10 Best Marathon Running Shoes in 2021

Jovana Subic
Jovana Subic on
10 Best Marathon Running Shoes in 2021

Having a distance of 42 kilometers or 26 miles, a marathon is a long-distance road race. You definitely need more than just a comfortable shoe for this effort.

It might be a max-cushioned cruiser that helps you train for a marathon, or a carbon-plated speedster to shave off the minutes from your record, or a supportive shoe that won’t let overpronation stop you from running 42K. 

We have tested over 100 marathon-ready running shoes to make sure you have the best options.

And if you want us to literally guide you through the process of choosing the right marathon running shoe for you, scroll down to the guide section below.

How we review marathon running shoes

How do we know which running shoes can get you comfortably through 42 km and maybe even set a new record? Here is our review process:

  • Our dedicated testers run at least 30 miles in each pair before delivering their feedback.
  • Every shoe gets sliced and measured at RunRepeat testing lab on over 30 different parameters. These help us translate features like durability, flexibility, cushioning, etc. into concrete data.
  • All tested shoes are purchased with our own money to prevent bias.
  • We also collect feedback from shoe experts, runners, and regular users from all over the web. Nearly 3,000,000 reviews have been taken into account for 850+ marathon shoes.

So how do we pick the best ten? The CoreScore.

Each shoe receives a number from 0 to 100 which reflects its overall performance based on all our learnings. The best-rated ones make it here.

Best overall

A shoe that truly lives up to its name and it does so superbly, the Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 sent us flying to our PB! If you want a tempo trainer that can double as your race car in marathons, outrunning the competition has never been this easy. 

We paced the shoe, and it sure didn’t disappoint.

In our test runs, it felt fast, propulsive, and a hell lot peppy. Running with speed was an easy feat. We were literally just breezing through the streets! 

And of course, it’s made with comfort in mind. Our feet felt very cushioned, and for a shoe designed as a speedster, it’s NOT harsh at all. 

To see why, we put it through a series of lab tests, and in our flex test, the shoe measured 39.6N (the amount needed to bend it) while average shoes take 37.2N. 

In a non-geeky fashion, this means that it’s stiffer than the average running shoes but it’s still very flexible to not feel like it on the run. 

Even better, it’s a featherlight shoe. Contrary to the Endorphin Pro 2 (its racing sibling), it’s just a half-ounce heavier (8.1oz). Now that’s surprising for a speed trainer! 

This shoe is a bag of treats. It’s got an even better lockdown than the Pro. It’s got more structure, and less stretch, keeping our feet locked securely in place. As in, NO wobbling.

If you want to run like the elites and have a shoe that’s just as durable as other trainers, buying the Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 is an excellent choice!

See our full review and facts

If there’s one thing we just can’t get enough of from the Mach 4, it’s the god-tier stability and comfort it offers. Long-distance runs? This shoe swallows them! 

Right off the bat, it’s not as pillowy soft as its bigger sibling, the Clifton. Nope, it doesn’t have that sink-in feeling, which made our strides a lot surefooted and confident. 

To take it up a notch, the shoe even gave us the best lockdown we could ever dream of. The gussets just made our feet feel contained in place, but WITHOUT that feeling of constriction. Just a nice, secure feel. 

Alright, we said we were astounded by the stability and comfort, right? But little did we know, we were in for another treat! 

We put it on our scales, and at 7.85 oz, this shoe made its way to our ULTRALIGHT category. In our lab test results, it is even 20% lighter than the average running shoe (9.4 oz)! 

How did Hoka pull this off without skimping on anything? Jeez, you got some serious magic going on in there, Hoka. 

And to really seal the deal, this shoe has got the grip. We ran through snow, and we were just sweeping through the road like it was no big deal.

See our full review and facts

Best for speed

THE A-lister of running shoes, the Asics MetaSpeed Sky is, by far, the best running shoes we’ve put our feet in. Hands down, the best of the best! 

It’s a strong statement, and we stand by it because this shoe is just a star among all the carbon-plated running shoes we’ve tested. So much so, it made zooming through the streets so effortless. 

Top to bottom, this shoe just rocks! The fit is spot on - from the rear to the midfoot, it’s snug but not restrictive. And in the forefoot, it opens up. After a couple of long-distance runs, there was enough room for our swollen feet. 

