Best Marathon Shoes of 2024

We round up the best shoes for your next marathon, whether you’re running your first marathon or aiming for a new personal best.

By on February 22, 2024 | Comments
Best Marathon Shoes - New Balance FuelCell Rebel V3 - track workout in snow - feature photo

Super shoes or not, the right marathon shoes can give you an important advantage on race day. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

The marathon is a distance that attracts almost every type of runner, from newbies aiming to run farther than ever to those chasing Boston qualifiers or elites going for the Olympic dream. It makes a worthy goal for anyone, and having the best marathon shoes for race day can significantly affect your performance. While you certainly don’t need special shoes for running a marathon, if you’re attempting to run at your absolute best, your shoes can help you get there.

Aside from essentials like a good fit, comfort, and the right balance of cushion and responsiveness, there’s technology to consider. Since 2016, super shoes have been part of the conversation when it comes to breaking records and setting personal bests. Now, running shoe companies are introducing carbon fiber plates into all sorts of shoes, including trail shoes and everyday trainers. So, how do you decide which marathon running shoes are the best for you?

To help you, we rounded up the best marathon running shoes and sent them to five of our regular shoe testers, who were all training for marathons. They took them to the track for weekly speed workouts, to paved and gravel roads for long runs, and eventually, to city streets on race day. After hundreds of miles down, the Nike Alphafly 2 became our favorite overall shoe for marathon running. We loved the Saucony Kinvara Pro for race day and everyday training, and we turned to the Hoka Tecton X 2 for trail marathons.

To learn more about choosing the right marathon running shoe for you, scroll down to our recommendations for how to choose, as well as our frequently asked questions. Finally, learn more about our research and testing methodology.

Best Marathon Running Shoes

Best Marathon Shoes - Warming up before a track workout

The best marathon shoes are also an excellent option for speed workouts on the track. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

Best Overall Marathon Shoe: Nike Alphafly 2 ($285)

Best Marathon Shoes - Nike Alphafly 2 - product photo

Pros:

  • Bouncy
  • Fast
  • Stable

Cons:

  • Very expensive
  • Not an everyday running shoe

If you’re chasing a personal best or any qualifying standard, the Nike Alphafly 2 is the shoe that will give you every performance edge on race day. Nike was the first running brand to introduce a super shoe, with the Vaporfly, in 2016. Nike’s Alphafly launched in 2020; the second iteration was in 2022. The third version of the Alphafly is due out in April 2024 (we’re actively testing it and will update this guide once it’s released). Compared to the Vaporfly, the Alphafly has more cushion and stability, making it ideal for longer distances like the road marathon. This shoe features two Nike Zoom Air pods in the forefoot to smooth the heel-to-toe transition and provide a feeling of forward propulsion as you push off your toes. The midsole contains Nike’s bouncy ZoomX foam cushioning and a carbon fiber place. The Alphafly’s upper is a thin, ultralight, breathable mesh that does a good job locking down the foot. All this adds up to the best overall marathon shoe we tested, as it’s fast, responsive, and lightens the load on the legs over 26.2 miles.

Our testers felt like they could launch into space in these shoes — they immediately noticed the bounce that this shoe provides. Yet, for all that bounce and cushion, this shoe feels stable. The ZoomX cushion felt soft yet springy — never mushy — making workouts and tempo runs feel fast and effortless. The only real downside of this shoe is that it is among the most expensive running shoes currently available — and will not accumulate as many miles as the typical running shoe. As a result, we recommend using it as a specialized shoe for workouts and races. If you’re new to running or aren’t training for a marathon time goal, it doesn’t make much sense to invest in this one.

[Editor’s Note: The Nike Vaporfly 3 is another popular super shoe that scored well in testing. However, it was edged out by the two super shoes below and thus excluded from this guide. Compared to the Alphafly 2, the Vaporfly is slightly lighter and better suited to shorter distances in addition to the marathon.]

Claimed Weight (U.S. men’s 10): 8.8 ounces (249 grams) | Drop: 8 millimeters | Construction: Carbon fiber plate, two Nike Zoom Air pods, Nike ZoomX foam

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Best Overall Marathon Shoe – Runner-Up: Hoka Rocket X 2 ($250)

Best Marathon Shoes - Hoka Rocket X 2 - product photo

Pros:

  • Very responsive
  • Durable (for a super shoe)
  • More versatile than Nike Alphafly

Cons:

  • Wasted on slow, easy runs

The Hoka Rocket X 2 was a favorite among our testers, particularly for its responsiveness at high speeds. Built with a carbon fiber plate layered between two pieces of highly responsive foam, this shoe achieves an ideal balance between lightweight cushion and snappiness. The mesh upper is smooth, comfortable, and provides a sufficiently locked-in feel. Hoka’s MetaRocker design supports forward movement when you hit your stride.

