The Best Marathon Running Shoes For Training And Racing

Recent updates

I changed my selection of the best carbon plate shoe for marathons from the Nike Vaporfly 3 to the Nike Alphafly 3.

There are many times in life when seeking out the cheapest option is a good idea. Buying marathon running shoes to train and race in is not one of them. Even a beginner marathon training plan will require you to log around 200 total miles, while more experienced runners will chalk up more than 600 miles, so it’s smart to opt for some of the best running shoes to make all those miles more enjoyable.

What defines a great marathon shoe will differ from runner to runner, though it’s fair to say that the best carbon plate running shoes have become the go-to option for many marathoners. I’ve included a couple of carbon options below as part of a wide range of options to suit all comers, from first-timers looking to complete the course to marathon veterans aiming for a PR.

How I Test Marathon Running Shoes

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I am an obsessive runner who has completed 12 marathons and I have a PR of 2hr 28min. With aspirations to improve that time, I usually run between 45 and 70 miles a week when training for a marathon, which allows for a lot of shoe testing. I aim to run at least 30 miles in a shoe before reviewing it, including a range of training sessions at different speeds and races when possible.

The Quick List

This list highlights my top picks for several key categories of marathon running shoes, and you can use them to click through to my full review of each shoe.

The Best Marathon Running Shoes

Best for beginners

Brooks Glycerin 20

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)
Best for beginners

Specifications

RRP: $160 / £150
Weight: 11oz / 314g (UK 9)
Stack: 34mm heel, 24mm forefoot
Drop: 10mm

Reasons to buy

+
Exceptionally comfortable
+
Long-lasting outsole

Reasons to avoid

-
A bit heavy 
-
Better value elsewhere

The Brooks Glycerin line has always prioritized comfort and the latest version is still outstanding on that front, but what makes me rate it even higher as a marathon option is that the new nitrogen-infused DNA Loft v3 midsole makes it a little bouncier. That extra bounce becomes more pronounced the longer you run, and as a result the Glycerin 20 is a superb marathon cruiser for new runners.

One thing that might put newer runners off is the high price, but given that it’s a shoe that can carry you through hundreds of miles of training and be enjoyable to use on race day, I’d argue it offers good value. That said, if it is too expensive for you, my next pick might fit the bill better.

Read more in my Brooks Glycerin 20 review

Best value

Puma Velocity Nitro 2Editor’s Choice 2022

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)
Best value

Specifications

RRP: $120 / £105
Weight: 9.5oz / 271g (UK 9)
Stack: 34mm heel, 24mm forefoot
Drop: 10mm

Reasons to buy

+
Great value
+
Bouncy, comfortable midsole
+
Outsole grip is excellent

Reasons to avoid

-
Not as stable as other shoes
-
Upper can make your foot hot

The Puma Velocity Nitro 2 is a terrific cushioned running shoe that works well for pretty much all kinds of running. The nitrogen-infused midsole foam delivers a comfortable and bouncy ride that’s great for cruising through training runs but would also suit marathon running, especially if you’re a first-timer or not too obsessed about time.

It also has a fantastic outsole that grips well on light trails as well as the road, which increases the shoe’s durability. In short, there’s very little to fault on the Nitro 2 and it would be among my top picks even if it cost $150/£140-plus like many other cushioned options, so it’s a veritable bargain at $120/£100.

Read more in my Puma Velocity Nitro 2 review

Best carbon plate shoe

Best carbon plate shoe

Specifications

RRP: $285 / £285
Weight: 7.7oz / 2209g (UK 9)
Stack: 40mm heel, 32mm forefoot
Drop: 8mm

Reasons to buy

+
Lightest Alphafly yet
+
Bouncy ride
+
Smooth transition onto toes

Reasons to avoid

-
One of the most expensive shoes

The Nike Alphafly 3 is light, bouncy, propulsive and comfortable over long distances. It’s everything you want in a modern racing shoe, and while expensive, it’s the best shoe you can get if you have designs on setting a PB in the marathon.

It’s actually a great shoe for racing at any distance I found, but the way it helps you lock into a race pace so it almost feels like you’re cruising is especially beneficial for marathons. The updates Nike made to the third version of the shoe make it lighter and more aggressive than the Alphafly 2, though the 2 is still a great marathon racer in its own right if you see it in sales. The Nike Vaporfly 3 is also a great marathon option, as are some of the best carbon plate running shoes from other brands, but right now the Alphafly 3 reigns over all.

