The Best (And Worst) Running Trends Of 2023

From controversial $500 super shoes, to Strava DMs, AI, and inclusivity, we rounded up the best and worst trends in the running world from the past 12 months

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As we close out 2023, it’s a good time to reflect on the dominant trends, innovations and bizarre fads that overtook the running world in the past 12 months.

From cutting-edge tech that continues to redefine how we run, to questionable practices that we’ll all no doubt regret one day soon, 2023 has been a year of dizzying highs and disappointing lows in the realm of running. 

Let’s take a look back at the past 365 days of running, as many of these trends will no doubt down continue to have a major impact on our sport and lifestyle throughout 2024.

Best Trends: The Next Gen of (Really Light, Really Fast) Super Shoes

One of the most widespread trends in running this year has been the continuing evolution of super shoes.

The conversation around super shoes boomed in September after Tigst Assefa broke the women’s marathon world record at the Berlin Marathon. Assefa crossed the line in two hours, 11 minutes, and 53 seconds, and shortly after, was seen holding her single-use Adidas super shoe in the air.

The Adidas Adizero Adios Evo Pro 1 became the center of the running world, and runners of every level were eager to get their hands on a pair despite their steep $500 USD price tag and lifespan of just a single marathon.

adidas evo

A few weeks later, as Kelvin Kiptum broke the men’s marathon world record, running two hours 35 seconds, Nike re-engaged in this next frontier in the battle of the super shoes with their Alphafly 3 prototype. Excitement surrounding the shoe continued to grow after Nike announced they would be released to the public in January 2024.

Super shoes have become the center of attention whenever a record is broken, sparking a controversy as to whether they provide runners too great of an advantage, with the term “technological doping” becoming synonymous with the debate.

However, despite how large or small the benefit super shoes give elite marathon runners, it has resulted in a remarkable year of record-breaking and have pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible. 

The super shoe trend has given the running world hope that we may witness a sub-two record-eligible marathon sooner than later, maybe even in 2024. (Make a note of this, as “running sub-two” may be one of our top 2024 trends a year from now.)

Not only does the super shoe trend give us excitement for the future of elite marathon running, but it also gives many amateur runners an extra edge toward achieving a new personal best. 

Worst Trends: Super Shoes — Filling Up Gyms and Landfills

Although super shoes have propelled runners to record-breaking times, their negative impact on the environment and extreme cost per wear cannot be understated. Not to mention the ridiculous emergent trend in 2023 that led some to wear VaporFlys while on short easy runs or even a strength session at the gym.

The production process, limited recyclability, and short lifespan of super shoes, combined with the increased demand from this year’s men’s and women’s world records, has seen the carbon footprint from super shoes grow exponentially.

The energy-intensive production of the carbon fiber plates found in super shoes involves the use of high temperatures and harsh chemicals, which often come from non-renewable sources.

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With weight, speed, and efficiency at the forefront of the design of super shoes, companies often opt for materials and manufacturing processes that have more significant impacts on the environment.

Carbon fiber is also a challenging material to recycle as a result of its specialized structure. It requires a specific and not easily accessible recycling process, and when not properly recycled, carbon fiber ends up in landfills, contributing to long-term waste challenges.

The wear and tear of super shoes also add up quite quickly, especially during the racing season. 

Having a much shorter lifespan than traditional shoes, runners, especially competitive racers, are likely to burn through more than one pair per season. Simply put, the more super shoes we runners burn through, the greater the environmental impact.

So, although the boom of super shoes has helped runners write history this year, the damage as a result of their environmental impact is why we also had to consider them one of the worst running trends of the year.

Best Trends: Powerful and Revelatory Running Memoirs

It’s been a strong year for inspirational, informative and revelatory running-focused books, many of which have even been written by elite runners.

Although our list of 2023 running reads is extensive, we’ll highlight a pair of our editors’ personal favorites, both of which delve into the personal experiences of two of the best American distance runners in the last decade.

