So you’ve got a race coming up. Congratulations! You’ve run a lot of miles, perhaps more than you ever have in your life. You’ve made new running friends and probably bailed on some other friends to rest up for a run the next morning.
But as the big day gets closer, you’ve started to hear people talk about the shoes they’ll be wearing on race day… and it sounds like they’re different from what you have. You might have heard phrases like “carbon plate” and “super foam” and talk of price tags way higher than what you paid for your shoes.
It sounds confusing, and very important. You might be asking yourself: “If I don’t get these shoes I didn’t know existed before this very moment, will the last few months of training have been for naught?” Before we tackle that weighty question, let’s take a step back.
What is a road racing shoe?
Racing shoes – sometimes referred to as racing flats or, simply, flats – are different than what you train in every day. They are usually lighter than a standard trainer and are made from materials geared more toward maximizing speed than durability. This is where carbon plates and “super foams” enter the picture.
Simply put: carbon plated shoe is a shoe with a carbon-fiber plate built into its midsole. Carbon-fiber is super lightweight and also really rigid. This rigidity allows it to act as a sort of lever for your foot, helping carry you through your stride. Additionally, its stiffness reduces the amount of work your foot has to do to propel you forward, reducing fatigue over the course of a longer race.
Modern racing shoes also contain superfoams, which are lighter, bouncier, and less durable than the foam in your trainers. Combined with the carbon plate, these shoes are geared entirely for speed.
Do I need racing shoes to run a marathon?
Nope! You can definitely run a marathon in non-racing shoes. There's not a single race that we know of that has some TSA-style checkpoint to screen for racing flats before you can enter the starting corral. Any race will feature runners of all paces running in trainers. I even ran a few miles of a marathon next to a guy who was barefoot. No one came and dragged him off the course. You can race in whatever you want whether it’s a racing shoe, trainer, or even no shoes at all (though we don't recommend the latter)!
Everyday training shoes that you can wear on race day include:
Do I need racing shoes for my next race?
While you don’t technically need racing shoes to run your next race, there is a chance you might benefit from lacing up a pair of racing shoes, depending on how you’re approaching the race. If your primary goal is to complete the race, regardless of time, you probably don’t need a racing-specific shoe. Hopefully you already have a shoe that feels good to run in. If not, you should stop by your friendly neighborhood running store. If you have something that works, don’t mess with success. Stick with what got you there!
On the other hand, if you’re looking to set a personal best, qualify for the Boston Marathon, or reach some other time-based goal, a racing shoe can help you do it. They’re specifically engineered to reduce fatigue and help you run fast. In contrast, your training shoe is focused on comfort and injury prevention. If you want to run fast, a racing shoe is the right tool for the job.
How do I pick the right racing shoe?
The short answer is to try some on!
Just because your friend swears by a particular model doesn’t mean it will be the right one for you. Just like with trainers, each brand and model of racing shoe will fit a bit different. You want to make sure you get the right size and fit for your foot. Since your goal is to run fast, you want to make sure they feel good to run fast in. The only way to do that is to test them out. All our shops have a treadmill for you to test out some shoes. So, come on in, crank up the speed, and find out which shoes make you fly.
What are the best racing shoes on the market?
There really isn’t an easy answer to that question. The best shoe on the market is the one that works best for your foot and your stride. That might be the same shoe that works best for your friend or an Olympian … or it might not.
That said, here are some popular models for some popular distances.
Marathon and half marathon racing shoes:
- Hoka Carbon X
- New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Elite
- Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%
- Nike Vaporfly Next%
5k and 10k racing shoes:
- Adidas Adizero Takumi Sen
- Asics Metaspeed Sky+
- New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Pacer
- Nike ZoomX Streakfly