It is the anniversary of Eliud Kipchoge’s world record breaking 1:59:40 marathon. To break that down it’s 2:50min per km. A feat that seemed almost inhuman and had the world talking, particularly about what was on his feet. A carbon-fibre plated shoe, that has been a game changer in athletics. So what is a carbon fibre shoe, why is carbon fibre in footwear and why are all our top marathon performers racing in this shoe?
What is a carbon fibre plate (CFP) and how has it changed shoe design?
A carbon fibre plate is a sheet of carbon fibres woven together to form a thin, lightweight sheet comprised of carbon atoms. The purpose of a carbon fibre is to increase the forefoot stiffness of the shoe, essentially making the shoe less flexible and acting like a lever to propel the athlete forward. The plate is sandwiched in a cushioned foam midsole that would be too soft and unstable without the addition of the plate. The midsole of in particular the Nike Vaporfly 4% is proposed to be of more benefit that the plate in terms of the ‘energy return’ it provides the wearer.
Will Carbon Fibre shoes make me faster?
- Aid in propulsion [moving you forward]
- Reduce lower limb energy expenditure therefore fatigue [can run longer without getting tired]
- Provide ‘energy return’ after striking with your heel pushing you forward into that next step
Why are Carbon Fibre shoes controversial?
Arguments about the performance benefits of the carbon fibre plated shoes have been rife within the athletic community. Much speculation around the increased propulsion, running economy and reduction in fatigue this extrinsic piece of equipment gives athletes beyond their physiology has been a source of ethical debate.
At this point there was no governance from the international Olympic committee regarding the use of carbon fibre plates in shoes but in February 2020 this was updated to allow the use of one carbon fibre plate.
Who is a Carbon Fibre shoe best suited for?
- Carbon Fibre shoes aren’t made for someone starting to run. They are for the elite runners looking to take seconds off on race day. The cushioning combined with the propulsive level of the carbon fibre plate mean that great running mechanics are essential
- There is also foot strike to consider (where you land on your foot when you are running). The U’d shape of the full length carbon fibre plate spans from the heel to the forefoot of the shoe. This means it is best utilised by runners who heel strike. An athlete that runs on their toes will not benefit from the lever like effect of the carbon fibre plate as they will strike too far forward.
- Race distance is also a factor to think about with most of the carbon fibre plated shoes. Most are currently targeted at elite Marathon runners who are looking at a sub 3 hr race time. With time, more carbon fibre shoes may become available that are aimed at everyday runners. But for the moment, those of us just trying to get marathon distance aren’t likely to see the proposed 4% increase in efficiency from the shoes.
Are carbon fibre shoes worth the hype?
Yes, as a brand if you don’t have a CF plated at the moment you aren’t a running brand!
Brooks- Hyperion elite and tempo
The addition of a carbon fibre plate changes the way you run. The most notable alteration is a reduction in use of your 1st MTPJ or big toe joint. Long term effects on lower limb strength, range of motion and injury have not been evaluated. Carbon fibre shoes are intended as a race day performance shoe not for everyday wear as a part of an elite athletes shoe rotation. Not sure if it’s time to update your own running shoes? Find out here! You can also head to our blog on running shoes v. cross trainers to find out what shoe may be best for you.
Podiatrist at Kensington, Hawthorn and the CBD