How to Find the Absolute Best Shoes for Marathon Training

You've made the decision to run a marathon and you want to make sure you're totally prepared. You've picked out your race, you've selected your training plan, and you've got your eye on that technical shirt that you're proudly going to wear when the race is over.

Runners Goal Lights

There's a lot to do to get ready for a marathon, but one thing that you shouldn't ignore is shoes.

The shoes that you've been wearing to run those 5k, 10k, and even half-marathon races might not fit the bill when you start to step your mileage and subject your body to the rigor of long runs.​

Quick Look: Best Shoes for Marathon Training​

Where to Look​

If you know what you're looking for, you can buy marathon shoes just about anywhere running shoes are sold. But if you want a place that has a selection to choose from, and where you can get some additional advice on fit and function, you're better off at least beginning at a store that specializes in running shoes.

These stores usually are staffed by runners who have some idea what they're talking about and can critique the appropriateness of a particular shoe for you.

The only problem is that these specialty stores typically have prices that can run a bit high. If you're pressed for cash, many of these stores will offer superseded models for a discount price.

Price

Speaking of price, it can be a significant factor.​

Because they are specifically designed and manufactured to give your feet what they need over long distances, running shoes can often be pricey, and shoes for the marathon are no exception.

You might be able to get shoe models from previous years that are on sale. Stores often want to clear out this old inventory before the new models come in, so you can save a few dollars by checking out the discount bin.

But don't skimp. The cost of these shoes can seem like a lot, but having the right pair of shoes that match your needs as a runner can be invaluable.

They don't have to cost a fortune, but ​you'll definitely regret if you cut corners and fail to get the kind of shoe you need.

Foot and Shoe Shape

Marathon shoes, just like all other running shoes, come in various shapes to accommodate a variety of types of feet. Some runners have ​relatively straight feet with low arches, while others have higher arches and a more curved foot.

Whichever type of of foot you have, you need a running shoe that can accommodate your foot.

If you try to shove a relatively low-arched, straight foot into one of those curved lasted shoes made for people with higher arches, you'll increase the risk of rubbing and, hence, blisters. You also run the risk of leaving some portion of your foot in the wrong orientation with regard to the midsole of the shoe, thus defeating the entire intended function of the shoe.

Likewise, someone with a higher arch and more curved foot who tries to wear a straight-lasted shoe could encounter the same problems.

If you have a relatively low-arched, straight foot profiled, make sure to look for a straight-lasted shoe.

If you have a higher-arched, curved foot, keep a look out for a curved-lasted shoe.

By making sure that the last of your shoe matches the shape of your foot, you can avoid a whole host of problems.​

Determining Your Foot Type​

If you're not sure what kind of shaped foot you have, there's an easy way to find out. Perhaps one of the most popular methods is putting your wet foot on a piece of paper. It sounds strange, but you can quickly and easily diagnose your foot type with items commonly found in the average household.​

Shoe Type

Once you've determined the shape of your foot, you have a somewhat more complicated question to answer: what kind of shoe do you need?

The answer to that question can be the result of a complex combination of factors such as your size, your biomechanics, ​the height of your arches, and your injury history.

Minimalist

Minimalist shoes are those shoes that ​were developed in the wake of the minimalism movement.

Minimalism is based upon the idea that humans are actually biologically born to run. Not coincidentally, this was the title of a famous book that discussed the idea that humans' advantage over other species is our ability to run long distances without tiring.

With that in mind, minimalism rejects the need for thick-soled running shoes. Instead, shoes that hew to the ideas of minimalism have minimal cushioning, minimal uppers, and low heel-to-toe drop.​

Minimalist shoes offer little in the way of protection. they are meant to allow your body's natural, evolutionarily-bestowed mechanics to protect your joints, muscles, and connective tissues.

These shoes are great for smaller people with neutral mechanics.

If you have significant pronation, supination, or a history of ​injury, or if you are a larger runner, minimalist shoes probably aren't right for you.

Cushioned

These are ​what a lot of people think of when they think of running shoes. Soft, pillowy, inviting shoes that are meant to protect your joints, muscles, and connective tissues with shock-absorbing foams and urethanes.

As with the minimalist shoes (although to a lesser extent), cushioned shoes tend to be more appropriate for lighter, smaller runners with neutral mechanics.

For those bigger runners, or for those runners with less neutral biomechanics, these shoes can feel squishy, sort of like your feet are left to your own devices when they should have a bit more structure.​

Motion Control

This class of shoes tends to be more appropriate for larger runners or less biomechanically efficient runners.

Motion control shoes have less cushioning than those shoes in the previous category. Additionally, they usually have some sort of ​device or construction that minimizes the effect of a biomechanical efficiency.

The​ most common example of this is a higher/more dense medial portion of the midsole, or a medial post. These devices seek to keep the foot from rolling inward, known as pronating, excessively.

Racing Flats

This type of shoe is exactly what its name says it is.​ These are stripped down shoes that weigh the least amount possible so you can run as fast as possible without being weighed down.

