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When it comes to shoes, runners don’t like change. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude is part of the running culture, fueled by numerous stories of injuries appearing suddenly after an abrupt change of shoes.
But there are exceptions, the most obvious of which is the increasing number of recreational runners who have shown up at the starting line of races in new so-called “super shoes.” Worn by Eliud Kipchoge when he broke the two-hour marathon barrier in 2019, these ultra-cushioned, lightweight carbon plate shoes have taken the running world by storm.
Claiming to improve running economy by four percent, the original version of the super shoe was introduced by Nike and quickly copied by its competitors, selling for between $225 and $300. The promise of running faster using less energy was clearly the perfect marketing pitch for runners to trade in their old shoe for an improved one.
But how much of that much-hyped four percent boost can the average broker get from their $225-plus investment? Most laboratory and field tests included elite athletes running in well-controlled conditions, and even then, improvements in running economy varied considerably. And while race times have dropped quite a bit since shoes with distinctively designed carbon plates infiltrated the running community, little is known about whether those improvements are the same on the back of the pack as they are on the front. front of.
A team of German researchers decided to put supersneaker technology to the test to see if the promises of running faster or longer held true for the average Joe and Jill. Using data collected from another study, they evaluated the running economy of 32 Danish recreational runners of average pace and average training distance wearing three types of shoes: lightweight running flats with minimal cushioning, the new high-stack (29 mm in the forefoot and 39mm in the rear) carbon plate super shoes and their own regular shoes, which varied by runner and were all heavier than the other two styles.
Weight is an important feature in a running shoe, as running economy increases by approximately one percent with every 100 grams of weight reduction. But the shoes can only be stripped down to a certain point, especially when worn by endurance runners who log many hours of training. Cushioning is important, and super shoes have it in abundance. And thanks to new materials, all that extra cushioning doesn’t come with extra weight.
Also important to the design is the super shoe’s energy return, optimized by the curved carbon rigid plate running through the insole. The plate acts like a lever, moving the foot through the stride quickly and efficiently and improving the swing phase. When CCombined with the lightweight, well-cushioned midsole, its potential to enhance running performance is what the thrill is all about.
Now we just have to find out if all this technology benefits all runners equally, regardless of their speed, skill and technique, a task taken on by the German researchers in the name of greater transparency.
“Given that systematic improvements in running economy in the population appear to require individual optimization of shoe characteristics, it should at least be clear to a single athlete/customer how likely they are to benefit before purchasing,” the researchers said. researchers.
Putting the shoes to the test, the recreational runners performed six six-minute treadmill trials at a self-selected comfortable pace, allowing enough rest between trials to recover and change shoes. This protocol was repeated during a second visit. Running economy was calculated for each participant and each pair of shoes.
Using their own shoes as a benchmark, only 53 percent of participants improved their running economy while wearing running flats. The average metabolic savings in the super shoe was three percent, with only 25 percent of participants realizing the four percent increase in running economy promised by the manufacturer.
For runners considering switching, it’s clear that super running shoes have the potential to help them run faster and further while expending less energy – nirvana for most marathon and half marathon runners. But there are a few details worth noting.
Running economy in the super shoe improved during the second day of testing, suggesting there is a learning curve in maximizing the shoe’s potential. And all of the benefits of the study were related to the runners’ initial shoe choice: the heavier the runner’s shoe, the greater the potential for improvement with the super lightweight shoe. And as the researchers pointed out, the tests were done indoors on a treadmill, which is not the same as running through the streets of your neighborhood or in a race.
Still, the study offers interesting insights into how super shoes fare on the average runner’s feet, and whether or not the investment is worth it.
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