We tracked down the best marathon running shoes for road runs and races, according to the most committed athletes nationwide. Here are the prime picks for comfort, responsiveness, and overall fit.
The 26.2 miles of a marathon are just the tip of the iceberg. Add in all the training miles leading up to race day, it’s safe to say the best marathon running shoes for your feet need to endure more than a few hours of abuse.
Furthermore, honing the best foot support can help prevent tweaks or injuries in the long haul. So the right shoe will offer up more than just a comfortable ride.
Whether you’re a first-time marathoner, avid runner, or elite athlete, you’ll appreciate this list of the best running shoes according to marathoners.
The Best Marathon Running Shoes of 2020
Joe Prusaitis, 65, has been a marathoner for 28 years and completed 58 marathons to date. He runs the Austin Marathon as an annual family tradition (he’s completed 25). The Austin, Texas, local is also a running coach. But he’s perhaps most well-known as one of the earliest U.S. race directors for trail running events and co-founder of Tejas Trails.
Prusaitis uses different sets of running shoes for road and trail. He typically alternates through a few shoes per year, for both categories. His No. 1 choice for road marathons is the New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v10. He’s tallied close to 500 miles on wet and dry road, in all conditions, with these shoes.
“They are comfortable to wear,” Prusaitis said. “They provide the support that I need. My feet do not hurt from wearing them for many miles, and they look good too. Also, I have wide feet; these shoes come in bigger widths.”
The Fresh Foam 1080v10 has an 8mm drop. The shoe’s midsole is designed to be ultra-cushioned and lightweight. The design’s rubber outsole is constructed to provide extra rebound. An additional Ortholite cushion provides comfort. The synthetic-mesh upper offers a strategic blend of support and stretch. And the heel snugly holds the back of the foot in place.
While Prusaitis confirmed the shoes “are put together rather well,” he also noted that he “lands flat-footed, does not drag his feet, and does not have an irregular roll-off, so the base-wear is even.”
“Shoes and feet need to match,” he said. “We’re all so different, so you just have to try them on and see if they fit your feet and your style of running.”
An avid marathoner based in Salt Lake City, Utah, 34-year-old Shandi Kano has pursued the 26.2-mile distance for more than a decade. Over the years, she’s worn iterations of the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 ($120), Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19 ($130), Brooks Ravenna 10 ($110), and Brooks Ghost 12 GTX ($160), to name a few.
Above all, she’s found the Brooks Launch 7 to be the best marathon running shoe.
“They are light, low-profile, and made for speed,” she told us. “The design is a mix of a race flat and a trainer, so you’re getting enough cushion to get you through a marathon, but without the bulk of a true cushioned shoe (which I train in). This is a very simple shoe, in engineering, in look and design — and I like that.”
Kano also told us she typically uses three pairs per year for road runs, training, and races.
This road running shoe provides neutral support and a 10mm midsole drop. The design is ideal for those with a medium-to-high arch. Kano also found the one-piece mesh upper both lightweight and breathable. And the midsole cushion is meant to provide comfort and rebound without unnecessary weight.
“The road is so much harder on your body [than trails.] Brooks has been with me through injuries. I know there’s a go-to pair for whatever kind of training I’m doing. For a long time, they were also the only running shoe company with a kinesiologist on their design team, and that was important to me,” Kano explained.
“With this shoe’s neutral footbed, it wouldn’t be the best for someone with orthopedic needs,” she added. The shoes fared well on the road in all conditions from rain to sunshine and hot asphalt. She advises against using the shoe on snowy roads without a traction device.
Note: “These shoes are only made to last about 300 miles,” she said. They’re also the best budget option on our list.
“These are a great shoe for someone doing normal everyday running with lower mileage, or someone training hard and using these as their shoe for speed workouts, fartlek runs, or races,” Kano said.