Our testers noted that they felt the shoe’s propulsion the most at their fastest paces. As a result, this is the type of shoe that will thrive in workouts and high-turnover efforts. It’s not your slow-plodding, everyday easy run shoe, and if you’re not the type of runner to do speed workouts or race, you’d be wasting your money on the Rocket X 2. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in this shoe, you’ll be pleased to know that our primary tester has put 200 miles on their pair and reports that they’re still holding up well.

We also like the aesthetics of this shoe — it’s a super shoe without screaming that it’s a super shoe, especially compared to the Alphafly above. Since we first published this guide, Hoka launched another road racing shoe — the Cielo X 1. We’re actively testing this shoe, but so far, our initial impression is it’s not quite on par with the Rocket X 2. Our main observation is the Cielo doesn’t provide the same responsiveness, smoothness, and explosiveness as the Rocket, especially at marathon pace and faster. We’ll continue testing the Cielo and update this guide if anything changes our initial impressions.

Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 7.7 ounces (218 grams) | Drop: 5 millimeters | Construction: Carbon fiber plate sandwiched between two layers of Hoka’s PEBA foam

Shop the Hoka Rocket X 2

Best Marathon Running Shoe for Training and Racing: Saucony Kinvara Pro ($180)

Best Marathon Shoes - Saucony Kinvara Pro - product photo

Pros:

  • Cushioned yet responsive
  • Comfortable
  • It is more versatile than a super shoe
  • Good value

Cons:

  • The long-term effects of everyday running in carbon-plated shoes are unknown
  • Limited durability

Super shoes revolutionized the running market when they launched in 2016, and now we’re seeing similar technology applied to everyday training shoes like the Saucony Kinvara Pro. This shoe incorporates a super shoe’s foam-plate-foam sandwich design with less expensive foams and a more traditional shoe upper. Although heavier than a higher-end super shoe, it’s also more practical for everyday running. As such, you have a moderately priced shoe that works for training and racing. It has the responsiveness of a carbon plate and tons of cushion, but it’s less fancy and, therefore, less expensive than the Alphafly.

The Kinvara Pro has a partial carbon plate in between layers of Saucony’s responsive yet durable PWRRUN foam, which differs from the ultra-responsive PWRRUN HG foam of some of the brand’s other shoes. This design gives the shoe the rebound you want during speed workouts and races, plus the comfort and stability you need for daily training. Testers were pleased with this shoe’s plush comfort through 130+ miles, though they were surprised to see the tread showing some wear earlier than expected. This shoe is a newer model, and we have yet to take it through multiple life cycles. Based on testing so far, our best guess is that this shoe will last about 250 miles, which is slightly below average for traditional shoes but more than you’d get from a true super shoe.

Claimed Weight: 9.5 ounces (269 grams) | Drop: 8 millimeters | Construction: Three-quarter carbon plate between two layers of Saucony’s PWRRUN foam

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Best Marathon Running Shoe for Training and Racing – Runner-Up: New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 ($140)

Best Marathon Shoe - New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 - product photo

Pros:

  • Lightweight and bouncy
  • It is more versatile than a super shoe
  • Great value

Cons:

  • Lacks the responsiveness of a carbon-plated shoe
  • Slippery on light gravel/trails
  • The squishy cushion feels less stable than shoes with a larger platform

The newest in a line of well-loved non-carbon-plated shoes, the New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 improves on the previous version and stays a budget-friendly option. The latest version shaves a few grams off the old one while claiming the same 30/24 stack height. The platform remains wide, providing increased stability, and the shoe’s volume seems to be creeping up each version while still providing a snug fit. The no-sew upper construction helps prevent hot spots and gives the shoe a sleek look.

