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What shoes should you wear for a marathon?

This is an excerpt from Advanced Marathoning-3rd Edition by Pete Pfitzinger & Scott Douglas.

Marathoners vary widely in the types of shoes in which they prefer to race. On the theory that even an extra ounce adds up over the course of 26.2 miles (42.2 km), some like to wear as light a shoe as possible. On the other hand, some runners figure that during such a long run, they'll need as much cushioning and support as they can get.

Most competitive marathoners should choose race-day shoes on the light end of the spectrum. Most shoe companies make a lightweight trainer that works well in the marathon—these are minimalist enough so that you can feel light on your feet but are built up enough in the heel and midsole to provide some protection, especially as you fatigue late in the race.

Most elites, of course, race the marathon in flats. Bear in mind that these runners are usually whippet thin and have excellent biomechanics. Flats have less support, less cushioning, and less heel lift than training shoes. The lack of support increases the risk of injury and can make muscles that have to work harder fatigue because of the decreased support. In addition, the lower heel lift puts more strain on Achilles tendons and calf muscles.

In the last few years, many companies have introduced a broader range of racing flats so marathoners have more choices between the shoes they race 5Ks in and their training shoes, no matter how light the latter are. Usually weighing around 8 ounces (230 g) with a decent amount of cushioning and some heel support, these longer-distance flats are a good choice for marathoners attempting to race the marathon significantly faster than normal training pace. Regardless of which shoes you choose for race day, be sure to try them out on tempo runs and at least one of your longer marathon-pace training runs in addition to the short dress rehearsal run during taper week.

Following are some rough guidelines about the most likely candidates to wear racing flats in the marathon.


Faster than 2:40

Weighs less than 160 pounds (73 kg)

History of being relatively injury free

Good biomechanics


Faster than 2:55

Weighs less than 140 pounds (63 kg)

History of being relatively injury free

Good biomechanics