These aren't the shoes you'll wear when you're cranking out those training miles. Instead, these shoes are mostly just worn the day of the race.​

A caution: if you are going to run the marathon in racing flats, be sure to wear them for at least one long run and/or a few key training runs. If you don't have them broken in when you wear them on race day, you could get blisters or some other injury.​

Sizing

Even if you manage to find the perfect shoe that's right in every other way for your needs, if it doesn't fit correctly, the results could be disastrous.​

There are three main spots where you need to check for fit:​

  • Heel: You don't want your heel floating around in the back of your shoe, but you also don't want it to be in too tight.
  • Instep: This will be a question of personal anatomy and preference. Some shoes are made for people with higher insteps, whereas others have lower profiles. Make sure the upper of the shoe isn't too tight or too loose there.
  • Toe Box: This is an important are. Some shoes make you feel like your toes are in a vice, while others make your toes feel like they're floating aimlessly. There are some shoes that have what's often referred to as a roomy toe box, while others less so. Get the one that's right for you.

Finally, one last word on fit: time of day. The time of day when you try on running shoes can make a difference. If the weather is hot outside, or if it's later in the day and you've been on your feet a lot, your feet can swell significantly. At other times of day, or in other weather conditions, your feet can shrink.

Feet swell when you run, so keep in mind how your swollen running feet resemble your feet at the moment when you try on your running shoes.​

Appearance

We know this is the reason so many runners choose the shoes they do, but resist! Some of the best, most functional running shoes might be downright homely or use colors that sear the retinas, but ignore the urge to place aesthetics over function. Pick a shoe that will get the job done, not one that will just look good in photos.​

Training Surface

​Marathon training, and the race itself, can involve significant amounts of mileage. Over the course of a training plan, depending on your fitness level and goal, you will put in hundreds or maybe even thousands of miles.

The training surface you plan to run the majority of you miles on could be a consideration when it comes to choosing a marathon shoe.

Most people choose to do their training on the roads. While asphalt is not as unforgiving as some other surfaces like concrete sidewalks, it may still demand a great deal of protection for your feet to endure the pounding.

On the other hand, if you choose to do most of your training mileage on a softer surface like cinder or dirt trail, the surface won't demand as much protection from a pair of shoes. This will give you greater flexibility in choosing a shoe.​

Minimalist Shoes

Nike Free Flyknit 4.0

Who It's For

As mentioned above, as a minimalist shoe, this is for lighter runners and runners with more neutral mechanics, as well as those runners with no history of injury.​

Key Features:

  • Curved last
  • Light, knit upper and highly flexible sole for maximum overall adaptation to your foot
  • Hex shaped groove patter to increase outsole pliability
  • Sock-like upper for maximum comfort
  • Flywire bands across the upper and anchored to the midsole. These increase responsiveness.
  • Traditional-style tongue for better fit
  • Roomy toebox to avoid hot spots and irritation

What People Are Saying

"I’ve honestly found it really hard to not pull these shoes out for most of my recent runs​...The Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit is a fantastic shoe, easily one of my favorites so far this year. If you want something with a minimal upper, a flexible sole, and a roomy toebox these should be at the top of your list of options to try."--Peter Larson, Reviewer at Runblogger.com

Saucony Kinvara 7

Who It's For

Runners with a lower instep and more narrow forefoot. Neutral pronators who don't need a shoe that can compensate for overpronation.

Key Features:

  • Open mesh upper to enhance breathability and eliminate moisture.
  • Welded thin film overlay (Saucony refers to it as "Flex Film") makes for a more snug fit.
  • Low heel toe drop to facilitate the more neutral biomechanics of neutral runners
  • Narrower forefoot and toebox

What People Are Saying

"If you love running in light weight, responsive shoes, with enough cushion to go the distance, then you must consider Kinvara 7."​ Review by Thomas at believeintherun.com

Cushioned Shoes

Nike Pegasus 32

Who It's For

Neutral pronators and runners who plan to log high mileage.​

Key Features:

  • Seamless Flymesh upper avoids blisters and irritation while enhancing breathability and moisture elimination
  • Flywire construction for a more secure and snug fit
  • Durable cushioning and outsole to withstand high mileage
  • Lighter upper enhances performance and speed
  • Cushlon foam midsole
  • Zoom Air heel for comfort and shock absorption

What People Are Saying

"Transitions are quick and smooth, and the difference between heel and forefoot cushioning levels notwithstanding, there is no lag. The Pegasus 32’s ride is a satisfying meld of fast and cushioned, which also feels efficient and economical. Cushioning does not come at the cost of being mushy; the Pegasus 32 does a neat balancing trick here." Reviewer at solereview.com​

Brooks Ghost 8

Who It's For

Runners who log the majority of their mileage on the roads. Runners with high or medium arches.​

Key Features:

  • Full-length segmented Crash Pad to promote a smooth heel-to-to transition
  • Omega Flex Grooves for improved flexibility without sacrificing cushioning
  • Enhanced mesh upper for breathability for cooler and drier feet
  • Varied cushioning density throughout the midsole to accommodate the varied needs of the different parts of the foot

