Marathon Sports tip of week: Do you really want a lightweight shoe?

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By Dan Soleau, Special to Boston.com

One request we often hear from customers is “I want a shoe that’s light.”
This is always an interesting conversation because just as anything else that is based on how our senses experience them, “light” is subjective and can mean different things to different people.

Apples to oranges to pears – there are three categories of running shoes: Traditional, lightweight trainer, and racing flat (listed in order from

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heaviest to lightest).

When a customer requests a lightweight shoe, what they’re usually asking for is a shoe that feels fast. Surprisingly, this doesn’t always mean that they want a shoe that weighs less. Sometimes to feel fast a customer simply needs a shoe that works smoothly with their unique biomechanics. They might need something more rigid that takes them through their transition more easily, or something more flexible so their foot feels less restricted.

It might mean that they need a different cushioning system that feels “light,” or an upper that feels less aggressive. Weight isn’t always a factor.

Traditional shoes usually weigh in between 9 and 12 ounces; lightweight trainers are between 7 and 10 ounces; and racing flats are 8 ounces or less. Weight is certainly a factor when looking at the categories.

One important thing to remember when considering a lighter weight shoe is the percentage of shock absorption that is lost. Lightweight trainers and racing flats will typically have 20 percent (or more) less shock absorption than traditional shoes.

For the beginner or intermediate marathoner, that is a significant percentage. We impact with 250 percent of our body weight with every stride we take while running. That is a lot of impact over 26.2 miles.

We need the full shock absorbing benefit of a traditional shoe for a marathon. Studies show that for every 100 grams (just over 3 ounces) of reduced weight in a pair of shoes, a runner will only gain 1 to 2 percent improvement (measured in time and oxygen efficiency).

If you’re an advanced or elite athlete, that improvement can make all the difference in the world. But if you’re a 4 hour marathoner, you will likely only gain a 2-5 minute improvement in time, while forcing your body to endure 20 percent more stress due to the reduced level of shock absorption.

For the beginner or intermediate marathoner, it’s better to give your body more protection than to try improving your time by a few minutes. If you’re looking for something “light” visit your closest Marathon Sports and have a discussion with one of our associates – they’ll give you some great options. And they’ll help you figure out exactly what “lightweight” means to you.

Dan Soleau is Brand Development Manager at Marathon Sports. He’ll provide weekly training tips for those preparing for the Boston Marathon. Dan has completed 6 marathons and an Ironman. He is a mentor for the One Fund’s Boston Marathon team, coach for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Boston Marathon team, and will be running the 2014 Boston Marathon. Follow him on Twitter at @dansoleau or follow Marathon Sports at @marathon_sports