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Famed Olympian Ted Corbitt once said: “Long-distance runners have to be very strange people. You have to really want to do it. You don’t have to win or beat someone, you just have to get through the thing. That’s the sense of victory. The sense of self-worth.” Corbitt hit the nail on the head; to be a long-distance runner, you have to be somewhat of a unique creature — someone who enjoys pushing themselves to the brink of exhaustion, and beyond.
While long-distance runners need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, comfort is everything for a long-distance running shoe. There’s perhaps nothing worse than encountering shoe issues during your long run. Ailments such as blisters, hot spots or rubbing can turn a leisurely long run into a torturous nightmare and even cause long-term injuries such as plantar fasciitis. Here’s what you need to know about long-distance running shoes to ensure you won’t encounter any issues.
What to look for in long-distance running shoes
David Salas, physical therapist at Alta Orthopaedics and elite runner, says “the number one driver of what seems to work is actually comfort.” Everyone I’ve spoken to agrees with Salas. How a shoe feels is usually the best indicator of a good shoe. Outside of comfort, a few characteristics make certain running shoes better suited for the demands of long-distance running. A shoe’s cushioning level can help increase comfort for long runs by decreasing the perceived ground impact of each footstrike. Cushioning is measured by how much foam is in the midsole and how firm or soft that foam is. Preferences in cushioning will vary from runner to runner. However, it does help to understand if you like a super soft shoe such as the adidas Ultraboost 22 or a firmer shoe like Asics’ Gel-Kayano 28.
It’s important to find a shoe with some built-in support. As we run long distances and our muscles start to fatigue, our form begins to degrade. Having a shoe with support can help delay fatigue and aid in better running form when you’re tired. Avoid buying a running shoe that’s overly flexible and bendy. Shoes with some sort of structure in both the sole and the heel counter are ideal.
How often should I buy new long-distance running shoes?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a universally accepted rule on when you need to replace your running shoes. Some have tried to quantify the lifespan of a shoe by suggesting a running shoe should be replaced every 250 to 300 miles. While it helps to have a set deadline, it varies from brand to brand and even from model to model depending on the runner. Things such as a runner’s weight and gait as well as the types of running surfaces the athlete is moving on all affect how long a shoe will hold up.
I’ve found the best way to determine if it’s time to replace a pair of shoes is that if you find yourself asking that question, it’s usually time. Aside from that, visual cues are a great way to tell if you need to replace styles. Holes in the upper, uneven outsole tread wear and excessive creasing in the midsole foam are key indicators it’s time to retire your shoes.
How to find the right shoes for marathon running
When it comes to finding a shoe for marathon race day, it’s important to find one you can trust won’t have any issues during the race. This means testing them out in training to assure there won’t be any race day problems. If you’re looking to put your best foot forward and beat a personal record, every ounce matters, so it’s important to look for a shoe that’s under nine ounces for men and 8.5 ounces for women. Carbon fiber shoes such as the Nike Alphafly Next% and Asics’ Metaspeed Sky are great for marathon runners. Once you’ve found a shoe you can trust, I suggest limiting its use, so it’s fresh and not worn down come race day.
I’ve been a long-distance runner and distance running coach for over 25 years. I’ve been testing running shoes for the past six years to find the best running shoes on the market. No matter what long distance means to you — whether it’s 5k or 50k on the road or trail — I’ve put running silhouettes from each brand to the test to find the best long-distance running shoes. Shop these marathon shoes below.
Top Long-Distance Running Shoes
- Best Overall: Hoka One One Mach 4 Running Shoes
- Best for Marathon Racing: Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% Running Shoes
- Best for Narrow Feet: Brooks Glycerin 19 Running Shoes
- Most Comfortable: Adidas Ultraboost 22 Running Shoes
- Best Ultrarunning Trail Shoe: Salomon Ultra Glide Running Shoes
- Best Stability: Asics Gel-Kayano 28 Running Shoes
- Best for Speed: Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 Running Shoes
- Best for Wide Feet: New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v11 Running Shoes
- Best Zero Drop Shoes: Altra Paradigm 6 Running Shoes
- Best for Heavy Runners: Hoka One One Bondi 7 Running Shoes
Related Story: The 12 Best Winter Running Shoes
Hoka One One Mach 4 Running Shoes
Top long-distance running shoes should be lightweight and offer ample cushioning, comfort and durability. No other running shoe embodies these four qualities better than the Hoka One One Mach 4. Hoka made some significant updates over the last model, mostly in the midsole. The updated blended ProFly midsole feels much softer, lighter and more responsive than the midsole found in previous versions. Coming in at an astonishing 8.0 ounces for men and 7.1 ounces for women, the Mach 4 packs a surprisingly cushioned ride for such a lightweight shoe, giving it the ability to throw down the pace for those long marathon runs. For those familiar with Hoka, the Mach 4 offers the supportive cushioning of the Clifton 8 and lightweight speed of the Rincon 3. On top of all that, its $130 price point makes it a real value for what you get compared to other shoes these days , making it one of the best all-around running shoes and Hoka running styles you can buy.