Read more in my Nike Alphafly 3 review

Best for training and racing

Saucony Endorphin Speed 3Editor’s Choice 2022

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)
Best for marathon training and racing

Specifications

RRP: $160 / £165
Weight : 8.5oz / 240g (UK 9)
Stack: 36mm heel, 28mm forefoot
Drop: 8mm

Reasons to buy

+
Smooth, fast and efficient ride
+
More stable than past versions
+
Comfortable on easy runs

Reasons to avoid

-
Not vastly different from predecessor

The Saucony Endorphin Speed has been a favorite of mine ever since I tested the first version of the shoe. The line offers a comfortable yet quick ride thanks to the nylon plate and bouncy foam in its midsole. It’s very nearly as quick as a carbon shoe while being better suited to daily training runs, and if you want one shoe to log all your training in and then use to smash a fast time on race day, it’s the best choice.

While the Endorphin Speed 2 was almost exactly the same as the Speed 1, more changes have been made on the Speed 3, which has a wider base and winglets on its plate to create more stability, and a wider fit to accommodate those who found the past versions of the shoe too narrow.

Read more in my Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 review

Saucony Tempus stability running shoe

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)

Best stability shoe

Best stability shoe

Specifications

RRP: $160 / £165
Weight: 9.8oz / 279g (UK 9)
Stack: 36.5mm heel, 28.5mm forefoot
Drop: 8mm

Reasons to buy

+
Versatile
+
Stability features are subtle
+
Comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
Not a looker
-
Cheaper options available

With a soft and bouncy ride and a fairly lightweight design, the Tempus feels different from most stability shoes, and it’s a great daily trainer for any runner to consider. Even as a neutral runner I rank the Tempus among my favorite running shoes thanks to its versatile, stable ride.

The springy PWRRUN PB foam in the midsole is framed by a firmer material to guide your foot into a neutral position on the run, creating the perfect balance of support and fun, and the Tempus is a versatile shoe that works well for easy runs, tempo efforts and longer races like the marathon.

Read more in my Saucony Tempus review

Most comfortable

​​Asics Gel-Kayano 30

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)
Most comfortable

Specifications

RRP: $160 / £180
Weight: 11.1oz / 315g (UK 9)
Stack: 40mm heel, 30mm forefoot
Drop: 10mm

Reasons to buy

+
Comfortable
+
Softer than previous versions
+
Stable despite high stack

Reasons to avoid

-
Cheaper options available

Although the Asics Gel-Kayano 30 is a stability shoe it provides this support in a subtle way. I found it a comfortable shoe to use for long runs, even as a neutral runner. If you’re just looking for the most comfortable pick to get you through a marathon, with no real regard for time, then the Gel-Kayano 30 is an excellent option. That’s true whether you overpronate or not because come the last few miles of a marathon most runners benefit from extra support from their shoe as their form starts to break down. 

Most of the stability is delivered through a wide base and sidewalls of foam that your foot sits within, which means the shoe isn’t wobbly, despite the high stack of cushioning it has. That cushioning is soft, but not squishy, so it’s comfortable over long miles and delivers a little bounce to help the distance tick by more smoothly.

Read more in my Asics Gel-Kayano 30 review

Most comfortable carbon plate shoe

Saucony Endorphin Pro 3Editor’s Choice 2022

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)
Most comfortable carbon plate shoe

Specifications

RRP: $225 / £210
Weight : 7.65oz / 217g (UK 9)
Stack: 39.5mm heel, 31.5mm forefoot
Drop: 8mm

Reasons to buy

+
Bouncy and comfortable midsole
+
Often in sales
+
Efficient ride from Speedroll rocker

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the fastest carbon shoe

There’s not really such a thing as a beginner carbon shoe, since they are all expensive and a bit unstable, but the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 has a more natural ride than many super-shoes and is more comfortable than the most aggressive racing options. As such it’s a great first carbon shoe to try, and always a more comfortable and stable option to consider if you’ve found you don’t get on with the likes of Nike’s Vaporfly and Alphafly.

The Endorphin Pro 3 is still a fast shoe, too, with an efficient ride powered by the combination of the springy PWRRUN PB foam, a carbon plate, and Saucony’s Speedroll rocker, which moves you onto your forefoot swiftly with each stride. I’ve also found the Endorphin Pro 3 comfortable to use for a lot of training runs, as well as being a great racing pick, and because it’s an older shoe (the Endorphin Pro 4 is due to come out soon) it’s often available in sales.

Read more in my Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 review

Best racing flat

Adidas Adizero Adios 8

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)
Best racing flat for the marathon

Specifications

RRP: $130 / £120
Weight: 7.65oz / 217g (UK 9)
Stack: 28mm heel, 20mm forefoot
Drop: 8mm

Reasons to buy

+
Light
+
Improved midsole foams
+
Grips well
+
Good value

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks propulsion of a super-shoe
-
Doesn’t protect legs as much as others

Those who have no interest in using a high-stack, carbon-plated super-shoe can still find more traditional racing options, and the Adios 8 is my pick of these because it brings some of the modern features of racers into a low-profile shoe. 

