As runners prepare for an upcoming marathon, here are three common questions that arise:

  1. When is the best time to buy a shoe for a marathon and how do I get my pair ready?
  2. How do marathon runners know whether or not their shoes will have enough life to get them through the race free of pain?
  3. How close to marathon day should a runner purchase the shoes they are planning on using for the race?

These are probably the most common questions we get asked concerning the topic of marathon shoes. The answers to these questions are fairly simple and logical.

The shoes a marathoner wears during the actual race should be in their prime. The prime of a running shoe is typically between 50 and 150 miles. The first 50 miles is to ensure that the shoe is compatible with the runner’s foot. There is very little actual break-in period with running shoes because the materials used are very supple in comparison to leather boots or shoes that traditionally need to be broken in. It is conceivable that if a runner is familiar with a certain shoe, he/she could pull a brand new pair out of the box and run the race. This is not recommended, but this is better than running on a shoe that has too many miles on it.

After a shoe has reached approximately 150 miles, it starts to lose its capacity to cushion and support the impact that comes from running, especially toward the end of longer runs. The typical life of a shoe is 300-400 miles. A running shoe is obviously still good after the 150-mile mark, but a marathoner runs the risk of having the shoe fail toward the end of the race when the foot and body need the most protection and support.

Aside from being uncomfortable, if the shoe fails at mile 18, 20, or 25, this may cause the runner’s pace to slow significantly, costing the runner valuable time in the race.  More importantly, it can cause the runner to recover more slowly at the end of the race, and can even cause significant injuries such as stress fractures.

So, how does a marathoner keep a shoe in its prime leading into a marathon? Here are some tips:

  • A runner should use the shoe he/she is going to run the race in during at least one long run.
  • It is not recommended that he/she wait until the last long run because there is not another long run to correct any problems that may arise.
  • The shoe that will be used in the marathon should be purchased with enough time before the second to last long run to be able to do a few shorter runs on it before going out for 18 or 20 miles.

If we look at a time frame, here’s how it breaks down:

  • The last long run should be no closer than three weeks before the race.
  • The second to last long run should be two to three weeks before that.
  • The shoe should be purchased a week before the second to last long run.
  • That puts the purchase time for the marathon shoe at four to six weeks before race day.

Purchasing a shoe at the recommended time, and testing it out on a few short runs plus a long run, should get the shoe near the 50-mile point. Here are some tips for leading up to the race:

  • Box the shoe back up until race day. This will ensure that the shoe used on that day is proven to work for that runner and is still in its prime.
  • Continue to use other training shoes for the balance of the training program, until they reach 300 miles, then move into another training shoe, not the race day shoe.
  • This will keep the race day shoe at a mileage less than 150 miles, maintaining its prime condition.

With a little planning, this process will help a marathoner complete the race free of injury and as comfortable as possible, plus speed up the recovery process following the race.

Don’t be discouraged if time seems to be running short. It‘s better to run on a shoe that has fewer than 50 miles than a shoe that has more than 150. If time is short, try to get a shoe as close to the one that has been used for the majority of the training program. A specialty shoe sales person should be able to help you find a shoe that closely matches the one you have been training in.