The same reasons that make the half marathon the ultimate distance for running a race on the roads makes it a challenge when it comes to choosing your racing shoes. It’s long enough that it tests your endurance, but it’s short enough that you can run at a significantly faster pace than most training.
Do you go with more cushioning and protection to offset the impact of the roads or a lighter, speedier version that will help you run faster? Do you need any measure of stability as your form breaks down? And how light is too light? Those are criteria you need to consider when seeking the pair you’ll wear on half-marathon race-day.
We’ve rounded up a collection of 13.1-worthy shoes in a variety of different categories.
Altra Vanish R, $100
Weight: 4.0 oz.
Heel/Toe Stack Heights: 12mm/12mm (unisex shoe)
If you’re strong, fit and nimble enough to wear a minimally designed shoe for 13.1 miles, this uber-agile model is one to consider. In addition to being featherweight and low to the ground, the Vanish R has a springy and semi-firm propulsion plate on top of a thin EVA midsole that creates an energetic sensation in each stride. Like all of Altra’s shoes, the Vanish R is built on a zero-drop platform with a foot-shaped toe box that allows feet to flex and move naturally.
Skechers Go Run Razor 3 Hyper, $135
Weight: 6.4 oz.
Heel/Toe Stack Heights: 23mm/17mm (unisex shoe)
Lightweight but well cushioned, the Go Run Razor 3 Hyper offers a surprising amount of cushioning, protection and durability without excessive bulk. Hyper Burst foam is one of the most responsive midsole compounds on the market and it flexes and rebounds with an energetic pop as your foot rolls through the gait cycle. It’s light and fast, but there’s enough underfoot to keep you from feeling every pebble on the pavement.
New Balance 1500v6, $110
Weight: 7.6 oz.
Heel/Toe Stack Heights: 23mm/17mm
When your form falls apart in the latter miles of a long race—as it does for most recreational and masters runners—your running economy drops and you slow down. One way to offset that dilemma a little bit is to choose a shoe that offers some inherent stability like the New Balance 1500v6. It’s a lightweight, moderately cushioned model with a built-in medial post that can help keep your foot balanced as it rolls from touchdown to toe-off.
Brooks Ravenna 11, $110
Weight: 9.6 oz.
Heel/Toe Stack Heights: 27mm/17mm
If you’re using the half-marathon as a tune-up, or your priority is to come out of it without getting beat up, then consider a model that more resembles the shoes you’ve been training in. The Ravenna 11 combines cushion, comfort, a smooth-rolling ride and a little bit of inherent stability to keep your form upright in the latter miles of the race as fatigue sets in. It’s not lightweight relative to other models in this mix, but its not heavy, either, and the extra girth, durability and sturdiness will help keep your feet and legs from getting beat up over the course of 13.1 miles.
Hoka Rincon, $115
Weight: 7.5 oz.
Heel/Toe Stack Heights: 32mm/27mm
The Rincon belies its maximally cushioned midsole and serves up a soft-but-not-squishy, unfettered ride at any speed—but especially at race pace. With a minimalist upper and thin, lightweight tongue, it’s ready for race day or a long training run. To that point, it represents a sweet middle ground between high-tech racing flats with carbon-fiber plates and moderately lightweight daily training shoes. If you don’t have the budget for a separate half marathon racing shoe, the moderately responsive Rincon could be a do-everything model that takes you through your training to the finish line and beyond.
Nike Zoom X Vaporfly Next%, $250
Weight: 6.6 oz.
Heel/Toe Stack Heights: 40mm/32mm (unisex shoe)
Unless you’ve been living in a world devoid of social media, you know this category is about to blow up this year. Nike has made the most waves because it was first to market and because the Next% has set several high-profile records. Now the new paradigm of super light and extremely responsive shoes with carbon fiber plates embedded in thick, soft midsoles has proven to be hugely successful. The Hoka One One Carbon X ($180) has also made its mark, Brooks version of a carbon fiber plate shoe, Hyperion Elite, will come to market in late February, and Saucony’s Endorphin Pro ($200) hits stores in July. New Balance, Skechers, ASICS and 361 are also all about to release long-distance racing shoes with various forms of plates embedded in bouncy midsoles. All are undoubtedly fast, but make sure you have the stride that can support the fast-turnover ride they require over the full 13.1 miles.
* All weights are based on men’s size 9.
Brian Metzler is the author of Kicksology: The Science, Hype, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes. (2019, VeloPress)