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In the last few years, whether you’re a seasoned veteran of the game or, just started on your running journey, it’s hard to avoid the hype around carbon plated running shoes. 

 

With every brand under the sun pushing their own top tier carbon plated racing or training shoe, each promising exceptional energy return and efficiency benefits, deciding whether the step up to carbon plated racing shoes can be a minefield. 

 

In this article, it’s our aim to provide a brief history to the usage of carbon plates in running shoes, get to the bottom of exactly what role they play, how often you should be wearing them and ultimately, what all the fuss is about

 

First things first, despite the astronomical boom and huge rise in popularity, the implementation of carbon plates in running shoes is not a new concept and you have to go all way back to the 90s to find their first usage for a running specific purpose with shoes like the adidas Adistar comp and reebok GraphLite road.

The original theory, even back then, was that by putting a carbon plate in a shoe, runners would be able to run faster and more economically. Despite other brands like Brooks and Zoot experimenting, it was in part due to a lack of resource, carbon fibre being hard to come by and the inflation of cost price to the consumer that halted this innovation somewhat prematurely. 

 

Then came Born To Run and the era of minimalist shoes which swept through the running world like wild fire (as did Achilles tendinopathy, calf tears and stress fractures), but that’s a topic for another day

 

Fast forward to Novemeber 2016 and Nike announce the Breaking 2 project. Assembling the now legendary Eliud Kipchoge, Zerseny Tadese and Lelisa Desisa, Nike set out to break the 2 hour marathon barrier for the first time in history. The key siginificance of this was the unveiling off the Nike Vaporfly Elite, a racing shoe that visually couldn’t be further removed than the Nike Streak or adidas adios that were both very traditional, minimal racing flats. Despire narrowly missing out on the objective running 2 hours 25 seconds, the gauntlet had been thrown and a new era of racing shoes was upon us..

Watch our full video on the history of carbon running shoes below!

It would be fair to say, the subsequent release of the slightly more consumer friendly Vaporfly 4% is a shoe that changed the running game forever. Gone were the days of super minimal race flats like the original adidas Adizero adios championed by legends like Haille Gebrsellasie. The era of fat midsole stacks and carbon plates was upon us.

With that history lesson out of the way, the real question to ask is do carbon plated shoes work for the average enthusiastic recreational runner? And how should they be used within a runner’s rotation?

Put simply, what Nike and others knew is that an S curved carbon plate reduced energy expenditure at toe off whilst resulting in greater energy expenditure at the ankle joint. Both of which are very good for running fast. 

But possibly the most important aspect to consider is that simply implementing a carbon plate into a running shoe is not enough and its truly a perfect synergy between midsole compound or the type of foam under foot, the volume/density or quantity of that foam and the positioning or specific shape of the plate. 

For example, the adidas Boston 10 features a top layer of adidas’ premium performance lightstrike PRO foam and glass fibre infused energy rods in the forefoot. The top tier, record breaking adidas  adios pro 2 features a full length lighstrike pro midsole and carbon fibre rods in the forefoot for additional rigidity. Despite the make-up of these shoes being fairly similar, the overall performance is very different. 

 The exact same comparison could be made between the Nike Zoom Fly 4 which has the same carbon fibre plate as the vaporfly, but a react midsole instead of Nike's most responsive ZoomX and thus once again, the performance difference correlates with this. 

There can be unnecessary elitism attached to pinnacle road racing shoes but ultimately carbon plated running shoes are designed to help you run more efficiently whilst protecting your legs from impact and that’s something every runner can benefit from whether you’re running a 1 hour 59 marathon, or 4 hours 59. 

Granted, many carbon plated shoes are void of inherent stability that some runners may require in their daily mileage shoes but, if you use carbon plated shoes as a tool in your training for key speed sessions, hard long runs and races as they’re intended, there’s plenty of choice out there. The main takeaway, as a runner incorporating a variety of different types of running in your weekly training, a varied running shoe rotation with different shoes to fit each purpose is the way to go.

The myth that all carbon race day shoes spontaneously combust or disintegrate after 100 miles of use is also conclusively disproved by many getting hundreds of miles of training and racing from a pair. Although it should be said as a disclaimer that of course, body composition and running biomechanics will factor into this heavily!

Ultimately, if you’ve been on the fence wondering if you’re ‘fast’ enough or a ‘serious’ enough runner to warrant a carbon plated shoe for race day, we hope this article could be all the reason you need to take the plunge. You won’t regret it!

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Tom Folan

My name's Tom, former professional football freestyler turned long distance runner. As a self-proclaimed running shoe aficionado, I love keeping up with the latest performance innovation and product releases almost as much as I enjoy running in them. With a running specialty retail background, I hope to provide some valuable insight and aid you in finding your next favourite item of running kit!
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