The 5 best cheap running shoes for beginners and marathon training alike

  • You can score ample cushioning, support for long mileage, or just the basics for the occasional jog at an affordable price.
  • Some of the best athletic brands like New Balance, Hoka, and Brooks have great runners at $100 to $130.
  • Our top pick, the Hoka One One Rincon, is cushioned, durable, and great for short jogs or multi-hour runs alike.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

I’ve been running for more than 20 years and, in that time, I’ve tried just about every type of shoe on the market on every type of run, from marathons, to weekend trail runs, to around-the-block sprints.

Along with Brian Metzler, author of Kicksology, a comprehensive look at the history and science behind running shoes, and Mike Fronsoe, owner of the Fleet Feet specialty running store in Monroe, LA, we’ve put in thousands of miles on running shoes and have zeroed in on what pairs are worth the splurge – and which are great at a savings.

It’s common to come across running shoes at $250 that promise – and, honestly, do deliver – faster times. For the average runner, however, that’s more shoe than you’d ever want or need. Thankfully, the market offers its fair share of affordable options, too.

“There are plenty of good, mid-range shoes in the $110 and under market,” Metzler told Insider. “The challenge is there’s a lot of marketing that goes into selling shoes and that jacks the prices up.”

To help narrow down the growing selection of cheap running shoes, I highlighted a few of our favorites that I’ve enjoyed running in and that takes Metzler’s and Fronsoe’s advice to heart. At the end of this guide, I’ve also included some additional information on how to shop for cheap running shoes, as well as the testing methodology I used.

From brands like Hoka One One and Skechers to Brooks and New Balance, these shoes keep you running comfortably while also staying kind to your wallet.

Here are the best cheap running shoes:

Best cheap running shoe overall

Hoka One One Rincon

This is a shoe that works for almost any type of runner, including those looking for some speed, anyone who enjoys added cushion, and just about everyone in between.

Pros: Lightweight (only 6.3 ounces in the women’s model), cushy ride

Cons: With the differential between the heel and toe stack at only five millimeters, it can take some time to adjust to the shoe if you’re used to a bigger offset — expect a couple of weeks of sore calf muscles

Runner’s World voted the Rincon an “editor’s choice” for a speed shoe in its Fall 2019 Shoe Guide — and with good reason. The shoe delivers what is typically hard to produce: a combination of heavy-duty cushioning and a feather-light weight. 

I must confess that when HOKA first came on the running scene some 11 years ago, I was a skeptic. The first iterations of their shoes were big and bulky, and I thought I could never run in something with that much cushion. But there was plenty of buzz around the shoes and I finally decided to give the brand a go a few years ago. I’ve since tried out several of its models and settled on the Rincon as my favorite for the road.

I’ve put a couple hundred miles on mine and you’d barely notice the wear. I’ve worn them for a variety of distances, from a six miler around the neighborhood on up to longer weekend runs in the range of 13 miles. It’s a responsive shoe that carries me comfortably on any type of pavement. For $115, it delivers performance and longevity.

Best-selling cheap running shoe

Brooks 12 shoe

Fleet Feet, Mike Fronsoe, says this is the number-one selling shoe in his store and remains a fan favorite, 12 versions in.

Pros: 13 different color combinations to choose from, tried-and-true design

Cons:  Pushes the limits of affordability at $130

Runners hate when their favorite shoe receives an update that changes the feel or ride they’ve come to love. That’s why the Brooks Ghost stays as a perpetual best-seller in many running shoe specialty stores — it’s always stayed true to its roots. 

It’s also an all-around crowd-pleaser that’s not too cushy, not too heavy, not too anything. It’s designed with the neutral runner in mind and works well no matter your running goal. The shoe is known for its soft ride and it’s even able to last up to 400-plus miles.

Best dirt-cheap running shoe

Skechers Go Run fast

Long known for its street style, Skechers made a push into the running space several years ago and its budget runner is an impressive shoe that has marathon-quality style in its DNA.