The FuelCell Rebel offers an ultralight racing shoe for those who prefer a lower stack height and a closer-to-the-ground feel. Although the shoe lacks a carbon plate, the FuelCell foam provides plenty of bounce and energy return — the only downside being a slight tradeoff in stability. This was not an issue for our testers at the marathon distance. The shoe’s engineered mesh upper has enough structure to hug and support the foot while keeping the shoe very lightweight and breathable. The tongue is thin, and the whole shoe is quite breathable. This shoe is an excellent choice for daily running, workouts, and racing — especially for newer runners, first-time marathoners, and anyone not keen to invest hundreds of dollars in a super shoe.

Overall, this shoe’s third and fourth iterations pleasantly surprised and impressed us. It’s an excellent option for anyone looking for a workhorse shoe that works for long runs, speed workouts, daily easy runs, and race day.

Claimed Weight: 7.5 ounces (212 grams) | Drop:  6 millimeters | Construction: New Balance’s FuelCell foam

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Best Marathon Running Shoe for Training and Racing – Runner-Up: Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 ($150)

Best Marathon Shoes - Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 - product photo

Pros:

  • Ultra lightweight (lightest shoe in this guide)
  • Comfortable
  • Great minimalist racing shoe
  • Good price

Cons:

  • It is not the most responsive, especially compared to super shoes
  • Not the fastest shoe on the market

Like the Rebel above, the Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 is an excellent everyday training and marathon racing shoe for runners who prefer a more minimalist style or non-plated shoe. Made with ultralight Pebax foam in the midsole and a breathable-yet-plush engineered mesh upper, Topo’s lightest and fastest shoe is bouncy, flexible, and comfortable. While it falls short of the high-performance responsiveness of the super shoes above, it provides plenty of energy return for daily running, workouts, and even race day.

While it’s not exactly inexpensive, the Cyclone 2 is a good value for a shoe that can crossover from easy runs to races. With 28 millimeters of stack height in the heel, this shoe will also put you closer to the ground than the typical super shoe, which places 38 to 40 millimeters of cushion underfoot. It’s an excellent option for runners who don’t want a huge platform. Additionally, this is a flexible shoe that you can bend in half, which is another characteristic that differentiates it from relatively stiff carbon-plated shoes. The tradeoff is that this shoe’s flex sacrifices some of the snappiness you get from a more rigid shoe. On the other hand, this shoe helps ensure that there’s something for every type of runner in the marathon racing category.

Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 6.7 ounces (189 grams) | Drop: 5 millimeters | Construction: Pebax foam midsole

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Best Trail Marathon Running Shoe: Hoka Tecton X 2 ($225)

Best Marathon Shoes - Hoka Tecton X 2 - product photo

Pros:

  • Smooth ride
  • Lightweight and responsive
  • Comfortable cushion

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • It doesn’t last as long as traditional trail shoes

Not only has carbon plate technology merged into the everyday training category, but it’s also appearing in trail shoes, and one of our favorites is the Hoka Tecton X 2. This shoe debuted in 2022 and was updated the following year, in early spring of 2023. While it’s not the lightest trail racing shoe, it does many things well — including providing cushion, grip, and comfort — making it an excellent option for the marathon distance. In addition, this shoe has been overwhelmingly popular among iRunFar’s gear testers, and it’s found a place in both the lightweight trail running shoes guide and the cushioned trail running shoes guide.

One of our favorite things about the Tecton X 2 is its incredibly light and breathable upper, which does a fantastic job of locking down the foot with a secure and comfortable fit. Hoka’s Profly-X midsole foam offers a nice balance of cushion and rebound, and the two carbon plates, along with a slightly rockered profile under the forefoot, help propel you forward. Finally, the Vibram Megagrip Litebase outsole provides reliable grip over steep terrain and loose rocks without feeling too stiff or clunky. Our testing team has collectively put more than a thousand miles on both the original Tecton X and the Tecton X 2, and while there are more and more excellent trail racing shoes on the market every day, this one continues to take the top spot for racing the marathon distance on trails.

Check out our in-depth review of the Hoka Tecton X 2.

Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 9.1 ounces (258 grams) | Drop: 5 millimeters | Construction: ProFly-X midsole foam, two independent carbon plates, Vibram Megagrip Litebase outsole

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Comparing the Best Marathon Shoes

SHOE PRICE WEIGHT DROP
Nike Alphafly 2 $285 8.8 ounces 8 millimeters
Hoka Rocket X 2 $250 7.7 ounces 5 millimeters
Saucony Kinvara Pro $180 9.5 ounces 8 millimeters
New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 $140 7.5 ounces 6 millimeters
Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 $150 6.7 ounces 5 millimeters
Hoka Tecton X 2 $225 9.1 ounces 5 millimeters

Glossary

  • Super Shoe – A specialized running shoe built with a carbon-fiber plate sandwiched between two layers of foam. While a traditional running shoe has cushion to absorb impact, a super shoe will compress and rebound like a spring.
  • Stack Height – Refers to the amount of shoe material (cushion) between the foot and the ground.
  • Heel-to-Toe Drop – Also called “offset” or “drop,” it is the stack height difference (measured in millimeters) between a shoe’s heel and forefoot.
  • Outsole – The exposed material on the bottom of a shoe that makes contact with the ground.
  • Upper – The top of the shoe, including the entirety of the shoe above the sole.
  • Midsole – Layer(s) of foam connecting a shoe’s upper to the shoe’s outsole.
  • Toebox – The front of the shoe surrounding the ball of the foot and toes.

How to Choose Marathon Shoes

Super Shoes Versus Traditional Running Shoes

All traditional shoes have the same general build, including the upper, midsole, and outsole. This type of shoe can include a wide variety of midsole stack heights and amounts of cushion, outsole designs, and other technology. However, the key with traditional, non-plated shoes is that the midsole cushion functions to absorb shock.

The midsole on super shoes, on the other hand, acts more like a spring. Although placing springs inside shoes is technically illegal, the cushion-plate-cushion design of a super shoe has the same effect. With a carbon fiber plate between two layers of foam, this sandwich design creates a rebounding effect that leads to forward propulsion rather than simply absorbing impact. Super shoes can give runners an advantage in workouts and races, but they also change your natural gait and are not recommended for everyday running. Additionally, all the fancy tech means that super shoes are very expensive, typically ranging from $200 to $300. And on top of this, they don’t last as long as traditional running shoes.

The common question is, are super shoes effective? Yes. This has been proven since super shoes first appeared at the 2016 Olympics. However, are super shoes the best marathon shoes for you? This is a more complex topic. The short answer is that super shoes can help you achieve new bests if you have an efficient gait. If you have instabilities or inefficiencies, super shoes can lead to injuries. For a deep dive into super shoes, check out this video from author and running expert Jay Dicharry, MPT, SCS, who has worked with dozens of Olympians and elite athletes.

The bottom line is that if you invest in super shoes for a specific race, you’ll also need at least one other pair of traditional running shoes for everyday training. And, because super shoes will change how you run, you’ll want to gradually adapt to running in them to reduce the risk of getting hurt. Our testers rated the Nike Alphafly 2 as their favorite super shoe and the New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 as their favorite traditional running shoe for the marathon distance.

Comfort

Whether your goal is simply to cross the finish line or to run a personal best, a comfortable shoe will set you up for success. While some discomfort is normal in a race effort, blisters or foot pain can negatively impact your performance by forcing you to change your gait to manage pain. These issues can also have a negative psychological effect. It’s hard to stay optimistic, focus on your pacing and fueling, and push through the usual muscle pain if you’re distracted by uncomfortable shoes. Finally, uncomfortable shoes can also lengthen your recovery time if you’re sidelined post-race by foot pain, blisters, or damaged toes.

What’s comfortable to an individual runner is a matter of personal preference. Some runners like a minimalist “racing flat” type of shoe, while others want as much cushion as possible between their feet and the asphalt. Runners who overpronate will want more support, and many neutral runners with an efficient gait thrive in super shoes. At the same time, a shoe that locks down the foot securely, provides sufficient support, and doesn’t rub the heel or toes is important for all runners. Among the best marathon shoes in this guide, our testers rated Saucony Kinvara Pro as the most comfortable. Ultimately, the key with any race-day shoes is to wear them enough during training that you know they’ll feel good through twenty-six miles.

Cushioning

As with comfort, individual runners will prefer different types and amounts of cushioning — that’s why there are so many styles of running shoes available, and the best marathon shoe isn’t going to be the same for everyone! Regarding cushioning, there’s more to consider than just the stack height under your feet. The foam density will also influence how a shoe feels.

Soft foam feels plush, like clouds under your feet, which is incredibly comfortable. However, if they’re too soft, the shoes can feel mushy, flat, and not responsive. On the other hand, firmer foam might feel less plush, but it will often feel more bouncy, snappy, and responsive. That said, while some people love a bouncy shoe because it feels springy and energetic, too much bounce can feel unstable.