And if there was a heaven for the feet, it’s this one right here. It’s a ball of energy, and it will push you forward. 

Even better, it doesn’t cut corners on stability. After a series of lab tests, we’ve gathered that this racer scored 22.5HA in our flex test. Much higher than the Nike Invincible which is 14.2HA.

Translation: It’s got more firmness; hence, better support underfoot. And we felt this on the run. 

And to prove itself the best out there, the MetaSpeed Sky also feels stable during slow runs. We put all the shoes we test through all types of runs, and this is a first.  

If there’s one thing we consider ourselves an expert of, it’s nitpicking. But we just have to give a hats off to Asics on the MetaSpeed. We LOVE every bit of it, and there’s just nothing bad to write about.  

See our full review and facts

The Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 just screams FAST. We’re nowhere near the elite athletes, but this shoe just made us run like the pros.

It’s everything speed-oriented that you could ever imagine. It’s light and snappy, it just made us run lightning fast! 

But what’s surprising is that although it’s designed to be quick and agile, it doesn’t tax the foot (like most race shoes do). It’s definitely NOT stiff. Among all the race-day shoes we’ve tested, it’s the superlative of comfort. 

Rolling through our strides was very effortless in the Endorphin Pro 2. Add in its SUPER bouncy midsole, this shoe pushed us forward. 

At 7.6 oz, it’s not the lightest racer in our arsenal. For reference, the Vaporfly is 6.9 oz while the MetaSpeed Sky is 6.7 oz. An ounce makes a whole lot of difference in the world of racing shoes! 

This is the price to pay for the comfort that the Endorphin Pro offers. 

Although durability is not a primary focus of this shoe, it’s plenty sturdy! We also measured the stiffness of its outsole, and it’s 71HC while the average outsole is 78.5HC. Meaning, it’s not overly soft, and can take a beating.

See our full review and facts

Best comfort

What more can you expect from Brooks’ softest running shoe yet? The Glycerin 19 was a dream to our feet. 

It’s padded from the upper down. It’s so well-cushioned, our feet felt like they were wrapped in marshmallowy comfort. And it’s roomy too, which is a huge plus for us with wide feet. 

And with all the padding, plus the gussets, our feet were tucked in nicely in place. 

And WOW, we were just awestruck with the ride! We could run in it forever. It’s stable and soft, it’s the perfect balance of everything we needed for our high-mileage runs. 

In our lab tests, we found that the shoe measures 37.2HA in the forefoot and 39HA in the heel. And it sits atop a 117.3mm platform. In simpler words, it’s cushy and flexible but it’s balanced with a wide base. 

And like a true Brooks, it’s plenty durable and grippy. After a series of rough wear testing, this shoe came out looking untouched. It will take some serious miles before you retire them in your closet. 

But of course, there’s a tradeoff for all the goodness that you get. And one that we can’t write off is it’s rather dull ride. Yep, it’s so soft, it just isn't much of a party on the run.

See our full review and facts

A recovery shoe slash race day shoe? Take the Clifton 8 from Hoka. It’s uber comfortable, we didn’t want to take it off our feet! 

Running in the Clifton was a spa-day treat for our feet and legs. It’s super plush, it felt like we had pillows underfoot. And even after miles and miles of pounding on the pavement, we didn’t feel beat-up nor tired. 

And for such a cushy shoe, it’s still got some bounce. And rolling through our strides was just as smooth as butter. Overall, a joy to run in! 

At first, we were skeptical about this shoe’s stability. Because hello, 33.7mm stack is just insane. But boy were we surprised - wobbling who? Our strides were surefooted all throughout! And this is because of the shoe’s very wide base measuring 115.5mm in the forefoot and 96.1mm in the heel. 

It’s a shoe with a few tricks up its sleeves alright. At 9 oz, it’s lighter than the average running shoe which sits at 9.3 oz (in our lab testing). All that cush at such little weight? Only from Hoka. 

Even better, this will last you miles. After clocking up 50 miles in it there’s still no packing out in the midsole, and the outsole? Practically unscratched. 

If there’s one letdown to this shoe, it’s the lack of breathability. It’s the compensation for all the padding you get in the upper.

See our full review and facts

Best for flat feet

It’s THE stability shoe. We would be lying if we said the Adrenaline GTS 21 is not the best of its league. Why? 

