Over the past few years, running shoe technology has boomed. Marathon running shoes are now faster and more comfortable than ever. With the boom in shoe technology, there are more options on the market than ever. How do you know which marathon running shoes to wear? This article delves into the science behind marathon running shoe technology and provides a guide on how to choose the best shoe for your next race.
What Should I Look for in a Marathon Running Shoe?
The most important feature of a marathon running shoe? Comfort while running. A 2021 meta-analysis in the European Journal of Sport Science found from four studies that comfortable footwear produced a statistically significant improvement in running economy compared to less comfortable footwear.
Cushioned shoes may be an optimal choice for a marathon running shoe. A 2022 randomized controlled trial published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise concluded that highly cushioned shoes reduced oxygen cost and improved performance, even when muscle damage occurred. Muscle damage can be a limiting factor for performance in the marathon. While not every runner needs maximally cushioned shoes, marathon running shoes should have enough cushion to maintain performance even as muscle damage sets in.
You want a shoe that feels comfortable for you and provides enough cushion for the distance. For the marathon, this is likely a moderate to high amount of cushioning. Shoe trends reflect this: gone are the days of minimalist racing shoes. Carbon plate running shoes geared towards marathoners often feature high amounts of cushioning.
Should I Race My Marathon in a Carbon Plate Running Shoe?
Carbon plate shoes actually do help you run faster over long distances. A 2019 study in the Journal of Sports Science found that the Nike Vaporfly shoes improved running economy. The improved running economy was partially due to running economy being a significant factor in marathon performance.
Carbon plate shoes can work on both flat and hilly marathons. (Assuming it is a hilly road marathon, not a trail marathon.) A 2022 study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that carbon plate running shoes had a lower metabolic cost on uphill, flat, and down when compared to racing flats. However, it’s important to consider this study did not compare cushioned but non-plated shoes to see if the cushion or the plate made a bigger difference in metabolic cost.
That all said, carbon plate shoes do not work for everyone. Some runners find that their feet hurt in them or that they observe no real changes in running economy. Like any running shoe, the individual response is highly variable.
If you do plan on running a marathon in carbon plate shoes, ensure that the shoes will feel good for that long. I generally recommend marathoners test their race day shoes on one or two long runs of 18-22 miles before the race and one or two marathon pace workouts. However, you do not want to accumulate too many miles on a pair (unless you plan on buying a new pair for race day). 50-100 miles is an appropriate range for testing the shoes without too much breakdown before race day.
Do I Need Carbon-Plated Shoes for My Marathon Running Shoes?
No! Carbon plated shoes are not necessary for the marathon. Beyond the high cost, some runners do not respond to the technology. If you enjoy carbon plated shoes, go for it! But if you don’t like them, they may not be worth the cost.
A 2023 study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology found that not all recreational runners ran faster in carbon-plated shoes. Five out of sixteen – 31% – of the runners had worse running economy in super shoes compared to regular running shoes. So their running performance was actually worse, even though other runners are faster in the plated shoes.
For more information on deciding if carbon plated shoes are right for you, read this article.
How do I Pick the Best Shoe for Marathon Running?
Whether you opt for a carbon plate or a traditional running shoe, you want a shoe that works for you. Popular shoes like the Nike Vaporfly do not work for everyone. Some runners may get an injury in a shoe that helps another person run a marathon PR.
Some factors to consider with a marathon running shoe:
- Stick to a heel-to-toe drop that works for you (within +/- 2-4mm). If you typically run in 4mm neutral shoes, you may not want to try a 12mm plated shoe. (Here’s a primer on what shoe terminology such as heel-toe drop mean.)
- Opt for adequate cushioning to support you over many miles.
- If you wear neutral shoes, stick to neutral – and vice versa if you usually run in stability shoes.
- A shoe should feel comfortable when you run. If you notice acute discomfort during the run or strange aches cropping up, the shoe may not work for you.
For more on how to pick running shoes, this article delves into that in more detail.
Best Marathon Running Shoes – Carbon Plated
Saucony Endorphin Pro 3
Many runners I coach rave about the Saucony Endorphin Pro. This carbon plated shoe has an 8mm stack height and 39.5 mm of PWRRUN PB Foam. The stack height meets the legal limits for World Athletics competition. Runners rave that the Saucony Endorphin Pro is stable while delivering a bouncy, fast ride.
New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Elite
New Balance has released several fast shoes over the past couple years. The SuperComp Elite (and its trainer companion) provide a sleek shoe made for fast marathons. The highly engineered foam and carbon plate propel your stride forward. This shoe features a 4mm heel-toe drop, which sets it apart form higher drop carbon racers.
Hoka Carbon X 3
Another popular carbon racer shoe amongst runners I’ve coached is the Hoka One One Carbon X racer. This carbon plated neutral shoe features a 5mm drop and lightweight mesh material. Runners report that it offers a fast, responsive ride while maintaining the comfort characteristic of Hoka.
Available in men’s and women’s sizes.
For a review and comparison of Nike’s supershoes, read this article from Run to the Finish.
Best Marathon Running Shoes – Non-Carbon Plated
Saucony Endorphin Speed 3
Some runners prefer the slightly softer nylon plates to the firm carbon plates. The Saucony Endorphin Speed is similar to the Endorphin Pro, except with a softer nylon plate. Additionally, the Speeds are also less expensive and more durable than their carbon-plated counterparts.
Saucony Kinvara 14
The Saucony Kinvara is a perennial favorite due to its lightweight feel and low heel-to-toe drop (4mm). The newest versions use the same PWRRUN PB foam from Saucony’s plated shoes, delivering a fast, bouncy ride to this non-plated shoe. The shoes have enough cushion to stay comfortable across the marathon distance.
New Balance FuelCell Rebel
The New Balance FuelCell Rebel is designed for long distance – without weighing you down. This lightweight shoe is designed to withstand the distance while giving enough energy return that your shoe doesn’t slow you down. It features a 6mm drop.
Gear guru The Ginger Runner raved about the Asics Superblast in his 2022 Gear of the Year video. Both responsive and comfortable, this maximally cushioned yet speedy shoe provides all you need for a fast marathon. It does cost more for a non-plated shoe; the Novablast from Asics is a cheaper alternative.
Available in unisex sizing.
If you are searching for shoes for a trail marathon, reference this article on the best trail running shoes.