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Let’s go racin’.
From starting line to finish line, you rely on your gear to make the most of your marathon experience. That means investing in apparel and footwear to keep you calm, comfortable and efficient on the race route. Marathon shoes are specially designed to help you put down your most powerful steps as you chase down those personal bests.
But with running shoe breakthroughs happening every day and technologies pushing the record books to new heights, which marathon silhouette is best? From high-octane speedsters to kicks that cater to your personal gait, we’ve combed through the rankings and stayed in-stride to curate this roundup of the best marathon running shoes for you. Before we toe the starting gate, however, let’s break down just what makes up today’s marathon shoes.
To the uninitiated, running shoes might all seem the same. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find there is a myriad of differences between silhouettes, all designed to help you get the most out of every mile.
When it comes to race day shoes, you’ll often find ultralight uppers, a responsive yet cushioned underfoot and a sole design featuring unique geometry to propel you forward more efficiently. Also, especially in today’s marathon shoes, you’re likely to find the presence of a carbon fiber footplate. This component is designed for maximum energy return and pop while maintaining a rigid yet ultra-lightweight base. Think of it as a diving board for your step — when you push off, you fling yourself forward further than you would from, say, the concrete edge of the pool.
Outside of the obvious race day dawning, if you’re interested in marathon running shoes, it helps to understand when they can be worn. First off, you want to make sure you’re comfortable in your shoes before toeing the starting line. It’s best to schedule one or two long-distance runs in your marathon shoes prior to race day, as well as a few tempo workouts or post-run strides to get a feel for the footwear.
Now, you might think that to get the best feel for your new sneakers, you should simply train in them, right? Well, there are multiple reasons why this wouldn’t be the best strategy. Because of the more specialized geometry and, your race shoes will feel slightly different from your normal pair of trainers. Running nonstop in your marathon shoes could change your natural gait, limiting your performance and squashing your times. Additionally, the foams and materials within each marathon shoe are built solely for racing, so any extended use could cause unnecessary wear and tear. If you want an analogy, think of yourself as a racecar driver. Your race day vehicle isn’t your daily driver, so why should your shoes be any different?
Running’s one of the most popular sports because the gear requirements are so minimal, and in essence, you can run in anything. You could sign up and trot through a marathon in a pair of hunting boots if your heart desired, but would it be an enjoyable experience? Absolutely not.
While they do come at a higher price tag due to the advanced technologies and features within, marathon shoes are built with the sole purpose of racing in mind. If you’re running a marathon as a one-off experience, you can get by with a well-cushioned pair of runners that are specialized to your step. If you’re more serious about racing, though, you’re bound to have a more worthwhile experience if you invest in the right gear for the job.
While there’s no upcoming race on my schedule, I did mix up my training to mirror a typical marathon peak week. Along with distance training, I also wore a number of these top-performing picks during tempo days running on a synthetic outdoor track. This allowed me to really let the shoes open up across a flat surface.
Key highlights included how light and responsive each silhouette felt on toe-off, as well as the ride quality underfoot. I will say, my slightly supinated stride didn’t cater to every shoe featured, but I was able to gather a decent understanding of each strike pattern to finalize this roundup. Now, let’s lace up and get into this speed-focused guide.
When Nike gave the world its first sub-two hour marathon thanks to the Air Zoom Alphafly Next%, the running world had its latest big bang moment. This updated silhouette carries on that race day dominance in a sleek, speedy profile. I enjoyed the boosted energy return thanks to added ZoomX foam under the Zoom Air pods in the forefoot, and felt these marathon runners had the best carbon footplate activation — I was easily able to feel and utilize the responsiveness in every fast-paced stride.
The Atomknit upper felt extremely lightweight and breathable, but I would highly recommend avoiding puddles or overcast when training. The rice paper-like upper does nothing to combat moisture, so save these for warmer weather — or hope your marathon falls under clear skies.
While Nike broke the mold, Adidas has been racking up plenty of awards as well. According to the brand, 60% of 2021 World Major Marathon wins were by athletes wearing this super shoe’s predecessor — the Adizero Adios Pro 2. The Adios Pro 3 carries on that winning notion, and I can see how this silhouette has taken so many leaderboards, thanks to the super-responsive Lightstrike Pro cushioning foam and rigid yet springy Energyrod technology.
The Continental rubber outsole was also a more than welcome perk. Despite its smooth structure, I was easily able to find grip on multiple running surfaces — there’s a reason Continental’s tires are some of the most versatile and trusted on the market. The only caveat to this otherwise impressive sneaker is its lacing system. Finding that locked-down feel takes some finagling, but once you solve the Rubik’s cube, the fit is pristine and secure.
For someone running their first marathon, you might not be as invested in purchasing the most advanced gear. Well, the Hyperion Tempos from Brooks can provide plenty of support and energy return without the costly price tag. Lightweight and super streamlined, I found these to be a great entry point to road racing thanks to the responsive yet comfortable DNA Flash midsole.
