What are the best running shoes for marathon training? (Post 6: Essential running gear)

running_shoes_for_marathonThey are the most controversial piece of running gear.  Ready to be confused?  Try figuring out what the best running shoes for marathon training are.  I went through three brands and styles in six weeks, before finding a running shoe that worked.  Two months later (just before my first marathon), I discovered that my model had been discontinued.  Poor shoe salesperson.  I had a serious meltdown…

So what about running shoes makes them so complicated?  Their purpose is straightforward, but the technology and science behind them is not.  Furthermore, people have different types of feet and running styles, necessitating different levels of support and cushion.  Let’s not forget the fashion dynamic – the shoe models are constantly changing.    The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that whatever you run in, it should feel comfortable.

Newer research suggests that having less material between you and your running surface somewhat improves running efficiency.  Have you seen more people wearing those running shoes with toes?  Publicity (bolstered by the book “Born to Run”) has further heightened awareness of barefoot and minimalist running shoes.   Admittedly, I have never trained barefoot.  The scientific evidence thus far hasn’t convinced me that it makes a big enough difference.   Also, your body needs to slowly acclimate to barefoot running.

While I don’t recommend switching to barefoot running just yet, I am intrigued.  I am further researching and experimenting with minimalist running shoes for a future post.  In the meantime, here are my thoughts on finding the best running shoes for marathon training.

Purpose:  Protect your feet from injury and provide cushion.


  • Shoe weight
  • Sole flexibility
  • Cushion level (anything from very cushioned to minimal)
  • Support level (especially mid-sole and arch). 
  • Appearance (from foot gloves to shoes)

What to look for: 

Comfort!  The best running shoes are ones that suit your training conditions and unique body mechanics (the way you naturally run).  For first timers, I highly recommend getting fitted by a local running store salesperson who is also a seasoned marathoner.    Look for stores that have a flexible return policy, when it comes to shoes for marathon training.  You don’t want to pay $150, do one long run and then discover that they don’t work.

Try to do your fitting during the late afternoon.  Your feet swell throughout the day, peaking at 4 PM.  Because your feet swell/expand while running, this will give you a good proxy for in-run fit.  Look for a roomier than normal fit.  The longest toe should be a thumb’s width from the end of the shoe.  Your feet should barely touch the sides of the shoe.  Nothing should feel pinched.

Move around a bit.  The foot should feel balanced inside of the shoe.  You don’t want your foot to slip around too much; as this will contribute to those lovely blackened toenails we talked about in our last post.  Want to avoid blisters?  Make sure nothing feels like it is rubbing against your foot.

Hold the shoe.  Does it feel lightweight (they claim 8-11 ounces is ideal, but who carries a scale around with them)?  Make sure the shoe is not too stiff.  You should be able to bend the shoe between the ball of the foot and the toe.

Tip:  If your running shoes aren’t problematic after 2-3 weeks of runs and your budget allows, I recommend purchasing one or two more pairs of shoes for marathon training.  This will allow you to rotate pairs between runs and give your shoe soles a rest.  Moreover, styles change every few months, and switching shoes right before the race is additional stress that you don’t need! 

Have a tip to make finding the best running shoes easier?  Leave a comment below and let us know about it.  Stay tuned for our next post in our running gear series where we’ll discuss two things that could save your life!

Resources referenced in this post:
  • Perl, Daniel P., Adam I. Daoud, and Daniel E. Lieberman. “Effects of Footwear and Strike Type on Running Economy.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2012). The American College of Sports Medicine. Web.

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