By Brian Metzler
Just as not all marathon courses are the same, neither are the high-energy marathon racing shoes that have carbon-fiber plates embedded in hyper-responsive midsoles. Because no two midsole foams are identical, and each curvy propulsion plate has a slightly different shape, the shoes all feel and ride differently at marathon race pace. You know what else is different? The individual movements of your specific gait pattern.
Some of these shoes produce a lively and bouncy sensation, while others feel smooth and energetic as your foot rolls subtly from footstrike to liftoff. Based on running shoe industry data and my own observations, the best-selling and most prolific marathon supershoes at races in this year have been the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 3.0, ASICS Metaspeed Sky+ and Nike Vaporfly 2. (The new and improved Vaporfly 3 just hit stores, too!) But buying a race-day shoe by brand name or its popularity among top finishers at big marathons is not a great strategy, because there’s no telling whether your stride and foot movement patterns will align with the characteristics of a particular shoe.
How can you find the right shoe for you? That’s actually not an easy task. The optimal (and maybe only) way to find a pair of supershoes that works best for you is to go through a bit of wear-testing at your local running store. (Or trying to do it by buying shoes online with free shipping and free returns, but that may not be ideal.)
If you’re planning a late summer or fall road marathon, now is the time to start thinking about what shoe you’ll be wearing on race day. Not only would it make sense to train in your racing shoes a few times (although not too often!), but it might also motivate you to train better, if you believe, like me, that happiness is a new pair of running shoes.
Here’s a rundown of three marathon supershoes that might not be on your radar, but are exceptional racers to consider in your try-on process.
Under Armour Flow Velociti Elite, $250
Weights: 6.4 oz. women’s 8; 7.5 oz. men’s 9
Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm (36mm in the heel, 28mm in the forefoot)
The Under Armour Flow Velociti Elite is a shoe that feels like a more traditional racing flat than a maximally cushioned modern marathon racer. That’s because it’s not quite maximally cushioned and doesn't feel high off the ground. Its dual-density midsole platform is semi-firm, though slightly more flexible than most supershoes. The top layer of foam is a soft, moderately bouncy layer of Pebax foam, while the bottom is a layer of Under Armour’s proprietary Flow foam, a hyper-light nitrogen-infused supercritical material that provides both a springy and stable sensation under foot. Because there is no rubber outsole, the Flow Velociti Elite serves up a soft, buttery smooth and very flowy ride with exceptional proprioceptive feel for the ground. The design is unique and it feels different, but the performance value has enormous proof-of-concept authenticity from Sharon Lokedi’s victory in last November's New York City Marathon.
Pro: If you like less of a bouncy ride and more smoothness in each stride, this is a shoe to consider.
Con: Without an outsole, the bottom of the shoe probably won’t be as durable as other high-end racing models.
Hoka Rocket X 2, $250
Weights: 6.7 oz. women’s 8; 8.3 oz. men’s 9
Heel-Toe Offset: 5mm (36mm in the heel, 31mm in the forefoot)
It took a while, but Hoka finally released the second version of its light and fast carbon racing shoe. Yes, Hoka had the Carbon X shoe in its line for four years, but that model was never as supple and lively as the top tier shoes from Nike, Adidas and ASICS. The long-awaited Rocket X 2, with a highly responsive near-maximal full PEBA midsole and a “barely there” featherweight upper, has definitely climbed to the top of the pedestal with the best marathon supershoes of those other brands. What makes it so compelling is the combination of the extremely energetic ProFly X midsole combined with a very aggressively shaped plate and the shoe’s overall rocker geometry. It’s one of those shoes that feels like it’s doing the work for you because as soon as you get two-thirds of the way through the heel-to-toe roll-through, if feels like your forefoot drops off the edge of the shoe and you get a burst of propulsion that ignites the toe-off of your next stride.
Pro: The lightweight upper material is very breathable, comfortable and supportive.
Con: This shoe is heavier than most supershoes and about an ounce heavier than the previous version of the Rocket X.
New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Elite v3, $229
Weights: 6.6 oz. women’s 8; 7.9 oz. men’s 9
Heel-Toe Offset: 4mm (40mm in the heel, 36mm in the forefoot)
New Balance isn’t a brand you regularly see on the feet of runners finishing in the top 10 of major marathons, but that doesn’t mean the FuelCell SuperComp Elite v3 isn’t a fast and efficient long-distance racer. (Technically it’s one of the fastest shoes in American history, as Emily Sisson wore a pair en route to setting a new U.S. women’s record of 2:18:29 while finishing second at last fall’s Chicago Marathon.) This updated race-day shoe (which is an revamped version of the FuelCell RC Elite 2 under a new naming convention) includes a redesigned max-stacked, high-energy FuelCell midsole with a split or hollowed-out heel that shows a portion of the revised EnergyArc Carbon Plate. Those new components provide a unique mix of softness upon impact but a firm, snappy ride as you roll from foot-strike to toe-off. The new sock-like upper and modified lacing system provides a secure wrapping fit, but the biggest change is that it’s about a half ounce lighter than the previous version.
Pro: This shoe serves up a very soft sensation at impact and a moderately curved plate for a smoother sensation of propulsion.