Pros: You can’t do any better on price than this shoe

Cons: Durability could be an issue if you’re looking for a long-haul shoe

Even Olympic marathoner and winner of the Boston Marathon, Meb Keflezighi, runs in a Skechers model, so the brand must be onto something, right? Coming in at just $65, the GOrun Fast Quake is our most affordable shoe.

The Fast Quake is a lightweight trainer and features the brand’s 5Gen cushioning and cooling “goga mat” insole. Skechers bills this as moisture-wicking and high rebound, to deliver energy return with every step. 

I’ve run in an older version of this model and liked its flexible sole and lightweight feel. The men’s version weighs in at 7.8 ounces, and I can say the fit is comfortable and true to size. The shoe might not go the distance through heavy mileage, but it will get you through a couple of weekly training runs and should hold up for a few months.

Best bang for your buck

New Balance Fresh Foam 880

The New Balance 880 is the number two seller in Fronsoe’s store with him adding that, “you can use this shoe for just about anything. It’s firm enough to take to the gym but cushioned enough to run in it on roads.”

Pros: A shoe that has something for just about everyone

Cons: The 880 has a wider toe box than some of its comparable models, so for runners with narrow feet, it may not be the ideal fit

I’ve been a New Balance fan for years and can confirm that the 880 delivers on an all-around basis. I’ve taken them on roads, black-top paths, and even on softer surfaces like a mulch-covered trail and they responded well each time. It’s in its ninth iteration and one of the things I appreciate is that the tweaks New Balance tends to make are smaller, less noticeable ones, so I know I can return to the brands’ shoes over and over again and know exactly what I’m getting. 

The 880 retails with a price tag of about $125, so it’s not the cheapest of our choices but one that still checks most boxes. It features plenty of cushioning, a responsive ride, a mid-level weight at 9 ounces, and a mid-range heel to toe drop at about 10 millimeters. In short, it’s the average joe of running shoes and will likely work for most runners. 

Best high-cushion cheap running shoe

Hoka One One Clifton

Hoka One One’s Clifton offers premium cushion, a snug, comfortable fit, and can last for hundreds of miles — and it’s the shoe many runners think of when mentioning the brand.

Pros: All the cushion HOKA is known for with an embroidered upper that provides a snug fit to prevent feet from slipping.

Cons: The stack height of the sole, which is quite big, can be off-putting to some runners, reducing the sense of ground feel. 

Hoka is one of the most beloved brands in the running shoe community. It truly has an option for everyone that delivers on the price — enough so that the brand has made the cut for testing on our best women’s running shoes and best men’s, best winter running shoes, and best trail runners for women and for men. (So literally every running shoe guide we have.)

That high praise is largely for its trademark cushioning, and the sixth iteration of the Clifton seems to have found the perfect amount to satisfy most fans of its shoes.

Going back to my dislike for overly cushioned shoes, the Clifton surprised me with its performance. I’ve put in a couple of hundred miles in my pair and find that the soft landing remains, as does the responsiveness I appreciate. 

At $129, it hits the upper end of the affordability range but if you have any kind of knee or joint pains, are training for a race or just logging high mileage, or generally like more cushioning, this pair is 100% worth the money.

How to shop for cheap running shoes

Before you dive in on price alone, you’d be wise to visit a specialty running shoe store to try before you buy.

“I get a lot of customers who buy a shoe online, find it doesn’t work for them, and then come in to get fitted,” Fronsoe said. “Much comes down to how a shoe feels on your foot.”

Use your time in a shoe store to try a variety of shoes and figure out what works for you in the price range you’re after. Once you know, you can then make it more affordable in a variety of ways. Some stores, like Fronsoe’s Fleet Feet location, have frequent buyer programs offering credit after a certain value of purchases. You can also look for sale tables that feature last year’s versions of shoes — most brands update shoe models about every nine months, which means a past version then moves to a discounted price. 

Finally, you can find decent mid-range models online and at big-box stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods. According to Metzler, these stores don’t carry the marquee models but they do have pairs that are functional, and that you can put some miles in.

