How to Choose Your Race Day Shoes

running shoes

Most runners have a solid plan for the weeks and days leading up to an event, but race day shoes are often overlooked. If you're gearing up to race, take a look at our shoe guide and make a plan for what you'll wear and why.

The Shoe: Racing Flats

When and Why to Wear It: A racing flat is generally very light and streamlined. With less weight, runners often experience increased turnover and improved v02 max, leading to faster times. A lightweight flat also encourages a midfoot/forefoot strike, which means less contact time with the ground and greater efficiency. The downside to racing flats is that because they lack cushioning, they aren't a great option if you're injury prone. And racing flats aren't as durable as other shoe options, so they should be used only for goal races. 

The Shoe: Carbon-Plated Shoes

When and Why to Wear It: In recent years super shoes made of ultra-light foam and carbon plates have become a must-have for everyone from Olympic runners to age group contenders. The carbon plate improves energy return and propels runners forward, and some people claim they can run minutes faster in long races just by tying on a pair.  The downside to these "magic shoes" is that they're often expensive and not very durable (most have a lifespan of only about 100 miles). The high heel stack height can also take some getting used to—the Nike Next2% has a stack height of 40 mm vs. 28 mm for a trainer like the Pegasus. These shoes should be reserved for PR attempts, but it's always a good idea to wear them on a test run beforehand.

The Shoe: Daily Trainers 

When and Why to Wear It: Sometimes it makes sense to race in your everyday running shoes. This option has a thicker outsole, more cushioning and a more durable upper compared to racing flats. The extra weight and material provides protection to all the muscles and tendons in the lower body, but of course it adds extra weight, too. A daily training shoe is a good option if you're not planning on racing all out or if conditions are less than ideal, such as if it's very warm and humid.

The Shoe: Cross-country or Track Spikes

When and Why to Wear It: If you're taking to the fields or the track, it's a good idea to consider a spike. These lightweight racing shoes have small metal spikes on the bottom (you can switch them out and change the size based on terrain). Spikes provide more grip and traction on non-road surfaces, which results in more stability during the race. The downside to this option is that they can cause calf pain if you're not used to them, and the spikes need to be replaced frequently. 

The Shoe: Microspikes or Yaktrax

When and Why to Wear It: If your race is taking place in inclement weather, it's time to consider extra traction. If you're toeing the line on icy roads or trails, consider slipping a pair of microspikes or yaktrax over your shoes. These options are usually comprised of metal teeth or spikes that are attached to a harness. You slip the harness over your shoe of choice and ta-da! No slipping.  The downside to microspikes is that they'll slow you down a bit, but if you're racing on ice, that might be an OK trade off.

The Shoe: Trail Running Shoes

When and Why to Wear It: For a trail race, look for terrain-specific shoes. Most trail runners have lugged soles for more traction on uneven ground and more durable uppers to protect from abrasions from rocks and roots. Trail shoes also have stiffer construction to limit foot and ankle rotation. Depending on the conditions of your race, you can choose from lightweight trail running shoes, if your race is on a gravel path, or off-road trail running shoes, if you'll be tackling a mountain. 

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