Proper footwear important
By Gary Droze
While no racing shoe on earth can transform a plodding also-ran into a champion, proper footwear selection will certainly make a difference for well-trained runners who are looking to shave a few seconds from their race times.
Some factors to consider when selecting racing shoes include terrain, shoe weight, and injury risk.
Terrain is the most obvious consideration. While many area races are conducted on asphalt, off-road races are also popular locally. Last Saturday’s Tom Brown Bash featured mostly grass and double-track dirt trails, with only a smattering of pavement. A number of savvy cross country veterans traded their road flats for spikes on this course, to improve traction on the potentially slippery surface. Spikes are generally the top choice for courses dominated by grass. Conversely, spikes are a poor choice for the roads, where they cause a runner’s footplant to clatter and skid. While a few hundred meters of the Tom Brown course followed a paved bike path, the grassy shoulder along the path accommodated spike-clad competitors. In this instance, a thorough pre-race course inspection paid off for those who brought spikes. Invariably, runners are going to encounter cross country courses that include just enough pavement to make the spikes-versus-flats decision a real brain teaser. In this case, let the rain gauge be your guide. In dry conditions, road flats may work nearly as well as spikes, but they are nearly useless on extremely wet grass, except for the entertainment value they offer spectators who witness wipeouts on sharp turns.
On road courses, runners will be wearing flats that vary in weight from six ounces for ultralight racers to twelve ounces for heavy training shoes. This weight difference is significant in terms of its effect on race times. Studies published a decade ago in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise indicated that every two to three ounces added to shoe weight may slow a runner by approximately five seconds per mile. Practically speaking, this means we can expect to run a 5K race about 15 seconds faster in lightweight trainers than heavy training shoes, and perhaps 15 seconds faster yet, if we opt for featherweight racers. Of course, there’s a catch: only the biomechanically blessed can get away with wearing the very lightest available racers for long distances without risking impact injuries. For most of us, the best compromise involves finding mid-range racer/trainers (nine to ten ounces) for our long road races, and employing the ultralight racers only sparingly, in races of 5K or less.
Few stores carry spikes, or list the weights of their racing flats, but Shaw’s Athletics and Sports Beat can both help Tallahassee runners in these areas.