This article has been updated with current models for June 2022. The Reebok Run Fast 3 and Skechers GoRun Excess 2 have been removed. The Asics Noosa Tri 14 and Nike ZoomX Streakfly are new additions.
We have running shoe product guides for 10K runs and marathons, but what of the under-rated half marathon?
A half marathon doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s a long-distance race that’s a good test of physical endurance. At the same time, it doesn’t require the intense training and long recovery period that a marathon entails. If you’re in reasonably good shape, a sub-1:30 half-marathon is within reach for many regular runners.
By the way, if you’re searching for an easy-to-follow training plan for a half marathon, here’s one on the Canadarunningseries website that’s put together by Saucony. And here’s another one from the Boston Athletics Association.
From a footwear perspective, you can get away with a lightweight tempo trainer when racing a half. For example, it’s possible to use the same running shoe for a 10K run and a half marathon.
That may sound like a wide range, but a shoe that works for a 10k is often comfortable enough for twice that distance.
This guide contains running shoes that are recommended for distances between a 10K to a half-marathon. If you want an ultra-cushioned running shoe for marathons (and longer), then reading this guide should help. On the other hand, if a soft running shoe is all that you need, then our recommendations are here.
So what kind of half-marathon running shoes are being discussed here?
If there’s one thing that we’ve realized after replying to thousands of reader comments, it’s that no two runners are the same. A shoe that works perfectly well for one person may not suit the other.
For example, experienced runners have a higher cushioning tolerance. They are perfectly ok with low-profile running shoes for high-mileage runs.
Others prefer shoes with plenty of cushioning. In this category are running shoe models with cushioned midsoles that make long runs comfortable. In both cases, the upper needs to breathe well and accommodate the temporary increase in foot volume; long-distance runs tend to do that.
So this is how the guide is structured: two camps of runners = two shoe categories.
We’ll begin the guide with the low-profile trainers first. While these shoes aren’t as punishing as the ones meant for 5K runs, they aren’t fleshed-out cushioned trainers either. So there’s a fair bit of overlap between the products mentioned on our ‘shoes for 10K’ guide.
The shoes within the second group have a softer ride when compared to the low-profile trainers. However, for this guide, we’ve steered clear of standard running shoes like the Asics Cumulus, adidas Solarglide, or Brooks Ghost.
There are no max-cushion shoes either; please refer to this guide if that’s an area of interest.
In their place, we’ve included cushioned running shoes with a bit of snap in them. That way, the cushioning won’t slow you down during fast, high-mileage runs. Highly cushioned speed shoes like the adidas Boston 10 use transition-friendly components like Nylon tubes for a speed-friendly character.
This guide is equally divided into two groups of five shoes.
Our top picks from the low-profile group would be the Asics Metaracer and Nike ZoomX Streakfly. Within the cushioned pacer category, we recommend the adidas Boston 10 and Balance Fuelcell Rebel V2.
Category 1: Low-profile running shoes for long distances
1) Asics Metaracer
Sometimes, running shoes do not behave the way we expect them to.
The Asics Metaracer is a racer with a Carbon plate, but a softly cushioned one. The split design of the Carbon helps it blend inconspicuously into the Flytefoam midsole, so all that’s felt under the foot is the comfortable stack of foam.
The plate is located at the bottom, so it works effectively as a transition device without affecting the cushioning quality. This way, the Metaracer manages to deliver ample comfort for up to a half marathon.
On the top, the soft upper is extremely well ventilated – something that’s useful to keep the feet cool during a long-distance run. Our full review has everything that one needs to know about the Metaracer.
2) Brooks Hyperion Tempo
Sometimes, it’s easy to conflate the terms ‘soft’ with ‘cushioned’. Cushioning exists in many shapes and densities, so a running shoe can be firm yet cushioned. There are so many examples of such shoes, ranging from the Saucony Endorphin Shift, Ride 14, or the Asics Hyper Speed.
The Brooks Hyperion Tempo is one such shoe. The ‘Tempo’ part of the name suggests that it’s a speed-friendly running shoe, and it is. Many features help build its case as a speed trainer.
Its CO2-infused EVA foam makes the Hyperion Tempo incredibly lightweight. Even with a generous serving of extra-grippy outsole rubber, the Hyper-T weighs only 7.2-ounces or 207 grams.
