The Best Running Shoes for Your Money, According to Experienced Marathon Runners
Time to make a run for it?
If you’re tired of being tied to your house during the pandemic, and your roommates or family are driving you nuts, running is a good way to get outside and exercise safely. But doing so without the proper footwear can cause harm.
It’s especially important for people who are just starting to run or who haven’t been running in a while to buy shoes made specifically for running, says Adam Chase, a Boulder, Colorado-based runner who has completed a couple hundred marathons. If you've been using a shoe that's either not designed for running or one that is designed for running but that you've been using for regular wear, the midsole can compress, he adds.
“It’s like if you go to a hotel and have a bed that's been smushed down,” Chase says. “You only get so much life out of it.’”
A big mistake new runners make when buying shoes is opting for the less expensive, department store shoes, says Heather Hart, a exercise physiologist and running coach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with nearly 15 years of marathon and ultramarathon experience that she covers on her blog. Shoes that are made specifically for running may cost a bit more, but have higher quality materials, versus the less expensive, department store versions of the same brand, she adds.
“The $40 department store shoes may feel good at first, but will most definitely need to be replaced sooner, making them more expensive in the long run,” Hart says.
Here are the favorite running shoes of people who have taken them on 26-mile races. We included the price of the most recent version of each shoe, but if you’re looking to save some cash, you can usually get the older versions for a little cheaper.
Best Running Shoes
Solomon Sense Ride: From $120
If you’re looking for shoes you can take to the roads or woods, Chase suggests checking out Solomon Sense Ride. Although they are made for trail running, they’re also compatible with road running, he says.
“It’s a really good technical shoe because of the speed lacing they use – it really forms well to your foot,” Chase says. “And then it has a good roll-through as far as transition from heel to toe.”
Nike Epic React Flyknit: From $93 at Nike (list price $150) or from $118 at Amazon
Maybe the ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% is outside your budget (see below). If you’re looking for a Nike shoe that doesn’t put as much pressure on your wallet, the Epic React Flyknit is a good option.
Amanda Brooks, a Boulder, Colorado-based running coach and author of Run to the Finish: The Everyday Runner's Guide to Avoiding Injury, Ignoring the Clock, and Loving the Run, is currently on her fifth pair. The shoe has a lower heel-to-toe ratio, which is helpful in preventing Iliotibial Band Syndrome – a condition many runners get that causes knee pain – she says. It also has a cushion that feels great while remaining lightweight, which she says becomes important as the miles get longer and a runner starts to fatigue.
“What I've found is many runners get caught up in the look of a shoe and forget about weight,” Brooks adds.
Asics Women's GEL-Noosa Tri 12: $130 at Asics or older models from $180 at Amazon
If lowering your risk of injury is high on your priority list, consider these Asics. Stacy Caprio says they help her stay comfortable and safe. The Chicago, Illinois-based marathoner gets an adapted version to help with pronation issues (pronation refers to how much your foot rolls inward when landing). Asics recommends shoes with a lot of cushioning for underpronators and support or structured cushioning shoes for overpronators.
“Asics are the most comfortable running shoe I've ever worn because they have more cushioning,” Caprio says. “I like them for their functionality and performance, which you definitely need while marathon running.”
Brooks Ghost: From $80 at Amazon
Elizabeth McCabe took a long break from marathons after the birth of her daughter. Now that McCabe, based in Cary, North Carolina, is getting back into it, she’s returned to her pre-pregnancy favorites: the Brooks Ghost.
These shoes have a 12mm heel-to-toe drop (Brooks refers to it as the midsole drop), which McCabe says helps her roll forward through her foot easier. They're also a neutral shoe with their arch support and positioning.
“I find that this shoe is easier on my knees and ankles,” says McCabe, who has run one marathon and at least 15 half marathons in these shoes.
Brooks Adrenaline GTS: $130 at Brooks or from $90 at Amazon
Nick Wilkesmann, a marathoner based in Los Angeles, California who reviews running shoes on his outdoors gear website Skyliners, says he has tested hundreds of shoes but only ever wears the same ones for races: the Brooks Adrenalines. He is on his sixth pair.
Wilkesmann overpronates and does a decent amount of off-track running, and he says the Adrenaline series provides the perfect support to complement his stride.
These shoes have another fan: Paul Johnson, based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who has completed more than 30 triathlons and founded a gear review site called Complete Tri. After years of trying different shoes and having issues with his knees and plantar fasciitis (inflamed tissue on the bottom of the foot), he landed on these shoes, which he says have good cushioning and help the foot align when it hits the ground.
Altra Escalante 2: $104 at Altra or from $43 at Amazon
While many running shoes taper towards the toe, Altra’s have a wide toe box (the area of a shoe that surrounds the toe) allowing for toes to spread naturally while running, says Kate Ayoub, a marathoner and Ironman triathlete in Washington D.C. who's also a physical therapist, endurance coach and health coach with Own Your Movement.
“Altra running shoes are my absolute favorite,” Ayoub says, adding that they’re especially good if you have wider feet. While the Escalantes are her favorite for road running, she recommends the Altra Lone Peak for trail running.
Brady Fraser, a runner and outdoor blogger, also has Altra Escalante at the top of his list.
“The breathability is just right, the fit is snug and dialed in, and most importantly they'll keep you comfortable through the long miles of a marathon,” he says.
Saucony Freedom ISO 2: $109 at Saucony or from $72 at Amazon
This shoe from Saucony is lightweight, comfortable and springy “without feeling like you're running with a pound of foam on your foot,” says Thomas Watson, an ultra-runner (meaning he runs longer distances than even marathon runners), running coach and founder of Marathon Handbook based in Madrid, Spain.
When you're training for a marathon, you have to increase your mileage a lot – during the longer training runs, it's common for your running form to deteriorate a little as you tire, Watson says.
“It’s especially important to get a shoe that is comfortable and has sufficient cushioning,” Watson says. “The Saucony Freedom ISO 2 ticks all these boxes.”
Hoka One One Clifton 6: $130 at Hoka One One or from $140 at Amazon
Hart’s preferred shoes for road runners are the Hoka One One Clifton, which she says have a ton of lightweight cushion compared to standard running shoes. That extra cushions can be helpful over longer distances as they keep your body and joints from feeling the effects of harder surfaces like pavement and concrete, she says.
If you want that same cushioning and comfort but for shoes that are good for hitting trails, Hart recommends the Hoka One One Challenger ATR. She loves them because they have the extra cushion, but room for the toes and a low heel-to-toe drop. (That's the height difference between the heel and the forefoot – the lower it is, the more barefoot you’ll feel.)
Hoka One Ones have been her go-to running shoes for over five years, Harts says.
Best Running Shoes Overall
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%: $250 at Nike (sold out)
These Nikes shoes are expensive, but they’re “worth the money and live up to the hype,” says Knoxville, Tennessee-based Whitney Heins, who has run six marathons and is the founder of the informational running website The Mother Runners. Nike added more “ZoomX foam” to the midsole of the shoe to add energy return. Energy return means the amount of energy a shoe returns to the runner when force is exerted by a stride (in other words, how bouncy a shoe is).
“There’s less effort to propel my legs forward,” Heins says. “The decrease in amount of energy for each stride meant that I had more ‘juice’ in my legs further into the marathon.”
It almost feels like there’s less gravity in every step or springs in her feet, she adds. She was able to her personal best marathon time by five minutes in these shoes.
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