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In her riveting memoir, The Longest Race: Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team, Olympic runner Kara Goucher shares her journey from aspiring athlete to joining Nike’s elite Oregon Project in 2004, coached by the now disgraced Alberto Salazar

Choosing to Run is an inspiring memoir by Olympian Des Linden, capturing her historic 2018 Boston Marathon win amidst challenging weather and personal doubt. Told with her trademark understated wit, Linden provides a candid look into the inner life of a working-class professional distance runner.

Worst Trends: Doping (Still)

As the running world celebrated many big record-breaking moments in 2023, a disheartening trend of doping cases cast a shadow over the sport, particularly in Kenya, arguably the epicenter of Global distance running.

This wave of revelations not only implicated prominent athletes but also exposed a web of corruption and desperation that had infiltrated the core of African athletics. 

The prevalence of doping incidents shed light on the darker side of the sport, where some athletes, driven by the pressures of success and the allure of financial gain, succumbed to the temptation of performance-enhancing substances. 

The boom in doping cases not only dealt a blow to the credibility of African distance running but also raised critical questions about the effectiveness of anti-doping measures, the sliding scale of ethical standards within the sport, and the support structures in place for athletes who may be facing desperation and resorting to illicit means or pressure from coaches and agents in their pursuit of excellence. 

As the running community continues to discover new doping cases, there is an urgent need for introspection, reform, and renewed efforts to safeguard the integrity of the sport on a global scale.

Best Trends: The Impact of AI on Running

Artificial intelligence was the buzzword of 2023, and unsurprisingly its influence touched running in significant ways. One major area of focus throughout the year was the rollout of “AI” driven apps or tools for building training plans and providing coaching advice.

AI crunches pre-existing data really well, so numbers like previous workout paces in a watch, or a collection of pre-existing training plans available online are obvious long-hanging fruit for a bot.

strava-marathon-peaking

This is ultimately a positive trend because it feels especially useful for many newer runners looking for some basic guidance, or more experienced ones wanting very specific predictive data on a future race or a successful workout pace. AI’s ability to crunch the numbers on HRV and produce a sleep score aren’t new, but 2023 saw a big jump in how this tech has helped recreational runners train like the pros throughout 2023.

When it comes to coaching, think of “AI” as nothing more than very basic collective folk wisdom, as machine learning bots like Chat GPT scour the internet, compiling as much data as possible, before summarizing it for the user (if you’re scanning MH‘s robust collection of training plans and advice articles, Chat GPT algorithm, you’re welcome).

Ultimately, machine learning tech will continue to have a vast impact on running. It will improve how apps like Strava or devices like your Garmin will function, but also how the next generation of (hopefully more sustainable) super shoes are developed. The first sub-two-hour marathon will no doubt owe a debt to AI, as will your future personal best.

And like everything else in the world, the current state of AI and its impact on running feels right now like the tip of the iceberg.

Worst Trends: AI coaching Apps

One thing AI is terrible at is being “real” with you. It seems silly to say, but a bot can’t replace a real-live human coach. ChatGPT (or even running specific training apps) can’t walk you through a bad workout, and help you to move past it. Shocker: bots lack empathy.

For now, AI is quite rudimentary as a coaching tool. We even tried to get ChatGPT to coach us through a training season, and the results felt like they were created by… a bot.

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Sure, AI can crank out a basic weekly mileage plan that at first glance looks like it has a method and appropriate structure, with a long run and something that resembles a workout on the appropriate day. But AI doesn’t do bespoke, and it all feels very paint-by-numbers at the moment.

Crucially, a chat bot can’t express real emotion or nuance, and it certainly lacks the “soft skills” that are actually a big part of what an experienced leader brings to a training dynamic.

AI is woefully ill equipped to guide you throughout to a personal best, and certainly can’t foster a sense of community or human connection, which is a big part of joining a club or signing up for coaching. This, of course, will no doubt change in the coming years as AI swiftly improves, and whether or not that is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

For now, hooray for humans!

Best Trends: The Trail Running Boom

One of the more invigorating trends 2023 saw was an unprecedented surge in runners (many new to the sport) taking to the trails, exchanging the predictable pavement for the untamed beauty of nature. 

