From 100-meter sprints to 100-mile ultramarathons, running is a sport in which races can come in all shapes and sizes. That being said, few other distances carry the same sense of accomplishment as does the marathon. Trained for by everyone from up-and-coming hobby joggers to seasoned professional athletes, it’s an event in which both body and mind are pushed to their very limit. For as much as it is an impressive display of physical endurance, the marathon is, at its core, an incredible test of personal willpower — just ask anyone who’s daft enough to run over 26 miles.
In any case, you’ve got enough to worry about when it comes to finishing on-pace and without issue, so the last thing you need is for your shoes to let you down on race day. A simple choice of footwear might not make much of a difference over shorter distances, but a marathon is an animal entirely unto its own; by the end of the race, you’ll feel the rub of each crease in the upper, the poke of every rock in the outsole (assuming your feet aren’t numb). As such, you want to be careful about what shoes you choose, paying attention to things like cushioning, support, and response to ensure that you pick the best footwear for your needs. No matter if you’re an aspiring first-time finisher or an experienced distance authority, we’ll have found a pair that’s right for you. So click open that race calendar and have a look to see what we’ve picked for the best shoes for marathon runners.
Taking You The Full 26.2
What To Watch For
When it comes to buying the best shoes to get you through the marathon distance, there are several factors you have to take into account if you want to maximize your chances for success. For instance, we advise that you look for the following in your footwear:
Cushion: At the very minimum, you need to make sure that your shoes have adequate cushioning to last you the full 26.2. Admittedly, the amount of midsole material you require will largely come down to personal preference. For though there are plenty of runners who excel in traditional flats, there are just as many who can race in nothing but the bounciest, highest-stack shoes the industry has to offer. In any case, no matter what shoes you choose, be sure to take them on a decent weekend run to see how they’ll perform over longer distances. You could be running fine through the first 20 miles or so, but it’s in the last 10k that things really start to get interesting (read: painful).
Support: And, by the same token, you’re going to want a pair of shoes that can provide you with enough stability for your particular gait. No matter if you’re a card-carrying neutral runner or an unabashed over-pronator, chances are good that your form will deteriorate over the course of the race — especially once you start to fatigue. As such, runners who are prone to injury should buy their shoes with support in mind; it’s more important to finish without issue than it is to compromise your success with a lightweight racing shoe. That being said, stability footwear comes in all shapes and sizes, with wide midsoles, built-in guide rails, and extended heels being some of the many technologies currently in play. Again, ultimately, you’ll have to find what works best for you.
Response: While you’re more than welcome to run a marathon in just about anything, we’d recommend that you look for a pair of shoes made with a responsive midsole. These days, PEBA foams are nigh-on unmatched in the liveliness of their ride, offering the perfect balance of cushion, weight, and energy return. In practice, this means that they’ll not only reduce the forces of a marathon’s repetitive pounding but also improve your running economy, allowing you to exert less energy over time. To put it another way — when you consider the compounding effects over the course of 26.2 miles, a PEBA shoe can be a true game-changer.
Plates: After Nike broke the running industry with the launch of its Vaporfly 4%, plated shoes became all the rage, with virtually every major shoe manufacturer looking to cash in on the technology with an offering of its own. And it’s not without good reason; there’s extensive scientific evidence relating the addition of a carbon fiber plate to improved efficiency (as much as 10%) and thus, quicker race times. Buyer beware, though — carbon super shoes can be of benefit to anyone who’s looking for a PR performance, but their propulsive effects become more apparent the faster that you’re able to run.
Atreyu The Artist
Since its founding in 2020, Atreyu has quickly built a name for itself on account of its simple, no-nonsense shoes that are as easy on your feet as they are kind to your wallet. With ‘The Artist,’ the Austin-based brand effectively took the super shoe market and halved it, undercutting many of the industry’s most expensive options at a price that beats your average daily trainer. Riding on a generous slab of PEBA foam with a responsive carbon plate, it comes in at just 7.8oz for a men’s 9.0 thanks to its 1mm race-car-inspired outsole rubber. If you’re looking for some kicks that can do everything from long runs to tempo training to marathon efforts, The Artist is the shoe for you.
Reebok Floatride Energy 3
While the Floatride series has always been a bit of a sleeper in the running shoe world, that’s not to say it’s any less fit for a marathon. On the contrary, and as you’ll find with the Energy 3, Reebok has given you everything you need to excel over the distance, including a springy Floatride midsole, a comfortable square knit upper, and a full-length rubber outsole for reliable grip. Sure, they don’t offer some of the bells and whistles of something like the Nike Next%, but they make for a great dependable everyday runner that’s even lively enough for racing.
Saucony Kinvara 12
Now in its 12th iteration, the Saucony Kinvara is a shoe that needs no introduction — it’s something of a legend at the marathon distance. Lightweight, responsive, and as comfortable as they come, this minimalist trainer makes for a true callback to the racing flats of old. Because of its low 4mm drop and firm ride, the Kinvara is best-suited to those who land further forward on their feet, as it’s begging to pick up the pace at just about every step. Although Saucony’s three-piece Endorphin lineup may be getting all of the hype nowadays, this is one classic that continues to cater to its fanbase.
adidas Adizero Boston 9
And where there’s a Kinvara, a Boston is surely soon to follow. Named in honor of the prestigious Massachusetts marathon, the adidas Boston is an unbeatable combination of smoothness, support, and speed. Up top, it features a dual-layer mesh upper, giving it an accommodating trainer-like feel that works for daily running and race-day efforts alike. And because it rides on a boost midsole with some added Lightstrike cushioning, an extended torsion stability system, and a grippy Continental outsole, you better believe that it can go the distance while keeping you feeling fresh all the while.
