What's the Difference Between Training Shoes and Racing Shoes?

A group of runners lines up at the start of a race

There are many different types of running shoes. From minimalist to max-cushion and everything in between, there are different shoes for different purposes (and preferences).

But even with all the different styles, two main types of shoes stand out: trainers and racers.

Training shoes are meant for the bulk of your running leading up to race day, which is when you switch over to your racing shoes to help you run your fastest time yet. Conquering a tough workout in racing shoes is also the perfect way to simulate race day and double-check that the shoes will perform well when you’re running your hardest. It helps you feel fast and confident for both the workout and the race.

If you’re not sure what the difference is between training shoes and racing shoes, here’s what you need to know.

Everyday Training Shoes

A pair of runners wearing the Brooks Ghost 12 during a workout

Many of the most popular running shoes are made for training.

Everyday running shoes are designed to endure the high mileage of your training cycle and into race day. To do that, brands engineer durable components that provide protection against the repeated impacts of running.

Classic training shoes, like the Brooks Ghost 12 and the Mizuno Wave Rider 23, are made to last up to 500 miles. Their burly outsole rubber resists abrasion and protects the softer midsole, while the foam withstands thousands of compressions without losing (much) spring.

The longevity of training shoes also means they tend to weigh more than race shoes (perhaps an added training bonus?). Beefier outsole rubber, tougher foam midsoles and thicker uppers all tack on incremental weight. While many training shoes are actually quite light, they still pack away several more ounces than the average racing shoe.

Racing Shoes

Elite ultrarunners line up for the beginning of the HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X Event

Race-day shoes (or racing flats) are designed to be lighter and faster than your everyday training shoe.

Runners looking to set new personal records at a race will sometimes switch into a pair of racing flats for the big day. Racing flats historically featured less cushioning than a training shoe, and some used less outsole rubber to cut down on weight.

The slimmer shoes and lighter materials also wear out faster than what's used in training shoes. That means race shoes are something you should save for the race or for a couple hard workouts during your training cycle.

But advances in technology mean that many racing shoes now boast the same amount of cushioning as some training shoes (or more) with a lighter weight.

Take the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% and the New Balance FuelCell 5280 for example. These new shoes employ the lightest materials, bounciest foams and most propulsive carbon fiber plates to give you an edge on race day.

Still, other modern-day race shoes blur the line between racing and training. The HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X is built for speed—a carbon fiber plate lends the shoe a propulsive feeling and an ultra-responsive foam adds bounce to your run—but there’s also a lot of foam, which remains soft and springy over hundreds of miles.

By Evan Matsumoto. Evan played many sports growing up but didn’t go pro in any of them. Now, he’s the digital copywriter for fleetfeet.com and editor for the Fleet Feet blog where he writes about different foam densities and engineered mesh uppers.

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