Here at Accelerate we have built up quite the collection of racing shoes. They range from the Mizuno Elixr with its reasonably deep cushioning, the stiffness inducing Wave plate and the unforgettable ‘zebra stripes’, to the simple flexibility and low profile design of the 195g Inov8 F-Lite.
The Puma FAAS 300 harks back to uncomplicated 1970s track spikes with retro looks and bold colours whilst the Saucony Kinvara blurs the edges of what constitutes a racing flat and training shoe by merging high levels of cushioning and an almost flat shoe. The Brooks Green Silence challenges the conventions of running shoe design by being made from recycled materials; and right now we are also lucky enough to have the super smooth Mizuno Wave Ronin in the Olympic colour way. New Balance are in on the act with the 890 – a traditional looking training shoe that keeps on surprising when it comes to responsiveness; and new kid on the block (for us at least) – Karhu have the Flow Fulcrum Ride which is proving to be quite a hit with the racing community...and the list goes on!
However, enough of what we have – what are racing shoes? What does this actually mean?
For some, a tried and tested old favourite that you know won’t blister your feet when the miles start to bite, for others the race shoe is a thing of lightweight beauty, only unleashed when the event is serious. For most, the race shoe needs to feel fast, responsive and give you that edge when performance matters – yet despite this, they are no longer the secret of speed-merchants.
Now don’t get confused, racing shoes are not the same as minimalist shoes. They share many of the same characteristics – lightweight, low-profile, jazzy colours etc, but the purpose of racing flats is to feel fast. They make use of cushioning technologies and exotic materials in order to create a responsive foot strike that feels smooth and comfortable. They don’t preach about their ‘heel to fore-foot differential’ (the slope of the cushioning) or paucity of mid-sole, but rather shout about the power felt through toe-off and the ultimate experience of absolute speed.
We have all heard about the wave of popularity surrounding the minimal-shoe movement. These converts argue that the lower cushioning height coupled with a lower heel to fore-foot differential creates a more ‘natural’ position for the foot and enables better ground feel coupled with a more stable base. We would struggle to argue with those sentiments. However, we are also acutely aware that for many every day runners out there, the difference between a minimalist shoe and their current trainer is probably quite radical.
The bright chaps at British Cycling use the phrase; ‘there are macro-absorbers and micro-adjusters’. Some people can be plonked on pretty much any bike and with little tinkering just get on and ride it with no thought and low incidence of repetitive injury. These are macro-absorbers, and are quite rare. They are the runners who kick off their big, cushioned support shoes and happily dash off into the distance in their new minimalist trainers and start planning marathons and ultra trail runs almost as fast as you can say ‘natural running’. Then there are those who know when their saddle has moved 2mm, or the stem is at a different angle. These are the micro-adjusters. These are the runners who notice a grain of sand in their sock and would probably discover a pea under a Silent Night mattress should anyone be so annoying as to hide one there. At this extreme level of sensitivity, these people are also quite rare. However, we all fall into this continuum.
So everyone is different. We know that. What has this got to do with racing flats? Well, as the principles behind minimal shoes sound quite good, racing flats can offer that type of feel, without the necessity of a radically different shoe to the ones many of us are most familiar with. By simply feeling fast, we run more positively. Our head lifts, followed by our chest, and most importantly these are connected to our hips; which also lift. This brings our foot-strike further underneath our centre of gravity which in turn helps us engage our glutes and can improve our push off – thus helping us to run faster. A virtuous circle of speed.
Of course, no shoe can lay claim to these alterations in technique, but a shoe can be one part of a puzzle that helps us to reach our goals. So, racing flats are not for everyone all of the time, but if you are thinking about injecting some pace, or would like to work on technique, or want to try a light and responsive shoe that isn’t a minimalist trainer per se, racing flats could be an answer. And you don’t need to be a speed merchant. Not to start with anyway!
Wednesday 18th of July 2012