The combination of the lightweight foam and firm transitions produces an excellent mix of mileage-worthy comfort and speed day pep. Do you want to know more? Our review dives deep into the inner workings of the Hyperion Tempo.
3) Nike ZoomX Streakfly
Nike’s recently introduced ZoomX Streakfly combines the soft and responsive ZoomX foam in a relatively low-profile form factor. Other than Nike’s ZoomX midsole with a lightweight outsole and breezy upper, there’s not a lot going on with the Streakfly.
As a result, the Nike ZoomX Streakfly is a 6-ounce featherweight that also possesses the ride comfort that keeps the feet fresh during a half marathon.
The low weight disappears on the feet during the race, and the thin mesh upper keeps the feet ventilated. Our in-depth review covers all that you need to know.
Unlike Nike’s other racers such as the Vaporfly, the Streakfly lacks an internal plate or similar transition-assistance component. However, the inherent responsiveness of the ZoomX foam makes the cushioning lively and transition-friendly.
4) Adidas SL 20 V3
The SL20 3 is a unique running shoe that mates a low-profile ride with soft ride comfort and an 8 mm heel-to-toe offset.
Its $110 retail price offers excellent bang for the buck. Under the mesh and foam exterior lies a versatile running shoe that works for fast days as well as everyday runs.
There’s no Boost inside the midsole, but a basic EVA foam that adidas calls Lightstrike. Its medium-soft density is what makes it versatile; it’s comfortable enough for up to a half marathon and peppy enough for timed tempos. The Continental rubber outsole provides the durability and grip that’s needed for quick transitions.
The upper is based on the adizero form factor, which is a euphemism for narrow and short sizing. You’d need to buy at least a half size up if you value interior space.
And what’s new in the third iteration of SL20? With no change in the midsole and outsole design, the ride quality stays the same as the V2.
However, there are minor changes on the upper. Now, only the first two lacing rows are connected to the loops, versus three on the SL20.
The SL20 V3 has moved the loops closer to ease off the top-down pressure, and also reduced the fused overlays on the forefoot mesh.
In short, the SL20 V3’s fit is more accommodating and breathable than the SL20 V2. Thankfully, the price hasn’t increased.
5) Saucony Kinvara 13
Our review echoes the view that the Kinvara 13 is an excellent shoe.
Having said that, the midsole has a firm ride that some runners may find harsh for half-marathon distances. If that’s you, buy the Fuelcell Rebel 2 instead.
On the other hand, if you were a fan of the retro Kinvara’s firm ride, there’s a lot to like about the K-13.
The firm EVA midsole (Pwrrun) is excellent for faster paces while keeping the foot adequately cushioned over longer distances. The Kinvara 13 shares the same midsole as the Kinvara 12, so if you can find the latter for a good deal, go for it.
The low stack isn’t bereft of comfort. In addition to the main midsole, there’s a layer of Pwrrun+ (E-TPU) and a removable insole just under the foot.
The conforming interiors are very well-ventilated and soft, all while fitting true to size. That’s just the kind of upper fit needed for long-distance runs. It’s also worth noting that the Kinvara 13 has a partial sleeve (gusset) instead of the K12’s full sleeve.
And why not the Saucony Freedom 4 instead of the Kinvara 13?
The Freedom 4, for all its technological superiority (PEBA midsole and all), feels flat and unresponsive. The upper is also tight due to all the layering.
Category 2: Cushioned running shoes
1) adidas adizero Boston 10
Over the years, the adizero Boston has built its reputation as a tempo-friendly shoe with a ride that isn’t hard on the feet.
It’s a little different this time around. Instead of a minimal Boost foam midsole with a supportive EVA frame, the Boston 10 combines two different kinds of foam and a set of Nylon tubes.
The Boston 10’s midsole uses the new ‘Lightstrike Pro’ foam (a kind of TPE, we assume) along with the tried-and-tested Lightstrike EVA foam. This makes the Boston 10 very different than the V9 or V8; the increase in cushioning is very noticeable. With these changes, the Boston is better suited for long-distance runs than the previous model.
