The greatest thing about running is how accessible it is. You don’t need a fancy gym membership or a lot of expensive gear to get involved. The only thing you really need is a good pair of sneakers. And if you’re going to go so far as to run a full marathon—26.2 miles, plus all the training miles you need to log to get there—you need a really good pair of shoes.
Marathon shoes tend to fall into two categories: maximalist and minimalist. If you’re a new runner, high cushioning might make the most sense for you. The idea is to provide some protection between the foot and ground, explains John Mercer, a kinesiology professor at the UNLV School Allied Health Sciences. “With each foot strike, a runner will experience forces about 1.5 to 2.5 times their body weight,” he says. “That repetitive loading has always been thought to be related to running-related overuse injuries.” The more shoe you have, the more comfort and longevity you’ll experience over the course of the race.
But some runners feel like the extra weight from all that cushioning can slow them down. “Lightweight shoes can help with increasing running economy and performance,” says Eric Greenberg, a physical therapist and assistant professor of physical therapy at NYIT School of Health Professions. “Especially for marathoners, the benefits of even a few ounces less of a shoe will accumulate across the many steps over that 26.2-mile distance.” Faster runners gravitate toward more minimalist shoes because they actually spend less time on their feet and don’t need all that cushioning.
Obviously, shoe shopping all boils down to personal preference and comfort. But for distance running, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, you have to run in the shoes before you buy them. “A runner will know in a brief run whether or not a shoe works for them,” says Mercer, and most running stores actually have treadmills that allow you to test the shoe out. Second, shoe fit is more important than shoe type, says Greenberg.
“Make sure the shoe is fitted to the longest toe, the heel counter is fit snug to decrease excessive slipping, and the toe box is wide enough for your forefoot to splay when loaded,” he says. Another pro tip: Feet swell throughout the day (just like they do during a marathon!), so try shopping at the end of the day for a better fit.
Still not sure where to start? These eight shoes were designed to go the distance.