How I tested cheap running shoes

Each pair of running shoes featured in this guide went through a testing process that included everything from sprint work on a track and leisure park runs to longer multi-hour training sessions and race-pace 5ks. When testing, I judged the shoes across these five categories: fit, comfort, performance, versatility, and value. Here’s how each factored into what shoes were ultimately selected:

Fit: Just because you’re saving a few dollars on a cheaper shoe, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t still fit correctly — and running in an ill-fitting shoe is an easy way to wear yourself out quicker (or to just be mentally finished with your run before you hit your mile goal). Fit encompasses everything from how the shoe feels when it’s first put on, if there are any unnecessary pressure points, and its underfoot feel. 

Comfort: Comfort is sort of an extension of fit but goes beyond just how the shoe feels on your foot — it also means looking at how comfortable the shoe stays during a variety of runs. Much of this also comes down to personal preference as some runners prefer highly cushioned shoes from brands like Hoka One One while others like to run on less cushion. The same goes for neutral runners vs. stability shoes. 

Performance: If a running shoe doesn’t perform how you want it, you’ll not feel incredibly motivated to keep running with them. This covers everything from stability underfoot and durability to its responsiveness and design. 

Versatility: Though I tried each shoe in a variety of environments, they’re not all made to be a jack-of-all-trades style shoe. Some, however, did do well on several surfaces, adding to their versatility as an everyday runner. If it’s a budget shoe you’re after, it’d be great to find one that works just as well on a treadmill as it does on the road.

Value: Value is more than just the final sticker price. For this, I wanted to see if spending less on a pair of shoes was ultimately worth it long-term — since spending less money more often is equal to (if not more than) spending a lot of money once. Thankfully, there are plenty of impressive running shoes that don’t break the bank. 

 

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The 8 best running socks for marathon training, blister prevention, and cold-weather runs

  • Running socks manage moisture and provide cushioning to prevent blisters and hot spots on long runs.
  • A quality sock is made of sweat-wicking materials, has targeted cushioning, and lasts through dozens of washes.
  • Our top pick, the Rockay Accelerate Running Socks, is durable, comfortable, and wicks moisture.

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Running doesn’t require much equipment. While fancy gear might make runs more enjoyable, some would argue all you need is a quality pair of runners. However, there’s another key piece that shouldn’t be forgotten: a reliable pair of running socks.

These two pieces of running apparel work in tandem to keep your feet happy from heel to toe and as most runners know, happy feet make for a much more enjoyable run. You may think any old pair of socks might do but we strongly encourage you to try out a pair of running-specific socks instead.

We all tend to have strong opinions on which brands are best but it’s important to note what works for one runner may not work for another. That’s why we tried a variety of options perfect for a variety of runners. At the end of this guide, we lay out what to look for in a pair of quality running socks and how we tested here:

Best running socks overall

Rockay socks

The Rockay Accelerate running socks are comfortable, moisture-wicking, and made from durable, high-quality materials with a focus on sustainability.

Pros: Comfortable, durable, moisture-wicking, made from thoughtfully sourced materials, provide support where you need it most

Cons: Expensive

Socks were the first product to be released from the Danish running company, Rockay, and after testing a pair of its Accelerate, I was immediately impressed. They’re incredibly comfortable thanks to a blend of organic merino wool, polyamide, and elastane, and I appreciated the seamless construction. Its focus on using eco-friendly methods and materials is a nice touch, too. 

The blend of materials allows for impressive moisture-wicking capabilities to help prevent blisters. My first test run was on an unseasonably warm day but my feet never felt overheated and stayed dry throughout the run. 

Durability-wise, these socks wash incredibly well. As with most of my running gear, I try to hang dry everything since heat can damage the synthetic materials often used in athletic clothing. However, there were a few times these socks slipped their way into the dryer and I was pleased to find that their performance was unaffected. If you do have any issues, these socks are guaranteed for life, so you can receive another pair, no questions asked.

Another positive of these socks is the support they offer. They have just the right amount of compression in the arch of the foot, providing a snug fit without being uncomfortable. This fit also prevents them from slipping around in your running shoes, so any rubbing that might cause blisters can be avoided.

