How to pick marathon running shoes

Stop what you’re doing. Track down your recent running shoes—the ones you so carefully selected to lead you through your long runs, speed work and tempos—and give them a good hard stare down.

Are they looking like they’ve seen better days? A little worn around the edges. Erosion underfoot in your pronation hot-spot. Discoloration thanks to sweat, mud and sports drinks. Does it feel like you’ve lost a little spring to your step? And not because you’re tired from all the miles you’ve put over the summer—yes, marathon training can do that to you—but do even the shorter, less-intense runs feel like heroic efforts?

Then ask yourself the really important question: When did you last replace your running shoes? If you can’t remember or your best guess is that it was far more than 100 running miles ago, you probably want to pick out a new pair before your next big race. And if that big race involves 26.2 miles, Chicago and October 9—when the 34th Bank of America Chicago Marathon rolls into town—then you want to act fast.

Add another shoe to your arsenal pronto, something as simple as a less-worn pair from your current collection. Or gently break in a new pair you can wear race day with far fewer miles underfoot on them than the ones you’ve trained in. “You’re going to want to have a pair of shoes that you have around 50 to 75 miles of running on, with at least one of those runs being a minimum of 10 miles,” says Dave Zimmer, owner of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago.

One thing to avoid: shopping the marathon expo on the weekend of the race, buying a pair of shoes and racing in them Sunday morning. Sure, that’s a good alternative if the airline ate your luggage and you forgot to carry-on your race-day gear, but it’s far from ideal after 18 to 26 weeks of hard training, euphoric moments and sacrifices. “Whatever you’re doing on race day you want to have practiced during the course of your training,” Zimmer says. “I would never try anything brand new on race day, no matter how good it sounds, because you never know how good the outcome is going to be.”

As much as you might want to try a minimalist shoe (if you’re not regularly running in one) or slip into a shoe that might give you an added calf workout, it’s too late—or rather the wrong time—to switch styles now. “It’s not the shoes that have to be built for going the marathon distance, it’s the body that’s wearing the shoes that needs to be built to go marathon distance,” Zimmer says. Maybe next time.

Your best bet: confidence in your equipment. Yep, psychology comes into play, and in running it rests on the shoes. You want a pair that you know will deliver when there are six miles left and you’re giving it everything you have to reach the finish line.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)