The Best Shoes for Running a Marathon

The greatest thing about running is how accessible it is. You don’t need a fancy gym membership or a lot of expensive gear to get involved. The only thing you really need is a good pair of sneakers. And if you’re going to go so far as to run a full marathon—26.2 miles, plus all the training miles you need to log to get there—you need a really good pair of shoes.  

Marathon shoes tend to fall into two categories: maximalist and minimalist. If you’re a new runner, high cushioning might make the most sense for you. The idea is to provide some protection between the foot and ground, explains John Mercer, a kinesiology professor at the UNLV School Allied Health Sciences. “With each foot strike, a runner will experience forces about 1.5 to 2.5 times their body weight,” he says. “That repetitive loading has always been thought to be related to running-­related overuse injuries.” The more shoe you have, the more comfort and longevity you’ll experience over the course of the race.  

But some runners feel like the extra weight from all that cushioning can slow them down. “Lightweight shoes can help with increasing running economy and performance,” says Eric Greenberg, a physical therapist and assistant professor of physical therapy at NYIT School of Health Professions. “Especially for marathoners, the benefits of even a few ounces less of a shoe will accumulate across the many steps over that 26.2-mile distance.” Faster runners gravitate toward more minimalist shoes because they actually spend less time on their feet and don’t need all that cushioning.  

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Obviously, shoe shopping all boils down to personal preference and comfort. But for distance running, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, you have to run in the shoes before you buy them. “A runner will know in a brief run whether or not a shoe works for them,” says Mercer, and most running stores actually have treadmills that allow you to test the shoe out. Second, shoe fit is more important than shoe type, says Greenberg.

“Make sure the shoe is fitted to the longest toe, the heel counter is fit snug to decrease excessive slipping, and the toe box is wide enough for your forefoot to splay when loaded,” he says. Another pro tip: Feet swell throughout the day (just like they do during a marathon!), so try shopping at the end of the day for a better fit.   

Still not sure where to start? These eight shoes were designed to go the distance.  


1. Adidas Adizero Adios 4

The Adizero is a minimalist, neutral racing shoe designed by a Japanese shoemaker for the top marathon runners. In fact, it held the record as the fastest marathon shoe up until Eliud Kipchoge smashed it in 2018. Adidas says the shoe is still one of their most popular distance options. Inside, there’s a midsole made from the brand’s Boost cushioning technology, which boasts one of the highest energy returns in a shoe without adding any extra weight (the entire shoe weighs just 8 ounces). And the outside is meant to stand up to the demands of a 26.2-mile race, with a thick (but breathable) mesh overlay to keep your foot locked in and a durable rubber outsole with serious traction no matter the elements.

[$140; adidas.com]

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2. Asics Gel-Nimbus 21

Now in its 21st iteration, the Gel-Nimbus has a long history in distance running. Weighing in at 11.1 oz for the men’s version, this is no lightweight shoe—but that’s the tradeoff you make for packing three kinds of cushioning into the midsole. There’s “Flytefoam Propel,” which provides greater spring and toe-off power; “Flytefoam Lyte,” which uses nano fibers to maintain the shoe’s shape and durability after pounding the pavement; and, of course, the brand’s Gel technology, which reduces impact during your heel strike, enhancing shock absorption as you move forward. Designed for neutral runners (and supinators), the Gel-Nimbus also includes Asics’ Trusstic System Technology on the sole, which adds extra stability and helps you maintain an efficient gait no matter how far you run. 

[$150; asics.com]

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3. Brooks Running Glycerin 17

Brooks’ go-to marathon trainer also happens to be its softest shoe. While it may not be the brand’s speediest option (faster runners may prefer the Ghost), this neutral sneaker was built with long mileage in mind. All that cloud-like cushion comes from a full-length DNA Loft midsole, which actually maintains its responsiveness and durability despite the super plush sensation. There’s still plenty of structure, thanks to an internal stretch bootie that adapts to your foot throughout your stride and a flexible mesh upper made from 3D Fit Print technology. What’s more, the sole was designed to evenly disperse the shock away from your body as your foot strikes the ground, so the impact isn’t jarring even as the miles add up.

[$150; brooksrunning.com]

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4. Saucony Ride ISO 2

Distance runners looking for stability—whether that’s in response to fatigue late in a long run or just due to supination—will love Saucony’s Guide ISO 2. From the top down, this shoe was designed to promote a smooth ride from ground strike to toe off. Both the PWRfoam midsole and Everun topsole promises energy return, durability, and cushioning, while the brand’s ISOFit and Formfit technologies allow the shoe to adapt to the unique shape and motion of your foot. Even those chevron-shaped treads have a purpose, providing max flexibility while evenly dispersing the force of impact across your foot. If the shoe feels a little firmer than expected knowing those details, that’s mostly due to a high-density foam medial post within the midsole that helps prevent supination.

[$120; saucony.com]

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5. Hoka One One Carbon X

In May 2018, ultrarunner Jim Walmsley crushed the previous 50-Mile World Record by 43 seconds while wearing Hoka’s new distance shoe, the Carbon X. The shoe is the first from the brand to use a carbon fiber plate to help propel you forward and accelerate your toe-off; that plate also curls under your smaller toes to prevent supination while running. Like the rest of Hoka’s shoes, the Carbox X features a Meta-Rocker midsole and outsole to guarantee a smooth, natural transition from the second you hit the ground to when you push off. And despite the hefty look you expect from Hoka, that Carbon X manages to merge max cushioning (using resilient PROFLY X foam) with minimal weight. The whole thing weighs under 9 ounces.

[$180; hokaoneone.com]

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6. Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%

You may have noticed something similar about the top three men (including world record-setter Eliud Kipchoge) at the London Marathon this year: They were all wearing Nike’s brand-new ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%. The shoe is a total revamp of the brand’s Vaporfly 4%, a racing flat that improved running economy—or the energy you need to run at a certain pace—by, you guessed it, four percent. In this iteration, Nike ditched the Flyknit upper for Vaporweave, which is lighter and absorbs way less sweat or rain so you don’t get bogged down; offset the laces to alleviate pressure on the foot; added more ZoomX foam to the midsole for better energy return; and created custom traction patterns to improve traction on slippery surfaces.

[$275; nike.com]

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7. Reebok Floatride Run Fast

Floatride Run Fast is built for speed and distance. Packed inside the midsole is a ton of Floatride foam, a lightweight material that provides more protection and energy return than your typical minimalist shoe but doesn’t weigh things down (6.6 ounces). What makes this shoe great for distance is the firmer foam that runs around the edge of the midsole for extra structure; combined with the engineered mesh upper, your foot stays exactly where it’s meant to be for maximal gait efficiency. And a little extra foam in the heel gives the shoe a 10-millimeter drop, reducing the pressure on the lower legs and potentially helping to propel you forward.

[$140; reebok.com]

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8. New Balance Fresh Foam 1080

In the ninth edition of the 1080, New Balance used data from real runners to develop a new full-length Fresh Foam midsole that provides a softer, more cushioned ride. There’s also an extra millimeter of height in the 3D molded heel for greater comfort when you hit the ground. The heel is actually part of the redesigned upper made from double jacquard performance fabric, with a midfoot wrap for stability and more width in the toe box (which makes the shoe feel even more stable on the push-off). Overall, it’s a sleeker, better fit than previous versions, but with even more cushion than before—a fact the average runner will be grateful for the farther they run. 

[$149.99; newbalance.com]

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