I’ve done a bit of running in my time, but I wouldn’t classify myself as a “runner”. I haven’t been in the market for dedicated running shoes in over a decade and after years of wearing shoes with microscopic heel drops, I honestly feel like I’m gliding when I slip on a pair.
With that in mind, if you’re looking for a running shoes review from a legit running man…well…you’re probably better off hitting up Arnold’s review or something.
Luckily for me, the GORUCK Rough Runners aren’t your typical “running shoe” (so now you gotta read my review!)
Honestly, I have to tip my hat to GORUCK for this ambitious venture, straying the furthest away from its rucking pedigree than with any of their previous footwear offerings. They certainly took a chance here.
…and, I would imagine that most running purists would say that they “failed” with this venture. The Rough Runners do not feel like (or really perform like) typical running shoes.
However, for those of us with other ideas in mind (let’s call these “running-adjacent” ideas) the Rough Runners fit pretty nicely, if not in a somewhat “red-head step-childish” type of way, with GORUCK’s other array of shoes and boots.
Today, I’d like to discuss my experience with and impressions of the Rough Runners. We’ll look at what they do well and what they’re not so great at. We’ll also discuss who would likely most appreciate them in their fitness sneaker collection.
Table of Contents
What is the point of Rough Runner?
The GORUCK Rough Runners, like the company’s Ballistic Trainers (see our review of these bad boys!), and a number of other somewhat similar training shoes, are trying to embrace the “evolution of movement”.
Nobody simply “walks” anymore (they ruck).
Nobody simply “runs” anymore (they run with weight).
You get the idea.
So what exactly is the job for the Rough Runners? Running with weight. What are the secondary tasks the Rough Runners handle better than other running shoes? Other cardio activities (ex. Rowing, Fan Bike riding), providing general stability in more dynamic movements as well as lateral stability for when the conditions or movements get a little “rocky”.
The “Ruck” event at the 2019 CrossFit Games was a few years before the Rough Runners’ time, but still serves as an excellent example of the kind of activity they are perfect for.
Not just running. Not just rucking.
A 6-kilometer ruck run, starting with 20 pounds stuffed in a ruck and ending with 50 (just imagine how much better the 24:00 winning time would have been had the Rough Runners been around back then!)
Flash forward to the 2023 CrossFit Games Semifinals. The first workout of the competition was putting off quasi-Hyrox vibes with its running, skiing, and sled pulls (with some Assault Bike-ing thrown in for good measure).
And just look at what the event’s second-place finisher, Emiily Rolfe, was sporting throughout the gauntlet.
Ultimately, the Rough Runners primarily attempt to serve this decreasingly niche fitness requirement, banking on the more nimble members of their consumer base being dissatisfied with how their ruck running sessions feel in “traditional” running shoes and less-than-satisfied with how some of their other offerings just don’t seem like the right shoe for the job.
And in my experiences with the shoes, they do a pretty good job.
How I Tested my GORUCK Rough Runners
I wanted to see/feel for myself how the Rough Runners performed in different types of workouts. Although I’m not doing much running these days and haven’t completed a Hyrox event (yet!), it wasn’t difficult to replicate these workouts and to discuss how the Rough Runners compare and contrast to running and Hyrox-ing in other shoes.
I completed a “reasonable”-length combined road/trail run (~5k) in these as well as an annotated version of a Hyrox Open event.
Additionally, I regularly wore the Rough Runners as part of my Norwegian Foot March training and made dedicated observations while completing a 9-kilometer ruck/ruck run session. I also tested the shoes while taking on one of my favorite CrossFit Hero WODs (Glen) which was an excellent way to see how they held up in a workout with running, Olympic lifts, and rope climbs.
The Rough Runners also became regulars in my everyday wear collection. The early 2000’s were the “Golden Years” for the iconic, gray New Balance Classic 574 sneaker (an older guy in my fraternity joked that they were “issued” to every pledge on campus at the beginning of pledgeship) and the look of the shoes bring up fond, if not hazy, memories from that period!
