Earlier this week, I was reading Running Times and there was an article talking about the great Libby James (she ran 1:19:22 for 10 miles at age 75… at elevation). Anyhow, the article mentioned that she didn’t even try racing flats until she was 72. This post is to prevent you from making the same mistake!
What Are They?
Racing flats are running shoes that are lighter and generally less frilly. While I’m not a running historian, I suspect the name – flats – comes from the fact that the shoes used to have very flat soles. In fact, most shoes for XC and track are still fairly flat, while shoes for road-racing have gone through more of a transformation.
Why Do They Help?
Simply put, they help because they’re lighter! A fairly recent study showed that every 3.5 oz of increased shoe weight was associated with about a 1% increase in oxygen consumption (increased oxygen consumption is a bad thing while running).
So… The Lighter, The Better?
Not exactly! That same study tested runners who were well-adapted to barefoot running both with and without shoes and found that they had a a 2.1% decrease in oxygen consumption (that’s a good thing) when wearing 5.3 oz shoes. The researchers theorized that one reason wearing a cushioned shoe increases performance, as opposed to no shoes at all, is that you get more energy back from the ground – a so-called “rebound” of energy.
** 5.3 oz is not a magic number. It happens to be the weight of the shoe used in the study.
Where Do I Get Them?
You can get them at your local running store. If you don’t have a local running store, or if they don’t have a pair that works for you, check: http://www.runningwarehouse.com/catpage-MRAC.html?SHOW=NOBRAND&ctype=comp and/or http://www.runningwarehouse.com/catpage-AWRRS.html?show=NOBRAND&ctype=comp
How Do I Select A Pair?
Especially if you are new to racing shoes, I highly recommend selecting a pair that is as close as possible to the shoe you train in. If you train in a fairly traditional shoe (an 8mm – 11mm drop), you probably want to look for a racing shoe that is somewhat similar. Here are a few pairs that are closer to the average training shoe:
So It’s All Good News?
Not exactly. These shoes generally offer less cushioning and support so there is an increased risk of injury. Also, they may require you take more recovery time after a race. Finally, they aren’t cheap. Racing shoes generally cost around $100.
If you’re looking to run faster times, you should definitely try a pair at some point. I’ll admit they aren’t for everyone. However, for me, they are lighter and they provide a nice psychological advantage on race-day.