Peyton Thomas is earning a Ph.D. in biology and marine biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. The 24-year-old is also a skilled runner with a 2:42:54 personal record — out of two marathons. Her first marathon, in December 2019, qualified Thomas for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials 2 months later. Her strong foundation is grounded in collegiate track and cross-country.
According to Thomas, she “has ridiculously flat feet” and goes through about six pairs of running shoes per year. For training runs and workouts, Thomas prefers the Nike Air Zoom Structure 22 ($120) and the New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo v4 ($140).
For shorter races — 5K to half-marathon distances — she pulls on the Adidas Adizero Tempo 9 Shoes ($95). She has run longer distances with the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%. But for marathons, her prime choice is the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%.
“Before running the marathon distance, I was concerned that my body and feet would feel broken during and after the race. I’ve had that feeling in shorter distance races,” Thomas said. “But the ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% reassured me. The cushioning is just right: very bouncy — it feels like you are running on a cloud!
“The energy return is nice. And the shoe is stable, which I really appreciate. I don’t have great ankles, so stability is important. Also, when you are on your toes in these shoes, you don’t feel like you are going to topple over, which was a problem for me with the Nike Alphaflys.”
The ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% has an 8mm drop. The shoe features a woven mesh upper, called VaporWeave, that’s light and airy but secure. The outsole is built for multisurface traction in various weather conditions. And the shoe’s cushioned heel fit wraps around the Achilles to prevent slippage.
In Wilmington, Thomas mostly trains on hard surfaces and primarily asphalt. The conditions are overall hot and humid with sunshine and rain. With these shoes, “I didn’t experience major slippage on the roads in the rain, and my maneuverability was good. They are pretty breathable. Even if it is hot and humid, your feet shouldn’t feel like they are suffocating,” she added.
The toebox offers a wider shape. A full-length and lightweight carbon-infused pad is embedded into the midsole, which is meant to prevent energy loss. The carbon fiber plate is sandwiched between Nike ZoomX foam, a highly responsive midsole material that stretches from heel to toe.
“The cushion is the biggest quality for me. It makes me feel comfortable about injury prevention, especially with running conditions here. There aren’t a lot of soft surfaces to train on. If you are running long races on hard asphalt, you want to know that your shoe is going to protect you from the roads and help you on your journey,” she said.
Editor’s note: These marathon running shoes are widely sold out and currently difficult to find. But because two separate marathoners swear by them (and they’ve created a big stir in the running world), we’ve included the shoes here. In addition to Amazon, we’ve found limited sizes available at Forerunners, TC Running Company, and Running Warehouse.
Gunnison, Colorado-based elite runner Bashash Walio specializes in the marathon distance. He trains outside year-round — even in freezing temperatures. The 27-year-old won the 2019 Colorado Marathon and placed 15th overall at the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon. He holds a personal record of 2:23 at the 2019 California International Marathon.
Walio has trained in the Altra Torin 4 ($120) and Altra Escalante Racer ($140) and raced half-marathons and full marathons in the latter. At present, he also trains in the Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit ($160) and races in the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%.
“With these Nike racing shoes, I improved my race time significantly. After [hard] marathons, I also recover well — and after training, too,” said Walio. He goes through more than 10 pairs per year: “I change my shoes every 400 to 500 miles. So, every month or so I get a new training pair. I usually rotate between a couple different pairs.”
The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% is made for all road runners, races, and elite marathoners, he said: “My favorite characteristic of the shoe is the carbon fiber plate that’s embedded in the midsole foam because it provides a responsive feel.”
To date, Walio has used the shoes for more than 130 miles. In his experience, the shoes have proven durable and work well on both asphalt and dirt roads.
“So far, they are still solid. Their responsive feel is just as much as when I first got the shoes,” he noted.
Editor’s note: These shoes are widely sold out and currently difficult to find. But since two separate marathoners swear by them (and they’ve created a big stir in the running world), we’ve included the shoes here. In addition to Amazon, we’ve found limited sizes available at Forerunners, TC Running Company, and Running Warehouse.