I don’t think too many “runners” (as in people who nerd out over their weekend 5Ks and running marathons at Disney World and the like) are in the market for “rough” running shoes. As such, I am going to assume that most aren’t looking for the GORUCK Rough Runners to be on their radar.
Now, for the rucking enthusiasts who moonlight as “runners” and are looking for the perfect running shoe for the “roughest” of environments, I can’t say I really endorse these bad boys.
On a recent trail run/job with rather light, if not somewhat uneven terrain, I found myself having to slow down and take it easy over some of the more “imposing” obstacles (to include wet leaves and light mud). I didn’t find that I was able to maintain any degree of traction on these surfaces, although during the periods where I was on the “true” trail, the Rough Runners held up well.
I can’t complain with how these performed on the paved portions of my excursion, and think that the EVA padding is not only sufficient for longer jaunts (anything over ~2 miles), but is downright comfortable to those accustomed to road running in “functional fitness” shoes.
Overall, these perform rather well in different running conditions (to include treadmill/Air Runner as we’ll discuss below). GORUCK’s Mackall shoes are better at handling tougher “off-road” conditions (as well as different rucking boot options), but you won’t be able to move as fast or efficiently when the trail clears.
Let’s address the elephant in the corner ASAP. I wanted an “honest” experience regarding the Rough Runners and blistering.
During my first few (~5-10) wears, I only wore the shoes for short, low-volume and low-intensity sessions. These included 1 or 2-mile rucking sessions, warm-up sessions prior to Olympic lifting training, and casual wear.
My first higher-volume, higher-intensity rucking session was a 9-kilometer/5.5-mile ruck run. By the 6th kilometer/4th mile, I felt the inklings of something forming on my right foot. When I finished up, got showered and changed, I had this bad boy waiting for me at home:
As annoying as any type of blister is, particularly those on that specific part of the heel (and when considering that I haven’t experienced this with any of my other GORUCK footwear to date), I have experienced numerous blisters like this during new-shoe “break-in” periods. I know that this blistering has been mentioned in some Rough Runner shoe reviews, but don’t think the blistering is anywhere out of the ordinary.
Now that we have that out of the way, I could immediately tell that the Rough Runners were going to become the shoes for my faster-paced rucking endeavors, especially for those in more controlled environments (indoor/Air Runner rucking) and on easy terrain (good pavement). Besides the ever-growing blister on my right heel, I didn’t notice the shoes at all (in a good way).
Where other, heavier duty shoes like the GORUCK Mackalls or boots like the MACV-1s make your feet feel like they’re in a suit of chainmail, able to deal with any and all environmental conditions and withstand moving under heavy loads, they also remind you that they’re there every step of the way. In contrast, a shoe like the GORUCK Ballistic Trainer (or any shoe with that minimal-to-medium heel drop) really doesn’t “excel” in longer distance pieces and you begin to feel the hard pavement on every step (doubly so when under load).
The Rough Runners possess just enough additional stability and to better accommodate the weight on your back while also not becoming a hindrance.
I found it pretty easy to maintain an interval pace, alternating between 30-second ruck runs and 90-second walks with my ~25-pound Bullet before kicking it during a kilometer-long all-run finisher.
(Long) CrossFit Metcon
The most pleasant surprise with the Rough Runners? In my experience, they are pretty darn good for helping you grind through CrossFit metcons/WODs and hold up surprisingly well during CrossFit-adjacent (ex. Moderate weight Olympic lifting) workout sessions.
I wanted to really pay attention to how my feet felt during a “standard” CrossFit metcon and decided to put the Rough Runners to the test by taking on the “Glen” hero WOD. As you can see, it covers a lot of bases:
Long-ish distance running – check
Olympic lifting – check
Rope climbs – check
Burpees – check (to be fair, these will suck in any shoes you opt for!)
After literally years of running in different iterations of Nike Metcons and Reebok Nanos, the Rough Runners feel like an instant upgrade. The extra ~3 mm of cushioning makes each step much more comfortable and made these portions of the workout semi-tolerable.
