Here is a question I get from the mailbag. Is it advantageous to race in a lighter running shoe (i.e. racing flat) or racing spikes? Is lighter always better?
There is one obvious answer with a warning. The answer is yes, because it’s psychologically faster as well as more efficient for your legs to lift several grams or ounces LESS with each step, whether it’s a 100 meter sprint or a marathon.
But there is a tradeoff, and in road racing, that is cushioning vs stability.
The best analogy is the an old Kleenex commercial for facial tissue paper. You can make the Kleenex super soft, but it would fall apart like a bag of feathers. You can make it super hard, but you could print your resume on it. So there is a compromise between being not too soft and not too hard. Sort of like the Three Bears bedtime story.
For sprinters, you want a lighter spike, but you also want a strong plate that can withstand the great forces, and return energy from striking the ground.
For road runners, it depends on your distance raced and your body weight. 5K vs Marathon. 132 lb elite athlete vs 200 lb weekend jogger. But make sure you “break them in” first or else you may get blisters from new shoes! I’ve heard the rule of shaving off about 1-second-per-mile faster for every ounce that you shave off the weight of your running shoes. Nike founder and U of O coach Bill Bowerman once calculated that for each extra ounce a runner lifts over the distance of mile results in 55 pounds of additional weight.
Just remember that less weight in the shoe means less material which means less cushioning. I think today’s “trainers” or running shoes are made light enough that the average runner doesn’t need a lighter racing shoe.
A Few Additional Thoughts
If you are lucky enough to get a shoe contract, then you should ask about getting a custom lighter shoe or spike for racing.
If you are running Ultra Marathons, don’t even think about a racing shoe, as you need all the protection you can get over 100 miles.
And finally, I’ll open up a can of worms and talk about Barefoot running or minimalist shoes. Yes, Abebe Bikila won the 1960 Rome Olympic Marathon barefoot… Yes, you will be lighter, but obviously you are giving up cushioning from the footstrike. Plus protection from stones and garbage on the ground. It really depends on how much you weight, how far you are going, and how fast you want to run!