining minimal weight with maximum stability. Now on its fifth iteration, the Gravity continues to be the brand's poster child for this formula.
8. Asics GEL-Kayano 23Year: 2016 13 of 21
The latest iteration from one of the true heavyweight champions of the stability game, the Asics GEL-Kayano 23 continued—and improved upon—one of the sport's most impressive lineages. No list of "best" running shoes is complete without the GEL-Kayano.
The 23 was a smash hit during testing for our Spring Shoe Guide, earning rave reviews for its abundance of cushioning and support (not new) coupled with a new Flytefoam system that resulted in a remarkably light ride for a shoe of this sort.
Claim to Fame: The GEL-Kayano has long been Asics' overwhelming favorite among runners and the newest version continues to raise the bar. Think of the GEL-Kayano 23 as the 2016-'17 Golden State Warriors in that it continues to accomplish the virtually unfathomable by improving upon the accomplishments of its all-time great predecessors.
7. Brooks Ghost 5Year: 2012 14 of 21
Marketed as an entry level sneaker for runners hunting a stability boost, the Ghost has long been one of Brooks' most popular models. In fact, nine iterations later, the Ghost stands alongside the Adrenaline GTS as one of the most commonly worn shoes on race day.
While the Ghost 9 was met with much fanfare and, predictably, award high marks for performance, the Ghost 5 is continually mentioned as one of the all-time greats, having meshed components from its predecessors to create a virtually perfect harmony.
Claim to Fame: The Ghost 5 brought Brooks' Caterpillar Crash Pad to the forefront of shoe technology. Several years later, this construction of segmented shock absorbers remains the feature for which Brooks is most commonly known for.
6. Nike Air Max 95Year: 1995 15 of 21
Commonly mentioned among the best of all-time, the Air Max 95 is, without question, one of the undisputed greats.
The shoe was constructed with rarely seen attention to detail atop the now famous Air Max sole with which Nike ultimately became synonymous. While ever-evolving technologies eventually phased air pockets out of the sport, the design and appearance of this shoe has been felt, not just within the realm of running sneakers, but across multiple industries.
Claim to Fame: The shoe's gradient shades and structured lacing system were inspired by the human spine, creating a timeless look that has reemerged as a favorite lifestyle shoe of sneaker heads everywhere.
5. Adidas Ultra BoostYear: 2015 16 of 21
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the shoe manufacturer known best for its classics dropped an instant classic on the sport in 2015 with its first iteration of the now renowned Ultra Boost.
The model has since become a favorite of runners, with a Primeknit upper that lends itself to maximum comfort and, of course, the Ultra Boost cushioning system that put the 3-stripe brand back on the running map. Bonus points, here, for transcending the running shoes-with-jeans fashion faux pas.
Claim to Fame: It's all about the Boost. Adidas' most sought-after running sole is made from TPU, which isn't necessarily unique. The differentiator is the way in which the sole is constructed, with tightly packed molded capsules—rather than one big slab of TPU—which allows the sole to instantly bounce back to its original shape.
4. Nike Zoom VaporflyYear: 2017 17 of 21
Will this be the shoe on the feet of the first person to run a marathon in less than two hours? Nike hopes so. The footwear and apparel titan specifically designed three unique pairs of what it calls the Vaporfly Elite for three of the world's best distance runners as part of its Breaking2 project.
Consumers can't have the Elites, but we can wear the Vaporfly 4% beginning this summer, with an expected release date of June 8. Are we jumping the gun by including the shoe on this list? You can be the judge, but if they're good enough for Eliud Kipchoge, they're good enough for us.
Claim to Fame: The Vaporfly was specifically designed to be the fastest marathon racer on the planet; a shoe so perfectly constructed that it can help push the world's fastest runner across the finish line in less than two hours.
3. Hoka One One Clifton 3Year: 2016 18 of 21
Hoka's Clifton model has emerged as the face of a brand known for maximum cushioning—and a very, very loud appearance.
Maybe Hoka One One—and, more specifically, the Clifton—isn't for everyone, but the runners who comprise #TeamHoka are a passionate lot. The fourth iteration is in the works, but, for now, the Clifton 3 is Hoka's star player.
Claim to Fame: The shoe's exaggerated stack suggests a significant heel-to-toe drop and its appearance suggests a heavy build—and, yet, neither are true. The Clifton 3 manages the ultra-rare trifecta of being relatively flat (5mm drop), light (8.6 oz., men's model) and extremely cushioned.
2. Nike Free 5.0Year: 2005 19 of 21
At the peak of the barefootesque minimalist shoe craze, Nike stepped forward with an absolute game-changer in the Free Run, which ultimately led to its crown jewel: the Free 5.0.
The Free family went on an impressive run as the preeminent running shoe for casual runners everywhere, combining the sleek appearance we expect from Nike with a lightweight trainer that was marketed as a minimalist shoe, but transcended that description with inviting cushion and impressive durability.
Claim to Fame: Nike momentarily lost its footing (pun intended) within the running shoe market, but the Free—just a few years behind the awesome-to-look-at but awful-to-run-in Shox—emphatically inserted them back into the game.
1. Saucony Kinvara 3Year: 2012 20 of 21
Throw a dart at the board and select (almost) any iteration from Saucony's Kinvara family and you'd be in great shape. In fact, the new Kinvara 8 may well have been in this spot were it not still a relative unknown at the time of polling.
Maybe next year.
Ultimately, the Kinvara 3 was chosen to rep the whole crew and it did so with great success, earning a windfall of votes en route to its rightful place atop the list.
Claim to Fame: The Kinvara was built to bridge the gap between a racing flat and a more traditional running shoe. More specifically, the Kinvara 3 was also the first iteration of the shoe to utilize its now trademark Flexfilm along the upper.