I wasn’t trying to break Dan Bailey’s Grace world record (the last thing I wanted to do was red-line at the beginning of the workout) and opted for singles for the duration of the opening 30 clean and jerks. At first, these were slightly more awkward than they feel when wearing either “shoe extreme” (low-heeled Metcons or Nanos vs. high-heeled lifting Romaleos), but I was able to quickly adjust. I found them to be more stable than expected and actually felt more stable during the few touch-and-go reps I completed near the end of the 30 reps.
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything stable on my gym’s ceiling to thread the climbing rope through so I can only climb about 10 feet. Regardless, I was able to latch my feet onto the rope a couple of times during each rep. I didn’t experience any significant chafing, but it is pretty apparent that the polyester mesh of the Rough Runners were not constructed to accommodate this movement.
If you climb a rope once every few weeks or so, you should be fine; anything more than that…change out your shoes every once in a while, or your Rough Runners will be looking pretty rough themselves!
As mentioned above, burpees are going to suck whether you’re wearing the classic Reebok Pumps or clown shoes (especially when the workout ends with 100 of them!) That being said, performing these in the Rough Runners felt no easier or worse than in any “dedicated” CrossFit shoe. Make of that what you will!
Overall, I’m more than pleasantly surprised with how well the Rough Runners function as CrossFit shoes. I have started to work them into my training days with much more regularity, although I am mindful that there may be certain situations that arise where they might not be the best shoe for “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.”
(Non-GORUCK Division) Hyrox
Live in America and been sleeping on Hyrox (it is different from CrossFit)? I completely understand, but it’s time to wake up.
Not only is Hyrox here to stay (and will likely be taking the U.S. by storm in the coming years), but there is actually a GORUCK sponsored/affiliated division in U.S. Hyrox events (it involves performing the race while wearing a GORUCK 20-pound or 15-pound weighted vest).
So, if you opt for Rough Runners, you’ll not only be tacitly supporting Hyrox, you’ll also be pretty well prepared to participate in a Hyrox event…because they’re more than capable of helping you gut through a Hyrox race!
To be perfectly honest, I have not completed an entire Hyrox event at any level (Hyrox Open, Hyrox Pro, etc.). However, I tested the Rough Runners by pitting them (and by extension…me) up against what one could consider to be a “Baby Rox” race.
As you can see, I completed about ⅓ of the race distances for each movement (give or take a few meters on the sled exercises and broad jumps and lunges) with slightly lower weights in some cases.
My first observation? Hyrox is a lot tougher than I anticipated. Granted, when I tested, I had not been doing any significant Zone 3+ cardio for quite some time, but still…props to you Hyroxers out there!
Second observation? The Rough Runners are a better-than-adequate shoe for the job and are arguably better suited for Hyrox than they are for CrossFit.
Over the course of the non-Baby Rox Hyrox event, athletes will lodge 8 kilometers of running. While this might imply that a standard “running shoe” might be a better option, the exercises between the running sections often call for something a bit more heavy duty and durable.
Pulling and especially pushing a heavy sled? You need something that is capable of accommodating your body’s efforts to budge a largely immovable object. Without a degree of heel lock (like the Rough Runners offer), I would have been worried about a possible rolled ankle or, at best, not being able to maintain a stable base to most efficiently inch the sled along.
Even being under a relatively light load for a relatively short period of time (as you are with the weighted lunges) is nicer in footwear designed to accommodate loaded movement.
With the rowing, ski-erg-ing, wall balls, broad jumps, and farmer’s carries…I didn’t notice any significant benefit, but I also didn’t experience any glaring problems/hindrances in the Rough Runners.
…and, after just over 28 minutes of work, I was pretty well convinced that when and if (and that’s a big if!) I bite the bullet and sign up for a Hyrox event in the future, I’ll be sporting the Rough Runners from start to finish.
If you were at or around any SEC school (or probably just about any Southern college or university) in the early 2000’s, you’re well aware of the (gray…always gray) New Balance 574.
The quintessential “dad shoe”…that every frat dood was wearing.
