Carbon Fiber Shoes: How Often Should You Train and Race in Them?


, by Nick Bester

Photography by: Isarescheewin

There is no doubt that carbon fiber shoes have changed the game in the running world. Records are being broken just about every year, and a big reason for this is the improvement in the shoes.

I remember, not so long ago, when my running circle got wind of the fact that there was going to be a shoe with carbon fibre in it that could potentially increase your performance by almost 4%. It was revolutionary news to us! The first carbon shoe that we were all mezmerised by was the Nike Vaporfly. It retailed for around £200 - a ridiculous sum of money to pay for a shoe.

Fast forward a few months, and runners were throwing this sort of money towards these shoes, especially after they had seen its impact on performance.

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Today, if you are a ‘performance runner’, you almost have to wear these shoes if you don’t want to get left behind. Times are getting faster and faster each year and so too are shoes! They are also getting more and more expensive. From what I have seen recently, this hasn’t seemed to stop runners from wanting them and now instead of multiple Christmas presents all we want is a pair of super shoes.

How often should you train in carbon shoes?

The question I often get asked is, ‘Should I run in carbon shoes all the time?’ I know it's tempting to do this because they will improve your performance, but the short answer is no.

The Nike ZoomX is one of the shoes to have changed the running game. Photography by: Kovop

When you run in carbon fibre shoes, your body uses different muscles to those that you would use when running in normal shoes. Carbon shoes give you a good spring and bounce off the surface, but they also put a lot more pressure on your tendons, ankles and Achilles. Often you feel the effects, post-race, of carbon fibre shoes, especially in the early days when you start using them and your body hasn’t fully adjusted to these pressures.

For this reason, it’s important to run in normal everyday trainers for most of your training week. You use different muscles in your legs and feet that are important for remaining injury free.

You also want to save that benefit of your carbon fibre racing shoe for race day, so that running at goal pace feels slightly easier with that extra bounce off the surface and assistance.

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As a result, when it comes to recovery runs, these should be done in everyday trainers (a non-carbon shoe). There is no need for assistance on these days. You should be landing softer than you usually would in a race and don’t need that aggressive reaction back off the surface.

It’s perfectly fine to use carbon shoes when it comes to your harder days, which in a lot of cases might be twice in a week during sessions such as track/intervals, fartlek, tempo, hills and the higher performance training, and also for those sessions where you are looking to hit at least target race pace - if not faster. It also allows for your body to get used to what running in these types of shoes feels like.

How to optimize your race performance in carbon shoes

When it comes to race shoes, carbon shoes have a certain lifespan. I found that the freshness, pop and reaction you get from the shoe in its early days of running is far greater than compared to when the shoe has aged. You want to wear your shoes in ever so slightly prior to racing in them, but not too much to the point that it takes away that initial extra spring it’s giving you. I usually aim to do anything between 6-45 miles / 10-70 km in my racing shoe and then leave them aside for the big day.

Limit the amount of times you run in them, strengthen up those muscles that you wouldn’t normally work when using them, and save the extra benefit for race day.

Carbon shoes are not cheap, so it’s a good idea to your use older carbon racing shoes for the faster sessions that you do in the week. The more the shoe has aged, the less reactive it is, but in-turn the less spring and impact it has on your lower legs and feet.

In short, carbon fibre shoes have changed the world of running. Runners who want to use them should do certain sessions in them before racing with them. But we must train smart and not run in them all the time. Limit the amount of times you run in them, strengthen up those muscles that you wouldn’t normally work when using them, and save the extra benefit for race day.

Onwards and upwards,

Coach Nick

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