Saturday, June 30, 2012

What It's Like to Run in an Olympian's Shoes

 by Jenny Beckman & Wendi Morin

(Source: Johnny Hanson / Houston Chronicle)

In my experience as a salesperson, there are two major misconceptions surrounding racing flats. One is that they are used strictly for racing, and the other is that only the super-elites run in them. With the rise of the “minimalism” movement, we are seeing more and more people don light weight shoes. I sat down with Gear West gait analysis expert Wendi Morin and hashed out some answers to the most common questions we hear surrounding these shoes.

“What is a racing flat?”

Racing flats are shoes with very little cushion if any, they typically have a low heel and are lightweight.  When you look at these shoes you can’t help but think “where’s the beef?”  Or if you’re a vegetarian, “where’s the veggie burger?” There is also a category of shoes called racer-trainers that some people might consider racing flats because they are still very light-weight, but this type of shoe has a little more cushion and a little less flexibility. A racer-trainer is a good choice for someone who wants to run longer distances and have more protection from the road.

Asics DS Trainer 17: Same last, more sole

Asics DS Racer 9: Less sole=lighter weight

“Why bother using them? I have a comfy pair of trainers that fits me just fine”

Why should you use them? It's simple. Running in a lighter shoe will result in less fatigue and allow you to go faster over a long distance – with proper training of course. Putting on a pair of light weight flats will not make up for lack of training.

That being said, racing flats should be worn by people that have an efficient running gait and are less prone to injury. If you are unsure about how efficient you are, or want help in becoming more efficient you should consider having a gait analysis.

Wendi Says: “If a runner doesn’t have a real efficient gait, they may find that they actually can run a race faster in a regular running shoe instead of a racing flat because they use less energy being better aligned.”

“If I purchased a pair would I use them strictly for racing?”

No. We recommend that you use the flats when doing any sort of speed work. Log your regular miles in your trainers, and use the flats for speed work such as strides, intervals, or tempo runs. Give your body time to adjust to the shoes, that way when race day rolls around – you'll be ready to rock!

“How long will it take me to get used to them?”

It all depends on the runner. Racing flats are minimal shoes, so we recommend working into them the same way you would with a minimal trainer. Most running experts recommend runners who are new to using flats log 10% of their normal distance in the light weight shoes. For example – “your normal tempo run is 10 miles, wear the flats for 1 mile, and then switch back to your trainers.” says Gear West & The Fix Studio's “Gait Analyzer” Lev Kalemkiarian.

Wendi Says: “Racing flats use more of the small muscles that may not have to work in a less flexible shoe and therefore if they are worn on occasion they can teach your body to recruit more muscle. This will slowly help you to become more efficient as a runner.”

How to choose the right flat for your foot:

Wendi Says: “To choose the right racing flat for you, make sure to consider what has worked for you in a training shoe when choosing a racing flat. A lot of times there are toned-down versions of training shoes that are lighter weight for racing. You want to try on several different brands and see what feels comfortable on your feet. Get an idea of what you like and what you don’t like in terms of weight, amount of cushion, amount of stability, room in the toe box, and color (for some people). Keep in mind what race distance the shoe is best for, and if you have questions ask a Gear West sales person! We are all trained in providing proper fit and can send you on your way with a great fitting pair of shoes.”

 Olympian's Shoes:

Nike Luna Racer+ - Worn by Kara Goucher in the 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon. This shoe is also Jan's weapon of choice. She looks for a shoe with a “close snug fit, like a second skin.”
Asics Hyper Speed - Olympian Ryan Hall in the 2012 Olympic Trails Marathon
Brooks T7 Racer - Desiree Davila 
Source: Brooks Running