It has Adidas’s Lightstrike Pro foam under the forefoot and a plastic shank that runs from midfoot to forefoot to add more punch to your toe-off. The foam at the heel is a lightweight EVA called Lightstrike 2.0, which is comfortable enough to cushion your legs through a marathon, if much less protective than a higher-stack shoe.

The benefits of the Adios 8’s low stack are that it feels stable and grounded, and it’s nice and light too. However, the design won’t deliver the efficiency gains you get from the top carbon plate running shoes

Read more in my Adidas Adizero Adios 8 review

Best marathon shoe without a plate

Hoka Mach 5Editor’s Choice 2022

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)
A great-value marathon racing option without a plate

Specifications

RRP: $140 / £130
Weight: 229g / 8.1oz (UK 9)
Stack: Not given
Drop: 5mm

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight
+
Comfortable, versatile ride
+
Good value

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks the propulsion of a plate
-
Outsole wears quickly

Carbon plate racing shoes have become the norm for marathons these days, but if you’re hankering for a more traditional shoe that can still help you achieve a fast time, the Hoka Mach 5 is the stand-out option. It’s light, it has enough cushioning to protect your legs over a long race, and the smooth ride makes holding fast paces for extended periods feel that little bit easier. It’s one of my top long run options in training, even though I do prefer a carbon super-shoe for race day.

It’s a great daily trainer as well, even if the exposed outsole will wear down faster than a rubber one. It’s also cheaper than plated training shoes from other brands, let alone the top carbon racers, which are mostly over $200/£200.

Read more in my Hoka Mach 5 review

Best for road-to-trail

Hoka Tecton X2

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)
Best road-to-trail marathon shoe

Specifications

RRP: $220 / £185
Weight: 9.3oz / 264g (US 9.5)
Stack: 32mm heel, 27mm forefoot (M), 30mm heel, 25mm forefoot (W)
Drop: 5mm

Reasons to buy

+
Improved upper
+
Fast, comfortable ride
+
Grips on variety of trails

Reasons to avoid

-
Similar to Tecton X
-
Rise in price

The Tecton X2 is a trail-running shoe that has twin carbon plates running in parallel down the length of its midsole. These plates deliver some of the pop of the full plates used in road shoes, while still flexible enough to keep the shoe comfortable and stable on uneven trails.

While the Tecton X2 is primarily designed for trail events, I found that the outsole grips well on paved surfaces as well. The ride is smooth and fast on both road and trails, making it a top option for mixed terrain marathons. It’s expensive, though, and if your mixed-terrain race contains very gentle trails it might be worth looking at a road racing shoe with a better-than-average outsole, like the Puma Deviate Nitro Elite 2.

Read more in my Hoka Tecton X2 review

Best Marathon Running Shoes Buyer’s Guide

What makes a good marathon running shoe?

There are two essential qualities to look for in marathon running shoes. One is cushioning – 26.2 miles is a long way to run and your legs need all the protection they can get. 

The second is speed. This can be achieved with a lightweight design or an especially bouncy foam, or a carbon plate.

What should first-time marathon runners look for in a marathon shoe?

If your goal is to make it through your marathon in one piece and enjoy the experience as much as possible, the first of those qualities above should take precedence – so a comfortable, cushioned shoe is your best bet. This won’t be as fast as opting for a lightweight carbon plate super-shoe, but a cushioned shoe will be more stable and protect your body better, while also being enjoyable to use for lots of training as well.

What shoes do the fastest marathon runners wear?

Carbon plate running shoes have become the norm for the elites and ambitious amateurs chasing fast times. These combine the plate with a high stack of bouncy and lightweight foam to create a propulsive ride that also goes easier on your legs, helping you to stay fresh later into marathons.

The best carbon plate running shoes certainly can help you log a quick time, but they are generally quite unstable, very expensive, and not as durable as standard cushioned running shoes.

How often should you wear your carbon plate running shoes during training?

Carbon plate running shoes don’t have the same lifespan as normal running shoes so you may wonder if you should break the cardinal rule  – never run in something new on the day – and save them for the race. We recommend using it for one or two long runs in training to make sure it is comfortable so you avoid any nasty surprises on race day. 

Do you need a shoe rotation to run a marathon?

You can do all your training and race in one shoe, but a shoe rotation is a good idea for a few reasons. One is that you can get different types of shoes to suit different types of run – a faster racing shoe for speed sessions and the marathon itself, plus a cushioned shoe for easy training and recovery runs, for example.

Using a rotation also extends the life of your running shoes. One of the key recommendations for how to look after running shoes is to let them dry naturally. A marathon training plan will schedule back-to-back runs so if you’re caught in the rain, or run one evening and again the next morning, the shoes may not have enough of a chance to air it out properly.

Also, if you just use one shoe it might wear out completely before you even get to the race with all the miles you cover during training. Using different shoes also places slightly different demands on your body during runs, which can help reduce the risk of the overuse injuries that are common among marathon runners.