5 Steps to Selecting the Right Shoes for Marathon Training
When the TCS New York City Marathon Long Training Runs roll around, anyone prepping for November’s 26.2 miler gets a reality check. The race is only three months away! Can I run 20 miles, let alone six more than that? What if I get injured? Am I running in the right shoes?
If this sounds familiar, relax—we’re here to help tackle those concerns, starting with footwear. Whether you’re taking on your first marathon or your 15th, advice on how to treat your feet goes a long way in preventing injury and ensuring you perform your best on race day.
Our partners at New Balance, along with the New York Road Runners coaching staff, helped us zero in on five steps to ensuring that you’re running in the right shoes this marathon season.
1) Look, feel, and know when to replace.
Running shoes generally last through 300 to 500 miles, but there’s no exact science to knowing when you need a new pair, says Sara Wild, product manager of performance running at New Balance. “It depends on a number of factors, like what type of shoe it is (racing flat vs. maximal cushioning), how you run (foot strike, amount of force, angle), and where you run (what surfaces, what climate),” she explains.
So, instead of obsessing over miles, keep an eye on how worn the rubber on the bottom of your shoe appears. “Another place to check is the heels of your shoes,” says NYRR coach Roberto Mandje, a former Olympic distance runner. “Oftentimes, as your mileage accumulates, the cushioning will become more and more compressed, leading to your body taking more of the shock absorption than with a fresh, new pair of shoes.”
Lastly, pay attention to how the shoe feels under your foot—if you feel pain, it’s probably time for a replacement.
2) Get fitted for the right running shoe.
This is important: “You’ll not only learn about the shape of your foot (arch, width, and so on) but also what your foot does when it makes impact with the ground—what runners most often cannot feel and certainly cannot see,” says Wild. Your shoe should support your unique running form, whether that means heel striking, supination, or pronation.
When you visit a specialty running store, the staff will assist you through the fitting process.
From there, it’s all about personal preference: “If you want something lightweight, my personal favorite is the New Balance 1500,” says Wild. “It’s very light, and has a slight amount of support and a secure, sleek upper fit. If you want something more plush, with substantial cushioning to comfort you throughout the 26.2 miles, I’d recommend the New Balance 1080.”
When you first slide your feet into a new pair of running shoes, make sure you have a bit of room—a thumb’s width, or about half an inch—between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. “You don’t want shoes that are too tight, as that can lead to your toes being pushed against the front of the shoe when you run,” explains Mandje. “This can cause discomfort and even the loss of nails.”
3) Take your shoes for a test run.
Treat your test run like any run you might normally do, and aim for one to five miles.
“Try a myriad of running styles,” Mandje suggests. “Uphill and downhill will stress your foot and shoe differently than merely running flat. Similarly, running a few sprints will test the shoe in ways that running nice and slow wouldn’t. These different methods of running will give you a better idea of how the shoe will perform in the ‘real world’ during your various training runs.”
But don’t overthink it, warns Wild. “Take in the experience—how the laces help wrap your foot, what the cushioning feels like under your foot, how your legs feel after the run," she says. "While you may be uncomfortable or nervous, running in a new shoe once won’t ‘damage’ your feet or legs in any way.”
4) Try switching between styles.
Rotating your shoes throughout your training cycle can help keep your legs and feet feeling refreshed—just be smart about it.
“Variety in the amount or type of cushioning can be useful when your workouts are varied,” says Wild. “For shorter, faster runs, we recommend something lighter than your long-run shoe. For example, if you run in a stability shoe for long runs, like the New Balance 860, we’d recommend something lighter, like the New Balance 1500, for fast track workouts.”
Still, don’t lose sight of your running style—and the right shoes to support it. “Unless you’re a neutral runner, you shouldn’t switch your training shoe style/model too drastically,” says Mandje. “That being said, if you’re a pronator and want to switch to something lighter on race day, perhaps weeks or months out, you could test it out for specific workouts and maybe add an orthotic to assist with the support you may be giving up by going from a stability shoe to a lighter shoe.”
5) Break in your shoes the right way.
Instead of worrying about how many miles you’ve spent breaking in a pair of shoes before race day, focus on how your feet feel in them. “You want to be sure you’re familiar with the experience the shoes will provide,” says Wild, “like how best to lace them on race day, and how you’d like the upper material to fit—snug and secure or more loose and forgiving.”
To gain this familiarity, complete a couple of harder workouts and at least one long run to see how your new shoes hold up to the stress of your running intensity and distance, Mandje suggests. Start this process three to four weeks out from race day. “This way, if they work, great. If they don’t, you have time to seek a different size/model and still experiment before the big day,” he says.