Just a few years ago, enthusiastic runners lined up at the start of the race in stripped-down shoes, which were all about being light. You have just enough padding to make sure your legs don’t fall off, but everything else has been sacrificed.
Today, however, the preferred racing option for many is a shoe with an almost comically high stack of foam and a carbon plate in the midsole. New proprietary foams that are soft and bouncy but very light allow brands to cram a large amount of it into a shoe without making it too heavy to race. This provides more comfort so that your legs are fresher in the closing stages of a race, the longer the event, the greater the difference. At the elite level, these shoes have set records, and the same goes for PBs at the amateur level.
After a couple of years of Nike being the only show in town, first in the form of the Vaporfly 4% and then the NEXT%, most of the big brands brought out a carbon plate running shoe in 2020.
It’s worth noting that these shoes are rarely in stock for very long, so shopping for them can be a little frustrating at times. It’s best to sign up for availability notifications, check back regularly for major online retailers like Runners Need and Sports Shoes, and act quickly when you see the one you want in stock.
Adidas Adizero Adios Pro
Adidas launched the Adizero Pro in early 2020, a relatively low-stacked carbon plate shoe. However, the Adizero Adios Pro of the same name is the brand’s first attempt to keep up with Nike’s Vaporfly. Inside the high stack of Lightstrike Pro cushioning are five carbon EnergyRods that are aligned with the metatarsal bones and a small carbon plate under the heel. We found that this design results in a more stable ride than a single plate and is very fast even over short distances. It’s longer races where the shoe excels, and it’s a contender for the crown of best marathon shoe.
Buy from Adidas | £ 169.95 | Adidas Adizero Adios Pro review
The Metaracer has a unique selling point: it is the only one with a stack that is low enough to be used in distance races over 800 m. The sleek design certainly looks more like a traditional racer, and the shoe’s carbon plate is under (rather than inside) the midsole foam and only on the forefoot – it’s not a full-length plate. The Metaracer is a great option for speed sessions, and while it lacks the cushioning we’d want for longer races, it’s a top choice for 3 miles.
Buy men at Asics | Buy women at Asics | £ 180 | Asics Metaracer Review
Brooks Hyperion Elite 2
The first Hyperion Elite wasn’t a great shoe, it was much firmer than most carbon shoes and only performed its best for 80-160 km, according to Brooks. The Hyperion Elite 2 is a great shoe, however. The most important change is the midsole foam used: the nitrogen-enriched DNA flash foam reacts quickly, quickly and comfortably. Combining it with a carbon plate allows you to go fast alongside the support you need for a strong race. The Elite 2 also feels more like a traditional racing shoe than the other high-stack options.
Buy from Brooks | £ 210 | Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 review
Hoka One One Carbon X.
The Carbon X is one of the most stable and durable running shoes with a carbon plate and is ideal as a training shoe, especially if you regularly complete long runs at high speed. It’s not as fast as other high-stack shoes, but the stable ride makes it a better choice for runners who pronate – chances are they’ll struggle with softer options like the Alphafly. The Carbon X is also an option for ultra marathons on the road if that’s your pocket. There’s also the new Carbon X-SPE, which has the same stuff as the Carbon X but an updated upper.
Buy men at Hoka | Buy women at Hoka | £ 160 | Hoka Carbon X rating
New Balance FuelCell TC
Although it is considered a training partner for the upcoming New Balance FuelCell RC Elite racing shoe, the TC is a fast shoe in itself. New Balance’s FuelCell foam is one of the best on the market, and the TC, designed as a training shoe, is built to last. We found it was fast enough for speed sessions while still being comfortable on easy and long runs, but the tall, soft stack means it’s probably not advisable to use it for all your workouts just because it isn’t the most stable is.
Buy men’s sports shoes | Buy women at sports shoes | £ 179.99 | New Balance FuelCell TC rating
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%
Nike’s new top dog has a smaller drop (height difference between heel and toe) than the Vaporfly at 4mm compared to 8mm, and its stack of ZoomX cushioning is even exaggerated. The most noticeable difference in the shoes, however, is the Air Zoom pods under the Alphafly’s forefoot, which give your toe more punch than ZoomX foam alone. The extra weight, size and cost of the Alphafly may mean that many runners still prefer the Vaporfly, but for our money the Alphafly is the best marathon shoe right now and is lightning fast even on shorter races.
Buy men’s sports shoes | Buy women at sports shoes | £ 259.95 | Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% Rating
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%
The latest version of the shoe that started it all. Nike’s Vaporfly NEXT% still holds its own against the new options on the market as it’s the lightest high-stack carbon shoe on the market – and incredibly fast, of course. Nike’s ZoomX foam is lightweight and incredibly bouncy, and the Vaporfly benefits from being a little more stable than the newer Alphafly. If you already own the Vaporfly there is no real need for an upgrade, especially if you are mainly driving the 3 miles to the half marathon route.
Buy from Nike | £ 239.95 | Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% rating
On cloud boom
The Cloudboom is another relatively narrow carbon shoe that has a plate glued between two layers of On’s signature padding. The Cloudboom offers a firm ride that does well in speed sessions and short races. In our opinion, however, it is not ideal for races over 10 km and does not quite have the pace of the Metaracer on short distances.
Buy men from On | Buy women at On | £ 170 | On Cloudboom Review
Saucony Endorphin Pro
Like the Nike shoes, the Endorphin Pro also uses PEBA foam in the midsole and combines it with a carbon plate. Apart from these similarities, it is a completely different shoe than the Vaporfly and the Alphafly. The speedroll design makes a huge difference and helps your foot roll incredibly smoothly from heel to toe. While the Endorphin Pro isn’t as soft and bouncy as other high-stack shoes, it does help you maintain a fast pace over long distances. It also feels more natural than the Nike shoes and is more stable on sharp turns.
Sign in to Saucony to receive availability notifications £ 190 | Saucony Endorphin Pro review