The Rockay Accelerate socks are available in multiple colors and range in sizes from extra-small to extra-large. A sizing chart is available to help you find the best fit, too. I felt that they ran just a tad bit smaller than true to size. Keep in mind that these will have a snug fit around the foot because of the compression arch, making them feel smaller than normal socks. While these are on the more expensive end, you’re paying for quality and for socks that will last.

Best for durability

darn tough socks

The Darn Tough Tab No Show Light Cushion socks are durable, have a seamless toe for added comfort, and are a merino wool/nylon blend which wicks away sweat to keep your feet dry.

Pros: Durable, no seams for added comfort, wool and synthetic blend to wick away sweat, resist odor, all-weather appropriate

Cons: Not many colors to choose from, can be expensive

If you run your socks into the ground — or, more accurately, until they’re covered in holes and falling apart at the seams — it’s worth investing in a pair from Darn Tough for its lifetime warranty. True to its name, these durable running socks will last through countless jogs and arduous trail run. But Darn Tough’s warranty policy says if you don’t find its socks to be the most comfortable, best-fitting pair you’ve owned, or if they come apart for any reason other than being chewed by dogs, burned around the campfire, or one being lost to the laundry monster, you can ship back your faulty pair and receive credit for a new pair. 

You probably won’t need to use that great policy, though. All of its socks are thoughtfully designed to withstand some of the toughest sports, and it shows in the attention to detail given to the Tab No Show Light Cushion running socks. It’s a wordy name but these socks live up to it. The no-show style is subtle and the tab provides extra cushion where your running shoe meets the back of your ankle to prevent chafing.

Another winning feature? These socks are seamless, so your toes won’t be subjected to any uncomfortable rubbing.

As far as material goes, you won’t find any cotton here. These Darn Tough socks feature merino wool blended with nylon and lycra spandex. You may think wool is only reserved for cold weather running but not in this case. These are all-weather socks that wick away moisture to keep your feet dry and blister-free. Wool also helps resist odor, so even after a sweaty run, you’ll be far less likely to offend anyone when you take off your runners.

These Darn Tough socks are available in both Men’s and Women’s styles and come in Small, Medium, and Large sizes that correspond with your shoe size.

Best for all-around comfort

running socks

The Balega Hidden Comfort No Show running socks have a seamless design crafted with synthetic materials and elastane throughout to make for a better fit and prevent blisters.

Pros: Synthetic materials keep feet dry, mesh construction for added breathability, heel tab to help prevent slippage, seamless design, multiple colors to choose from

Cons: Some reviewers reported slippage, they don’t have targeted cushioning

Even if you’ve been running for a relatively short amount of time, Balega is likely a brand name you’ve heard. I own a few pairs of these socks myself and can confidently say these are some of the most comfortable socks I’ve ever worn.

They’ve seen their fair share of runs but they’ve also been through trips to the grocery store, as well as some intense Netflix binge sessions on the couch. In other words, they’re so comfortable you’ll probably find yourself wearing them even when you aren’t running.

Each pair is carefully crafted to help runners perform at their best. The seamless design of the Hidden Comfort running socks reduces the friction that causes blisters. They have a reinforced heel and toe for increased durability and the top of the sock is constructed with mesh construction for extra breathability and comfort.

These are no-show socks with a heel tab at the opening that makes them easy to slip on. It also reduces chafing and prevents them from slipping down into your shoes. The elastane provides added stretch and comfort, too.

These socks come in sizes ranging from small to extra large. It’s important to size correctly so you get the best fit and minimal slippage. There is also a fun variety of colors to choose from if you like to add a little flair to your running kit.

Best for cold weather

running socks

The Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew socks are designed for cold weather running, with a longer length for extra warmth and a wool blend that keeps your feet toasty and dry.