If you’re unsure what type of foam you like best, starting with a medium-density cushion like the Topo Cyclone 2 is a good idea. Once you figure out whether you like more bounce or more softness, you can search for shoes with that type of cushioning. Alternatively, you can rotate multiple styles — for example, the light and responsive New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 for workouts and tempo runs and a softer shoe for easy and recovery runs.

Next, you’ll want to consider the amount of cushioning you want under your feet. With more cushion comes a higher stack height that places you further from the ground and more shock absorption between your feet and the pavement. Meanwhile, less cushioning means you’ll be lower to the ground and be able to feel the pavement more, but your feet will take more of the impact from all that pavement pounding. The right amount of cushioning is up to you, but starting in the middle is a good idea if you’re unsure what you like best. The Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 is an excellent medium-cushion shoe for everyday running and marathon training.

Breathability

Generally, all modern running shoes will be breathable, although some do a better job than others. Like other running shoe features, there’s always a tradeoff between breathability, comfort, support, and durability. For example, a shoe with an extremely thin, porous, and minimalist upper will be exceptionally breathable and lightweight. However, it may not feel supportive or comfortable and won’t last as long as a shoe built with more material in its upper.

Breathability is important in overall comfort and minimizing the risk of hot spots or blisters, which can increase if your feet get too sweaty. The mesh upper of the Nike Alphafly 2 was quite breathable while still providing a good level of foot lockdown.

Best Marathon Shoes - Lacing up the Saucony Endorphin Elite

The options for marathon shoes continue to increase every year. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

Weight

Although lighter is not always better, a shoe that weighs less is generally a better option for racing. When you’re racing any distance and pushing your limits to achieve your best possible result, every second counts — and lightweight gear that saves even minor amounts of energy can make a difference.

At the same time, lightweight shoes often have tradeoffs like less cushioning or reduced durability. If you’re looking for a single shoe for training and racing, weight is less important than factors like comfort and durability. On the other hand, if you’re searching for the best marathon shoe to help you chase that personal best, you’ll want to consider weight. The Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 is the lightest shoe on our list, while the Saucony Kinvara Pro is a well-rounded option for training and racing.

Stability Versus Neutral Running Shoes

What’s the difference between stability and neutral shoes? Neutral running shoes allow the feet to move and flex naturally, while stability shoes help guide the foot into better alignment to help prevent overpronation. Our advice before buying a pair of running shoes is to have an expert at a local running specialty store examine your gait. While pronation is natural as the arch absorbs shock, overpronation can lead to aches, pains, or injuries. Stability shoes can help if you overpronate or are prone to plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, or knee pain.

Some of our favorite neutral road running shoes for marathon training and racing include the Saucony Kinvara Pro and Topo Athletic Cyclone 2. Our favorite stability shoes include the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22, Hoka Arahi 6, and Altra Paradigm 6, which you can learn more about in our best stability running shoes guide.

Training Versus Racing Shoes

Technically, you definitely don’t need more than one pair of running shoes at a time. Many great shoe options strike a balance between comfort, performance, cushioning, and durability. The Saucony Kinvara Pro is our top pick for training for and racing a marathon. Check out our best running shoe article for more favorite all-arounders.

That said, there are also advantages to keeping two or three pairs of running shoes in rotation, such as an everyday trainer, a shoe for workouts and racing, and a trail-specific shoe. It’s like keeping a toolbox for running that allows you to select the best tool for your training goals of the day. A comfortable everyday trainer will help the miles roll by on easy days or recovery runs, but it might feel clunky during a speed workout. Meanwhile, a super shoe can help you achieve your personal best in a marathon race, but would not be suitable for everyday running. Finally, trail running shoes have specialized rubber and lug patterns on the outsole for gripping dirt, rock, and mud, and they’re generally more durable, which is what you need for off-road running.

Whether you run in one pair of shoes at a time or keep a few pairs in rotation depends on your goals, preferences, and the surfaces you run on.

Best Marathon Shoes - Saucony Kinvara Pro on the track

The Saucony Kinvara Pro Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

Why You Should Trust Us

This best marathon running shoes guide was compiled with the expertise and testing experience of the iRunFar team, supplemented by extensive research by author Alli Hartz and input from seasoned running shoe experts.

