The Expensive Running Shoe Advantage: In Your Head or In Your Sole?
Have you ever wondered if more expensive running shoes work better for you than less expensive shoes?
Take heart. There are advantages to be had. It’s hard to speak to each specific make and model, but there are aspects to running shoes that decrease energetic cost of running while increasing the cost of manufacture.
Famous Proof of Running Shoes
The Nike Vaporfly stands out as perhaps the most famous, modern proof of running shoe advantages. When this shoe was offered to elite athletes in 2018, world records were quickly broken in the 100 km, marathon, half-marathon, and 15km distances. The running shoe proved such a game changer that researchers began questioning whether competitions needed more regulations on shoe construction.1
What Are Some Features of Advantageous Running Shoes?
Energetic Return from Midsole Material
Is the midsole firm and punchy? The midsole might be made from ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), or – if your budget allows - polyamide block elastomer (PEBA). EVA midsoles return 66% of energy under compression. Nike’s worthwhile Zoom Streak has such a sole. But wait. The Adidas Adios Boost boasts a TPU-based midsole. It returns 76% of compression energy. How does the legendary Nike Vaporfly rank? It’s PEBA midsole returns 87% of energy under compression!2
Thicker Midsoles Provide Better Bounce and Transport
Thicker midsoles provide better energy return and more efficient transport dynamics, but don’t pull out your ruler just yet. The more advanced polymers weigh less, allowing shoe manufacturers to balance weight and energy return. One can only compare insole thickness between like polymers. In addition to the energy return on compression afforded by a thicker insole, thicker insoles also extend the effective leg length of the runner. Increased leg length could reduce the runner’s energy cost of transport.3
The Best Forefoot Stiffness
The best running shoes have just the right support in just the right places. One of those places appears to be the metatarsophalangeal joints (the foot knuckles where the toes meet the foot). Just the right amount of stiffness there can act as a lever, reducing the work rate of the ankle.4 Sprinting spikes go so far as to use carbon-fibre plates for this. But even long-distance running shoes are beginning to see carbon-fibre plates used this way.
- Burns GT, Tam N. Is it the shoes? A simple proposal for regulating footwear in road running. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2020 Apr 1;54(8):439-40.
- Hoogkamer W, Kipp S, Frank JH, Farina EM, Luo G, Kram R. A comparison of the energetic cost of running in marathon racing shoes. Sports Medicine. 2018 Apr;48(4):1009-19.
- Hoogkamer W, Kipp S, Frank JH, Farina EM, Luo G, Kram R. Correction to: a comparison of the energetic cost of running in marathon racing shoes. Sports Medicine (Auckland, NZ). 2018;48(6):1521.
Hoogkamer W, Kipp S, Kram R. The biomechanics of competitive male runners in three marathon racing shoes: a randomized crossover