Are Racing Flats Right For You?

A topic that gets asked frequently is, if racing flats are a smart choice for runners. First, for those who aren’t familiar, every elite runner wears a different shoe to race and train.  I am fairly confident in that.  Most elite runners have a plethora of shoes anyway.

Even most sub-elite runners race in a different shoe than they train.  I wouldn’t call myself “sub-elite,” but I race and train in different shoes. I work in a running store, so I’m able to see new shoes as they come out and evaluate what is best for me.

Most people can benefit from racing in a lighter shoe.  That being said, it is not right for everyone, and if you are injury prone, it’s important to consider that.

So can wearing racing flats help you even if you’re not “winning races”?

The easy and quick answer is probably yes.

But Why?

Racing Flats are Lighter:

Less weight, to an extent, can improve efficiency. Racing flats generally weigh anywhere between 5-7 ounces while trainers weigh anywhere from 8-12.  While a difference in ounces doesn’t seem like a lot, it is.  Think about it, you are carrying yourself over thousands of strides. Those ounces add up.

Feelin’ Faster:

Running is a huge mental game. If you feel faster, you will probably run faster.  Personally, it doesn’t matter the race distance, if I’m in my flats, I feel a lot faster than if I’m in my trainers.

With Advantages, there are also Disadvantages:

Increased injury risk:

Trainers weigh more because there is more shoe and more cushion.  When you race in a flat, you are running closer to the ground, and your body is taking more of an impact. Without the extra cushion, you’re more at risk for stress-related injuries like a stress fracture.  On another note, that is why I’ve gone to training in very high cushioned shoes.

More Time to Recover:

After a running in a flat, it will likely take you longer to recover. You have more stress on your body, and typically racing flats are a lower heel to toe drop than a trainer.  This means there is more stress on your calves as well as feet.

How to Get Started in Flats:

I advise anyone to get fitted at a running store for a pair of flats that feel comfortable. They won’t feel plush like a trainer, but you will able to explore differences in flats. Most racing flats run tighter and narrow so you might be a different size than your regular shoe.

Take Your Time:

You should ABSOLUTELY NEVER go from running everything in a trainer, to running a race in a flat.  You set yourself up for a serious injury.  Take your time to adjust to the shoe.  I always recommend running a mile in them.  Then doing a workout in them.  Finally jump into a 5k, then longer.  Take time to work into a shoe.  Sure, you might be lucky and get away with jumping into a race, but you also might break something.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when deciding if you want to try a racing flat:

  • Are you healthy? If you already have an injury, racing in a flat is going to make you more injured.
  • You must carefully work into them. You cannot go from running in a trainer to racing a distance event in a flat.  Take them out and run a mile (yes just 1).  Then work into a 5k and to the distance of your choice. I usually do at least a workout in them before taking them to a race. Toing the line in a brand new flat (including the Nike 4%( might result in a big injury or issue.

Finally like trainers, flats are all different:

If you are training for a 5k, you might use a separate flat than a marathon.  Not all flats are good for everything. Here are a few flats that might be good for you:

10k and below:

  • Saucony Type A
  • Nike Lt Racer
  • New Balance 1400
  • On Cloud X

10+ miles:

  • Nike Zoom Fly or Nike 4%
  • New Balance 1400
  • On Cloud X
  • Brooks Pure Flow or Pure Cadence
  • Hoka Cavu or Hoka Tracer

In general, the shorter the race, the more you can “get away with”. In shorter races, shoes can be lighter with less support. With longer races and more time on your feet, you need more shoe (or as I like to say: “more cushion for the pushin”.


Questions for you:

Do you race in flats? Which flats do you use? 

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  1. I remember back in high school doing track wearing flats a few times and hated it, not my jam at all. That said, now as a hiker and strictly trail runner I most definitely do not wear flats – more like all the possible cushion! I like that you give examples of different flats available and talk about things to consider, all good for people looking at trying them out!!

  2. I found your blog through another blog and am enjoying reading your posts! Thanks

    I’ve been running in the Nike Lunar racer for a few years, but they discontinued them (still have a few pairs that have some miles left in them). Have you ever raced in them or do you have any suggestions on something similar. I’ve looked at the streak online but never like to buy a shoe without trying it on first. Thanks!!

    1. Thank you Jeanette. The streak is definitely the closest. Maybe you can find it at your local speciality store. It’s one most do carry! Let me know what you decide.

  3. I ran a just-above-3 hour marathon in the short-lived Hoka One One Tracer. I liked the shoe very much.

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