October 26, 2023

From fresh to frayed: How long do super shoes maintain their advantage?

Now that we’ve all accepted that super shoes can improve performance, the big questions have shifted to things like: Should you train in super shoes, or just race in them? And how long do super shoes retain their advantage?” And are super shoes likely to cause more injuries, or perhaps reduce injuries?

The answers will come, perhaps slowly, and with the important reminder that all runners are different, as are all shoes and foams. This week we received an important new insight. 

The bottom line: Super shoes lose their performance advantage rather quickly, at least in terms of the running economy of subjects wearing the shoes. Indeed, after about 450 kilometers of use (270 miles), a pair of super foam (PEBA) super shoes delivered a 2.2% lower boost than a new pair. Surprisingly, an EVA shoe with a carbon plate suffered no similar loss after 270 miles. 

The PEBA shoes were, however, superior when both shoes were new. At that point, they delivered a running economy 1.88% better than equivalent EVA shoes.

Conclusion: “There is a clear running economy advantage of incorporating PEBA versus EVA when the models are new. However, after 450km of use, the PEBA and EVA shoes had similar RE.”

The research was conducted by an experienced Spanish team and well known U.S. based super-shoe expert, Wouter Hoogkamer. The ON shoe company produced the shoes worn in the testing, but didn’t fund the project. 

The selection of shoes was interesting and unusual. Two pairs were what many would now consider typical super shoes: They included carbon fiber plates with PEBA super foam. The other two pairs included traditional (older) EVA foams, but with carbon fiber plates. In other words, all the shoes included carbon fiber plates.

All shoes weighed about the same. All subjects ran in 4 versions of the shoes: 1) new PEBA shoes; 2) new EVA shoes; worn (270 miles) PEBA shoes; and worn (270 miles) EVA shoes. 

In their subjective evaluations, runners could not tell the difference between the four conditions. In the worn EVA condition, they increased their step frequency. This did not happen with the worn PEBA shoes, a finding the researchers termed “surprising.”

They speculated: “It could be that an embedded plate is more effective in PEBA than in EVA foam.” They also believe their “results generate important new knowledge for the footwear industry.”

They suggest that shoe companies should consider manufacturing a carbon plate PEBA shoe for optimal race results while the shoe is new, and a plated EVA shoe for lower cost and longer “shelf life.” The paper did not attempt to explore the injury question. More at Scandinavian J of Medicine & Science In Sports with free full text.

What is “hyperhydration,” and why should you care?

The topic of sodium use for long runs and races continues to be one of the most discussed subjects I see and hear among serious marathon and ultra runners. Recently I posted this link to a systematic review by respected experts in the field. It concluded that “pre exercise hyperhydration may improve exercise capacity due to a reduced heart rate and core temperature, stemming from an acute increase in plasma volume.” It also suggested that “different osmotic aids (e.g. glycerol and sodium)” could prove helpful.

So that’s the science. But there’s also another important perspective--that of real runners in the field actually trying different approaches and products in their own races. 

Here’s a good discussion with plenty of opinions, outcomes, and favorite hyperhydration approaches. This particular question--and the use of sodium and glycerol--seems a near perfect example of the famous “experiment of one” principle. 

The only way you can know for sure is to give it a try yourself. In training. On a run that simulates what you’ll be doing on race day. More at Reddit/Advanced Running.

[ Check out the podcast, “Running: State of the Sport,” with Amby Burfoot and George Hirsch. Recent episodes have featured Merhawi Keflezighi and Deena Kastor ]

Amazing veggie fuels: How beets and betalains can boost your endurance

The last decade has produced lots of research on the possible benefits of beet consumption for improved endurance performance and recovery. The mechanism behind the magical beets has generally been assumed to be nitrates that are converted to nitric oxide, which could increase oxygen supply.

Now the beet research is expanding a bit to include a class of antioxidant pigments called “betalains.” These are often found in red and yellow fruits and vegetables.

A 2017 paper on betalain supplements “containing no sugars or nitrates” found that they improved the 10K running times of triathletes who had already completed 40 minutes of cycling. The subjects were also faster the next day in a 5K trial, suggesting better recovery. The experiment used a double blind, randomized, cross-over design.

A brand new review paper has concluded that “Betalains have the potential to become a natural ergogenic aid or nutraceutical compound for sports people during exercise and competitive performance.” More at Current Nutrition Reports.

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That’s all for now. Thanks for reading. See you again next week. Amby