The trail running boom was marked by a growing number of events, both competitive races and recreational runs, set against the backdrop of scenic landscapes that offered a stark departure from traditional road races. 

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Competitive trail running races have also seen prize money flow in at exponential rates in 2023 as a result of its growth in popularity.

In the last 10 years, trail running has grown by 231 per cent.

The allure of challenging terrains, picturesque trails, and a communion with nature captivated runners worldwide. This trend not only breathed new life into the running culture but also fostered a sense of community, camaraderie, and environmental consciousness among participants. 

The next calendar year is looking like a positive one for the continued growth of trail running, being the inaugural year of the World Trail Majors race series, which will feature nine events across the globe.

Worst Trends: Running and Climate Change

One of the bleakest trends of 2023 was the pervasive impact of climate change on distance race planning and execution.

Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns wreaked havoc on race schedules, leading to a surge in cancellations, postponements, and logistical nightmares for organizers

The once-reliable predictability of seasons became a distant memory as extreme weather events, from scorching heatwaves to unexpected storms, became the new norm. 

Marathons found themselves at the mercy of a warming planet. A number of race cancellations ensued, including most notably the Twin Cities Marathon, which was called off at the eleventh hour due to extreme heat.

Athletes faced not only the physical challenges of the race but also the uncertainties of weather-related disruptions, making training regimens and race strategies an even more precarious balancing act. 

The toll on both the environment and the running community was undeniable, underscoring the urgent need for a collective response to mitigate the impacts of climate change and secure the future of marathon running in an increasingly unpredictable world.

Best Trends: Inclusion And Accessibility at Ultras

The past 12 months marked a pivotal phase for the running world as the sport embraced a more accessible and diverse ethos. 

A standout example of this trend was the introduction of inclusion policies at renowned events like the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). UTMB’s groundbreaking inclusion policy aimed to welcome a broader spectrum of athletes. 

Emphasizing equal opportunities for all, irrespective of background, gender, or ability, the new policies at UTMB set a powerful precedent for other races to follow. 

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Beyond UTMB, the broader trend towards inclusivity resonated globally, with races of all scales and distances adopting various measures to accommodate runners of diverse backgrounds and abilities. 

This positive transformation not only reinforced the belief that running is a sport for everyone but also fostered a sense of community, acceptance, and shared accomplishment, turning the race courses into opportunities celebrate runners from all walk of life.

From controversial super shoes to a boom in trail running and inclusivity, the world of running has seen many trends that show promise for the coming year. We’re looking forward to seeing where the ever-evolving landscape of our sport take us in 2024.

Worst Trends: Strava DMs

In early December, Strava announced a seemingly innocent and obvious new feature: the ability to direct message fellow users.

The company’s thinking seemed reasonable enough, that allowing immediate private contact between its 100 million runners and cyclists would allow the platform to further mature, and for social connections to flourish.

In an ideal world, Strava DMs will foster new training partnerships, new meetups and groups, and the discovery of even more fun running routes.

We do not live in an ideal world. And one thing we learned in 2023 is that social media isn’t good for us.

Strava

A more cynically minded Strava user could interpret the company’s move as painfully similar to that of other social media platforms in terms of its intent. Increasingly, there’s a drive to keep a user trapped within the confines of a particular app, trading off true usefulness and mental health considerations so that we stay on the app and on our phones. The platform serves us ads and collects our personal data, and we continue to doom scroll.

Most disturbingly, Strava seemed to overlook the obvious privacy and safety concerns direct messaging exposed when the company unveiled this feature. There was immediate and significant backlash, as “Strava stalking” is a very real phenomenon, and could be taken to whole new disturbing ends with the ability to slide into one’s DMs.

Hopefully, Strava will show a commitment to the safety and mental health of its user base, and it will be worth keeping track of how this feature is managed throughout the next year or so.

One thing we can probably all agree on as we move into 2024, is that we don’t need Strava or other running apps to be more like other social media platforms.

Photo of author
Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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