We began by compiling and considering a list of nearly three dozen running shoes currently on the market that are ideal for training and racing the marathon distance. We whittled down this list and sent our top picks to our team of testers, who extensively test dozens of running shoes throughout each year. Our testers ran in the shoes for several weeks, collectively putting in hundreds of miles and providing feedback on fit, feel, stability, cushion, performance, durability, and other factors. Some of our testers took the shoes to the New York City Marathon, while others are training for the upcoming California International Marathon in December. After all of this research and testing, we further narrowed our list of the best to the shoes laid out in this guide.

Frequently Asked Questions About Marathon Shoes

What shoe is best for a marathon?

The best shoe for running a marathon depends entirely on your goals, preferences, experience level, and other factors like gait and history of injury. For new runners and first-time marathoners, a shoe that feels comfortable and boosts your confidence will be a great choice. If you have a history of plantar fasciitis or other injury, or you know you overpronate, your best will likely be a stability shoe offering a bit more support.

If you’re a seasoned runner or training for a specific time goal, you might consider a super shoe for race day. Super shoes will give runners a performance boost — however, they can change your running gait and don’t work for everyone. Therefore, ensuring you can run in super shoes without getting injured before committing to them for a race is important. Additionally, if you opt for super shoes, you’ll want to have at least one other pair of traditional running shoes in rotation for everyday easy runs.

The Nike Alphafly 2 super shoe is currently the favorite at iRunFar, though we love the New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 and the Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 as more minimalist, non-plated shoes for race day.

Best Marathon Shoes - Testing the Nike Alphafly 2

The iRunFar team named the Nike Alphafly 2 the best marathon super shoe. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

What do top marathon runners wear?

In any marathon race, elite runners almost always wear some sort of super shoe. The Nike Alphafly 2 and Nike Vaporfly 3 are two of the most popular shoes in the field at any marathon — among pros and amateurs alike — though elites will wear their sponsor’s shoe, whether that’s Saucony, Brooks, On, Adidas, Asics, New Balance, or something else.

What are super shoes?

Unlike traditional shoes, which feature an upper, midsole, and outsole, super shoes, like our favorite, the Nike Alphafly 2, have a cushion-plate-cushion sandwich design in the midsole. The key difference is that traditional shoes cushion and absorb impact, while super shoes act like a spring, sending energy back into your legs as you propel forward. The feeling is just that — forward propulsion. The shoes feel bouncy and powerful, and along with their lightweight construction, they have the effect of feeling rocket ship-fast.

Although super shoes can give runners an advantage in workouts and races, they also change your natural gait. Additionally, all of the fancy design elements like carbon plates and expensive foams mean that super shoes are very expensive — around $200 to $300 — and aren’t as durable as traditional running shoes. For these reasons, super shoes serve best as race- and workout-specific shoes that runners keep in their rotation instead of using super shoes as a singular, daily training shoe.

Do super shoes really improve performance?

Yes! This has been proven since super shoes first appeared at the 2016 Olympics. For most runners, super shoes like the Nike Alphafly 2 can help them drop their pace by a few seconds per mile, making a big difference throughout a marathon. Nevertheless, the more important question is whether super shoes are the best option for you — and this question may have a complicated answer. In short, if you already have an efficient gait, super shoes can probably help you achieve that shiny new personal best. On the flip side, if you have instabilities, super shoes could lead to injury. To learn more about super shoes and their function, check out this video from author and running expert, Jay Dicharry, MPT, SCS.

Best Marathon Shoes - Nike Alphafly 2 - Shoes on the track

The Nike Alphafly 2 provides all the performance features for speedy track workouts and marathon racing. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

How many running shoes do I need?

The number of shoes you keep at any given time depends on personal preference, budget, and space on your shoe rack. On the one hand, you really only need one pair of running shoes, and there are tons of options out there that work well for everyday running, workouts, and races, and they can even hold their own on both roads and trails. If you opt for one pair of shoes for all your running, the best bet is to pick a style that’s comfortable, has moderate cushioning, decent grip, and proven durability. This guide has several options for shoes that will perform well both on race day and for everyday training, including the Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 and the New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4.

At the other end of the spectrum are the gear testers at iRunFar. Because we run almost every day and love to study, test, and examine the features and technology of each shoe style, many of us end up with too many shoes to count. There are specialized shoes for everything: plush cushioned shoes for everyday easy runs, springy and responsive workout shoes, super shoes for racing, trail shoes, waterproof shoes for snow and mud, and so on.

