What shoes do half marathon runners wear? Are there better shoes for a marathon or even a road ultra? Let’s talk about the best long distance running shoes for your foot.
After 27,000 miles of running I have some opinions and luckily for you I’ve also been able to run in a wide variety of running shoe models, brands and styles. Providing me with extra knowledge to help you find the shoe that’s going to feel great with plenty of cushion, structure and lifespan to make it through training and race day.
Beyond my own experiences, I’m lucky to have worked with thousands of long-distance runners who have shared their opinions with me as well.
More than anything else you need a shoe that FEELS GOOD TO YOU.
In this article we are going to look at what makes a good long distance running shoe from pounding the pavement for a half marathon to a trail race, and then my specific shoe recommendations.
Why It’s Important to Have Good Long Distance Running Shoes
The right running shoe matters so much because over the many, many miles you put in, it’s really easy to have issues like ankle pain while running or knee pain while running.
Not simply from weak hips and glutes, but from shoes that aren’t right for you! In fact, wearing the wrong type of running shoes is the top cause of foot pain when running.
A few of the common things we’re trying to find in a good distance shoe.
- has enough room in the toe box for your feet to spread and potentially swell over the miles
- allows you to change the lacing to provide more room or lock in your heel
- keeps your arch from falling inward which places pressure on knees and ankles
What To Look For In Long Distance Running Shoes?
When considering a pair of running shoes for 13.1 miles to over 26.2 there are a few key areas that you want to examine. The goal is to find a shoe that can take you through most of training, so then you can grab a new pair and flow easily in to race day.
Your long distance running shoes should be, first and foremost, comfortable. This sounds too simple, but why would you force yourself to wear a shoe that doesn’t feel great.
To me that’s often a sign that the shoe is going to rub causing blisters or that your body doesn’t like it, which is a great way to get injured.
Remember that more is not always better. A super plush shoe like the Hoka Bondi could lead you to sink in a little bit as the run goes on and lead to lower back pain while running. Surprising, but not uncommon. Which is why I love that shoe for my recovery days.
The flipside is going with minimal cushion can be really hard on the feet and joints with endurance events.
In general, I recommend moderate cushioning for nearly every runner. And as always you should have a rotation of shoes, so so many be more or less cushioned than others.
#3 Base Level of Support
Speaking of support, it’s an incredibly important aspect when picking the right distance running shoes.
As we run over long distances, our muscles eventually become fatigued, and this causes our form to deteriorate. When you’re tired, wearing supportive shoes can help you run longer and with better form and that’s exactly what we need during a marathon.
What I am NOT implying is that you should buy a stability shoe. I don’t want to force your foot in to any particular direction.
Instead, we like shoes with a slightly wider base that provide natural elements of stability.
#4 Durable Outsole
When it comes to durability, it’s important to look for a solid rubber outer rather than one made of blown rubber. This will ensure your shoes survive more of your training.
Even though a rougher outsole could add weight, it’s worthwhile to take that into account, especially if running in the summer on extremely hot concrete or asphalt.
I recommend running shoes with good breathability. Because we naturally have sweaty feet while running and our feet swell, we want to dissipate as much heat as possible. This will again prevent blisters or hotspots from forming.
When looking for shoes with a lot of breathability, look for styles that have mesh uppers. A waterproof shoe might be great for certain winter or rain adventures, but it will be a much hotter shoe.
#6 Type of Feet
Another really important thing to consider is the shape of your foot and specifically the height of your arch.
This is because your arch affects your gait, or how your foot strikes the ground when you run.
Different types of gaits determine which areas of the foot require the most support and this will affect how much arch support to look for in your shoes.
When running, people with flat feet or low arches frequently notice that their feet roll inward which is called overpronation.
Such runners should consider stability shoes which provide additional support through the midsole and into the heel preventing injuries.
However, neutral shoes are best for MOST runners and those with high arches since they need a lot of cushioning, particularly in the midfoot.
#6 Toe box Room
You’ll want to look for a shoe with ample space in the toe box.
In general, the longest toe should have a thumb’s distance from the shoe box. This prevents the toe from repeatedly striking the toe box, which can cause problems like runner’s toes.
We also want to ensure there is plenty of room for our toes to move as our foot swells during the race. If you’re getting numb feet while running, then your shoe is too small.
However, a shoe that is too wide may also cause your foot to move about inside it and your toes to rub against the toe box, which could result in blisters or other issues.
#7 Fits the Terrain
The type of terrain you’ll encounter when long-distance running will also affect which shoes are best for you.
For example, the shoes you’ll need for trail marathons will be very different from the ones you’ll need for road marathons.