Pros: Wool and synthetic blend keeps feet dry and blister-free, mid-crew length for extra warmth, 200 needle construction for warmth and cushioning without the bulk

Cons: Not many color choices, expensive

If you live in a location where winters bring cold and snow, yet you don’t call it quits on your running routine, you need a pair of running socks specially designed to keep your feet warm. Smartwool is known for a wide range of specialized socks and its line of cold weather running regularly receives positive reviews from runners who often brave the cold. 

Read more: The best winter running shoes

These socks are mid-crew height, perfect for wearing under your running tights for added warmth, and preventing the cold ankles that often result from wearing no-show socks. It may sound silly but when it comes to running in the cold, every bit of skin coverage makes a difference.

These Smartwool socks are made of 55% merino wool for warmth, nylon for breathability, and elastane for flexibility for stretch. They’ll wick away moisture to help keep your feet dry and free of blisters. If you’re afraid that warmth equates to added bulk, you won’t have to worry in this case. The 200 needle construction allows for high-density cushioning while keeping these socks lightweight.

Smartwool designed the PhD cold weather socks in both men’s and women’s styles for a better fit and they come in small, medium, and large sizes. Unfortunately, you won’t have many colors to choose from but in this case, comfort and warmth will likely be more important than style as you brave those chilly weather conditions.

Best on a budget

saucony socks

The six-pack of Saucony Performance No-Show socks gives you the most value for your money and keeps your feet dry and comfortable.

Pros: Affordable, synthetic fabric to keep feet dry and blister-free, heel tab to prevent slippage, arch compression for added support, comes in multiple colors

Cons: Can’t be bought in single pairs, non-specific sizing

You’ve likely heard of Saucony, a brand known for its well-made running shoes. However, like many running shoe brands, Saucony also makes athletic socks geared towards runners. If you’ve just splurged on a new pair of running shoes and want to save some bucks, or you simply don’t want to spend a lot on socks, these are a great option.

For less than $20, you can get six pairs of socks, and having more socks means you’ll be less likely to run out before having to do laundry. These socks come in plenty of fun color combinations and are available in both men’s and women’s styles. Unlike most others on this list, these don’t come in multiple sizes but men’s will fit an 8-12 shoe size and women’s will fit a 5-10 shoe size.

A heel tab helps prevent slippage and arch compression provides extra support. You won’t find any cotton here, either, with all synthetic materials for sweat-wicking and comfort, and mesh construction for added breathability. These are all features found in a more expensive running sock, for a fraction of the price.

As a more lightweight sock, these aren’t recommended for winter running but otherwise, they’ll do just fine at the gym, on the road, or on the trails.

If you are looking for just one pair to try, you’ll be out of luck as these only come in six-packs. However, for such an affordable price, it’s worth it to try them for yourself.

Best for preventing blisters

toe socks

With a place for each toe, a breathable mesh upper, and sweat-wicking materials, the Injinji 2.0 Lightweight No-Show toe socks are a great option if you’re prone to blisters.

Pros: Individual toe coverage helps prevent blisters, Synthetic fabric to keep feet dry and comfortable, mesh upper for breathability, heel tab to help prevent slippage, come in multiple colors

Cons: Can be tricky to put on, some reviewers couldn’t get used to the individual toe style

These toe socks may look a little odd but as they say, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Having a place for each individual toe prevents them from rubbing together — one of the main causes of blisters.

Injinji is a California-based company, with its roots in wanting to develop a seamless sock that allowed for more natural foot movement and toe splay. From this, the patented five-toe sock was born.

In addition to preventing any skin-to-skin friction that causes blisters, the Injinji 2.0 is made from synthetic materials to wick away sweat and keep feet dry and comfortable. A mesh top also allows for more breathability. If you prefer the minimalist style of running toe shoes like Vibram’s FiveFingers shoes, these socks also make a great liner for additional comfort. These socks perform just as well in traditional running shoes, too.

The Injinji 2.0 is a unisex sock but it comes in four sizes: small, medium, large, and extra-large. Sizing is important here since these conform to every contour of your foot — toes included. 

While they may not be for everyone, if you’ve been in a standoff with stubborn reoccurring blisters, these socks may be just what you need.

