This article has been updated with current models for September 2022. The Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 and Triumph 19 have been replaced with their updated versions. The Brooks Ghost 14, Asics Glide 2, Asics Novablast 2, New Balance Fuelcell Rebel V2, and Nike Zoom Fly 4 have been removed. The Nike Invincible Run 2, Nike Pegasus 39, and Saucony Tempus are new additions. Except for the narrower ‘B’ width, the women’s models are almost identical to men’s.
In this product guide:
- 1. Factors to consider
- 2. Our top pick: Saucony Endorphin Pro 3
- 3. Comfortable racer with a plate: Nike Vaporfly Next% V2
- 4. Comfortable racer with a plate: Saucony Endorphin Speed 3
- 5. Max-cushioned cruiser for easy speeds: Nike ZoomX Invincible Run V2
- 6. Soft cushioning for medium speeds: New Balance 1080 V12
- 7. Soft cushioning for medium speeds: Hoka Clifton 8
- 8. Supportive cushioning for medium speeds: Saucony Triumph 20
- 9. Supportive cushioning for medium speeds: Saucony Tempus
- 10. Versatile neutral trainer for marathons: Nike Pegasus 39
Most of us have seen elite runners break marathon PR’s in a pair of racing flats that are nothing more than a thin piece of foam glued to a mesh upper.
So if running shoes make no difference at all, then what’s the point of this guide?
That being said, if you are a non-elite athlete running a marathon in a pair of flats, wouldn’t you like more cushioning after mile 10? The kind of running shoe that goes easy on your feet? And an upper with enough room for your toes instead of squeezing them in a vice-like grip?
And unless you’re running on an exceptionally scenic route, marathons can also get boring after an hour or two. The last thing you need is a shoe that doesn’t feel engaging to run in.
Even if you’ve trained religiously for over six months before running a marathon, every bit helps – even running shoes.
While many experienced runners have no problem running longer distances in flats, most of us will appreciate the extra comfort.
The racing shoe landscape has also evolved. A decade ago, a road racer meant a racing flat – a running shoe with minimal cushioning.
In 2022, if a marathon shoe doesn’t have a plate inside a springy midsole, then it’s likely to end up on a close-out sale.
So if given a choice, why wear uncomfortable flats?
Given the context, this guide focuses on cushioned running shoes. If you rather prefer flats or products of a similar nature, try the shoes from our guides for 5K and 10K races.
If this guide was compiled in 2014, it would have looked completely different. Except for a few Hokas, there weren’t many max-cushioning shoes available. Most midsole foams were also limited to e-TPU and EVA variants.
Back then, we would have featured cushioned trainers such as the adidas Supernova, Nike Pegasus, and the Saucony Ride. The these models have always been dependable, do-it-all shoes – something that doesn’t change in 2022 either. As you scroll down this page, you’ll come across familiar names like the Nike Pegasus 39 and Saucony Triumph.
This product guide includes several shoes with midsole plates. Our top pick is the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 due to its superlative ride character and upper fit.
Additionally, the Nike Vaporfly Next % 2 is here too, as well as the latest Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 – just in case you wanted a more supportive ride than the Pro 3.
The Brooks Hyperion Elite V2 is nice too, but it doesn’t feature on this guide. The DNA Flash is Nitrogen-infused EVA foam, so while it’s incredibly lightweight and comfortable, the firmer quality works better in a shoe like plate-less Hyperion Tempo. Also, the plate design doesn’t result in a springboard-like effect; it just guides the transitions, that’s all.
The adios Pro 3 is also a decent choice, but doesn’t offer a good enough reason to buy it over the Vaporfly and Endorphin twins.
New for this edition of the buyer’s guide are the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run 2 and Saucony Tempus. Not everyone is chasing a personal best, and sometimes the kind of shoe you want for a 5 hour marathon is the Invincible Run 2. Its ZoomX midsole offers almost a bottomless reservoir of cushioning comfort for long races.
Previously, cushioned support running shoes were missing on this list. That gap is filled with the Saucony Tempus, a running shoe that derives its cushioned-support character from a PEBA midsole that’s stabilized with a firmer EVA rim. This relatively lightweight shoe packs a high cushioning-to-weight ratio, and works well for most use cases.
By the way, that makes it four Saucony shoes on this list.
Our top pick: Saucony Endorphin Pro 3
The Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 may be similar to the Speed 3, but there are differences that make it an excellent marathon shoe.
It’s softer and over 10% lighter (7.2-ounces) than the Speed 3, and the generously vented upper keeps the feet cool during a marathon. The minimally constructed upper secures the foot as a racer should, but without compromising interior comfort.