However, the higher level of softness doesn’t impede the speed-friendly nature of the adizero Boston. The Nylon tubes and Lightstrike EVA add the necessary stiffness and support to build up speed. The ultra-grippy Continental rubber outsole also helps with the quick touch and go.
If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, that would be the classic racer upper. The Boston’s synthetic suede and mesh upper is a nod to its racing roots, and modern updates like the choice of mesh and lining add a lot of comfort. It’s an adizero performance shoe, so the upper is narrow – no two ways about it.
We took a closer look at the Boston 10 recently – here’s where you read it.
2) New Balance Fuelcell Rebel 2
Until a couple of years ago, the Fuelcell Rebel used to feature the same foam as the Prism – a soft and comfortable midsole material, but nowhere as lightweight as the foam from the RC Elite.
That’s no longer the case; the Rebel V2 gets the same foam as the RC Elite. This completely transforms the Rebel’s character, and is the reason why this shoe is our favorite pick. We tested and reviewed the Rebel last year; here’s our review.
The Rebel V2 packs a lot of cushioning and ride comfort for its 7.2-ounce/204-gram weight. The responsive nature of the midsole makes it a great choice for quick workouts, whereas the cushioning softness makes everyday runs enjoyable.
Do note that the Rebel V2 has a shorter sizing. One needs to buy at least a half size larger (buy 10.5 instead of the usual 10). Other than that, the upper is excellent – the racer tongue has a softer super flap, and the soft heel is gentle on the Achilles.
Are there any drawbacks? Based on online chatter, long-term durability appears to be an issue. The flimsy upper has weak points, and the exposed outsole section of the soft midsole is susceptible to wear and tear.
Also see: The New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo – a Tempo trainer with a Fresh Foam EVA midsole and secure upper.
3) New Balance FuelCell Prism V2
The Fuelcell Prism is an interesting shoe with very few equals. We’re not talking about the comfortable low-profile cushioning with its raised sidewalls. We’re also not referring to the soft and lightweight upper either.
The Prism V2 has a tiny quirk; there’s a hint of medial side support in the form of a micro medial post. This firmer wedge foam doesn’t make any difference at all, except for giving the shoe ‘stability’ optics.
Regardless of the medial post, the Fuelcell midsole has mileage-friendly cushioning in spades. If the 10.2-ounce doesn’t give it away, we’d like to stress that the Fuelcell foam used here isn’t the same as the one used on the Rebel.
Nonetheless, the semi-rocker shape of the midsole facilitates smooth and quick transitions.
A firm rubber outsole is laid out in a horseshoe pattern under the heel, whereas the forefoot uses a large piece of soft blown rubber. The firm outsole sections contribute to the ride stability and transitions, while the forefoot inlays make the landings and take-offs easy on the feet.
Like most New Balance shoes in this category, the comfortable upper is form-fitting and half a size short.
4) Asics Noosa Tri 14
The Noosa Tri is perhaps the only running shoe that’s expressly marketed as a Triathlon shoe. And as the suffix ’14’ indicates, this Asics running shoe has been around for a long time.
Now, the running component of a Triathlon could mean either a 10K, a half-marathon, or the full 26. 2 in the Ironman race format. The way we see it, the Noosa Tri is more suitable for 10K distances to a half-marathon.
The soft Flytefoam midsole is sufficiently comfortable for up to a half-marathon distance, whereas the rocker geometry of the Glideride-inspired midsole promotes quick turnovers.
The sleeved upper of the Noosa Tri 14 is quick-drying, secure, and breathable. It also has Triathlon-specific bits like a large tongue pull tab and a high-visibility color scheme.
5) New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon V3
Ah, the Beacon. A few years ago, New Balance’s then-new shoe quickly gained a cult following because of its versatile nature. It was lightweight, yet cushioned. It was cushioned, yet speed-friendly.
In retrospect, the Beacon V1 made itself useful in a shoe rotation by serving as a middle ground between minimal racers and heavier daily trainers. The Beacon V3 still has the lovable ride quality that makes long-distance endeavors fun and comfortable. However, calling it a ‘fast’ shoe would be a stretch.
The jury is out on the wacky heel design, though. Though the upper fits narrow, that’s something an optional 2E (wide) width will easily fix.
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