Simple. Because it does perfectly what other stability shoes couldn’t - give the optimal blend between comfort and support.

It’s not rigid, and it’s not mushy either. It’s the ultimate middle-ground.

Our feet were well-cushioned throughout all our runs. It doesn’t have that sink-in nor bouncy feeling, but the lack of pop is not something we would punish this shoe for. It’s not designed for speed. Rather, it’s billed to give your feet well-supported strides mile after mile. 

What’s even better is that the shoe’s stability features aren’t intrusive. Meaning, they sit in the background unless your feet really need them. 

Pretty much, it’s just as enjoyable for neutral runners as it is for flat-footed runners. 

To take comfort up a notch, the upper is built with plush padding. Our feet were wrapped luxuriously. It’s like they’re covered with fluff. 

And of course, it’s built to last like a true Brooks. It has plenty of rubber and it can take some serious beating. The catch? It’s a heavy shoe. At 10.2 oz, it just tips our scales! 

See our full review and facts

28 years later, the Asics Kayano is still winning over thousands of feet. And it’s won ours too! 

There’s just nothing to not love about the Kayano. As a stability shoe, it does what it’s supposed to do. And it’s the best of its kind.

Through our test runs, the shoe showed serious underfoot support. It’s not the kind that’s harsh nor obtrusive. On the contrary, it’s an unexpectedly bouncy and lively ride. 

We used to hate the Kayano, but now, it’s just a total love affair! The past iterations were brickish. But NOT this one. It gave our feet the flex they needed to run with comfort. 

And completely giving us a 360-degree change in perspective - it's a Kayano that's finally FINALLY lighter. Well, it’s still not super light like the average 9.4 oz shoes (in our lab test results) but it’s a promising start at 10.6 oz. 

On the run, it didn’t drag our feet down, and for a stability shoe, that’s very good news. 

And what’s a Kayano without its signature durability, right? This shoe is a TANK. Even if you’re a heel striker, fret not. The shoe measures 31.5% stiffer (in the heel) than average running shoes. It will take a LONG time before you put this down in your closet. 

If there’s anything we wish the Kayano was, it’s that it could be a touch more breathable. The upper is just very plush, it’s difficult to let in air for that cool, sweat-free sensation. 

See our full review and facts

Best budget shoe

Straightaway, for marathons, we don’t recommend anything cheaper than $120. And that’s why the Nike Pegasus 38 makes it to the top of this list. It’s a great-value shoe in the marathon category. 

The Pegasus, now on its 38th iteration, just continues to win us over! And that’s not without reason. 

If there’s a GOAT among workhorses, it’s this shoe. It’s great at training runs and it’s a serious performer in marathons. 

After putting it to the test, we are happy to report that it’s got plush comfort to make you last miles on the road. And it’s got some pop too, making the ride fun and enjoyable. 

Even with all its cush, it’s a very stable shoe. In our lab, we measured its outsole width, and it’s 109.5mm wide in the forefoot and 80.7mm wide in the heel. This creates a TON of support underfoot. 

And it’s not our GOAT without its high-strength qualities, of course. The Peg is built to last, and last it will. As running shoe geeks, we had to see the numbers. In our lab tests, we’ve gathered that the outsole is 87.5HC stiff (11% firmer than the average running shoe). 

Expect it to last 400-500 miles!

See our full review and facts

Just like the Peg 38, the Asics Gel Cumulus does not belong to our list of cheap running shoes. But again, we don’t recommend anything less expensive when it comes to marathon shoes. 

With that aside, let’s dive right into the reasons why this shoe is among our picks. 

First, it’s true to its name. Yep, it’s got that cloud-like comfort that just made us want to go further and further into our running! We kid you not, it’s fantastically cushy. 

And of course, no need to worry about the impact during each step. The Gel cushion is there to absorb everything. We felt no pain or discomfort. We just pounded our way through the pavement. 

It’s not the most exciting ride, but if you’re looking for a ton of flexibility, this is THE shoe. Even better, it can also take some abuse too. 

After clocking up 50 miles in it, we are confident that it can last 400-500 miles before it retires. 

Whether your competition is on a warm sunny day or in the rain, don’t worry. We tested this shoe out in both conditions, and it did an awesome job! It just bit through the surface.