What customers say: “These were my first pair of Hokas. I was hesitant to buy at first because they’re a little bulkier than what I prefer. I went ahead and purchased them because of the 30-day money-back guarantee. After my first run, I fell in love. I never knew a shoe could be so comfortable. I even took a whole minute off my fastest mile! Now, I don’t think I’ll ever buy a different brand of running shoe. Can’t believe I waited so long to buy these!
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% Running Shoes
Best Shoes for Marathon Racing
If ever there was a GOAT (Greatest of All Time) marathon racing shoe, Nike’s Air Zoom Alphafly Next% would be it. Eliud Kipchoge immortalized the shoes by wearing them when he became the first person to break two hours in the marathon. Now referred to as a “super shoe,” the Alphafly Next% is packed with enough innovative tech to make Tim Cook envious. A full-length carbon fiber plate sandwiched between Nike’s highest rebounding foam (ZoomX) with two Nike Air Bags in the forefoot simulates what running on a trampoline would feel like. Each pounding footstrike is softened with 39 millimeters of cushioning under the heel and then transferred to catapult you forward. The faster you run, the more forward energy the shoe produces. To say this top Nike running shoe offers a unique experience is an understatement. Some absolutely love it, some find it insecure and too unstable. Yet, it’s a shoe every runner should try at least once. Those who it works for typically credit it for faster race times.
What customers say: “The Nike Zoom Alphaflys make it feel like you’re walking on a very bouncy trampoline. Fun fact: This is my fifth pair of Nike Zooms, and while they are all bouncy, the Alphaflys are next-level bouncy. You feel like you just want to run more, faster and harder. Best sneakers I’ve worn. Only downside is they look a bit like moonshoes.”
Brooks Glycerin 19 Running Shoes
Best for Narrow Feet
Thanks to Brook’s softest midsole, DNA Loft, the Glycerin 19 takes long-run comfort to the next level. As Brooks’ most cushioned neutral running shoe, you’ll be rewarded with a thick, but not overwhelming one-piece midsole with a 38 millimeter/28 millimeter stack height. Despite the thick midsole, a segmented outsole provides just enough flexibility for smooth transitions. I found the Glycerin 19 to run on the narrow side and customer reviews agree, making it a great option for those with narrow feet. They also come in a narrow (2A) special width option for an even narrower-fitting shoe.
What customers say: “Love, love, love this running shoe. The cushion is fantastic. I attribute my recent ability to increase mileage to these shoes. They feel lighter than they are. For long runs, intervals, speed workouts and cross-training, these are my new go-tos. I’ll be ordering at least two more pairs. (For reference, I was maxing out around six miles a week because my feet, ankles and legs were all screaming in pain. I slipped these on about a month ago, and now I have zero pain anymore and am averaging closer to 15 miles a week super comfortably.) Thanks Brooks! I’m hooked!”
Adidas Ultraboost 22 Running Shoes
Most Comfortable Long-Distance Running Shoes
It’s no surprise that the adidas Ultraboost 22 is one of the brand’s bestselling shoes, but it also happens to be one of its most comfortable pairs, too. Popular among sneakerheads for its aesthetics, the style is also beloved by runners who enjoy a plush underfoot ride thanks to the shoe’s Boost midsole.
The downside of all the cushioning is weight. The Ultraboost comes in at a hefty 11.7 ounces for men and 10.1 ounces for women, so it’s best to save these for runs when comfort, not pace, is a priority. To add a little stability to the otherwise flexible midsole, a firm piece of plastic called LEP Torsion System is placed in the area. A Primeknit upper that’s as form-fitting and comfortable as a pair of socks assures your feet are happy even during the longest of runs. If you’re between sizes, I suggest sizing up, as most customers agree these run a tad small.
