Should you train in the same shoes you race in?
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Should you train in the same shoes you race in?

Jul 12, 2023

Sports podiatrist Matt Hart gives us the lowdown on why it’s important to train in a variety of different shoes

The benefits of running in carbon-plated running shoes – often referred to as super shoes – on race day, are well documented. Professional and elite runners say carbon shoes have helped them break records – notably, Eliud Kipchoge, who broke the two-hour marathon mark in Nike’s carbon-plated Alphafly Next%. While Strava data has previously reported that runners run four to five per cent faster in the Vaporfly or Next% compared to runners wearing an average trainer, and amateur marathoners buy them in hopes of running a personal best. But, the question is: should you be training in them?

It’s important to train in a variety of different shoes to ensure your muscles and tendons can adapt and cope with different stresses and strains, explains sports podiatrist Matt Hart.

‘Differences in shoe weight, midsole densities and stiffness, flexibility and shoe geometry can all influence forces acting on the lower limb, so adapting to these is important,’ he says.

Hart recommends that runners have a shoe they would do their general easy mileage in and then use their race-day shoe for their faster work such as tempo running and interval training. ‘Doing all your training in one particular shoe, then just switching to a different shoe for racing without adaptation to that shoe is likely to alter lower limb stress, especially when the intensity is higher than normal training, due to being a race,’ he says. ‘Any alteration in lower limb stress, which is above what the body can cope with, will likely be a potential influencing factor to injury.’

Interestingly, research published in 2015 found that runners who had a shoe rotation (two or more different models) had 39% fewer injuries during the 22-week study than those who did almost all of their running in the same shoes.

The long-term effects of doing some of your training in race-day shoes are actually positive. ‘You'll get better adaptation to stresses that occur in those shoes and therefore less risk of injury and better performance,’ says Hart.

If we look specifically at the current trend for carbon-plated race shoes, these shoes reduce the metabolic cost of running, he explains. ‘If our metabolic cost is reduced, we are using less energy. Therefore, running in these types of shoes would provide better recovery following more intense training.’

This potentially has two benefits:

1) More intense training = improved training adaptation.

2) Better recovery = more consistent training.

Of course, carbon-plated race shoes are not for everyone. ‘We have to take into account individual responses to these shoes both from a performance, training and injury risk,’ says Hart. ‘However, for those that adapt to them and benefit from them, using them for a percentage of training (faster/race-pace training) will allow for more intense training and better recovery.’

The other long-term effect of training in your race day shoes isn't so positive: the potential hole it will leave in your pockets... ‘Constant training in race shoes will have a greater financial cost as the durability is less in these shoes compared with milage shoes,’ says Hart. ‘If you only run in one shoe for everything, that’s all you get used to, so any sudden change into a different shoe will require greater adaptation and possible increased risk of niggles.’

As mentioned, carbon shoes – such as Nike Vaporfly, adidas Adios Pro 3, New Balance Fuelcell Supercomp Elite V3 or Saucony Endorphin Elite – do require adaptation and are not for everyone. ‘Research has shown these shoes are runner-specific and speed-dependent, with less benefit to runners when running slower than 7 minutes per mile,’ says Hart.

‘With regards to injury, it is difficult to say whether these shoes increase the risk of injury as there has been no research carried out and evidence is currently limited. However, like anything, if runners are not conditioned to cope with how these shoes influence the lower limb, then one could make a reasoned argument to suggest this could be a potential factor in influencing the risk of injury,’ he adds.

Hart, who’s been carrying out his own study on carbon-plate shoes, says that some carbon-plated shoes influence the lower limb differently – with one particular leading carbon-plated shoe ‘increasing calf muscle activity significantly over an hour of running compared to another carbon-plated shoe’. This suggests that runners with a history of calf-related issues or Achilles tendon issues should seek advice from a healthcare professional. Hart adds that you should ‘reach out to someone such as a sports podiatrist, who specialises in running injuries and running footwear advice when looking at purchasing a carbon-plated race shoe, as different models may respond more positively with certain runners’.

The overall consensus? Yes, you can train in your race-day shoes – but you’re probably better off saving them for specific tempo sessions and for race day.

‘Runners should train in race day shoes, but not all the time,’ Hart reiterates. ‘Carbon-plated race shoes are high-end race shoes and do require adaptation. Runners who are not that well-conditioned, new to running or have a history of calf or Achilles tendon issues should seek advice from a specialist sports podiatrist (running specific) first, as different models may have a greater influence on increasing the risk of injury due to their increased workload on lower-limb muscles.’

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