See our full review and facts

4 things to look for in a marathon shoe 

Many experienced runners are OK with finishing marathons in racing flats. If you’re not an elite runner, light mesh and super thin foam won’t help.

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Comfort

Comfort above everything else. However hard you’ve trained for your marathon, you’ll appreciate the comfort along the way.

The right shoe will feel like an extension of your foot.

Cushioning

Marathon is a long distance and pavement is unforgiving. Feet get tired and after a while, you’ll want shoes that will go easy on you. This means you should look for cushioned marathon shoes.

Some of the advanced foams include Nike ZoomX, Asics FlyteFoam, Saucony PWRRUN, etc. 

To learn about cushioning technologies in detail, read our guide to best cushioned shoes.

Comfortable toebox

Snug shoes are great when you’re racing, but marathon distance lasts long enough that your toes ask for more space. Plus, the extra space comes in handy when swelling happens. Look for medium or wide toe box marathon shoes.

There should be enough space to wiggle your toes freely.

Durable outer sole

If you want your shoes to last for more than a few long-distance runs, look for solid rubber rather than blown rubber. While rougher outsole might mean more weight, it’s good to consider it, especially if running during summer on red-hot concrete or asphalt.

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Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 has one of the most robust outsoles among elite marathon shoes.

If, during the preparation period, you feel the extra weight slowing you down, look for lightweight marathon shoes. Keep in mind that beginners tend to choose cushioned over lightweight shoes.

Break-in period for marathon shoes 

You should never run a marathon in brand new running shoes. A general rule is to log at least 30-50 miles (50-80 kilometers) in them. Allow your feet to get used to the new shoes. This way you’ll avoid unnecessary risk of getting blisters, pain and soreness, or even DNF status.

Are your current shoes good for marathon runs? 

Stick to what already works.

  • Can you run long-distance sessions in them? 
  • Are they comfortable?
  • Are you happy with how they feel and how you perform in them?

If you have 3 yeses here, you’re ready to run a marathon in your current running shoes. 

Feels like for years there’s been more marketing than true innovation when it comes to running shoes. Then these super shoes entered the scene, causing the biggest hype and controversy. The biggest change happened right in the midsole: they became thick and highly cushioned and got a rigid plate that maximizes runner’s energy return.

Nike pioneered this movement with Vaporfly 4% and Next%, but soon others followed: Adidas Adizero Pro, Saucony Endorphin Pro, Brooks Hyperion Elite, etc. Even Hoka One One has seen a rise in popularity with their maximalist approach.

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Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2 (left), Asics MetaSpeed Sky (center), Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 (right)

We even looked at the winners, both women and men, of 6 biggest marathons (Chicago, New York, Berlin, London, Tokyo, Boston) in 2018 and 2019. 78% of them wore Nike marathon running shoes (mostly Vaporfly).

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In the end, shoes make the biggest difference. Choose the right size, fit, features. Even if your motivation hits rock bottom, if chosen wisely, shoes will help you cross the finish line uninjured. They might even help you set a new PB. 

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Keep in mind that these shoes come with the latest innovative technologies, which come at a price. Literally. Plus, these are all made for elite runners or people chasing a new PB. More important takeaway should be the importance of cushioning: all of these shoes are chunky!

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Marathon shoes vs. racing flats 

Some runners tend to run marathons in racing flats. In general, these are intended for more experienced runners. 

Racing flats are best known for minimal or zero heel drop, minimal weight and minimal cushioning. Lowering the values of these features might help, but only up to a limit.

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Should you run a marathon in racing flats? Yes, if: 

  • Your current health allows you to give them a try - your feet aren’t flat and your pronation is neutral so you don’t need stability features and you have a good running form
  • This isn’t your first marathon - the longer you run, the longer your body needs to absorb impact forces, which calls for more cushioning
  • You took time to adapt to their features 

Keep in mind that not all elite runners choose racing flats. It’s a matter of personal preference, so do your best to find the perfect marathon running shoe for you.

Author
Jovana Subic
Jovana Subic

Whether it's a vertical kilometre or an ultra, climbing in the Alps or exploring local mountains, Jovana uses every opportunity to trade walls and concrete for forests and trails. She logs at least 10h/week on trails, with no off-season, and 4x more on research on running and running shoes. With a background in physics and engineering management, she prefers her running spiced with data.