While the one-piece Pwrrun PB midsole makes the ride softer, the Pro 3 has another feature that the Speed 3 does not – an insole made of Pwrrun+ foam.
The windows exposing the Carbon plate also reduce bulk and help with the cushioning.
From a comfort and speed perspective, the Pro 3 is ideal for running marathons. The engaging PEBA foam midsole delivers responsive comfort for the duration of the marathon, whereas the Carbon plate acts as both the springboard (under the heel) and a rocker under the forefoot.
The result is an extremely comfortable marathon racer that’s also comfortable picking up speed when the occasion demands. Our comprehensive review covers the minutiae of the Endorphin Pro 3’s ride character.
2) Nike Vaporfly Next % V2
The original Vaporfly 4% was the running shoe that transitioned the racing shoe market from low-profile flats into the exciting new world of Carbon plates and PEBA midsoles.
A ZoomX (PEBA foam) midsole of the VF 4% housed a Carbon plate that delivered the spring-like feel that we’ve all now come to appreciate. The Next % (V1) was based on a similar form factor as the 4%, except for a redesigned midsole and upper.
The V2 isn’t very different, considering that it uses the same midsole and outsole set-up as the V1. The lightweight, high-volume midsole acts as a deep cushioning reservoir that makes marathons less tiresome and more enjoyable – relatively speaking, of course. Unless you’re superhuman, marathons are not meant to be enjoyable. In our ultra-detailed review, we covered everything that you need to know about the Vaporfly Next% 2.
The plate does what it does best – providing a satisfying rearfoot snap and swift forefoot transitions. This way, the Vaporfly Next% V2 manages to blend highly responsive cushioning with a speed-friendly behavior.
Nike does not alter the fundamentals of the upper fit. The asymmetrical lacing system alleviates the top-down pressure; the deconstructed design makes the lightweight upper disappear over the foot – all while delivering a secure grip.
3) Saucony Endorphin Speed 3
The Endorphin Speed 3 delivers an excellent blend of distance-friendly cushioning and speed.
It weighs just 8 ounces, and that makes high-mileage sessions a non-distracting experience. Our full review can be found here.
The Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 makes a compelling case for itself. Its $170 MSRP and a similar ride character make it a better value proposition than the Endorphin Pro 3. Its higher level of ride stability is also going to appeal to a larger population of runners.
The Pwrrun PB delivers distance-friendly cushioning with springy responsiveness. The Pwrrun PB is made of PEBA – a lightweight cushioning foam that’s now become the favorite material for running shoe midsoles.
There’s also a Nylon plate inside this lightweight cushiness. It’s blended extremely well with the responsive midsole, and its integration feels seamless – one of the two reasons (the second is the more supportive upper) why we prefer the E-Speed over the Carbon-plated Pro.
The redesigned Speed 3’s Nylon plate now has ‘wings’ over the midfoot for improved support.
The soft upper fits and breathes well, with enough space to accommodate the increase in foot volume during a marathon. An internal heel counter keeps the foot supported during runs.
The midsole isn’t the epitome of rearfoot stability, so neither the E-Speed nor Pro are recommended for track workouts or runs that involve sprinting into tight corners.
However, features like the deep transition groove (new for 2022), wider midsole, and winged plate make the shoe less unstable than the previous models.
4) Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit V2
Far too often, we get fixated on speed-friendly marathon racers. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that most people do not run 3:30 marathons, or even 4 hours. The average time to finish a marathon is over 4 hours and 30 minutes, so the median will be even slower – which is 5 hours and longer.
Many runners just want to finish a marathon and enjoy the process without pushing their physical limits. In that case, you don’t need a fancy marathon racer with a Carbon plate, but something that’s sinfully cushioned – like the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit 2.
The ZoomX Invincible 2 doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what is – an ultra-cushioned shoe that doesn’t care about its 11-ounce weight or voluminous midsole.
With so much foam under the foot, this is one shoe where the hyperbole ‘pillows taped to your feet’ does apply.
The soft and bouncy ZoomX midsole offers bottomless cushioning during a marathon. This is not a fast shoe, but covers all bases if you’re looking for the last word in ride comfort. Our in-depth review explains what makes this shoe so cushioned.
The thin and soft rubber outsole flexes together with the midsole to enhance the cushioning comfort without sacrificing road grip.
A comfortable midsole needs an upper to match, and the Invincible Run 2 doesn’t disappoint. The mesh upper offers a true-to-size fit that accommodates changes in foot volume during a long run.
5) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V12
Despite all the new foams in the running shoe business, we believe that the Fresh Foam experience is (still) worth the price of admission.
