Are Racing Shoes For You?
by Bob "Wish" Wischnia on January 31, 2012
One of the most frequently asked questions road racers have is whether or not they should wear racing shoes. It’s a good question, especially among runners who want to race faster, set a PR or contend for age-group honors.
But what about the average recreational racer? Can wearing racing flats help you race faster?
In a word, yes. But like just about everything else it isn’t quite that cut and dry.
Intuitively, we assume wearing a lighter shoe in races will make a substantial difference and help us improve our times. It stands to reason that the less weight your foot has to lift means your feet will spend less time on the ground which means your legs’ turnover rate will be quicker and you will run faster.
How much faster? Not a lot. Depending how much weight you “lose” from trainers to racers, you might gain three or four seconds per mile.
Even so, wearing extremely lightweight racing shoes (or road flats, the terms are synonymous) is not a shortcut to a massive PR. Training will do it; not just the shoes. In fact, racing shoes on the wrong runner could lead to a personal worst.
The harsh reality is that racing shoes are not recommended for the average recreational runner. And they are absolutely not for the beginner who is running for fun and/or just trying to finish a marathon.
Why not? After all, racing shoes are as much as four ounces lighter per shoe than most training shoes. But the reason road racing shoes are so light is that they are built with much less cushioning and support than trainers. And most recreational racers and newbies can’t sacrifice cushioning and support for lightness.
On the other hand, experienced, faster racers can give up some cushioning and support to squeeze every last second out of their race. For fast guys and gals, every second counts as they battle for top 10 finishes and age-group awards.
If that doesn’t sound like you, you probably shouldn’t consider wearing racing shoes. Flats simply aren’t worth the risk of injury and beside, flats won’t make a major difference in how fast you run, unless you run 7-minute per mile pace or faster.
However, if you are an experienced racer who is biomechanically efficient—i.e., doesn’t overpronate to the extreme—racing shoes can be worth it. Again, road flats won’t take you from a 3-hour marathoner to 2:45, but they’ll help.
Most good road racers wear flats and if you are contemplating whether to wear racing shoes for your key race, try a pair out in a few of your tempo runs. Doing so, will give you a feel for the extreme lightness that will allow for a faster leg turnover.
You might find out you like the snug fit and feel of racing shoes and decide to use them in your next race. Go for it. Just don’t make your first race in road flats a marathon. Too risky. Use them in a 5-K first.
If you find flats too light and not cushioned or supportive enough, stick with your everyday training shoes in races. Nothing wrong with that. That’s what most citizen racers use.
However, if you still want to wear a lighter shoe for road races, try a lightweight trainer-racer such as the Mizuno Wave Precision or Wave Elixir. Both shoes are lighter and more flexible than conventional training shoes and have a moderate amount of cushioning.
Here’s a look at Mizuno’s family of road-racing flats and performance trainer-racers. Mizuno’s three exceptional road-racing shoes are the Wave Ronin, Wave Musha and Wave Universe as well as two popular lightweight performance that are suitable for racing: The Wave Precision and Wave Elixir.
Road-racers: Intended primarily for road-racing. Extremely light uppers and flexible, Mizuno’s family of road flats are designed to fly.
- Wave Universe (3.8 ounces) is a stripped down racer which is built purely for speed. The lightest racing shoe on the market, the Wave Universe weighs about half of what most conventional road-racing shoes weigh. With a heel-to-toe ramp of only 5 mm, the Universe has a very low midsole profile which has gained considerable following among minimalist enthusiasts as a training and racing shoe. Available in unisex sizing.
- Wave Ronin (m: 7 oz; w: 6 oz.) is a fast, well-cushioned racing shoe designed primarily for biomechanically efficient racers who want a snug-fitting flat. Although it’s extremely light, the Ronin has most of Mizuno’s top technologies found in its trainers, including Dynamotion Fit, AP+ midsole and SmoothRide engineering for fast heel-to-toe transition. The Ronin’s G3 outsole is especially valuable on wet roads (for example, at aid stations) as it grips the road—even at high speeds. Heel-to-toe ramp is 9 mm. Suitable for all distances up to the marathon.
- Wave Musha(m: 7.8 oz. W: 6.8 oz.), available for the first time this year in a corresponding women’s specific model, is different from the Ronin in several key aspects. The Musha is slightly heavier, offers a hint of support and fits a broader fit than the Ronin. With a light, highly flexible midsole (AP+ cushioning) and outsole, the Musha has also gained popularity as a lightweight trainer for fast days as well as race days. Heel-to-toe ramp is 9 mm. Suitable for all distances up to the marathon.
Performance trainers: Many runners prefer a lightweight trainer for daily running. Others, use lightweight performance trainers as a “second” shoe for fast, tempo days, interval workouts and races. Mizuno’s performance trainers are two or three ounces lighter than conventional trainers without sacrificing cushioning, comfort and durability.
- Wave Elixir: (m: 9.3. oz.; w: 7.7 oz.) defines lightweight support with its cushy, yet moderately supportive ride. If you have support concerns about most lightweight shoes, the Elixir delivers enough for all but severe overpronators. The Elixir’s low profile has a racing shoe feel, but has the cushioning and comfort of a training shoe. With a snug fit and great flexibility, the Elixir lets you get up on your toes to top speed at any distance. Heel-to-toe ramp is 12 mm.
- Wave Precision:(m: 9.6. oz.; w: 8 oz.) is the perfect companion (or second shoe) for Mizuno’s neutral trainers such as the Wave Rider or Wave Creation. The Precision is lighter, has a bouncier midsole and is more appropriate for faster running than its neutral brethren. But it still has the comfort, fit and cushioning of a daily trainer. Also suitable for races of any distance. Heel-to-toe ramp is 12 mm.
If you are thinking of buying road racing shoes before your next big race, here are some factors to consider:
1. Racing shoes are faster.. Research shows that for every ounce that you shave off the weight of a training shoe, you will run one second per mile faster. If you compare a typical 11-ounce trainer to a seven-ounce racer, that’s a savings of four ounces per shoe which translates to four seconds per mile. That equates to 12 seconds in a 5-K or nearly two minutes in a marathon. That’s not a lot, but for some runners, every second counts.
2. Racing shoes make you feel faster. Race morning is different from a normal training day and chances are you want this day to feel special. That’s why you wear a singlet with a number on it and that’s why many racers also wear racing flats. They want to feel faster and racing shoes allows them to feel like there’s almost nothing on their feet to slow them down.
3.Use racing shoes for a few shorter runs before a race. Racing in flats is an acquired feeling and you must get accustomed to the extra pounding your legs will take. Racing shoes weigh substantially less because there is less shoe. If the shoes feel too light in training, chances are they are too light for races.
4. If you need plenty of cushioning, racing shoes are out. Most road flats offer about 20 percent less midsole cushioning foam than training shoes. If you need that extra comfort, race with trainers
5. If you need support and stability, stick with your trainers.Racing shoes have almost no support or control features. If you overpronate and need those added support features, stick with your trainers.
6. If you’re a big runner, racing shoes are not for you.Simply put, bigger, heavier runners need all the support and cushioning they can get. Racing shoes don’t have adequate beef for bigger runners