These are unusual times. So when we use the word ‘marathons’, we refer to it in spirit.
Most marathons across the world – and running events in general – have been postponed until normalcy returns. But that shouldn’t stop us from training; it’s an opportune time to prepare for the upcoming deluge of road-running events.
With that end in mind, this guide contains running shoe recommendations that work for long-distance training. These shoes can also be used as race-day footwear when marathons eventually resume.
If you didn’t know it already, 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 checks 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. 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 either.
Aha – you’d say. It’s the runner and not the shoe, after all. Our friend made it obvious (and painfully so) that proficiency in a sport doesn’t mean you can run 26.2 miles without training – even with the best running shoes. 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 what’s the point of 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, wouldn’t you crave 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?
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 the extra comfort.
The racing shoe landscape has also evolved by leaps and bounds. A decade ago, a road racer meant a racing flat – a running shoe with minimal cushioning.
In 2021, if a marathon shoe doesn’t have a plate inside a midsole filled to the brim with bouncy cushioning, then it’s likely to end up on a close-out sale. So, if given a choice, why bother wearing uncomfortable flats?
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 available. Most midsole foams were also limited to e-TPU and EVA variants. Even New Balance’s then newly-introduced Fresh Foam cushioning was disappointingly pedestrian.
Back then, we would have featured cushioned trainers such as the adidas Supernova Glide, Nike Pegasus, and the Saucony Ride. The likes of these have always been dependable, do-it-all options – something that doesn’t change in 2021 either. As you scroll down this page, you’ll bump into models such as the Reebok Floatride Energy 3 and Brooks Ghost 13.
The June update of this guide has plenty of plated models. Our top pick is the Saucony Endorphin Speed due to its combination of ride character, upper fit, and compelling value proposition – it’s the only PEBA midsole shoe (with a plate) at a $160 price.
Though the Speed V2 has now been released, it’s just a minor update with no change to the ride quality. The Nike Vaporfly Next % is back in a V2 avatar. As for the Alphafly Next%, we tested it recently but found it to offer no significant benefit over the Vaporfly.
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.
We don’t have miles on the Asics Metaspeed Sky yet, so we can’t offer an opinion, not just yet.
Unlike most of our guides, our top marathon shoe picks are arranged in the order of Solereview’s preference.
1) Saucony Endorphin Speed
This is Solereview’s running shoe of choice for long-distance training and marathons, because it delivers an excellent blend of distance-friendly cushioning and speed. It weighs less than 8-ounces, and that makes high-mileage sessions light on the feet.
We recently reviewed the Saucony Endorphin Speed, and we prefer it over the Pro version. Its $160 MSRP (should be cheaper now with the V2 hitting the market) makes it much better value than the Pro variant.
The Pwrrun PB delivers distance-friendly cushioning with plenty of springy responsiveness. The ‘PB’ part of Pwrrun PB pertains to PEBA – a lightweight cushioning foam that’s now become the favored material for running shoe midsoles.
There’s also a Nylon plate inside this lightweight cushiness. It’s blended rather nicely into 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 soft upper fits and breathes well, with enough space to accommodate slight changes in the 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. The outsole grip isn’t great on wet surfaces either.
2) Nike Vaporfly Next % V2
After a brief hiatus, the Nike Vaporfly is back in a V2 avatar.
The original Vaporfly was the running shoe that lifted the entire racing shoe market out of somber racing flats into the realm of Carbon plates and PEBA midsoles.
The Vaporfly Next % was the evolution of the 4%; a redesigned ZoomX (PEBA foam) midsole housed a Carbon plate that delivered the spring-like feel that we’ve all come to appreciate.
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.
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 demeanour.
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) Nike Zoom Fly 3
Though the Vaporfly Next% 2 continues to be an excellent choice for marathon-level runs due to its unique ride experience, its high price could be a potential deterrent.
If not, may we suggest the Zoom Fly 3?
Just like the Vaporfly, the Zoom Fly 3 has a carbon plate for forward-biased springiness. The only difference is that the Zoom Fly 3 uses Nike’s React foam instead of ZoomX, thus making the ride much firmer.
While runners won’t find the characteristic soft bounce of the Vaporfly, the ZF3’s firm ride makes the shoe more stable – something that is a concern with the softer Vaporfly at slower speeds or uneven terrain. The transitions also benefit from the firm midsole. The heel-to-toe drop of 11 mm is versatile enough for beginners as well as seasoned pros.
