$110 is the new $85. Was a time not long ago—around when I started running, actually—when top-of-the-line running shoes were about $85 a pair, and middle-of-the-packers like me never paid more than $60.* Today, though, it's not uncommon for runners to drop $110, $150 or even $200 for sleek, high-performance sneakers.
Since humans began chasing prey across the African plains, running has been the world's purest, most democratic sport. Almost anyone can do it and, as Chris McDougall pointed out in his award-winning book, we're all born to. To this day, running's chief virtues—besides that it provides a fantastic workout—have been that it's simple, accessible and (supposed to be) cheap.
But when you're shelling out more than a Benjamin for a proper pair of shoes, it starts to look, well, a little elite. But you don't have to break your budget to break your personal record. The barefoot/minimalism craze of recent years helped refocus R&D efforts by shoe manufacturers, who've bought into the "less is more" ethos by creating sleek, stripped-down shoes that deliver better performance with fewer materials. The result is that low-priced shoes aren't necessarily entry-level clunkers.
Witness a foot-shaped shoe that encourages "natural" running ($75), a blazing fast racing flat that checks in at 7 ounces (and $90) and the rugged toe-shoe from Vibram ($85) that protects you from the trail.
To find these shoes, we rooted around our gear closet to find high performers that don't break the bank. We selected them from a combination of personal tests, consumer review sites and reviews by other leading running media, and included them based on price (obviously), quality of materials and consumer reviews. As always, this list doesn't substitute for personal trial. Before buying your next pair of kicks, head to your local running store and take a few for a spin.
It's great to get a deal on running shoes, but it's a bad deal if they hurt your feet. Not sure if a shoe is right for you? Check out our guide to shoe categories.
*Honestly, I usually waited until my local running shop had its semi-annual 2-for-1 sale on past models, and bought two pairs for $60, plus an added discount for being a scholastic runner. Oh yes, I'm a dirtbag.