Marathons are hard.
Many years ago, we remember talking to someone about his first marathon. And this person didn’t even train for one, he just decided to run a major – think it was the Boston – marathon on a whim. Didn’t ask how he managed to qualify though – perhaps he got in through the charity route. But his story checked out.
He remarked that his lower body was ‘destroyed’ after that marathon; he hobbled for a week after the race. But here’s the thing – he wasn’t out of shape. In fact, being a recreational but borderline competitive climber, he was supremely fit by most standards. He had a strong core with exceptional upper and lower body strength.
And he worked for a major shoe brand, so he wore the best running shoe available at the time. That didn’t help.
Aha – you’d say. It’s the runner and not the shoe, after all. Our friend made it painfully evident that being accomplished in one sport doesn’t mean you can run 26.2 miles without training – with even with the best running shoe. Long-distance runs are a feat of endurance and not brute strength, thus requiring a completely different training regime.
Most of us have also 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 why do we need this guide?
Let us ask you something – and be honest here. If you’re a non-elite running a marathon in a pair of flats, don’t you crave for more cushioning under your feet after mile 10? The kind of running shoe that goes easy on your feet? Along with an upper that has enough room for your toes instead of squeezing them in a vice-like grip?
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 whatsoever running longer distances in flats, most of us will appreciate that extra comfort during a marathon.
If this guide was compiled in 2014, it would have looked completely different. Save for a few Hokas, there weren’t many maximal cushioning shoes around. Midsole foam tech was also limited to e-TPU and EVA variants.
Back then, we would have featured cushioned trainers such as the adidas Supernova Glide, the Nike Pegasus, and the Saucony Ride. The likes of these have always been a dependable, do-it-all option – something that doesn’t change in 2020 either. As you scroll down this page, you’ll notice that the guide has models such as the adidas Solar Glide, the Brooks Ghost, and a couple of others.
Hoka does what it does best, so the Clifton features here. Asics has been the surprise inclusion of the year. The Japanese brand has recently upped their running shoe game, so the Glideride and Novablast are featured here.
The more interesting shoes are the ones with new midsole tech. For example, the Nike Vaporfly Next% feature the ZoomX and Carbon plate combination. The Reebok Floatride midsole makes long runs comfortable, so the Forever Energy 2 is here. Even Asics has jumped into the deep end with the cushioned Novablast.
We did not include the Nike Zoom Fly because of the Next%. And you know why the Nike Vomero 14 isn’t here either. Instead, we have the Nike Pegasus 37.
Unlike most of our guides, our top marathon shoe picks are arranged in order of Solereview’s preference.
1) Nike Vaporfly Next%
The Next% is the ‘next’ generation of the Vaporfly. At its core, a similar midsole set-up as the Vaporfly Flyknit powers the Next% – a full-length Carbon plate is suspended inside a soft and bouncy ZoomX foam midsole for a spring-like effect.
It differs from the Vaporfly 4% in several ways. The midsole has more ZoomX along with a grippier outsole. The heel to toe offset is lowered to 8 mm versus the 11 mm of the 4%. And instead of Flyknit, Nike uses an ultra-thin woven material which it calls the VaporWeave.
Along with the new material, the wider fit allows the foot to splay better during a marathon. In the rear, the heel collar gets padding enhancements for improved grip. The lacing is laid out asymmetrically to reduce the top-down pressure.
Even with all the changes, the ride feels very familiar to the 4%. The voluminous ZoomX midsole is soft, lightweight, bouncy, and speed-friendly at the same time; the embedded Carbon plate acts as a loaded spring that results in a high cushioning turnover.
If fatigue-resistant responsive cushioning is your preferred shoe trait, know that no shoe does it better than the Next%. It is super-expensive at $250, but it’s well worth the upper and midsole comfort.
2) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V10
The V9 was the turning point for the 1080 series. After years of cushioning mediocrity, the updated Fresh Foam midsole finally delivered what it had always promised – a soft, responsive, and smooth ride.
The 2020 model takes the overall ride quality further – in a good way. The midsole has tweaked the ‘Fresh Foam X’ (feels like an EVA blend) to make the ride softer and livelier. And it’s not just the midsole.
Even the outsole goes the Fuelcell Propel way by using blown rubber and areas of exposed EVA foam. The split outsole layout gives the midsole a greater range of movement.
It’s not a surprise, then, that the 1080 V10 makes high mileage runs extremely comfortable. It’s also enjoyable as it produces the cushioning softness without coming across as lazy.
The redesigned upper will divide opinions. Runners who prefer a snug forefoot will love the V10 due to its stretchy forefoot mesh. Others would rather prefer the roomier V9. The 1080 also trades one imperfect heel cup design for another. The V9’s heel fit wasn’t great, and the V10’s outwards flaring collar is a love it or meh affair.
All that said, the both the 1080 V9 and V10 are great picks for long-distance runs and marathons.
