Can shoes make you run faster (or slower)?
Three kneejerk responses for this question could be:
“No, only training can make you faster”
“No, shoes are all the same. I just go for something comfortable”
“No, you can’t buy success in running”
At Airia we disagree with this. Well of course shoes won’t run for themselves. It will take an effort from you. Probably nothing less than your best effort. But if you are giving it your best could choosing the wrong pair of shoes be separating you from that personal best?
Let’s turn it around: Can certain footwear make you run slower?
Well if you think about it this is a question where a simple “yes” seems much closer to hand. Just try to run your normal training run in your winter boots, high heeled stilettos or your flip flops. If speed and faster times are important none of these three would be your footwear of choice. So what is the difference between running shoes and the three other types of shoes mentioned above? Let’s compare them to a regular running shoe. Let’s also look at some video clips of what it might look like.
Thicker and harder sole, heavier, bigger and reaching further up the calf, warmer.
High heeled stilettos
Harder and stiffer sole, bigger heel-to-toe drop (at least 6 cm more), very unstable heel, maybe a bit lighter, tighter fitting upper which compresses the toes.
Thinner sole, softer sole, badly fitting upper that easily falls off, much lighter, cooler.
So these different characteristics together with your body create a slower performance in these shoes. But exactly which points are slowing you down the most with each shoe? I’ve marked in italics my opinion on that above.
We can group these characteristics to see what makes performance differ in different shoes.
|Weight of shoe||Lighter means faster|
|Comfort and fitting of upper||What feels good, stays put and doesn’t cause pain will make you run faster (however some pain is almost inevitable when breaking in a new pair of shoes)|
|Sole geometry||Balance, direction of the force in the push off phase and body posture. Your whole gait cycle is highly influenced by this. (our Airia One sole exploits this to the maximum)|
|Sole material||More rebound is normally better but cushioning is not always better although many people like it and it then sneaks into the comfort category.|
|Temperature||In hot conditions a shoe that keeps the foot cool can help keep your whole body cooler which can enhance performance. In cool conditions you need to keep the feet warm enough not to cause “comfort” problems.|
So, now we know that shoes have characteristics that affect how fast someone might run in them. Do these differences exist between running shoes? Are these part of the difference between your “training” shoe and racing/interval shoe? Most of the time racing shoes are lighter, have a thinner upper (cooler) and also have a thinner and flatter sole. Racing shoes clearly take advantage of some of these performance enhancing properties.
How to run faster
The most common ways for a runner to become faster is training more and training harder. Another way is to improve efficiency by addressing running form, this is a neglected way to run faster. When you look at the fastest runners on the marathon distance you realize that efficiency and minimum movement is key to success here. Here is a clip from the Berlin Marathon 2013 at 35,5km where you can see the leader (winner and current WR holder) and many thousands of runners and compare. As you see form differs and matters for performance.
In conclusion you have several ways to take action; Train more, train harder, train smarter, improve running form and buy shoes built to help you reach the finish line faster.