What People Are Saying

"As a proud new owner of the Ghost 8 I was immediately impressed with a notable new feature: an engineered mesh upper. It brings a super airy and breathable feel while still giving a stable and secure fit through the midfoot." J.D., reviewer at runrepeat.com

Hoka One One Clifton 2

Who It's For

Runners seeking a light, versatile shoe with lots of cushioning.​

Key Features:

  • Hokas are famous for their near-ridiculous amounts of cushioning
  • No-sew construction to avoid irritation and blisters
  • Structural overlays for mid-foot support
  • Padded tongue for a whole-foot feeling of padding
  • Meta-Rocker design to promote better and more efficient transition from heel to toe

What People Are Saying

"My favorite part about the shoe is its versatility. Cushioned enough for recovery runs, springy enough for daily training and light enough for racing." S.F., reviewer at runrepeat.com.​

Stability Shoes​

Adidas Supernova Sequence Boost 8

Who It's For

Mostly-neutral runners with some mild overpronation or other minimal biomechanical inefficiency.​

Key Features:

  • A mixture of cushioning and responsiveness
  • Highly durable outsole and midsole to extend the useful life of the shoe
  • Continental rubber compound for enhanced outsole traction
  • Boost midsole for improved energy return and cushioning
  • Full-length EVA Stable Frame for guiding foot in heel-to-toe transition

What People Are Saying

"The Sequence Boost is a motion control outlier in the sense that it foregoes the use of a traditional medial post. It takes a different path to justify its 'stability' tag, and in doing so delivers a great mix of cushioning and support." Review at solereview.com.​

Nike Lunarglide 7

Who It's For

Overpronators who want a lightweight shoe with a combination of stability and cushioning​

Key Features:

  • Lunarlon midsole material for a balance between cushioning and stability
  • Nike's Flyknit construction for stability in both the heel and the midfoot portions of the shoe
  • Internal bootie for seamless interior to prevent blisters and hotspots
  • Dual density midsole with medial Phylon to minimize overpronation
  • Dynamic support platform for greater stability without excess weight or the need for a medial post

What People Are Saying

"This is my go to trainer for any distance. It has stability by strategically placing the lunarlon cushioning in the center of the shoe from heel to forefoot with the firmer eva on the periphery. This keeps the foot stable and prevents excessive inward roll without an intrusive medial footbridge. The result is great stability without adding weight. The upper is light and ventilates well; it also is stretchy and not confining. Overall this a great functional shoe for any distance, and looks very stylish as well." Beau, reviewer at Road Runner Sports.​

Mizuno Wave Paradox 2

Who It's For

Runners who want a shoe with cushioning that maintains a significant amount of correction on the medial side of the foot. Runners who seek greater insulation over longer distances.​

Key Features:

  • Double Fan Wave with articulated Wave Plate for shock absorption, and to facilitate a more stable heel-to-to transition
  • U4ic midsole for lightweight, resilient cushioning
  • DMF upper lends stability and support
  • Combination midsole construction improves both flexibility and propulsion

What People Are Saying​

"They are super light on my feet and aren’t as boxy as most support shoes are. However, these shoes contain the full support. I couldn’t ask for anything else." Chris Gibson, reviewer at runrepeat.com.​

Lightweight Racing Shoes

​Asics GEL-DS Racer 11

Who It's For

Lighter, biomechanically efficient runners who desire a bit of overpronation control in a racer.​

Key Features:

  • Midsole with some medial correction capabilities
  • Lightweight construction to enhance race-day performance
  • Open Mesh upper for greater breathability
  • Solyte technology for greater durability and comfort

What People Are Saying

​"This updated take on a trainer with loads of support is a dreamy alternative to its clunky counterparts. At a cool $100 it doesn't break the bank but stylish accents make it look like a nicer, fresher shoe than most highly stable models that focus on support systems. It fits like a glove and the lightweight feel of the model encourages a re-focusing back to improving personal records instead of worrying about arch and heel pain." Caitlin White, reviewer at Complex.com.

Nike Flyknit Racer​

Who It's For

Narrower-footed, extremely light runners with very neutral mechanics​

Key Features:

  • Excellent ground feedback
  • Greater-than-normal cushioning for a racer
  • High level of flexibility than previous iterations and other racers
  • Super lightweight construction for pure speed on race day
  • Extremely low heel-to-toe drop to capitalize on efficient mechanics

What People Are Saying​

"In conclusion, the Nike Fly-Knit Racer is one of the most well-rounded racing flats I have owned. The combination of speed, power, and momentum it helps you achieve when running fast is remarkable, and it serves the runner equally well at a variety of speeds from 5K-Marathon pace. It is hard to resist not reaching for the Racer on a daily basis, but if you save them for your fastest runs you will most likely enjoy them to the fullest and get the most out of your body while racing." Peyton Hoyl, reviewer at Running Shoes Guru.

Aaron