The 1080V12’s EVA-blend midsole produces a smooth blend of cushioning, responsiveness, and transition-friendly manners. There’s sufficient cushioning available in this high-volume midsole for marathon distances, but without any speed-inhibiting mushiness. More details are our in-depth review of the 1080.
The ride is comfortable enough for marathon-level runs without feeling slow; the blown rubber outsole makes the transitions and landings smooth. The split outsole layout allows it to flex together with the soft foam stack.
The knit upper is soft, elastic, and wraps the forefoot securely; the flared heel lip is easy on the Achilles tendon.
The sleeved interiors are smooth and create a distraction-free fit experience. For this year, New Balance claims that the new 1080V12’s upper contains at least 50% recycled content.
This being a New Balance shoe, there are three other optional widths to accommodate wider or narrower feet.
6) Hoka One One Clifton 8
The Hoka Clifton 8 doesn’t have a midsole plate, but it’s always been a popular choice for long runs and marathons – thanks to its cushioned ride and rockered geometry that allows for speed-friendly transitions. The EVA midsole lacks the pizzazz of lighter PEBA midsoles, but it still manages to hold out in a competitive market.
The thick forefoot has a high toe-spring that allows the foot to roll over during the push-off stance; the resilience of the compression-molded midsole makes it easier to power through the gait cycle.
If the upper space – or the lack thereof – is a potential concern, the optional 2E width offers more space. While the overall fit profile hasn’t changed, the tweaked upper has increased padding within the tongue and heel collar.
The V8’s new midsole and outsole design make it a mite firmer than the 7 – not because the foam density has changed. The redesigned outsole lugs on the forefoot no longer have a break that exposes the midsole foam. The heel crash pad also receives a similar update.
With the filled-in channels, the new outsole performs slightly better at transitions than the Clifton 7. Our detailed product review can be read here.
Also see: The Hoka Bondi 7.
7) Saucony Triumph 20
You should buy the Saucony Triumph 20 for the same reason(s) why people buy running shoes with adidas Boost foam midsoles.
Saucony’s Pwrrun+ midsole is made of the same material as the adidas Boost – an expanded Polyurethane foam that offers a well-balanced blend of cushioning comfort, durability, and support.
It’s also highly resistant to ambient temperature changes, meaning that the ride doesn’t get firmer during freezing winters.
The Triumph 20 has been redesigned from the ground up, and that includes a softer and lighter Pwrrun+ formulation that packs enough comfort for runs of double-digit distances, all while being responsive in its cushioning delivery.
The upper is nice too – which isn’t surprising, as most Saucony shoes do well in that area. The engineered mesh exterior breathes well, whereas the inner sleeve and lacing straps make the fit secure.
The interior comfort has been upgraded as well; the two-piece heel collar is soft over the Achilles, and the padded tongue filters the lacing pressure.
8) Saucony Tempus
In the absence of a stability shoe with a medial post on this guide, the Saucony Tempus is the next best thing.
In our detailed review, we explained how the Tempus delivers its mileage-friendly cushioning without compromising stability.
At its core is a Pwrrun PB midsole, the same foam that powers the Endorphin Speed and Pro 3. So it’s natural to expect a level of ride comfort that works for a marathon distance. And the Tempus doesn’t disappoint – the high level of cushioning makes long-distance runs easier on the feet.
However, it’s the second component that sets the Tempus apart from the rest. Wrapped around the softer foam core is a firmer – and more supportive – EVA foam rim.
While this design approach isn’t novel (adidas Sequence and Tempo Boost were the first to do it), it’s certainly a fresh take that uses contemporary materials and technology.
As with most Saucony running shoes, the soft and lightweight upper fits true to size and breathes well.
9) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39
Let’s say you just have one versatile neutral trainer for your runs, and that shoe is the Nike Pegasus 39. And it’s an excellent choice, because the Peg is a great running shoe to do it all, including marathons.
Sure, the Nike Pegasus 39 doesn’t have the engaging ride of PEBA foam-powered super shoes. That said, the React foam and Zoom Air bags inside the midsole make most runs comfortable and tempo-friendly.
The React foam is softer than the 37 and 38, so there’s a higher level of ride comfort than before. On the other hand, the tightly-sprung Zoom Air bags add the transition-friendly snap for quicker turnovers.
There are refinements made to the upper too. The cord-assisted lacing and padded interiors create a secure and comfortable fit that’s true to size. The toe-box is accommodating, and the soft spacer mesh lining is a nice touch.
Our detailed review has everything that you want to know about the Pegasus.
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