A breathable upper allowed for comfortable strides, and while I prefer a lacing system that’s shorter and less stretchy, you’re still able to achieve that lockdown profile. If you’re wanting to save some cash or are just trying out marathon running for the first time, I can’t recommend these shoes enough. While you’re not going to get the same energy return as the heavy hitters — the Hyperion Tempos don’t feature a carbon plate — these are still speedy enough to keep pace with the race day pack.
We’ve been fans of the Carbon X 3 since its debut, and the same admiration was felt when looking through the race day lens. I thoroughly enjoyed the Meta-Rocker and carbon plate combination that created a comfortable, smooth, energetic transition. The geometry catered to my stride perfectly, and I never felt off-kilter when rounding turns.
Aside from the energy boost and efficiency that comes with proper marathon shoes, you want a sneaker that’s exceptionally comfortable. After all, you’ll be wearing these kicks for 26.2 miles straight. In all my training and testing, I couldn’t find a cozier pick than these Carbon X 3s. The engineered-knit upper hugged my foot with premium comfort, and the sockliner cuff was easy on the skin, even after my miles reached double digits.
If you prefer the more natural feel of zero-drop shoes, the Vanish Carbon from Altra should definitely be on your radar. While I felt the rockered geometry didn’t offer a true zero drop aesthetic, I still enjoyed the strides in this carbon-plated racer. The sleek silhouette gives it that fast-paced look, and I felt exceptional support, especially in the midfoot. There’s also plenty of room in the toe box to splay, which can be viewed as a positive to some (I, for one, prefer a tighter toe box in my running shoes).
As Altra’s first “super shoe,” I think this definitely hits the mark, but there are a few things to consider. For one, the laces are waxy, and it can be difficult to find that truly secure fit. Also, don’t expect these to be your go-to race day sneakers for multiple marathons. I noticed outsole wear and tear after just 20 logged miles.
Buying multiple pairs of running shoes may seem like an extravagance, but it’s actually better for your body — and your wallet.
Okay, I’ll say it — the abundance of carbon-plated running shoes makes it difficult to go with a plateless model in today’s racing world. True to its name, though, New Balance’s FuelCell Rebel v2 flies in the face of this notion, providing excellent energy return off the sole (get it?) merit of its impressive midsole construction. A lightweight engineered mesh upper blends perfectly with this underfoot design for a ride that’s springy, responsive and downright fun.
The FuelCell Rebel v2 is also especially accommodating to those with wider feet, allowing an even wider audience to experience the thrills of race day. While it does take some time to get accustomed to the tongue design, you’re able to easily find a locked-down fit, which makes all the difference when the mileage begins to tack up. At less than $150, this is also one of the most affordable racers on this list.
Knowing your specific stride can help you tailor your tangibles when it comes to marathon racing. For example, stride runners tend to lengthen their stride when quickening the pace, and the Metaspeed Sky+ from Asics is specifically designed to cater to this action. The lightweight, vibrant upper works well with the energetic midsole foam for an efficient run that’s sure to impress.
The Metaspeed Sky+ also features a higher carbon plate within the midsole stack to allow for greater compression of foam during toe-off. This is definitely present, as I felt an impressive bounce when pushing off down the stretch. I did feel more of a pronounced outward role — which would be great for pronators — but all in all, this is a great upgrade to an already impressive racing family from Asics.
In the words of John Bender, “Being bad feels pretty good, huh?”
With a girthy stack height of 50 millimeters, the Adizero Prime X is outlawed by World Athletics, which state a competitive running shoe’s stack height must not exceed 40 millimeters. Now, we’re not advocating the use of performance-enhancing… footwear, but these runners from Adidas definitely give that juiced feel. The upper is lightweight, almost as if there’s barely anything connecting you to the impressive sole.
Additionally, the energy return — thanks to the geometry and branded EnergyRods and EnergyBlades — definitely enhances your marathon experience. If you do opt to run in these racers, it’s best to look for unsanctioned competitions. Also, utilize the extra eyelet for a lace lock system. I felt the speed is almost too much to handle, so any added security is a must.
I’ll admit, seeing the Salomon brand in a list of marathon running shoes seemed odd at first. After all, Salomon is mostly known for its dominance in the trail running and outdoor category. The S/Lab Phantasms squash all hesitancies, though, thanks to a composite — not carbon — footplate that’s plenty energetic.
The race-ready red aesthetic also gives a notion of speed, and the Phantasms accentuate that with the springy Energy Surge foam and Reverse Camber sole geometry for smooth transitions. Carbon plates aren’t for everyone, so it’s nice to see Salomon catering to this audience — depending on your definition of carbon plates.
As stated before, you don’t want to train for a marathon in your race-day kicks. To get the most out of your strides, its best to log your pre-race miles in a comfortable yet responsive pair of running shoes, then strap into your racers for competitive performance. I really enjoyed the comfort and energy return of the ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit 2s, thanks to the more prominent ZoomX foam and overall plush feel of every step.
While these updated running shoes from Nike can be heavier than your race-day essentials, you shouldn’t have any problem logging your miles and fine-tuning your stride for when it comes time to compete. I enjoyed the underfoot vibes at multiple paces, and when I decide to officially clock a 26.2, these will be my first choice for training.