3) Hoka One One Clifton 6
There was something magical about the first Hoka Clifton – that was a lightweight max-cushion shoe that also felt surprisingly agile.
The Clifton 6 is based on the same premise – the thick, rocker-shaped midsole has high-mileage cushioning with transitions to match. It’s not the same as the C1, but close.
Hoka has improved their uppers over the years, so the Clifton 6 fits true-to-size without any uncomfortable hot spots. This shoe even retails in a wide.
Also see: The Bondi 6.
4) Asics Novablast
The Asics Flytefoam has come a long way since its first iteration on the Dynaflyte and Metaride.
From being a firm ‘fiber-infused’ midsole foam, the present-day Flytefoam offers a range of cushioning characteristics. It delivers a very traditional-type cushioning on the Nimbus and the Kayano 26 in the form of the Flytefoam ‘Propel’. On fast trainers like the DS-Trainer 25 and the Dynaflyte, a firmer variant helps with quick transitions.
And now you have the Flytefoam Blast of the Novablast – a new entrant that is quickly becoming a crowd-favorite.
The Novablast isn’t an original idea, of course. There’s a lot of Hoka-ness to be seen and felt here. The thick midsole has a pronounced rocker shape so the ride is cushioned and efficient at the same time.
This new foam isn’t mushy and yet there’s ample comfort for long-distance runs and marathons. Simultaneously, the high toe-spring (rocker) of the midsole helps the foot roll though the gait cycles quicker.
5) Asics Glideride
Asics is sailing into previously uncharted waters as it evolves out of its trusted Gel + Trusstic shank form factor.
Sure, you still have a lot of traditionalism within Asics’ line-up; the GT-2000 and Nimbuses continue to receive annual updates. On the other hand, products like the GlideRide and the Novablast are attracting new -and returning – patrons who had parted ways with brand after 2012.
If the Novablast was all about an all-foam ride delivered by a high toe and heel spring, the Glideride takes the rocker concept quite literally. Here, a stiff Nylon plate acts as an actual rocker.
Understandably, the Glideride isn’t as cushy as the Novablast but is enjoyable – albeit in a different way. The stiff undercarriage allows the foot to roll over during transitions, so the shoe feels surprisingly effortless for its bulk. There’s plenty of cushioning too, so long-distance comfort isn’t an area of concern.
It’s worth highlighting the difference between other plated shoes (eg. Nike Vaporfly) and the Glideride. Other running shoes with embedded Carbon plates produce a ‘springboard’ effect under the heel to launch you forward. The Asics Glideride does no such thing – the forefoot plate just makes it easier for the foot to roll ahead.
6) Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo V2
Unlike the 4% and Next%, the Pegasus Turbo 2 doesn’t come equipped with a Carbon plate. Nor does it have ZoomX foam in a full-length setup; there’s a layer of React foam underneath.
But what the Turbo has in spades is an anti-fatigue ride quality, and that works great for marathons. It is very lightweight too, and the new upper has an improved toe-box fit.
7) Saucony Triumph 17
When you buy the Triumph 17, you get an uber-responsive cushioning that delivers comfortable long miles. You have the new Pwrrun+ foam to thank – it is snappier, softer, and lighter than the denser Everun. With the updated ride character, marathons are more enjoyable in the T-17.
This Triumph has a particular plush (and snug) upper. It’s worth bearing in mind that the new upper fits narrower and slightly shorter than the ISO 5. Try before you buy.
8) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 2
Instead of rotating several shoes, it makes sense to get a versatile running shoe to do it all. In that context, the Reebok Floatride Energy 2 fits right in.
This model is an update to the last year’s sleeper hit. The midsole uses the tried-and-tested expanded Polyurethane foam that has proved to be a durable and reliable workhorse. adidas uses it, and so does Saucony. Reebok’s version (Floatride) balances distance-friendly comfort and a low-profile cushioning that also makes a great daily trainer.
And if you already have the V1, just know that the 2020 model has the same midsole and outsole. The only thing that has changed is the redesigned upper that makes a number of improvements towards the fit and feel. More details can be found in our full review.
9) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37
First, the good news. The Nike Pegasus 37 is (still) a dependable neutral running shoe with plenty of ride comfort for daily training or high-mileage runs. The heel is now constructed using 100% React, and only the front has a Zoom Air bag. For the most part, the upper is roomy and true to size.
That being said, this Pegasus is nothing like the last model. Or even the one before that. This is a brand-new Pegasus from the top to bottom, and this update could polarize loyalists.
10) Brooks Ghost 12
The Brooks Ghost 12 lacks the running shoe pizzazz of its e-TPU and Pebax-toting peers, but it does one thing very well – which is being a well-behaved neutral trainer with a smooth and supportive ride character.
The dual-density midsole has enough cushioning to make marathon distance runs comfortable. The Ghost 12’s upper is extremely comfortable as it combines soft-touch materials with a spacious interior.
Also see: The Brooks Glycerin 18.