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Racing Flats – Who Needs Them

Mizuno Ekidon Initial Impressions & First Run

Over the past few months I have looked at different ways to simplify my running and will be posting more on my efforts over the next few weeks.

One of the big ways I am looking is where it all starts – where the rubber meets the ground – my running shoes.

Looking back over the years that I have been a runner, one of the things that historically (at least for me) seemed to be a dividing point between recreational runners and the so-called “serious” runners, was whether a runner used racing flats or not.

Stereotyping

Right or wrong, for a long time I believed that if you raced in and used racing flats for your speed workouts, you were more  “serious” about your running and racing.

This stereotyping began back in high school and then when I was running and training harder during the 80’s, if you showed up at a race or track workout in your trainers, friends and friendly competitors, would ask if you were  just doing a training run versus a real race/speed workout.

  • Harold do you really think that just because a runner has a pair of racing flats and wears them during a race or a track workout, that is all it takes to makes them a serious runner? I mean come on – simply spending a little extra money and having a different pair of running shoes to supposedly run faster in, makes someone a serious or better runner?
    • mmmmm ahhhhhh ahhhhh  now that I know a little lot more – no

I have learned over the years that the amount of time/effort a runner puts into their training determines whether we are a serious runner, not the type of equipment that we use or the amount of money we spend on our “stuff”.

Think about the race when some guy or gal, blows by you like you are standing still – wearing a pair of work boots, jeans, flannel shirt, ratty vest, old ball cap, half hung-over, because a friend dared them to do it. Yes you might be you looking good in your super light racing flats, tech clothes and singlet, GPS Watch and music blaring), but the best of equipment does not mean that you are gonna be the fast one out there.

Racing Flats

Personally, I have loved the light feel, snappiness of racing flats and how psychologically they make me feel like I can and want to run faster. I know that when I put on my racing flats, I am telling my body, get ready we are going to run fast today.

However, when I run in them, the next day, two, even three, my legs feel beat-up, my calves are extremely sore or tight and my tailor’s bunionette is bothering the hell out of me…so let’s take a quick look at whether I really need to run in racing flats or not anymore.

1. What are Racing Flats – Really?

Racing flats are very light (typically under 8, more likely 7 oz), very flexible, not much cushioning, usually low to the ground  and  very snug fitting — mmmmm with the exception of the snugness (especially in the toe box), what kind of running shoes does that description remind you of?

Minimalist running shoes?

In my opinion racing flats were minimalist before minimalism was popular.

If you have read my blog, you have heard me whine say that I am not crazy about running in true minimalist running shoes. You know those running shoes that are very lightweight, very flexible, low drop, with a lot of road feel.

If I don’t like running in minimalist running shoes, then why would I like or want to run in most racing flats?Especially, since most racing flats unlike minimalist running shoes, do not have a wide toe box and tend to be much more snug than what I like and need due to my foot issues.

2. Transition Time

Think about it, how many runners get out their trusty racing flats only on race day or when they go to a track? I have a feeling that a lot of runners who are like that and their racing flats tend to stay in the closet otherwise. After all you don’t want to wear them out too quickly and have to go out and buy yet another pair of running shoes.

That is what I always did – I saved them. We were always told that training too much in racing flats would lead to an injury, because they do not give a runner enough protection to run for many runners.

Why?

Stop and think for a minute – I mean really stop and think for a minute.

What is the big warning that all the experts, writers and even minimalist evangelists all harp on to no end, when transitioning to minimalist running shoes?

That a runner needs transition time to be able to run effectively in minimalist running shoes!

Lots of it.

If racing flats are minimalist running shoes (in many cases), shouldn’t a runner need time to transition to racing flats versus the take them out and use them on race days mentality. Especially if we usually run in traditional trainers or motion control running shoes?

Yes we should.

Please don’t go “all the elites run in flats during races”, they also train a lot in their racing flats, when most recreational runners do not.

3. Last Week

Mizuno Ekiden's on the treadmill 1-28-14

Last week when I got out my Ekiden’s (my current racing flats) to see how they felt during a quick treadmill run, I was very disappointed with the results.

I hate to see a pair of running shoe just sitting in the closet taking up space and since I have healed up from my Achilles injury, I am starting to run faster again, so it was time to see what would happen while wearing the Ekidon’s.

I had planned to do a mile in them on the treadmill.

Unfortunately, they just didn’t feel right for me during that short run. My gait felt off, I was slapping the belt, I could feel the lack of cushioning and felt a definite pull on my Achilles tendons that was not there in my daily trainers, so I shut it down before I ran a mile in them.

To be honest, I did not like running in them during that short treadmill run. I didn’t feel light, smooth or that I “wanted” to run fast in them.

Actually I felt awkward, uncomfortable  and with the pulling on my Achilles the risk of re-injury was too high.

The reality is that

With the improvements in running shoe technology and changing perspectives about who should be running in what shoes, I am now running most of my daily mileage in light-weight trainers in the 8-10 ounce range. Running shoes that in the past (and even today in some cases) would have been considered racing flats by some brands.

The best part is that I am running comfortably and over the past 6-8 months that I have not been using racing flats for any of my running, I have not had any major injuries or felt that my shoes were slowing me down.

Back in the days when daily trainers weighed 12 oz or more, running in a racing flat that weighed half that, could/did make a huge difference in a runner’s race times and if we wanted to run faster, we put up with, dealt with or sucked it up, when it came to how beat up you felt  during and after the races or workouts you used them in.

The older I get, the more that I want to run comfortably, which means if I do not like running in minimalist running shoes, why would I enjoy running in racing flats?

  • I don’t.

I also believe that there is a point of diminishing returns. That point when a shoe becomes uncomfortable to run in, more than offsets the gain from the lighter-weight racing flat.

All the above means that my love affair with racing flats is over and that all of my “real” racing flats are going the way of so many other running shoes as I simplify my running – to the give away pile. Which means one less style of running shoe to worry about getting or looking at in the future.

No Longer a Serious Runner?

Does this mean that I no longer fit my old stereotype of what is a “serious” runner?

If I still believed that nonsense – yeah.

Since I have matured just a little, (well I try). I do not worry all that much about what others think about me as a runner and use the running gear what works for me, even if it flies in the face of the current conventional wisdom.

January Thaw 2014 - Photo

At future races, I will be rocking my daily trainers, which will get me to the finish line just fine and maybe the next day I will still be able to go for a run without any added aches and/or pains from running in racing flats,  just tired legs from a tough race.

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3 Comments »

  1. I think the knee issues I’ve been having are going to force me to retire from racing flats as well. I loved my Mizuno Wave Universe 4’s! I have two pairs, too, both over 200 miles 😦

  2. Thanks once again – being someone who paid no attention to running as a kid and when I DID start running just grabbed cheap shoes at the mall … I never knew about ‘racing flats’. I only heard about them the last couple of years, and really didn’t ‘get it’ because they sounded so much like what I wore regularly (and I was a bit embarassed to ask!).

    Turns out I was more or less right – they basically are minimalist shoes.

    I wonder how much the adherence to flats comes from the ‘leave it all on the track’ mentality, that if they didn’t ache the next day they didn’t give their all.

    • Mike – I really think that minimalism started before Born to Run and it was runners like Scott Douglas and others who pretty much ran full-time in their racing flats, that became the model for the minimalist running shoe movement. The biggest difference that I find between minimalist running shoes and racing flats is the width of the toe box. Racing flats are typically built snugger and narrower.

      There is some of that mentality to it. I do know that if you are used to running in traditional running shoes and drop down to a lower drop shoe, most of us are going to be sore.

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