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Should you invest in separate training and race day shoes for running?

If you are a runner, investing in separate training and race day shoes can help prevent injuries and, equally importantly, ensure longer lifespans for both the pairs

Training in a variety of shoes can help your muscles and tendons to cope with different stresses of running.
Training in a variety of shoes can help your muscles and tendons to cope with different stresses of running. (Unsplash/Alexander Redl)

A new generation of running shoes put carbon plates or rods between our feet and the ground we run on… and changed the world of running completely. From helping decimate world records across all distances to making recreational runners achieve their time goals, carbon technology in running shoes has been nothing short of transformational across the entire spectrum of runners — from professional athletes to recreational ones. The new range of shoes have also necessitated a new approach to training and race day shoes. 

Also read: 10 race day things you should (and shouldn't) do

There was a time, not long ago, when people used to do the bulk of their marathon training in thick-soled training shoes. They'd bring out their racing flats solely for speed work and race day. Now racing flats were not very popular among a majority of the runners because they used to be very light on cushioning, and users were afraid of damaging their knees. Consequently, most runners ended up using the same set of shoes for their training and race day. 

Thanks to carbon tech, gone are those days of running on thin-soled racing flats. Racing flats skeptics have openly embraced carbon race day shoes because of the abundant cushioning these shoes sport. However, these racing shoes use much softer foam to increase energy return and have a much shorter life span. This shortcoming has now forced runners to stock their shoe cabinets with separate training and race day shoes.

“Training shoes are meant for the bulk of your running. They are designed to endure the high mileage and provide protection against the repeated impacts of running. Race day shoes are lighter and faster than training shoes as they employ the lightest materials, bounciest foams and most propulsive carbon plates to give you an edge on race day,” says Deepak Oberoi, founder of Bombay Running and a pacer at the Tata Mumbai Marathon.

A major differentiator between training and racing shoes is the technical aspect and design of the two, says Saurabh Sharma, director of marketing, Asics India. “Training shoes are designed to offer cushioning, stability and overall comfort, keeping runners injury-free on their frequent runs through the week. Race day shoes, on the other hand, are designed for fast-paced running, tempo sessions and events, as they help runners make their fastest times event faster. Runners who wear these shoes are able to conserve more energy while maintaining their pace in the later stages of a race,” explains Sharma. 

Melwyn Crasto, chief track and field coach with Central Railway, suggests that runners ought to train in a variety of shoes, including race day shoes. This ensures that your muscles and tendons can adapt and cope with different stresses and strains of running, he adds. Factors such as variations in shoe weight, midsole densities, stiffness, flexibility, and shoe geometry can impact the forces exerted on the lower limb and adjusting to these variations is essential. “Incorporating tempo sessions using your chosen race day shoe is recommended as this ensures that your feet and muscles are adequately accustomed to the pair well in advance of race day,” says Sharma.

Also read: Why running up an incline is good for your legs

Apart from injury-prevention, using separate shoes for training and racing also increases the lifespan of all pairs of shoes. Training shoes are designed to withstand the rigours of regular workouts, providing durability and support for extended periods of use. By using them exclusively for training, you avoid subjecting your race day shoes to everyday wear-and-tear. Rotating multiple pairs of running shoes distributes the stresses you put them through. 

“This preserves the structural integrity of your race day shoes. Race day shoes are typically designed for speed and efficiency, with lighter materials and a focus on responsiveness. By sparing them from regular training sessions, you ensure that they retain their specialised features for peak performance during races. This can contribute to a better race experience and, potentially, improved race times. The separation of shoes for training and race day helps optimise the performance attributes of each pair and, ultimately, extends the lifespan of both sets of shoes,” adds Sharma. 

Running shoes are tough but they don't last forever. Our shoes take a beating under our feet, bake on the asphalt and get caked in mud and sweat. The outsoles start balding and the foam gets compressed under our weight, says Oberoi. When your running shoes are new, they provide protection and help you run smoothly. Worn out shoes, on the other hand, lose their ability to protect your feet and joints from running's repetitive pounding, which can lead to increased soreness and injury, he warns. 

One thing to bear in mind while choosing your shoes is that the lifespan of race day shoes and training shoes can vary based on several factors, including the frequency and intensity of use, running style, body weight, and the terrain on which they are used. Race day shoes are often designed with a focus on light weight and responsiveness and, as a result, their lifespan may be slightly shorter compared to training shoes, says Sharma. Training shoes are generally more durable, built to withstand the wear and tear of regular workouts.

While Oberoi suggests changing your shoes every 500 to 700km, Crasto is more generous suggesting replacing your running shoes every 1,000 to 1,500km or every six months, whichever comes first. The best approach would be to monitor the condition of your shoes regularly and pay attention to signs of degradation such as a loss of cushioning, reduced tread depth and visible tears. When these signs become apparent, it's a good indicator that the shoes may need replacement to maintain optimal support and performance. While you could decide for yourself when to replace your running shoes, it is best to kit yourself up with at least two pairs — one for training and one for race day — for your happy feet.

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

Also read: How the Indian team clinched silver at the IAU 50km World Championships


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