Are carbon-plated shoes right for me?

Are carbon-plated shoes right for me?

Check out this brief article we put together to help you navigate the pros and pitfalls of carbon-plated shoes.

Carbon-plated running shoes have caused a seismic shift in the world of running, promising enhanced performance and comfort. Yet, these shoes are not one-size-fits-all, and their benefits and drawbacks vary depending on how you intend to use them. In this article, we'll explore the dynamic landscape of carbon-plated running shoes, examining their advantages and pitfalls for both racing and everyday runs to help you make the right choice.

The first and obvious question people ask if they’ve never worn a carbon-plated shoe before is, “do they really make you faster?”. The short answer is yes, they really do. It does vary from person to person just how much faster though. People with more of a “shuffle-type” stride might not get the as much benefit because they wouldn’t be putting as much force into the plate to later be bounced back to them at toe off.

The good news is, faster times aren’t the only benefit provided from one of these carbon-plated shoes. Their lesser-known feature is that they use insanely responsive midsole foams. Einstein’s 3rd Law of Motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; for runners that means all the force that you push through your feet has to go somewhere. More responsive foams will return a higher percentage of that force back to you to give you that bouncier feel. This means you won’t have to work as hard to lift your feet back up off the ground, helping you conserve your overall energy and delaying fatigue. I’ve really noticed a difference after my weekend long runs; before carbon-plated shoes, the rest of the day was virtually a write-off. After my first long run wearing carbon-plated shoes, I was shocked by how great I felt, especially after averaging approximately 10 seconds faster per kilometer.

Well why don’t I wear them every day? For starters, they’re more expensive than regular running shoes. Closer to the $300 dollar mark where regular runners average around $180 to $200; it certainly helps that I work at Running Works, I very much doubt I would have as many carbon-plated shoes in my closet if I didn’t have that sweet, sweet employee discount, or brand reps didn’t seed us with pairs so we can better serve our customers. I still 100% believe they are worth the investment.

Secondly, they’re not as durable as regular runners. Carbon-plated shoes are also super lightweight, like comically so. Despite they’re super thick midsoles, many of them weigh at least a few ounces less than the average mileage shoe. The compromise of having a reduced weight is that they break down a lot more quickly. Now, the technology has improved a lot since the first carbon-plated shoe hit the market in 2016; the lifespan of these shoes varies a lot but nowadays you can expect around 400 kilometers out of them before they bite the bullet. Just like a regular pair of running shoes, that number will vary from person to person.

Thirdly, although there hasn’t been enough research done to definitively say this, there are some that speculate that you are more likely to get injured in a pair of carbon-plated running shoes than in regular shoes. The theory is that they change your mechanics too much, which your muscles aren’t used to and can lead to injury if you do too much. Imagine going to the gym for the very first time in years and doing the most bicep curls you could physically do; you’re likely to tear or at least strain your arm. Others speculate that people are simply running more than they should because they are less aerobically fatigued thanks to the energy savings provided from the shoes. This is something we see with new runners a lot, regardless of what type of shoes they’re wearing. Your body gains cardiorespiratory fitness much quicker than it does structural fitness, meaning you will be able to pump blood more efficiently, absorb and use oxygen more readily, while your bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles haven’t quite built up the strength to tolerate the extra mileage.

Lastly, and this might be more of a superstitious thing than anything, but I like to feel bouncier and lighter on the days when I actually need it. If I wore carbon-plated shoes every day, then on race days or for workouts, I wouldn’t feel any different. Whether it is just a placebo effect or not, if I suddenly feel lighter and bouncier before starting a hard effort, I will believe that I can run fast.

There is much to be said about the benefits of running in a rotation of different shoes. In an ideal world, you would have a specific type of running shoe for each specific type of run that you will do in your training; easy runs, long runs, tempo runs, intervals, etc. It is also proven to help increase the number of kilometers you get out of a pair of shoes if you’re not using the same ones every day. We dove into that a bit more in our last article “How long should my shoes last?”, which you can find here.

In conclusion, even “average” runners can benefit from using carbon-plated shoes. Even if you’re not chasing PBs or record times, they are proven to help with speed and stamina, as well as help preventing your legs from being too beat up at the end of a hard workout or long run. Personally, I feel they outweigh the cons of higher price points and potential longevity issues, but don’t take my word for it. Swing by the store and try a pair on today, you’ll immediately know what we’re talking about even just walking around in them.

- Jacob



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