By Kieran Alger
Before we get into our top picks of the best running shoes for racing 5km, let’s be clear: you don’t need to buy shoes built specifically for the distance to clock a PR. Running shoes are increasingly built with all the versatility most runners need to conquer a range of distances. Many of the best daily trainers, half and marathon race shoes are just as capable over the shorter, faster miles. However, if you’re really eager to dial in the details and shoot for the marginal gains, there are some excellent running shoes for attacking those 3.1 miles.
Over the past 12 months, I’ve tried and tested hundreds of running shoes and here are my top picks for the best running shoes for racing 5km. I’ve focussed heavily on versatility and value but add a few 5km specific options for good measure.
What to Look for When you’re Choosing Shoes to Race 5km
Over 5km you’ll be running for a shorter time, over a shorter distance, so you can opt for shoes with a more stripped-back race feel but comfort is still important. You might not need the plushness that’s essential in a longer-run shoe but equally you want your footwear to feel natural and almost disappear on your feet.
The best 5km shoes tend to be lighter, more agile, more minimal and more direct, to give you the control you need to be moving across the ground at top pace. Fit is critical. It pays to look for a nice secure, hugging race fit with the kind of hold that locks your feet in place with no sliding around.
When it comes to the ride, the story has changed somewhat on how much midsole you want underfoot. You might find you need less cushioning to protect the feet when you’re running with a higher foot turnover, over the shorter distance. But lighter, more responsive superfoams now allow for bigger midsole stacks without adding unnecessary weight. So even bigger stack shoes like the Nike Alphafly Next% and the Saucony Endorphin Pro can work nicely for racing 5km.
However, it’s important that the cushioned platform offers good stability, particularly when you’re moving fast and taking corners at speed.
Do you Need a Carbon Plate?
Not necessarily. Some good 5km shoes forego this tech. It’s also worth noting there’s good research that shows not all carbon plate shoes offer efficiency gains over non-plated shoes. Plus runners respond differently to the carbon racers, too.
Best Running Shoes to Lace up to Chase your 5K PR
1. New Balance SC Elite V3
A big upgrade from the second generation, the SC Elite V3 is a light, lively and versatile carbon racer built for speed and stability over almost any distance. It doesn’t pack the punch of carbon racers like the Nike Alphafly Next% 3 but there’s a subtlety, smoothness and energy to the ride that makes it more accessible for a wider range of runners.
The SC Elite V3 deploys a dual density midsole with a double-layer of FuelCell foam – one firmer EVA/TPU foam layer directly under the foot and a softer alternative as the main cushion bed.
There’s a surprisingly low 4mm drop – the lowest among the carbon super-shoe elite – but it feels higher thanks in part to the pronounced rocker shape. There’s also a re-shaped carbon fibre plate sandwiched in between those midsole layers and some strategic midsole cutouts to improve energy return.
This is a carbon racer that keeps you connected to the ground underfoot. But remains lively, energetic and responsive enough to cope when you move up through the gears over 5km. Great for snappy transitions and a smooth turnover at top paces.
Some wider-footed runners might find the socklike mesh bootie uppers a little snug across the midfoot. Then again, if you like it snug, you’ll get that here.
If your 5km takes you off-road, the New Balance SC Trail sports some of the SC Elite DNA and performance onto the trails, making it a good option for punching out non-asphalt PRs.
2. Nike Vaporfly 3
The original carbon-plate speedster, the lightweight Vaporfly was designed to topple marathon PRs but it’s always been a great option for all-out racing over any distance – including the 5km.
The Vaporfly Next% 3 carries much of the same DNA, combining a foot-long carbon plate with a sizable stack of light and punchy ZoomX superfoam with a racy, minimal upper. However, the Next% 3 runs a little softer and more cushioned than the stiffer, springier, Next% 2.
The result: some of the directness that gave the Vaporfly the edge has gone. Even so, this is still a fast, nimble and agile shoe that performs well when you’re moving with your best form at top speed chasing shorter, faster times. Plus, the added cushioning definitely makes this a more accessible 5km racer overall.
It’s also worth mentioning the Vaporfly’s higher stacked sibling, the Nike Alphafly Next% 2 which is another good all-out racer, although some might find the stability a bit lacking for chasing 5km PRs on a tight and twisty courses.
Meanwhile, if you want a shoe with some of the Vaporfly feel but more racing flat directness, the plate-less Nike ZoomX Streakfly is also worth a look.
3. Saucony Endorphin Speed 3
The Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 was one of the original plated super trainers. It arguably set the benchmark for do-it-all daily trainers and admittedly it’s a leap from the minimal racing flats you might choose to chase a 5km PR.
So why’s it on the 5km list? Well, if you want a shoe that offers everything you need to move fast over 5km, just with a roomier, more traditional feel, this is it.