Road runners will need plenty of cushioning while trail runners will need outsoles with a good grip. In this article we’ll include some trail shoes, but mostly focus on road options.
Other Things to Consider
While one pair could get you through all of training, it might be run down enough that you don’t want to wear it for race day.
If you’ve found a pair that you love during training, then grab a new pair about a month before the race.
And of course, it’s important to know when to replace your running shoes!
Other questions to ask yourself when considering the best running shoes to buy are:
- Do you have pronation issues that you can’t correct with strengthening exercises?
- Do you want a pair specifically for race day that is lighter? (consider them your race shoes)
- Have wide feet? (feet swell the farther we run and in heat, so know your foot)
A major factor is understanding how running shoes should fit.
Go through those key pieces before selecting any shoe from the list of ideas that follow.
7 Best Long Distance Running Shoes
I’ll be sharing one from each of the major running shoe brands. Each brand has a slightly different fit and feel, so if you’ve tried a shoe from them previously now you’ll know which model will go the distance.
Click on any shoe name below to see complete details.
Best Long Distance Shoes Overall for Daily Training
New Balance 1080
New Balance’s Fresh Foam is every bit as lovely as it sounds. These shoes feel fabulous when you slip them on and yet maintain good responsiveness. Unlike the super plush HOKA Bondi that you can sink in to, you’ll remain quick off the ground in these shoes.
These shoes do not have a padded collar which some runners may dislike, but I didn’t notice any issues with that. I did the normal heel lock lacing as will all my shoes and they felt great.
I’d say these shoes run not wide or narrow, but directly in the middle. However, New Balance is known for offering wide sizes in most models!
- Current model is the 12
- Neutral running shoe
- 8mm heel drop
- Cushioned and responsive
- 8.3 oz women’s, 10.3 oz men’s
Best Long Distance Cushioned Trainer
Asics Novablast 3
I’d consider this the runner up to the best overall daily running shoe for those running 6+ miles. This is another shoe that’s been in my training rotation for awhile and quite honestly surprised me.
Looking at the shoe I expected it to be heavier and a little firm. But it’s actually a great lighter weight cushioned trainer. It’s not quite as plush as the NB FreshFoam, but I think for many runners that’s a plus as it will provide a little more support for running with higher arches.
For me this is one of the best Asics I’ve run in for awhile. A great breathable upper in a shoe that once again doesn’t run narrow, but I wouldn’t call built for wide feet.
- Neutral running shoe
- 8mm heel drop
- Cushioned and responsive
- 8 oz women’s
Best Long Distance Running Shoes for Stability
I’m starting to get embarrassed by how many of these shoes I have currently or have run in, but the Ghost is also on the list! In fact, this is my exact shoe in the photo!
The Brooks Ghost’s impressive cushioning, lightweight feel, and support make it a great choice for high-mileage running thanks to the DNA loft cushioning it uses.
These feel like a shoe with a lot more structure and while cushioned, they don’t have the plush feel of some shoes.
This is useful to many runners who end up with lower back pain while running in a too cushioned shoe.
Neutral runners like this shoe as it gives a good energy return while being able to handle the pounding of longer runs. It’s a great and responsive pair of shoes that propels the foot through each stride.
The lightweight, breathable engineered mesh upper provides a secure fit that will prevent blisters on your feet.
- Current model is Ghost 14
- Listed as neutral running shoe now, but still known for stability
- 12 mm heel drop
- 9 oz
Runner Up Stability Training Shoe
On the whole, I do not recommend stability shoes for most runners. Which is why I actually love HOKA running shoes. The taller stack height and base ensure the provide stability without overcorrecting your gait.
The Clifton 8 was designed with a new EVA foam compound. The new midsole is one of HOKA’s lightest and most responsive foams to date, providing a cushioned but feathery ride. It’s cushioned without being heavy and and feeling clunky.
The updated engineered mesh upper is comfortable, supportive, and enhances breathability while the outsole’s strategically placed rubber provides exceptional grip on concrete without adding any more weight.
Plus, the foam padding around the ankle collar and behind the tongue contributes to the overall comfort and tailored feel.
I’ve now tested about 5 or so models of the Clifton, including the 8 which I liked. You can see how the Hoka running shoes comparison in this post.
Suffice to say that if you are looking for a marathon training shoe, this would be my pick for getting cushion without it being too soft.
- Current model is the Clifton 8
- Neutral running shoe
- 5mm heel to toe
- Great cushioning
- 7 oz
In fact, since then I’ve tested out and compared Hoka models many times over the years.
