Updated: July 11th, 2013

Running is a simple sport, accessible to virtually everyone at any stage of life. It requires no special equipment, large team organization, or sanctioned playing fields. Quality footwear is the only real “gear” a runner needs to complete a successful jaunt around the neighborhood or to win the local 5K. But what about shoes for the marathon? That even requires special preparation and a large time commitment, so do you need special shoes, as well?

This article will explore the topic of marathon shoe choice and provide you with sound advice regarding the right footwear for your first attempt at the distance, or to help you break that long-time PR.

While this will differ depending on running experience, body type, mechanics, and goals, the perfect marathon racing shoe does have some common features across the spectrum.

Cushioning

A marathon shoe will have a good deal of cushioning compared to traditional racing flats. While this takes on different meanings for different runners, I would suggest a ½in or more of underfoot cushioning in the form of rubber/foam to protect the foot from the long miles comprising a marathon race. Adequate cushioning will protect the body from muscle, tendon, or bone injuries that could result over the course of a marathon’s pounding.

Support

The body’s biomechanics start to break-down over the course of racing 26.2mls. Even elite runners who typically forefoot strike and run very smoothly can start to look pretty rough as the finishing tape nears. This is natural. The marathon is a stressful event, so expect to heel-strike a bit and pronate/supinate more than usual at the end of your race.

Find a shoe that allows your foot to move in its natural manner while still supporting any rotational issues you may have. Go to your local running specialty shoe store and have someone watch you run on a treadmill. If you pronate on the belt, you will most likely pronate worse at the end of a marathon as you fatigue.

Comfort

This is perhaps the most important aspect of any training/racing shoe. Many people buy certain shoes because they promise the most high-tech gadgets and gizmos to bolster their running, or they pick a pair because it “matches their racing outfit. However, if it isn’t comfortable on your feet, DO NOT WEAR IT IN YOUR MARATHON!

Keep in mind that your feet will swell a good bit during your marathon, especially around the ankle and top portion of your feet. Be sure you have a 1/2in of room between your toes and the end of your marathon shoe upon purchasing them, and that there is adequate room near the lace bed, ankle collar, and forefoot to ensure comfort during your race.

When trying on running shoes, always do so in the afternoon when your feet are naturally “swollen” from walking during the day. This will simulate their size late into the marathon more closely than otherwise.

Features

When choosing your marathon shoe, don’t be too drawn-in by bells and whistles. Look for something simple, comfy, and supportive enough for your gait that will deliver you from race start to finish (hopefully) pain-free. A single-plane outsole, mild-moderate arch support, and softer materials are all good things to look for, but again- you have to choose the right shoe for you. You are the one who is going to wear it for 26.2mls, after all!

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