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How new tech has changed running shoes forever

The advent of carbon technology has changed racing shoes, making them more responsive but not long lasting. This is what you need to keep in mind

You need to be savvy when choosing your next pair of running shoes.
You need to be savvy when choosing your next pair of running shoes. (Istockphoto)

The latest range of long distance running shoes have changed the world of running forever. They will also change the way you use your training and race day shoes. The days of the good old lightweight sleek racing flats with minimal cushioning in the soles are pretty much over, even though the odd purist or people with budget restrictions might still hold out. However, with world records tumbling and elite athletes demonstrating that shoes can actually make you run faster, it might be difficult to resist the temptation to jump onto the carbon technology bandwagon. 

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Gone are the days of racing flats such as the Nike Zoom Racer, the Asics Gel Noosa Fast and the Adidas Adios Boost. These shoes used to incorporate little to medium cushioning; days when every brand was competing to make their racing flats as light as possible. This was partly because studies, including one by the University of Colorado Boulder in the United States, had shown that heavier shoes cause runners to expend more energy which leads to slower run times. 

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However, Nike turned the entire race day shoe game on its head when it launched the Zoom VaporFly 4% in 2017. This pair came equipped with a carbon plate sandwiched within a soft, thick foam in the midsole. In the last four years, every running shoe brand worth its name has launched race day shoes with carbon plates or rods in the soles. As a result, sleek race day shoes have morphed into almost space age platform shoes (check out the Nike Alphafly NEXT%) with rigid carbon plates acting like a spring, superlight mesh or socks-like upper and a medium to high heel-to-toe drop. 

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Despite all the changes, the racing shoes continue to be lightweight. To ensure this, designers have developed very light and perforated materials for the upper and also cut down on the rubber used in the bottom-most layer of the soles. In the older days sturdy rubber covered the entire length and breadth of the shoes to ensure proper grip for runners. Whereas shoe brands nowadays have made the rubber used in their race day offerings a lot thinner, like in the Puma Deviate Nitro. Some, like Asics METASPEED SKY and EDGE, are not just using thinner rubber, but are also placing them only on high contact areas of the shoes.

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The rubber soles, apart from providing grip, used to prolong the life of the shoes. With this becoming thinner and sparser, the lifespan of modern running shoes are impacted a fair bit. Gone are the days when you could retire the race day shoes from its primary function of racing and then use them for your regular training, walking and gym. The new age shoes wear out fast that it’s imperative that you use them sparingly and wisely. Also, the stiff carbon plates and the higher profile of the shoes make them unsuitable for either walking or working out in the gym. 

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The carbon plates make the shoes very rigid and hence slightly difficult to walk in for long periods of time. But when I wore the Asics METASPEED EDGE and Puma Deviate Nitro for my speed runs, they literally added a spring to my step. Especially the METASPEED EDGE, which comes with a full-length carbon plate, made me feel like I was running with a pogo stick under my forefoot. It was that springy. The Puma Deviate Nitro flexes a bit more and felt much more comfortable for my heel-strike running style.

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Bearing in mind the quicker wear and tear, higher price and the carbon plate in the new race day shoes, it is best for runners to have separate training shoes to grind the roads and tracks on a daily basis as they chase their personal best timing and bring out their racing shoes on race day only.

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Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    06.09.2021 | 10:00 AM IST
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