I know it’s been over 20 years since I slipped on my first pair of those embarrassingly tacky/embarrassingly impractical beasts…but…
…and the pure white (like mine) look much better than any ridiculous, gunmetal gray, “I wear ‘em when I shag balls at the country club during summer break for booze money” or “I wear ‘em to mow the lawn before heading to Bed, Bath, and Beyond with the wife” New Balances!
Size, Fit, Feel
If there is anything that people consistently (and by “consistently” I mean…like…1 in every 20 people) complain about GORUCK’s footwear options, it’s the sizing.
Generally, if people have complaints, they complain about their shoes running a bit smaller than normal. The Rough Runners have not been immune to this criticism:
I mentioned earlier in my review that during one of my initial wears, I experienced slight blistering on my heel (where others have conveyed similar sentiment). However, I don’t find this to be too out of line in comparison with other new shoes I have tried out in the past. Within a day or two, the blister had healed and I have continued to experience a comfortable, true-to-size fit.
Regarding their “feel” the Rough Runners definitely toe the line of being equal parts rucking and running shoes (with better-than-expected functional training qualities, as well), but lean more towards feeling most like a running shoe. The degree of midsole cushioning, combined with 10 millimeter heel drop provides a feeling of “bounce” that most runners will appreciate and non-runners will drool over.
For those familiar with GORUCK’s footwear offerings, many aspects of the Rough Runners’ construction will be somewhat redundant:
- 3x Support System
These are aspects that can be found, to some degree or another (even if they are trademarked or marketed with different language) in other training shoes, but may not all be found together. In terms of these aspects combining to create a stable and supportive, yet comfortable shoe, the Rough Runners hit the mark.
Where the Rough Runners differ from many of GORUCK’s other offerings is in the upper material construction. Instead of opting for the more durable CORDURA, the engineers opted for “polyester mesh/TPU film reinforcement”.
In some ways, this mesh is more comfortable as I find it to be less irritating (even on my socked feet) than CORDURA is. However, it definitely feels less durable and resistant to training abuse and to the elements than their CORDURA-ed offerings.
Yeah, there are probably some things I didn’t mention/forgot to mention. Maybe one of these three questions is your burning question:
The same order as written in the question: The Rough Runners are primarily a rucking/rucking running shoe, followed by being a dedicated running shoe, while still serving as pretty decent functional training shoes (under the right conditions!)
Two very different shoes that feel very different from one another. If you’re more into speed and distance, the Rough Runners are what you’re looking for. Need a good all-around shoe that skews more towards functional fitness endeavors, go with the Ballistic Trainers.
Longer than other shoes, but not ridiculously long. I got my blister after my 4th wear (and first long-ish ruck in the shoes); 3 days later, my blister was healed and the shoes felt just fine.
After reading some less-than-stellar reviews of the Rough Runners, I had my doubts that they would be viable long-term additions to my training shoe arsenal. As acclaimed and beloved as GORUCK’s Ballistic Trainers or MACV-1s are, the Rough Runners…aren’t so much.
Imagine my surprise (and delight!) that they have turned out to be some of my favorite training shoes!
I have no doubt that these will be my go-to shoes for rucking longer distances at a fast pace on even and fair (ex. Paved roads) terrain as well as my footwear of choice for any CrossFit metcon with a run measuring 800-meters or longer.
I wouldn’t say that they really live up to their “rough” name, though, and in conditions where terrain is muddy, uneven, variable, etc., I’ll opt for my Mackall shoes (if I need to move decently fast) or my MACV-1s (if conditions are especially crappy).
The jury is still out on how these will serve me in a full HYROX event (I’ll update this in the coming months with my verdict). For trainings with heavier lifts and less cardio, you’ll probably be better served by a dedicated functional fitness shoe.
These wouldn’t be my first choice for most rucking, running, or functional fitness ventures, but the Rough Runners are my first shoe “off the bench” for any of these activities.
You need a ruck to go along with your new Rough Runners (you did purchase a pair…right?) Might as well go with the best “introductory” ruck. Read our review of the GORUCK Bullet ruck here!