Ask a credible running shoe or biomechanics specialist, and they will tell you they do not have such a thing as a 'favourite' shoe. The best one for you fits comfortably and does not hurt when you run.
They may prescribe a shoe based on how its features complement your biomechanics, training programme and the shape of your foot. They might encourage you to find a well-cushioned shoe that has a 4mm drop and a broad last, as an example. But if you put on a shoe and you do not like it, try on as many similar shoes as necessary until you find the right one. “Not many running shoe brands are available in South Africa – 20 compared with 121 internationally,” says sports podiatrist Dennis Rehbock. “We do not get every model of running shoe here, but popular tech includes carbon-fibre plates, maximalism and rocker-bottom soles.” Sure, some runners may benefit from these modern trends, but will you?
Some of the world’s best racing shoes have carbon-fibre plates in their midsection to provide propulsion in conjunction with energy-return midsole material. Examples include the Saucony Endorphin range, Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% and Brooks Hyperion Elite. The athletics controlling body, World Athletics (formerly known as the IAAF) has not banned them outright, but they have introduced strict rules when it comes to competing in them. Eliud Kipchoge ran a sub-2:00 marathon in the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly 4%, which had three carbon-fibre plates, but now elite athletes are only allowed to compete in shoes that have one. Should you base your shoe choice on what athletics stars are wearing?
Podiatrist Sean Pincus warns carbon plates are not for everyone. The curvature of the plate in one model may not fully match or agree with your gait or foot shape. That is because peoples’ metatarsals (toes) are different lengths, and we do not all run the same. You also need to run fast enough to create propulsion, at least 4.30/km, so if you are a slower runner, it will not benefit you. Dennis says research has shown these shoes give you an advantage of between 2% and 4%, so unless you are an elite athlete chasing marginal gains, they are not the shoe for you. Sean highlights an interesting debate. “Different tissues in your body have different vibration frequencies. If the way you run creates a vibration that resonates with a certain tissue, it can cause an injury such as a stress fracture, tendonitis or muscle damage. It is based on research by the author of Biomechanics of Sports Shoes Dr Benno Nigg, which Salomon used to create its Vibe technology.
Many shoes also have highly absorbent, spongy midsoles that dampen down these frequencies that prevent resonance, allowing energy return. That stops your tissues from fatiguing earlier in your run, leaving you with more energy at the end of it.
“It begs the question: was it the carbon-fibre plate that helped Kipchoge to run faster, or the fact the midsole absorbed so much vibration that his tissues took longer to fatigue, enabling him to run faster for longer?
I cannot answer that, but it is certainly a theory worth exploring. Guided by a professional, a person who has a shin splint injury may benefit from using a pair of so shoes with a spongey midsole, as an example.
Asics say the shoe geometry of a rounded sole, a forefoot rocker that runs from heel to toe in its Metaride, is designed to increase your running efficiency by rolling your foot from heel contact to toe-off in the gait cycle – according to the brand, it improves ankle motion by 20%. Much like a carbon-fibre plate, it propels you forward. Some also have decent cushioning, a lower heel-drop and a carbon-fibre plate.
According to Sean, the rocker is a podiatrist’s dream come true. “Pronation (rolling inwards) and supination (rolling outwards) account for 15% to 20% of the movement of the foot through the running cycle. Mostly, your foot moves straight up and down, known as a sagittal-plane movement. Shoes with carbon-fibre plates and curved outer rockers address sagittal-plane motion in a big way, by guiding your foot to move correctly. “Interuptions in sagittal-plane function are usually at the ankle, the big toe joint, or both, causing minor interruptions to the effective transfer of force from behind to ahead of the weightbearing foot. It can be as quick as a few miliseconds, but repeated thousands of times can cause an injury anywhere from the arch of your foot to your hamstrings.
"The average runner takes 990 steps per kilometre, which is 20,970 in a 21.1km.”
These shoes typically have a highly cushioned midsole and a thicker stack height (28-35mm).
“It started with Hoka One One, a niche brand that was popular among the trail-running community but has expanded its line to include road-running shoes,” says Dennis.
“The category has exploded in South Africa, with brands such as Brooks, New Balance, Asics and Altra having jumped on the bandwagon.” You only have to look at the Asics shoes, similar to the Metaracer with a super-thick stack height, Sara Hall was wearing when she came second in the women’s race at the London Marathon to question whether racing flats are dying a slow death in favour of platforms à la Elton John.
If you are a 90+kg runner, you should avoid racing flats, warns Sean. You must be a competent runner, who has pretty good mechanics and does not need orthotics or an inner sole. Perhaps a couple of wedges, but nothing more than that.