Maximizing Performance:

Understanding Today’s Racing Shoes

In the fast-paced world of running, every second counts. With the evolution of sports technology and improved testing and feedback, modern racing shoes have become a focal point for athletes looking to shave crucial minutes (or seconds!) off their finish times. But with innovation comes complexity, and understanding the nuances of today’s performance shoes can make a significant difference in using them to your advantage.

Let's dive into some key questions surrounding the most current racing shoe technology, including degradation curves, optimal usage strategies, and which materials are giving you the biggest bang for your kick.

The Science Behind Racing Shoes

While carbon-fibre plates tend to steal the spotlight, one of the most critical components of modern racing shoes is foam technology. Two main types of foams dominate the market: PEBA foam and other variants. Understanding how these foams are made, and how they degrade over time, can be essential to unlocking their potential on race day.

  • PEBA Foam: Utilized in shoes like the New Balance Supercomp Elite v4, Nike Alphafly v3, Saucony Endorphin Series, and Asics Metaspeed+ series (to name just a few), PEBA foams degrade on a linear basis. This means that performance gradually reduces by 20% after covering 20% of the shoe's total lifespan. While they offer consistent performance throughout their usage, this 20% linear degradation can be “make or break” on race day, which is why most professionals will recommend running a key race on relatively new shoes.
  • Other Foam Variants: Many first or second-generation racing shoes employ different foam compositions. These foams degrade on a geometric curve, starting with quality performance but accelerating degradation over time. While initially comparable to PEBA foam, they tend to lose cushioning and responsiveness faster, especially after surpassing the 50km mark.
  • Plate vs. Foam: The carbon-fibre plate in racing shoes offers consistent performance from day one to the day you bid your shoes farewell; however, most of the shoe's benefits come from the foam. So although plate technology has certainly been a driving factor in the explosion or record-shattering races, the foam is truly the material doing most of the work.

“Approximately 75% of the advantages of super shoes come from the foam, with the remaining 25% attributed to the plate.”

Maximizing Performance: Finding the Balance

The key mantra for runners when it comes to racing shoe usage is simple yet crucial:

"Run as little as possible, but as much as you need to feel comfortable on race day."

OK, we get it: just tell us the exact right amount to run on your racing shoes before the big day - and then when to kick them to the curb! Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Everything from gait to weight will impact how you “use up” your shoes. That’s why we emphasize finding the delicate balance between breaking in your shoes and preserving their optimal performance. We’ll break it down a little more for you below.

So How Much Should I Run In My Shoes Before Race Day?

To answer this question, it’s all about the “cost” of balancing training with performance. Let's consider the impact of pre-race training mileage on performance to put things into perspective:

For a 4-hour marathoner, running 50km before race day "costs" approximately 1 minute in performance, while doubling that mileage to 100km results in a 2-minute loss, and so on. This formula shows the surprisingly high “cost” of mileage to performance and emphasizes the importance of strategic training to minimize unnecessary mileage.

So what’s the magic number? Well, we don’t recommend running a marathon with shoes fresh out of the box! But keeping their usage below 50km is a solid strategy to maximize their performance.

For most runners, that should look like one speed workout which includes some race-pace practice and one easier effort where you log some slow miles. The goal of your pre-race mileage should be to get familiar with how your shoes might feel at race pace and to run easily enough that you can acknowledge anything else about the shoe that might come up during your race.

Super Shoe Savings

Minutes Super Shoe 5% Savings Cost of KM's Before Race Day (Min)
Total Minutes After 0km Run 50km 100km 250km
5 Hour Marathon 300 15 1.125 2.25 5.625
4 Hour Marathon 240 12 0.9 1.8 4.5
3 Hour Marathon 180 9 0.675 1.35 3.375

Conclusion: A Strategy for Race Day Success

In the world of modern racing shoes, knowledge is power! By understanding the degradation curves of different foam types, balancing training mileage with performance costs, and maximizing the benefits of foam technology, athletes can optimize their racing shoe usage for peak performance on race day.

Remember, it's not just about the shoes; it's about finding the perfect balance between training, shoe rotation, cross-training, support, nutrition and hydration, and so much more. Visit us at BlackToe Running to get fitted for the perfect pair(s) of shoes for your body and goals, and to talk with our experts about anything and everything that will help make your race day as successful as possible!