The fastest racing shoes for any distance.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.
Scientists confirmed what runners have intuitively known forever: Light shoes can be faster than heavier ones. Multiple researchers have found that increasing shoe weight by 3.5 ounces increases oxygen uptake—the energy needed to run a certain speed—by about 1 percent. Translated, this means shaving 3.5 ounces off a pair of shoes is equivalent to increasing your run fitness by 1 percent. The guys in lab coats have shown that light shoes can save energy, but finding the best race shoe for you is more complicated than leaving the running store with the lightest pair you can find.
Craig Alexander broke the Ironman Hawaii course record last October while wearing a pair of Newtons that are heavier than many racing shoes. He even used a plastic orthotic that further weighed down the shoe. The open marathon world record—2:03:38, held by Kenyan Patrick Makau—was also set in a pair of fairly sturdy shoes: the Adidas Adios 2.0 found on page 28. Alexander, Makau and many other long-distance runners have proven there’s more to race shoe selection than weight, and a recent lab experiment from the University of Colorado, Boulder, showed the same thing by demonstrating that a cushioned shoe saves energy compared to barefoot running. We tested the full spectrum of race shoes, from the New Balance RC 5000, which is one-third the weight of this magazine, to Mizuno’s sturdy yet responsive Wave Precision 12, to help you find the pair that best matches your stride and can help break your PR next time out, even if Alexander’s is out of reach.
Zoot Ultra Race 3.0, $150
Lace ’em up: For your fastest 5K or 10K time from T2 to the finish line
Find another: If you’re looking for a race flat built for speed only
The typical lift from toe to heel is shrinking for all varieties of running shoe to help promote mid-foot striking. That characteristic is great for typical training days, but a little lift can support bike-weary calf muscles. The Ultra Race 3.0 retains a fairly tall heel rise to help keep those muscles firing. The quick-close elastic upper provides a solid grip on the arch that “pleasantly surprised” one tester. The forefoot, however, created a little too much freedom for one tester’s feet, allowing them to slide side-to-side toward the end of longer runs.
Mizuno Wave Precision 12, $110
Lace ’em up: If you’re looking for a snappy ride with cushioning
Find another: If you’re a hard-core minimalist
The Wave Precision 12 is much more than a sheet of cushioning separating your skin from the pavement; it is a structured yet responsive platform perfect for fast long-distance running. The sole provides a subtle degree of side-to-side stability, just enough to support fatigued post-ride legs. Unlike most shoes offering this degree of cushion, one tester said “it kicks me through a stride and never feels like a tether to the ground.” The airy upper allows the forefoot to move slightly. A tester with bunions raved that the additional forgiveness cradles his foot perfectly, but another found the lateral freedom creates blisters.
K-Swiss K-Ruuz 1.5, $100
Lace ’em up: If you want an agile, nimble shoe cut out for any distance
Find another: If you need rigid foot-to-sole connection
Take a standard cushioned trainer, shrink every essential feature—sole, stability gadgets, overlays on the upper—to the bare bones and you have the K-Ruuz 1.5. The sole is soft enough to take the sting out of the pavement, and the elevated heel—a full 10mm of rise from toe to heel—can work in favor of your fatigued calf muscles after the bike leg. Testers felt the sole, while plenty flexible in the forefoot, provides enough structure to lighten the load on the muscles of the foot. The upper stays remarkably dry but allows the foot to shift slightly on top of the sole, particularly at the heel.