There’s plenty of comfort available for long-distance runs. The lightweight sleeved upper has a secure fit and helps keep the weight below 10-ounces.
4) 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.
Also see: The Hoka Bondi 7.
5) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V11
Despite all the newness in the footwear industry, we believe that the Fresh Foam experience is (still) worth the price of admission.
The EVA-blend midsole produces a smooth blend of cushioning, responsiveness, and transition-friendly manners. The ride is comfortable enough for marathon-level runs without feeling slow; the blown rubber outsole underneath makes the transitions and landings smooth. The split outsole layout gives the midsole a greater range of movement.
The knit upper is soft, elastic, and wraps the forefoot securely; the flared heel lip is easy on the Achilles tendon. The lacing panel has a break-in period due to the stiffness of the last two lacing rows.
This being a New Balance shoe, there are three other optional widths to accommodate wider or narrower feet.
6) Asics Novablast
Asics’s Flytefoam cushioning has come a long way since it was first used on the Dynaflyte and Metaride. From being a firm, ‘fiber-infused’ midsole foam, the present-day Flytefoam is offered in a range of cushioning variations.
In the Asics Novablast’s case, it’s the ‘Flytefoam Blast’ – a new entrant that has quickly become 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 through the gait cycles quicker.
If we had to pick a flaw, it’s that the heel stability isn’t great.
7) Asics Glideride 2
Asics sailed into previously uncharted waters with the first edition of the GlideRide (and Metaride), as it evolved out of its trusted Gel + Trusstic shank form factor.
If the Novablast was all about an all-foam ride delivered by a high toe and heel spring, the Glideride 2 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 plate 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. And that’s why it’s featured on this guide of marathon-worthy shoes.
It’s worth highlighting the difference between other plated shoes (Nike Vaporfly, Saucony Endorphin, et. al) and the Glideride. Other running shoes with embedded Carbon plates produce a ‘springboard’ effect under the heel to launch you forward. The Asics Glideride V2 does no such thing – the forefoot plate just makes it easier for the foot to roll through the push-off stage.
If you can do with a lower cushioning stack, may we recommend the excellent Asics Metaracer?
8) Saucony Triumph 18
The previous edition of the Saucony Triumph was a milestone in the evolution of this popular model. The midsole swapped the firm and dense Everun foam for a softer and more responsive Pwrrun+.
On paper, both the cushioning technologies shared the same material – expanded Polyurethane. And yet the Triumph 17 felt markedly different than the preceding Triumph ISO 5, a difference that translated into a plusher ride which tapped deep into the high-volume midsole.
The Triumph 18 has a lot of the Triumph 17 in it. The midsole packs enough comfort for runs of double-digit distances, all while being springy in its cushioning delivery.
The upper plushness remains unchanged. There’s more forefoot room when compared to the narrow Triumph 17, so that’s a good thing.
9) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 3
The Floatride Energy 3 is the third update to the sleeper hit of 2019.
The midsole uses the tried-and-tested expanded Polyurethane foam that has proved to be a durable and reliable workhorse. adidas uses it in the form of Boost, and so does Saucony as Pwrrun+ on the Triumph and Hurricane.
Reebok’s version (Floatride) achieves the sweet spot between distance-friendly comfort and low-profile cushioning, thus turning it into a versatile daily trainer.
These qualities also make it a marathon-worthy shoe, if you’re willing to forego a thickly cushioned midsole that’s all the rage now. It’s halfway between a low-profile trainer like the New Balance Tempo (or adidas Boston 9) and a regular neutral trainer like the Brooks Ghost or Asics Cumulus.
This unique positioning is the Floatride Energy’s value proposition – comfortable enough for a torturous slog but agile enough when it needs to be.
The V3 has many new bits, but it’s not all that different from the V1 and V2. The asymmetric lacing was introduced on the V2, and we see that here as well. It helps reduce the forefoot snugness that was experienced on the inaugural model.
10) Brooks Ghost 13
Unlike many others here, the Brooks Ghost 13 doesn’t have a high-volume midsole. Nor does it have a ride quality with high levels of soft bounciness.
It does, however, have a smooth and cushioned ride that is versatile enough for most run distances – including marathons. The Ghost comes with an upper to match too – it fits securely, comfortably, and true-to-size.
The Ghost 13 also has something that the Ghost 12 did not. It has a single-density midsole rather than a dual-density design with a separate crash pad. This turns the Ghost 13’s ride softer and smoother, all while retaining the cushioning comfort necessary either for everyday or high-mileage runs.
Also see: The Brooks Glycerin 19.