What customers say: “I am a running newbie, but the Ultraboost 22 made my initial running satisfactory. The comfort of the Primeknit upper and the Boost midsole is top-notch. Energy return is optimal as well! You can never go wrong with the Adidas Ultraboost 22!”
Salomon Ultra Glide Running Shoes
Best Ultrarunning Trail Shoes
Salomon hands down makes some of the best trail running shoes you can buy, however when it comes to maximum cushioning trail shoes, they aren’t a brand that comes to mind. That all changed when Salomon introduced the Ultra Glide, a super comfortable, thick-soled, maximum cushioned trail running shoe. It features a thick 38 millimeter/32 millimeter stack height made with Salomon’s Energy Surge midsole, a lightweight and bouncy foam that combines a traditional EVA with Olefin for one heck of an enjoyable ride. Out-of-the-box comfort is on-point. The slightly relaxed last of most Salomon trail shoes means more volume and width that accommodate a wider range of feet sizes and allow for foot swelling during those extra-long-distance outings. Despite all that soft cushioning underfoot, the Ultra Glide weighs in at an astonishing featherweight of 9.2 ounces for men and 7.7 ounces for women, a fraction of the weight of most maximum-cushioned trail shoes. It’s not the best through really technical and demanding rocky terrain, but if long distances over mellow dirt, crushed rocks or even the occasional pavement are your jam, these are for you.
What customers say: “I’ve waited for a “max” cushion shoe from Salomon for awhile now, and wow, the brand delivered! I used this shoe for everything from 50k hardpack/rocky races to lush singletrack 100 milers and everything in between. The grip, although not super luggy, handles mud, rocks, dirt and even a bit of pavement if necessary. This shoe was a long time coming, and you nailed it, Salomon.”
Asics Gel-Kayano 28 Running Shoes
Runners who need stability for long-run outings should look to Asics’ Gel-Kayano 28. Model after model, the Kayano remains one of the best stability shoes on the market, and the 28th version is one of the brand’s best running shoes yet. Historically known for offering a firmer ride, the underfoot cushioning has softened up over the years. It features Asics’ famous Gel cushioning technology in the rearfoot and forefoot for soft landings and springy take-offs. A redesigned heel counter stabilizes your heel while the Trusstic System technology (a firm piece of plastic) keeps the structural integrity for a stable, supportive ride. A slightly altered construction under the forefoot and heel called 3D Space Construction accounts for differences between mens’ and women’s strides for a gender-specific fit and feel.
What customers say: “I’ve been wearing Asics since the early ’90s when I ran in college. In my opinion, this may be the label’s best shoe yet. Fit and stability are similar to previous Asics Kayanos, but the cushioning feels better. The toe box is slightly modified from the Kayano 27, which I found to be more comfortable. This is the shoe I recommend to friends who want support and cushioning but don’t want a shoe that feels too bulky.”
Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 Running Shoes
Best for Speed
Not all long runs are slow and easy. For those marathon-paced runs or long tempos, the Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 is just the ticket to get you through. The ride is bouncy and fun thanks to a responsive Ultralight PWRRUN PB midsole with a full-length nylon plate. Toe-offs are effortless with Saucony’s SpeedRoll Technology, as it propels you forward with each footstrike. The upgraded engineered mono-mesh upper is super comfortable and breathable for those long steamy runs. A touch of soft suede is added for additional comfort with anti-split laces for a tighter locked-in fit.
What customers say: “I’m training for my first marathon and was looking for more long-distance durability. I purchased the scarlet Endorphin Speed 2 and have not regretted it whatsoever. Do not let that plush look fool you — these shoes are incredibly responsive and made to elevate your running game. I’ve enjoyed the springy feeling they give me and cannot wait for the miles to come.