The killer feature here is the midsole. The combination of PWRUN PB foam, with a foot-long nylon plate and the Speedroll rockered geometry works a treat. It’s cushioned, protective in a big-stack way but avoids being soggy.
Instead, what you get is a shoe that’s light, responsive, agile and punchy at faster paces. You can nail speedwork and faster efforts in them but that balanced cushioning also protects you when you’re moving at easier paces too.
They’re perhaps not the most nimble in the corners and they might not be first choice for twister 5km courses but the wider platform generally makes for a good stable base to run off. They’re also really natural and roomy on the foot with a good disappearing, unfussy fit and uppers that flex nicely. You get wiggle room in the toe box but still feel locked in and secure.
The other bonus: because they’re slightly older, you can find good deals on them too.
4. Adidas Adizero Takumi Sen 9
At the point where classic racing flats and supershoes collide, the Takumi Sen 9 are among the more aggressive racing options in Adidas Adizero line-up. Think racing flat with a bigger stack.
They combine streamlined, race-ready mesh uppers – with minimal heel collars and tongues – with a punchy midsole cut from Adidas’ highly responsive Lightstrike Pro midsole foam. There’s also an energy rods system, similar to the Adios Pro 3, to add some spring and stiffness, though these are plastic rather than carbon.
At just 6.4oz (181g), they’re impressively light, nicely agile and overall the ride is snappy and fast but firmer and more direct than a lot of the latest supershoes. This is the kind of shoe that encourages a quick foot turnover and performs best when you’re moving with good form and serious intent.
However, if you prefer a race shoe with a bit more forgiving versatility, the bigger-stacked Adidas Adios Pro 3 is another shoe that handles racing from 5km right up to the marathon and beyond.
5. On Cloudboom Echo 3
It’s taken a few failed attempts but On finally has a carbon-race shoe that’s a real contender for racing any distance up to the marathon. The On Cloudboom Echo 3 is easily On’s best race shoe to date and though it’s primarily built for the marathon distance, there’s plenty here to make it a worthy 5km option, too.
The Echo 3 is the first shoe to feature a new Helion HF hyperfoam in the midsole. This more-responsive, new foam works in tandem with a rocker-shaped, full-carbon Speedboard to give the Echo 3 a happy helping of the snappy, firm springiness we loved in the Nike Vaporfly Next% first and second generation.
It makes for a ride that’s sprightly and energetic but with a welcome stiffness that also feels controlled and direct. There’s a good balance with just enough cushion to look after your feet and pretty good stability.
When it comes to comfort, they feel light, compact, agile and racy the moment you put them on with a fairly minimal, hugging race-fit that avoids being too cramped and restrictive.
If you want a shoe that runs a little softer, the On Cloudsurfer 7 is another interesting newcomer to the On line-up. A good versatile daily trainer that’s capable of conquering faster efforts.
6. HOKA Mach X
Next up we’ve got a shoe that’s more turbo-charged daily trainer than all-out 5km race shoe. But the HOKA Mach X makes the list because it offers good versatility. There’s enough here to carry most runners from a fast 5km right up to those longer, marathon-pace interval efforts. And that means good value.
The stripped-down, carbon-plated sibling to the really popular HOKA Mach 5, the Mach X is an unfussy shoe compared to some racing flats. The jacquard mesh uppers still feel light and racy, perhaps even a little cramped but the medium-level padding in the heel collars boosts comfort and a heel counter helps secure the fit.
Underfoot, there’s a ProFly X midsole that sandwiches a Pebax plate between a layer of PEBA and a layer of EVA. Plus an early stage metarocker. It’s a really well balanced combination that supports an easy roll through off the rocker and a cushioned, springy ride that’s not too firm, not too soft.
The foam/plate combo returns just at the right time so you get enough ground feel but a bit of kick when you need it. Light enough to feel racy and a great snappiness when you’re going all out, this lands firmly in the pile of shoes marked “Can handle anything”.
7. Puma Deviate Nitro Elite 2
Puma’s fairly recent re-entry into running has produced some outstanding shoes that hit the value sweet spot between performance and price. And the Deviate Nitro Elite 2 tick that box. This second-generation Deviate Nitro Elite is designed to conquer the marathon but the quite aggressive ride actually lends itself more to smashing out fast 5km and half marathons. Particularly for runners who might be new to lacing up super shoes.
There’s a familiar super shoe story here. Underneath you’ve got a light, springy and responsive nitrogen-injected PEBA Nitro midsole foam that offers good propulsion. That’s paired with a carbon fibre PWRPLATE to boost stability and a forefoot rocker to create snappier toe offs. Up top things are relatively stripped back with snug and racy monomesh uppers that are pretty narrow and certainly offer a locked-in fit.
The midsole platform is notably narrower than some super shoes and Puma managed to shave 60g off the weight from the previous generation which makes for an even more nimble racer that’s good in the corners. That’s helped a lot by the excellent Puma Grip outsole that’s as sticky as they come.