Best for compression

Aspire Socks

If you experience muscle soreness or shin splints after your runs, Swiftwick’s Aspire Twelve compressions socks help reduce the pain.

Pros: Promote blood flow and help reduce muscle soreness, olefin wicks sweat to keep your feet dry

Cons: Expensive, hard to put on 

Swiftwick is a mainstay in the compression sock industry and its Aspire Twelve knee-high socks are perfect for the runner looking for more than just muscle relief, but shin relief as well. Made of 43% nylon, 11% spandex, and 46% olefin, not only do they offer supreme compression and a snug fit, but they wick sweat away, as well. This is especially useful for hot and humid summer runs.

Running in these socks provides response lower leg support thanks to its minimal cushioning. They also function well to help recover after a long run or whenever you feel the muscles in your legs start to tighten up and feel sore. 

It’s worth pointing out that these socks (as well as many similar compressions socks) aren’t always the easiest to put on. We recommend reaching into the sock and pulling out the heel before putting your foot in and pulling the rest of the sock on. They’re made to be really snug on your lower leg, so this isn’t something that just needs to be broken in either. 

Aside from getting them on, the Aspire Twelve’s perform well work wonders to help with sore muscles. They’re a bit expensive at $30 per pair but most compression socks of this quality are hardly cheap. — Rick Stella

Best for fun ankle patterns

Zensah

With a range of fun patterns to choose from, the Zensah Limited Edition Mini Crew-Length running socks allow you to show off your personal style without sacrificing high-quality performance.

Pros: Tons of fun patterns and colors to choose from, comfortable, light compression for added support, moisture-wicking material to help prevent blisters

Cons: On the expensive side

Just because you’re decked out in running gear doesn’t mean you can’t make a statement. If you want to stand out from the pack, a crazy pair of running socks is the perfect way to do so, and the Zensah Limited Edition running socks rise to the occasion. Don’t be fooled by the limited edition in the name. Whether you want to show some holiday spirit, or share your love for donuts, there are tons of fun prints, patterns, and colors to choose from.

These socks look fun but when it comes to performance and comfort, things get serious. Zensah is a brand known for tight-fitting compression products but even if you aren’t looking for compression, their snug fit keeps them from sliding down during your runs. They also have a seamless toe and a lightly cushioned sole for added comfort, and they’re anatomically designed with a specific left foot and right foot fit.

The nylon, spandex, and polyester blend allow for breathability and help these socks dry quickly, protecting your feet from any blisters. Silver ions in the material help keep any odors at bay.

The mini crew height of these Zensah running heights makes them just tall enough to show off your chosen design, without having them take over your entire calf. They’re available in small, medium, and large sizes that correspond to your shoe size.

How we test

Each pair of running socks featured in this guide went through a series of on-foot tests to see how well they compared across these four categories: Fit and comfort, features, durability, and value. Specifically, here’s how each category factored into what socks ultimately made this guide and what sub-categories we chose to spotlight: 

  • Fit and comfort: Though fit and comfort could be two different categories, they’re very closely related when it comes to running socks. You ideally want your running socks to fit snug enough to not rub inside your shoe (even if they get wet and want to start sliding around). This is as true for no-show socks as it is for both ankle- and shin-high options, too. The more comfortable and well-fitting a running sock is, the more enjoyable your running should be. 
  • Features: Using the term “features” to describe the makeup of a running sock may seem odd but different brands do include a variety of unique traits that make them more well-suited for different types of runners (and their needs). For instance, a brand like Swiftwick specializes in compression while Injinji’s socks are geared toward reducing the development of blisters. 
  • Durability: No matter if you’re a casual running or you’re training for a marathon, your running socks will take a beating — and having to deal with holes forming or a sock tearing at its seams can be especially frustrating as you prepare for a run. Though we didn’t push each pair to its absolute end, we did go on enough runs wearing each featured pair to get a reasonable idea of how long they’d last.
  • Value: Value is the combination of each category above, as well as how a running sock’s actual stick price factors into its worth. We do think that it’s more beneficial to spend a little more on a premium product that’s designed to last than to opt for a poorly-made budget option and have to spend that reduced cost more often. 