New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v11 Running Shoes
Best for Wide Feet
When you have wide feet, most shoes squeeze them together. Some may be able to bear this for short distances, but for long distances, when your feet start to swell, it can affect your run and become unbearable. Ease that tension with New Balance’s Fresh Foam 1080v11, aka one of the best New Balance shoes, in wide or X-wide options. Width aside, the 1080v11 is one of the most comfortable running shoes you can buy. Enjoy New Balance’s Fresh Foam midsole underfoot, which delivers a soft yet energetic ride plus impact absorption to help ease any back pain or pain associated with plantar fasciitis. The comfort extends throughout the synthetic mesh upper that features a supple and secure-fitting bootie upper. If you’re tired of squeezing your feet into narrow running shoes, give them a break and some much-needed space with these everyday trainers.
What customers say: Good looking, comfortable, fit well on my wide feet! I have arthritis in my toes, and these shoes do not squeeze the heck out of them. When I take them off, there is no pain that I usually feel when I ‘release’ my feet from too skinny shoes…”
Altra Paradigm 6 Running Shoes
Best Zero Drop Shoes
Most running shoes have a slight decrease in height from heel to toe. This decrease is called drop and measured in millimeters. Altra running shoes, on the other hand, are completely flat from heel to toe, giving a more natural running experience. The Paradigm 6 is Altra’s max cushioned stability shoe. Made with Altra’s softest midsole, Ego Max, it features a guidance rail that helps position the foot through the gait cycle Despite being classified as a stability shoe, it’s not overbearing and perfectly suitable for neutral runners. The built-in support is a bonus for those really long runs when your feet start to fatigue and your form degrades. However, perhaps the biggest draw of Altra is its signature flared toe box that matches the natural shape of the foot and allow for toes to comfortably splay.
What customers say: “Love this shoe! I had the Paradigm 5 and liked it, however this is a great improvement. I’ve been running for years and started using zero stop about a year ago, and it has helped me so much with my knees. I have the Escalante Racer and the Torin 5. I like the Paradigm for everyday training. I am a large runner; I’m 6’3 and weigh about 220 pounds. I’m going to run my next marathon in the Paradigm 6. Believe me, I have a closet full of different brand shoes, and I always go back to my Altras because of the comfort and fit . Also, Altra customer service is unbelievable!”
Hoka One One Bondi 7 Running Shoes
Best for Heavy Runners
Heavier runners require a thick-soled shoe with durable cushioning. Anything less and the midsole foam will prematurely compress and flatten out. As Hoka’s most cushioned running shoe, the Bondi 7 is a durable maximum cushioned shoe built for comfort and designed to withstand long run abuse. To aid in smooth transitions, the forefoot has a slight upward curve that creates a rocking effect as you move from heel to toe, while 40 millimeters of soft EVA foam sits under your heel.
The wide platform and roomy upper make the Bondi 7 ideal for long days on your feet, whether running or standing around. As one of the most cushioned running shoes on the market, the Bondi 7 is a massive-sized shoe. So much so that smaller, lighter runners might find all that cushioning to be a bit bulky. But for heavier runners who find they blow through most shoes too quickly, the Bondi 7 is perfect. As a side note, for those that work standing on their feet all day, the Bondi 7 makes a perfect workday shoe to eliminate foot aches and pain.
What customers say: “I’ve gone through countless running shoes in the past 20+ years, but these shoes are the absolute best ones ever. I have knee issues and these shoes literally erase all pain to the point where I can run without any pain. The fit is perfect and these hold very well to everything I’ve thrown at them. I’ve decided to buy Hokas only from now on. Pure excellence!”
Meet the Author
Cory Smith has been a runner and running coach for over 25 years. He is the founder of Run Your Personal Best, an online running coaching business that has helped hundreds of runners tracking distances from 800 meters to 100 miles hit personal records. Smith holds a USA Track & Field Level 1 and 2 Endurance Certification, three Maryland State records and is a two-Time NCAA Division National championships qualifier — plus holds a personal best of a 4:03 mile and 8:05 3k. Additionally, Smith is a running and fitness journalist whose work has also appeared in publications including Runner’s World, Men’s Journal, Muscle & Fitness, Outside and Trail Runner.
Meet the Expert
David Salas is a physical therapist at Alta Orthopaedics in Santa Barbara, CA. He’s held a doctorate of Physical Therapy from Western University of Health Science since 2019. He has experience in orthopedics and sports, with a niche in running, and sub-specialty certifications in instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization as well as cupping therapy and strength and conditioning. In his free time, he’s also an avid runner, having previously competed in Cross Country, Track & Field at his alma mater Saint Mary’s College of California.