While trying different kinds of running shoes is fun, this can become an expensive habit. Realistically, most dedicated runners will do well with a few pairs of shoes in rotation at any given time. A pair of everyday training shoes that can perform well on roads, gravel, and light dirt, a dedicated pair for workouts and racing, and a pair of trail shoes that can stand up to more rugged terrain is an excellent place to start.

How do I know when my running shoes are worn out?

The easiest way to know when to replace your shoes is to track the mileage you put on them. This is easy to do if you record your runs on an app like Strava, which also lets you add your shoes and automatically record the mileage you put on the shoes. Most traditional shoes will last anywhere from 300 to 500 miles, while a super shoe like the Nike Alphafly 2 will probably wear out around 200 miles. Knowing this, you can start periodically examining the wear and tear on your shoes as you approach this range. Keep an eye out for outsole tread that’s beginning to look worn smooth, tears or holes in the shoe’s upper, and a packed-out or generally less supportive feeling from the midsole. For example, I know that my go-to trail shoes, the very-cushioned Hoka Speedgoat 5, are getting worn out when I begin to feel rocks under my feet.

Best Marathon Shoes - New Balance FuelCell Rebel V3 - on the track in snow

iRunFar’s Alli Hartz tests potential marathon shoes on a snowy day at the track. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

How long before my marathon race should I get new shoes?

This is a little bit of an “it depends” answer. First, and most importantly, don’t get brand-new shoes immediately before your race. If you’re simply replacing a style you’ve been running in with a fresh pair for race day, you only need to give yourself enough time to break in the new shoe. Assuming it’s one you’re familiar with, you likely know best how long it takes you to break in a new pair, and it could be as short as a week or two before your race. On the other hand, if you’re switching styles, you’ll want to give yourself at least a few weeks to run in your new shoes through easy runs, workouts, and long runs, and to make sure they continue to provide an excellent fit and sufficient comfort as you break them in. Some shoes can feel good at first and cause issues later, so you need to give yourself enough time to get through the break-in period and ensure they still feel good. It’s worth noting that super shoes like the Nike Alphafly 2 will wear out more quickly than traditional shoes, so you don’t want to do too much in them before race day.

A final consideration is monitoring the shoes you’ve been wearing through your training block to ensure they don’t wear out right as your race day approaches. If you’ve been wearing the same pair of shoes for several weeks or months while training, estimate the number of miles you’ll put on those shoes before your race and plan when to purchase a fresh pair if needed.

What are the best marathon shoes for beginners?

The best marathon shoes for beginners are ones that feel comfortable and fast. This is probably a moderately cushioned, lightweight shoe that’s bouncy yet stable and fits your foot well. While some beginners or first-time marathon runners may have a time goal, the best way to set yourself up for success is to wear comfortable shoes that give you confidence. A shoe like the Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 provides a reasonable amount of cushion, has good durability, and is quite comfortable, making it an excellent option for many beginner runners. When you’re running your first marathon, you want to be able to soak up the energy and take in the full experience — this is difficult to do if you’re experiencing hot spots or pain in your feet!

Best Marathon Shoes - Nike Alphafly 2 - Standing on the track

The Nike Alphafly edged out all the other super shoe options for marathons. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

What are the best marathon shoes for slow runners?

There are tons of running shoes that can work well for “slow” runners. While super shoes are not out of the question for slower runners, they may not be worth the investment if you’re not racing toward a specific time goal or a qualifying standard. Instead, comfort may be more important.

Shoes like the New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 or Topo Cyclone 2 could be worth considering since they are both comfortable and lightweight shoes that perform well at the marathon distance. Additionally, a partially plated shoe like the Saucony Kinvara Pro could be a good option since it provides a good balance of responsiveness and comfort. You may find the right match for your needs in our roundup of the best road running shoes. Many of those that guide would work well for everyday running and marathon running.

Call for Comments

  • Do you train for and race marathons? What’s your go-to shoe?
  • Have you run in super shoes? Have they impacted your running performance?
Back to Our Top Marathon Running Shoes Picks

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Alli Hartz

Alli Hartz is a member of the gear review team at iRunFar. She’s been writing about outdoor gear, outdoor adventure, and adventure travel for 10 years. Aside from iRunFar, Alli contributes gear reviews and adventure stories to Switchback Travel, Travel Oregon, and other outlets. She also works as a ski guide during the winter season and has dabbled in run-skiing on the Cascade volcanoes. Alli is based in Bend, Oregon, where she loves to run from her front door up into the Three Sisters Wilderness.