How to shop for running socks

Since there are so many options, it’s tricky to wade through what’s available. Luckily we’ve done the legwork for you, rounding up a group of socks outfit with the features you need most.

Before we get into our favorites, we’ve outlined what to pay attention to so your feet can meet their best match.

  • Material: One of the most important things to consider is material. Synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, and nylon are your best bet because they help wick away moisture and prevent blisters. A wool blend can also be a good choice to keep your feet warm and dry — especially if you’re running in the winter. You’ll want to avoid anything that’s 100% cotton as it will only hold in moisture, making for very sweaty and uncomfortable feet.
  • Cushioning: The cushioning and the thickness you desire in your running socks is a matter of personal choice, and luckily there are all types to choose from. Plenty of running socks are also designed to provide cushioning in places that are more likely to develop blisters.
  • Height: The height of your running socks can be a matter of personal style, but it can also serve a more useful purpose. Maybe you’re tired of chafing the backs of your ankles. Or maybe you’ve noticed that mid-calf ankle socks have roared back into style, rejoining us from the 1980s. Either way, it’s enough reason to try out a pair of crew length running socks. On the other hand, if you prefer a subtler look, no show or quarter-length socks are also available. 
  • Specialized Features: Aside from the basics, there are also socks designed to meet running specific needs and issues. Compression socks are a good option if you want to improve blood flow through your legs and ankles, or you want additional arch support. If you’re especially prone to blisters, some runners swear by toe socks.
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What happens to your body during an ultramarathon

  • Ultramarathons are races ranging from 50 to 4,345 km in distance. Your body can go through a lot of stress during these grueling tests of human endurance.
  • During races, nausea and vomiting are the most common problems for runners. Some runners may get blurry vision.
  • Sleepiness and hallucinations are problems in longer races lasting more than 24 hours.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: In 2018, more than 108-thousand people finished ultramarathons in the US alone. An ultramarathon is any race longer than 42 kilometers. Races can range anywhere from 50 to over 4,000 kilometers. But one of the more common lengths covers about 100 kilometers and takes, on average, 17 hours to finish.

In some of the longer races, half of the runners never see the finish line. Because these races not only push you to your mental limit they take a toll on your body both inside and out.

Ultra runners endure pretty extreme conditions. The Badwater Ultramarathon, for example, covers over 4,000 meters of elevation through Death Valley, in July, one of the hottest months of the year. Temperatures reach up to 47 degrees Celsius, causing headaches and dizziness in many runners.

But even if you’re running in more comfortable weather, you could be feeling sick to your stomach. One of the most common issues in any ultramarathon is nausea and/or vomiting. It affects about 37% of people who complete a race, but it’s also the number one reason runners won’t finish in the first place. 

That’s because running disrupts your digestion.  It diverts blood away from your stomach to your muscles. And since ultramarathons last so long, many races provide sandwiches, pasta, and other carb-loaded meals. As a result, that food will sit around undigested, causing problems. But if your stomach isn’t slowing you down, your eyes could be causing you grief.

Windy conditions can dry out or damage the cells that pump a protective liquid layer over your cornea, which can cause your cornea to swell up and blur your vision. During the Hellgate 100K for example, runners report losing most of their vision by the end. They call it “Hellgate Eyes.”

But no amount of protection or preparation can prevent one symptom: Sleepiness. For a 17-hour race, it might not be so bad. But longer races can stretch to more than 24 hours, which can make sleepy runners more prone to trips and falls or worse, hallucinations.

The Barkley Marathons, for example, is a race where runners are given 60 hours to finish 161 km. In 2005, one runner reported that he thought he saw houses at the top of the mountain and believed he was their garbageman sent to pick up the trash.

Despite all these health hazards, ultrarunning is a growing sport. One study found that compared to marathoners, ultrarunners are more likely to do it for nature and a sense of purpose than for the competitive aspect. So if you’re up for the challenge, plenty of races are on trails through natural areas, so at least you’ll get a great view!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.

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