Super shoes ensure that the times for the amateur marathon in London plummet

Adidas running shoes have reached the mainstream – Getty Images/Luciano Lima

At the end of a recent six-week block of altitude training in Kenya, British marathoner Emile Caairess paused for a brief trackside interview.

Caairess said he was aiming for a “big PB” at this weekend’s London Marathon before his chat with the Sweat Elite website was ‘video bombed’ by a training partner who pointed to a pair of the now almost mythical Adidas Adios Adizero Pro Evo 1 . carbon running shoes.

“I’m going to wear this,” Caairess said, grinning. “Nice upgrade. That gives me a minute, I hope.”

It’s the same 4.9oz shoe, you may recall, that Tigst Assefa wore last September when she broke the women’s marathon world record and which, despite being recommended for single use, is still selling for well over £ on eBay 800 per pair. . Assefa is tipped for a new world record on Sunday – and Cairess could threaten Mo Farah’s British record – but the bigger ‘super shoe’ story will actually play out in London among the tens of thousands that follow.

Sheila Chepkirui of Kenya and Tigist Assefa of Ethiopia hold the Adidas running shoes Adizero Adios Pro Evo 1 Lightstrike Pro ahead of the BMW Berlin-Marathon 2023 on September 21, 2023 in Berlin, GermanySheila Chepkirui of Kenya and Tigist Assefa of Ethiopia hold the Adidas running shoes Adizero Adios Pro Evo 1 Lightstrike Pro ahead of the BMW Berlin-Marathon 2023 on September 21, 2023 in Berlin, Germany

Tigist Assefa, right, has a chance to break the world marathon record in London on Sunday. She will be wearing a version of Adidas’ super shoes – Getty Images/Luciano Lima

Carbon-reinforced shoes with super-responsive foam were first worn by elite runners in 2017 – so these latest prototypes feature only marginal improvements – but over the past two years, variants of previous models have taken over the mass market. Significant price cuts followed and it’s quite easy to pick up a pair for between £150 and £200.

Marathon par times are reduced

The effect of improved footwear on amateur running times is already visible at hundreds of recreational races every week. Research from Strava this week found that the average marathon time in London had improved by 12 minutes between 2022 and 2023 (from 4 hours 18 minutes to 4 hours 6 minutes). As more and more runners continue to do this, this trend is sure to continue.

It’s something already being taken into account by organizers of the London Marathon, who have found that their traditional ‘good for age’ time performances that guarantee sought-after places are at risk of being oversubscribed. It all means that the required standard for those 6,000 spots will be improved next year to take into account the super shoe era.

“Everyone talks so much about the speed – and that is 100 percent beneficial to the speed – but the foam they use is of a consistency where the recovery is much better; the impact on your muscles is reduced,” says Hugh Brasher, event director.

This observation is potentially even more important than just the improvement on race day. Older runners may now be able to stay in the sport longer. Heavier runners have less risk of injury. And many more runners might consider switching from a parkrun of perhaps 5km to pounding out a marathon or half marathon. At the elite level, runners find they can cover more miles, which means the entire equation between optimal levels of volume and intensity is redrawn and experimented with.

Super shoes ‘bring new interest’ in running

Athletics is full of exaggerations about training plans, but there was no doubt that Kelvin Kiptum, who had rewritten the marathon record books at age 23 before his sudden death earlier this year, was challenging the conventional wisdom. Top athletes traditionally only switched to the marathon after years of racing over shorter distances. The challenge of a marathon was so extreme that you risked ruining young legs. Kiptum had no track background and, after weeks of training in which he apparently covered 200 miles, seemed to treat the marathon almost like a middle-distance race, with a habit of finishing faster than he started. He wore the Nike Alphafly 3 shoes when he set the world record last year, as did Sifan Hassan when she demonstrated in London that the 26.2-mile distance may not be that big of a step up from a 10,000-meter track .

There is now an arms race at several levels for the shoe companies. Testing continues to yield small advances on the next incarnation of an Alphafly or Pro Evo 1 and those latest models will continue to command a huge premium. Adidas, for example, will be putting the Pro Evo 1s back on general sale next week for a price of £450.

But, as with the rise of carbon fiber bikes in cycling, the truly groundbreaking developments are already widely available, leaving only a rapidly dwindling old guard still resolutely loyal to more traditional footwear.

After all, why not switch when you can run faster and recover better at an increasingly comparable price?

There is now talk of designing shoes for amateurs that are more responsive than those in official competition, which are still subject to fairly arbitrary World Athletics rules with a maximum heel height of 40mm. That could even mean that parkrunners have access to faster shoes than the winners of a major marathon.

Brasher believes the progress should be welcomed, just as when his father Chris innovated with titanium spikes when he won Olympic spire gold in 1956. “Technology has always been at the forefront of moving society forward,” he says.

Some have argued that the record books should be rearranged to distinguish between shoe eras. For example, we will never know whether Assefa was truly athletically superior to Paula Radcliffe. “Technology advances, science advances and it has happened in other sports,” says Eilish McColgan, who is quickly rewriting her mother Liz’s old records using carbon-boosted shoes. Eilish is sponsored by Asics, but for many athletes it’s a relief that at least there now appears to be a relatively level playing field between the brands.

“I’m now happy that every shoe company has their own version of the super shoe,” she told Telegraph Sport. “There is no doubt that it provides a huge advantage over previous old school racing flats and may help more people run half marathons and marathons. A big part is training. It does create another element that is a bit different and definitely brings a new interest.”

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