Will flats make you faster?
By Fred Deckert
Will racing flats make you run faster? Of course they will, how much is open to question. You already know the professionals use racing flats, a good indication they really work. It might be worth while to look at the why’s, which might not be obvious to average runners.
At first glance it would seem that shaving a few ounces off your footwear wouldn’t be significant, but realize that you probably are talking about 5 ounces less lifted off the ground roughly 1500 time per mile, or almost 5000 times during a 5K race. This give you 5,000 x 5 ounces = 25,000 ounces or 1562 pounds during about 20 minutes. Estimating you lift that weight about 6 inches you now have 1562 x ½ = 781 foot pounds in 20 minutes. This translates to a bit over 1/1000 of a horsepower. That seems pretty tiny, but the average person expends energy at the rate of about 1/10 to 2/10 horsepower. So, we’re talking about a something like one percent. Not much, but it could be the difference between winning and losing your personal battle.
Even so, for many of us, dependent on our personality, the mental factor may well be more important. Who has not tied on a pair of featherweight shoes and not felt his legs become lighter and quicker? Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia went even further, running barefoot to win the Olympic marathon in 1960. Dave Rogers, our local barefoot runner habitually runs without shoes, without adverse effects. But, for the majority of us running barefoot would be a hazard to our podiatric health.
So, why not run in flats all the time? Several reasons crop up. First, it’s expensive. These shoes don’t last nearly as long as training shoes. Second, bad for the feet, the inevitable compromise is less padding and foot control than your training footwear. Third, the mental lift of suddenly lighter feet would be gone if the same footwear was used all the time. The option of bare feet is probably undesirable for the majority of us since we’ve not been accustomed like Bikila to being barefoot all our lives, not to mention the road hazards present in civilized running locales. On at least one occasion a competitor at the Pine Run 20K has quit the race at three miles after suffering too much pain running in racing flats over a rocky section of the trail.