Topo Athletic Cyclone
Topo Athletic was founded in an effort to bring the benefits of barefoot running to traditional training shoes, so it goes without saying that their footwear is equal parts comfortable and supportive. In the case of the Cyclone, the deal is made even sweeter by the fact that you’re also getting an ultra-light seamless mesh upper and a snappy ZipFoam-infused EVA midsole. In short: this is one up-tempo trainer-racer that can tackle anything from 5ks to halves and even a full marathon if you’re up to it.
Mizuno Wave Inspire 17
If you’re a newer runner or someone who’s looking for a softer shoe, the Mizuno Wave Inspire 17 is one option that’s well worth a look. As is to be expected with the brand, the upper is a top-notch experience, offering a plush heel counter and a well-padded tongue. Underneath, the ride makes for one of the softest you can buy courtesy of an ENERZY foam heel wedge and a fan-wave stability plate. It’s a little heavier at 10.9oz for a men’s 9.0, but the extra heft translates to dependable long-term durability.
Altra Escalante Racer
For those who are after one of the most natural running experiences possible, Altra’s Escalante Racer should prove to be an unbeatable option underfoot. That’s because it combines the brand’s signature Footshape construction with a zero-drop platform and a bed of EGO cushioning. On the run, they’re firm, planted, and full of ground feel — a quintessential racing flat in every sense of the word.
Skechers goRun Razor Excess
The Razor 3 is responsible for converting a lot of Skechers-skeptics into Hyperburst believers, for it combines one of the industry’s best, bounciest midsoles with an ultra-lightweight, breathable upper. In the case of the Razor Excess, you’re getting even more of that magic Hyperburst foam, meaning it’s both more protected and also more versatile while nevertheless retaining its sibling’s super-responsive ride.
Asics Gel-Nimbus 23
Ever an exercise in steady progress, the 23rd iteration of the ASICS Gel-Nimbus marks the best one yet. Dutifully plodding along with its Gel-infused heel and cradling your foot in comfort with a new and improved engineered mesh upper, it makes for a shoe that will last you many miles to come. As tortoise is to hare so too is Nimbus to racing shoe; while it won’t wow you with outright speed, it’ll get you to the finish all the same.
New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v11
New Balance’s Fresh Foam 1080 is widely considered to be one of the best trainers you can buy because of its slipper-like fit, versatile ride, and supportive cushioning. And here’s the thing — those same qualities that make it great for daily running also ensure that it’s a stellar performer at the marathon distance. As such, if you’ve been considering joining the maximalist movement, we’d suggest you start with the 1080v11 because of its true train-to-race capabilities.
Puma Deviate Nitro
After years of producing otherwise unmemorable footwear, Puma came out of absolutely nowhere and made its runners relevant again with the Deviate Nitro. Despite being one of the biggest surprises of 2021, the shoe has already proven wildly popular since its release, pairing a breathable mesh upper with a gusseted tongue to immerse your foot in race-ready security. Underneath, it bounces along on a nitrogen-infused midsole with a carbon fiber INNOPLATE to assist on toe-offs and a PUMAGRIP outsole to provide consistent traction.
HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X2
HOKA’s original Carbon X was truly a super shoe built for the everyman, offering an unbeatable price point, an approachable ride, and some impressive long-term durability. With the second installment, the brand has made the package even better, giving it a newly-refined upper and collar, a lighter, more propulsive midsole foam, and an extended heel for an added element of stability. While it’s not uncommon to find yourself a trainer that’s fast enough to race, this is one rare instance in which a racer is so well-engineered it can train.
Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit
The running shoe community was abounding with anticipation when it heard rumors of an unreleased Nike shoe boasting a full-length ZoomX midsole — and boy did the Big Swoosh deliver. The ZoomX Invincible Run is everything you could possibly want out of a well-cushioned daily trainer: durable, supportive, and bouncy as all get out. At 10.7 oz, it’s surprisingly lightweight given its 37mm stack height, meaning it disappears from the foot when on the move. Generally, we’d say that a shoe like this would be one best saved for easy days, but the Invincible is more than capable of picking up the pace when you need it to.
Brooks Hyperion Elite 2
Although runners were pretty unanimous in their distaste when it came to the OG Hyperion Elite, Brooks has managed to right many of its wrongs with the release of version two. At $250, it’s priced directly in line with the competition, but it makes for a much more stable ride because of its wide forefoot and Rapid Roll turnover technology. Sure, the DNA Flash cushioning might not be quite as propulsive as some other foams on the market, but it’s soft enough that it’ll keep your legs springy and fresh from start to finish.
Nike AlphaFly NEXT%
When nothing but the fastest footwear on the planet will do, the AlphaFly NEXT% is the shoe for you. As the very kicks that carried Eliud Kipchoge to his historic sub-two-hour marathon time, it goes without saying that these Nike offerings are well-equipped for success. Underfoot, they feature a full-on smorgasbord of bounce, with a pair of Zoom Air units up front, a snappy carbon plate in the middle, and a slab of soft ZoomX at the rear. Add to that an all-new AtomKnit upper for a contoured yet breathable fit, and the result is some shoes that are all but unmatched in their go-fast feeling.
How To Train For A Marathon
Now that you know what shoes are capable of taking you all the way to 26.2, it’s time to put in the work to ensure that your legs are also up to the task. No matter if you’re new to the distance or an experienced marathon expert, it helps to have guidance when planning your workouts. As such, be sure to head on over to our guide on how to train for a marathon — it’ll tell you all that you need to know.
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