Super Shoes Unveiled: Revolutionising Running or Overhyped Expense?

Super Shoes Unveiled: Revolutionising Running or Overhyped Expense?

What’s up with ‘Super Shoes’? Do they make the difference their manufacturers say they will? If so, is that only for the elite level runner or are there equivalent gains to be had all the way down the results sheet? How do they work to make runners faster? Are there any potential negatives to super shoes and the big one… are they worth the price tag?

To answer the first question – Do they work? I think that this is answered very eloquently by the anecdotal evidence. Running times are coming down across all distances and not in the gradual way that can be explained by better training techniques and nutrition. There has been on average a 2% improvement in men’s and women’s world records across all distances on the road. It would take bravery to assert that this was not contributed to by super shoes.

So, no really earth-shattering revelations there. Let’s skip the question of whether this applies across all levels of runner in order to first discuss how these shoes achieve these improvements and see if this helps up come up with that answer.

Energy return – The maximal mid-soles of these shoes can look clunky to the purest but they utilize a lightweight and highly resilient material that’s known as “super foam” due to its high performance properties. Known for its energy return and responsiveness, PEBA (polyether block amide) foam offers a bouncy feel during each stride and provides a snappy toe-off, efficiently converting the energy of our foot-strike into energy that springs us forwards.

Then there is the carbon plate inserted into the mid-sole. This not only gives a small kick of energy to each toe-off but also enhances the stability of the shoe, which has a high stack height and very spongy foam.

Lightweight – PEBA foam is extremely light. So, despite having more material than the old-school racing flats, super shoes are featherweights. Most coming in at less than 200 grams.

Heel-to-toe – The shape of the super shoe promotes the rocking from rear or midfoot to toe off in one smooth motion. Much like a see-saw or teeter-totter. So, the transition from foot-strike to toe-off is fast and smooth, resulting in fast efficient cadences and more distance per stride. All factors that equate to covering ground faster.

These are all pretty obvious advantages and ones which running shoe brands quote, ad-nauseum in their marketing material. What has been found in lab tests is that the super shoe actually improves a thing called running economy. Simply, this means that runners are able to maintain the same speeds they did in conventional shoes, more economically while wearing super shoes. The result is, they can maintain those speeds for longer durations due to the lower metabolic costs.

This fact leads us nicely into the burning question… do super shoes make everyone faster, no matter what speed they run? The conclusion that the real benefit of a super shoe is that it improves running economy suggests that they don’t actually make runners faster in terms of pure speed across the ground. These elite runners are capable of running those speeds barefoot but the shoes just allow them to maintain that for longer. So, sadly for the rest of us, if we are not already capable of running sub three minute kilometres, the super shoe is not going to make that happen. What they will do for us is make us slightly more comfortable at the speeds that our physiology and training schedules allow, which should result in slightly faster times at the races, just not as significantly faster as is apparent in our elite counterparts.

Are there any downsides to running in super shoes? The most obvious characteristic of super shoes is there higher stack height, even if the heel-to-toe heights are not that different. The fact that we are higher off the ground on quite spongy foam means that there can be some lateral instability and probably more than we are used to in our conventional shoes. The risk of ankle and lower leg issues could be increased as a result and the risk of simply rolling an ankle is increased.

A less obvious concern is that the shoes do attempt to force better biomechanics which, for an elite runner is not a problem as we would assume that there mechanics are already close to perfect. It is the rest of us, less perfect specimens that may run into issues as a result of being forced to run a different way, even if it is, ultimately, better for us and our speed. There has been some evidence of foot, ankle and lower limb injuries ascribed to a change to super shoes.

So the key would seem to be to gradually transition into running in super shoes and not to only leave them till race day. This then brings us to the final question – are they worth the price tag which can be more than double what we have become used to spending on running shoes? Here we also need to take into consideration that super shoes are definitely amongst the least durable shoes in history. All the characteristics that make them fast, also make them fragile and prone to rapid wear. Keeping in mind that we will not be able to only save these for race days, we will quickly accumulate the 3-400 kilometres after which most super shoes will need to be replaced.

Will they make a difference to your race times? Yes. Will the difference be enough to justify the price? That will vary from runner to runner. Based on the fact that nearly 50% of the field of major marathons in 2024 were wearing super shoes, it seems more and more runners are answering yes and looking to buy a few of those precious seconds.

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

has been added to your cart.