A guide to the fun, colorful, and sometimes overwhelming world of running's Super Shoes.

Justin DePierro - Bonafide Shoe Nerd 

Prior to 2017, if you looked at the starting line of a World Major Marathon, you’d see racing shoes on your favorite athletes that more closely resembled track and field spikes than the running trainers we see today. These shoes prioritized reducing weight and putting the foot in a mid-to-forefoot strike in the sacrifice of cushioning, support, and comfort. Jump only 6 years later and you’ll see a wide array of brightly colored race day shoes featuring outlandishly high stack heights of bouncy foam, carbon fiber and composite plates, and see-through uppers. And it’s not just the pros. From Wave 1 to the sweep van, you’ll see these “Super-Shoes” crossing the finish line. With nearly every brand bringing something to the table and the technology becoming even more readily accessible, we’re here to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

“What is a Super Shoe?”
This involves a little understanding of vocabulary:

Racing Shoe– Technically anything you race in is your race shoe. I still see more Brooks Ghosts and HOKA Cliftons at the starting line and that’s TOTALLY OK! At the end of the day, you need to comfortable for your best performance. Traditionally the term “Racing Shoe” is attributed to a shoe that’s light weight, low profile, and let’s say responsive (higher ground feel).

Carbon Plated Shoe – As the name suggests, these are shoes with Carbon Fiber Plates. Believe it or not the first carbon fiber shoe debuted in the 90s. However, we would hardly call those early iterations Super Shoes, let alone race in them. The purpose of the carbon fiber plate is less of a spring and more of a lever, becoming a stabilizing component to the soft, bouncy, and otherwise mushy foams surrounding it.

Super Shoe- This is where all the pieces to the puzzle come together. We take a large slab of soft, energy efficient foam (commonly, but not always, PEBA based midsoles), wrap it around a plate or other stiffening device (commonly, but not always, Carbon Fiber Plates), and put them in a lightweight package. Just because it has a carbon plate doesn’t necessarily make it a “Super Shoe”. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Will Super Shoes make me faster?
Yes and No. The research is still developing in this realm. Currently there is tested reason to believe there are the advertised 1-4% worth of running economy benefits found in these shoes. Which on paper doesn’t seem like a lot, but over the course of 26.2 miles and as someone that missed a Chicago Qualifier by a few short minutes, those small percentages over 3-4 hours make a big difference.

Where I find a major value in Super Shoes is in the recovery between workouts. I notice a huge difference in the way my legs feel after completing my Long Run, fartlek runs, and interval work with Super Shoes on than when I would have had I worn normal flats. This usually makes the next few days of running enjoyable instead of a death slog. Also lacing up a super shoe just feels special. For anyone that ever had a pair of game cleats for Soccer or Football, or your Basketball uniform, it feels like show time. All that being said, it’s still about the runner, doesn’t matter what shoes you wear. You still got to get to the starting line healthy and you still need to put one foot in front of the other and you still need to do that training.

Am I fast enough for Super Shoes?
Yes! As stated above, the recent studies have shown benefit across a variety of paces even the 4–5-hour runners. With more brands offerings we're finding easier accessibility for different foot types, gait cycles, and running styles.

Do I deserve a Super Shoe?
Absolutely! You’ve put the work in, you’ve trained hard, you deserve something special for race day and to support your training for that race.  They even exist in a trail option!

So, what’s the negative to Super Shoes?
Like any shoe, there is some overuse issues that can arise. With Super Shoes, they are finding that some high hamstring and Achilles aggravation can occur for people that spend a lot of time training and racing in Super Shoes. There is also the notion that there is a lack of strength building. If you can imagine the shoes give 1-4% of running economy in training, you may be missing that strength that was undeveloped in the end game of a long race. Lastly, the price. Super Shoes run anywhere between $200-300 and even though improving, aren’t the picture of durability.

…Ok, one last thing, Super shoes can make your other shoes feel less... super. I equate it to testing out your friend’s dad sports car. Once you know what’s out there, everything else feels so normal, so Honda Civic. Super shoes are fun, light weight, and make running feel effortless.

Okay, okay, I’m still nervous about all this, is there something similar but not as aggressive or costly?
Yes. There are many shoes I would recommend people racing and training in that certainly feel great, light weight, well cushioned, supportive or a combination of those attributes. There are shoes that lean towards the traditional racing flats of old, there are max cushion performance trainers, and everything in between.

So which shoe is for me?
You won’t know until you know. Stop into Confluence Running, tell us your story, and let’s work together to smash your goals. It’s our specialty.

Justin’s Recommendations

Super Shoes

Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 - smooth turnover and durable for a Super Shoe

Hoka Rocket X 2 – more stable race day option, where other Super Shoes fall short.

Saucony Endorphin Elite – Take the Endorphin Pro 3 and turn it up to 11. Aggressive at toe off with a streamlined upper.

Performance Trainers

Saucony Endorphin Speed 3

Topo Specter

Saucony Tempus

Speedy Shoes that do it all

New Balance Rebel v3

Hoka Mach 5

On Cloudflow

Brooks Levitate

Topo Cyclone 2

Everyday Shoes that Go the Distance

Saucony Triumph 20

Brooks Glycerin 20

Hoka Clifton 9

On CloudMonster

Speedy trainers with Stability

Brooks Launch GTS

Hoka Arahi 6

Saucony Tempus

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