Do you need to buy the most current model of running shoe? What if an older model is cheaper??
Assuming the shoes have been stored correctly (i.e. not a boiling hot warehouse) then I’m a fan of saving $50 whenever possible, knowing that I’ll need to keep buying more shoes.
Just checkout the reviews to see if anything major changed between models. As we all know we may love one version and not so much the next in the very same shoe.
Best Neutral Long Distance Running Shoes
The Kinvara is another shoe that I have run in since it was first released. In fact, it’s been my go to half marathon shoe for over a decade. Based on all of my testing, it’s a great running shoe for up to about 17 miles.
This is not a plush shoe or a stability shoe. It really is a super light, slight cushion, responsive trainer. Some of you may prefer to use this shoe on tempo runs or days where you’re aiming to hit goal pace miles, and stay with the more cushioned shoes on easy days.
Due the lower heel drop, this has been a shoe I found really helped with my IT Band issues and have heard this from many others since I first discovered it.
- Current model is the 13
- Neutral running shoe
- 4mm heel to toe
- 6.2 oz
Best Long-Distance Trail Running Shoes
The HOKA Speedgoat is a serious favorite among HOKA fans. You can count me in to this group.
Having tested a ton of trail running shoes in the last year, the Speedgoat stands out for a few reasons. The cushion is fabulous when spending a lot of time on your feet. Even with the cushion and stack height, it remains a light shoe which doesn’t waste energy as the miles increase.
I love the toe cap to protect my feet from rocks. While it does have good lugs on the Vibram rubber outsole, I wouldn’t say it has the most traction of all the trail shoes. However, unless you are doing a wet rocky run you should be good.
- Current model is 5
- Neutral shoe
- Improved cushioning
- 4mm heel drop
- 8.5 oz
Best Long Distance Running Shoes for Speed
Saucony Endorphin Speed
Those looking for speed are often drawn to the carbon plate fiber shoes for that extra boost. The Speed is considered their training version, but remember that carbon fiber shoes wear out much faster. So you don’t want to start using these for all of your runs.
While the BondiX is a great carbon fiber shoe, I find that for those really looking to hit faster times (anything Sub 4) the Saucony Endorphin Speed can be a good option for training.
Featured below is the Saucony Endorphin Pro which is the race day version. It’s the one I ran in and loved the feel, but it’s a shoe that absolutely runs narrow. They will also say it’s best for up to the half marathon, but it had everything I needed for 26.2 miles.
I’ve always liked the moderate cushion of Saucony shoes, so this felt fantastic to me. It’s in line with something like a Kinvara, but so phenomenally light. And the higher outsole seems to provide a little extra stability.
- Current model 2
- Moderate Cushion with Carbon Fiber Plate
- Narrow fit
- Lightweight and very breathable
- 8mm heel drop
- 7 oz
Learn more about how carbon fiber plates work >>
When to Replace Long Distance Running Shoes?
If you’ve found a pair of shoes that you love during training, then get a new pair about a month before the race.
This gives you a chance to wear them on a few shorter runs and one long run.
Assume that most shoes have a lifespan of about 500 miles. So if you’ve already put 350 miles on them they are starting to breakdown and you’re losing some of that energy return they love to tout in the cushion.
How Many Running Shoes Should You have?
I cover in depth why you need to rotate running shoes, but for the sake of time say a minimum of two pairs of shoes for marathon training.
And yes, that’s two different styles for during training and then a new pair coming up on race day.
If you’ve only done a 12 week training plan, then maybe you won’t need a new pair for race day. But most of us start training in an older pair and pile on the miles.
Those fresh shoes will have better structure and cushion, which we absolutely want when running 26.2 miles.
How Do You Tell When Your Running Shoes Are Worn Out?
If you train over longer distances, your shoes will likely wear out sooner.
If your running shoes are worn out, the upper may be worn or torn, the outsole may be smoothing out, the midsole foam may appear compressed, and you may be getting foot or knee pain when you run if you weren’t before.
These are the classic signs that your shoes are worn out, so head on over to get a new pair to be ready before the race!
If this is your first marathon, don’t forget to check out these beginner marathon training tips and my new Couch to Marathon Training Plan.
Looking for more reviews to find the best things for your run?
Checkout our full page of my must have running gear reviews and guides to save you time searching and money! I share what’s worked for me and fellow runners, along with what wasn’t worth the price tag.
A few common requests:
- Brooks vs ASICS – which brand is better for you
- How to tell if running shoes fit properly
- Best running socks (lightweight to compression)
- Zero Drop Running Shoes
- Hoka vs On Cloud
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