One month before the biggest track and field event of the year, an astonishing number of high-volume performances lit up the local and professional meets.
In the spring, the University of Washington’s track team produced eight sub-four-minute distances. In June alone, four high school racers broke that barrier in the same race. On the professional circuit, three world records It was smashed within a week in Paris in JuneKenyan Faith Kipyegon set a new record in both the 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter races for women, and Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma set a new mark in the men’s 3,000-meter hurdles.
On Friday night, Kipyegon set another record, breaking the women’s 1-mile world record by nearly five seconds when she broke the tape 4 minutes 7.64 seconds. The performance stunned track fans accustomed to records often improving by tenths of a second.
Question – why so many fasting times? – endlessly asked and answered. Wavelight, the speed-adjusting technology, definitely helps. So have the ever-evolving dynasty of super-shoes—those thick, springy, midsole kicks that have revolutionized racing in recent years by giving off higher bounce energy when a runner lunges.
But many sports scientists see something else: the reward from several years of training in those specialized shoes. Which is a feature that recreational racers can take advantage of, too.
“Since shoes are such a new tool, the more we use them, the better we adapt,” said Jeff Burns, a physiologist and biomechanics expert with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
Burns and other sports scientists firmly believe in what’s known as the idiosyncrasy principle: For a runner to compete at his best, he must train in the same way he would race. That means running at a race pace, drinking the same fluids, consuming the same gels, and perhaps most importantly, wearing the same shoes.
Superfootwear burst onto the scene in 2016 when Nike shocked the world with its first energy-returning platform shoes, the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%. Apparently they were faster than previous shoes that World Athletics, the governing body for track and field, began limiting the height of a shoe’s sole in 2020. Now all the major shoe companies have Supers in their lineup, and hundreds of thousands of runners wear them every day.
For elite athletes, the allure of both training and racing in superhero shoes has become hard to resist. Lindsey Flanagan, who set a personal best marathon time of 2:24:43 seconds, will be one of three American women to run the World Championships marathon in Budapest in August.
“Since I’ll be wearing ultra-high-profile shoes to races, I want them to feel good in training,” Flanagan said. “I’ve found that I can log more quality days, as well as more miles in general, because my legs come in sooner.”
But Flanagan also knows some professional runners who don’t train in ultra-high-top shoes. They think they can build their strength while wearing traditional shoes, and then get an extra boost on race day by slipping into fitted shoes.
Of course, the “Nietzschean principle” can sometimes apply: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. A recent pilot study of California State University, East Bay, found some evidence for this by comparing the fitness gains of runners in traditional racing flats compared to supershoes. Those who wore flat shoes complained of more muscle pain, but they also improved their running economy more than runners who wore ultra-high-top shoes.
Two experts in the study of running injuries, Adam Tinford and Amol Saxena, believe that the use of supershoes can lead to serious illnesses. In February, they authored an article In the Journal of Sports Medicine which presented five case studies of navicular orthopedic injuries arising from the use of superhero shoes.
“I’ve seen supershoe injuries in runners at all levels—high school runners, recreational runners, and elite athletes,” said Saxena. “Shoes can place atypical stresses on bones and soft tissues.”
On the other hand, there are no known reviews of superhero shoe injury rates that follow standard statistical models. And two of the leading researchers in the field of ultra-shoes, Wouter Hoogkamer and Max Paquette, say they haven’t seen convincing data that runners’ biomechanics differ significantly in ultra-shoes from traditional ones.
Burns, a physiologist, and Dustin Joubert, an exercise physiologist at Stephen F. Austin State University, found that, contrary to the assumptions of many, superior shoes have a longer functional life than traditional ones. They found that the dense foam midsole in the Ultra shoes retained its cushioning and energy return properties longer than the softer EVA sole in the previous shoes.
The soft cushioning of the Ultra shoes may be a boon for older runners, too. Bill Salazar, a 77-year-old runner from Arizona, has been training in Arizona for more than three years, running about 35 miles a week.
“The big benefit for me is that I recover faster and I’m wearing superior shoes,” said Salazar, who ran a 4:22 marathon in Berlin last September.
The same cushioning and recovery benefits have been reported by many top runners. They note that they used to “hit the wall” after 20 miles in a marathon, but now, while wearing ultra-high-quality shoes, they can finish stronger and faster because their leg muscles aren’t so fatigued.
In the London Marathon in April, Kenyan newcomer Kelvin Kiptum He wore super shoes while clocking the second-fastest marathon time of all time, 2:01:25. Kiptum ran the first 13.1 miles in 1:01:40, and the second yard in 59:45.
Apparently, his legs weren’t so tired.