Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gear Review: Racing Flats

Recently, a friend of mine mentioned that a picture of my running shoes looked like a catalog for racing flats. She then followed it up with the "What flat should I get?" question. While the answer to this question varies depending on your biomechanics, your race distance, and your race surface, here's some information to get you started:

Adidas adiZero PR
*Note: These shoes have been discontinued, but can still be found at select online retailers.
The PR is Adidas's ultra-lightweight racing flat for the biomechanically efficient runner, intended for distances ranging from the 5K to 10K, though I've gotten away with running half-marathons with them. They're extremely low to the ground, with virtually no heel-toe drop, and have very little support or cushioning. The PR is very flexible and runs narrow, despite being a unisex shoe. It has an extremely fast feel to it due to its low heel-toe differential and close fitting upper. Unfortunately, due to its light weight and blown foam outsole, the PR is a very short lived shoe, and my pair was shot after only around 80 miles. This is one of my favorite flats for racing, but their lack of cushioning and poor durability makes them impractical for anything besides races. The PR weighs next to nothing, clocking in around 3.9 oz for a men's size 9 (the only lighter shoe in production is the Mizuno Wave Universe, at 3.6 oz).

ASICS Piranha
The Piranha is Asics's ultra-lightweight racing flat for the biomechically efficient runner, intended for distances ranging from the 5K to 10K. When the PR disappeared off the market, Asics and Mizuno stepped up to fill the gap with the Piranha and Universe. Unfortunately, the Universe isn't produced in small sizes, so I don't have a review of them. The Piranha is almost an ounce heavier than the PR, with a slightly higher heel, a little bit more cushioning, and slightly less flexibility. However, the Piranha is still one of the lightest and most minimal flats on the market, so take that as a testament to how minimalist the PR actually was, rather than the Piranha being a traditional racing flat. The Piranha has the same narrow heel cup as the PR, but the forefoot is a bit wider, the upper over the forefoot is a bit baggier, and the entire shoe runs about a half size larger. It also has a very substantial tongue rather than the thin tongue often found on racing flats. The Piranha SP3 clocks in at only 4.7 oz for a men's size 9.

Brooks T Racer

The T Racer is Brooks's lightweight racing flat for the biomechanically neutral runner, marketed as being appropriate for distances ranging from the 5K to half-marathon. The T Racer is built on a curved platform, making it a fairly racy shoe that feels fast. It has a fairly substantial heel, with the Brooks website stating that it has a 12mm heel-toe offset, which I believe is around twice that of the Nike Katana and a whopping three times that of the Saucony A4 (that number sounds high to me, but I have no reason to believe the Brooks website would be wrong, and whatever the height, it seems to work). The T Racer is surprisingly well-cushioned for a flat its weight. It's also a solidly built shoe that can outlast many of its competitors (I got nearly 300 miles out of my T5s). If I were only allowed to own one flat, this would be it. I do nearly all of my speedwork in the T Racer, whether it's trackwork, tempo, or marathon pace. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure why I didn't use these for my marathon. Interestingly enough, I didn't fall for the T Racer immediately, and it took me about 50 miles to warm up to this shoe. The T Racer is narrow and runs true to size. A word of caution: the back of the T Racer does come up fairly high, so keep that in mind if you're prone to cutting up the skin over your Achilles. The T6 weighs 6.4 oz for a men's size 9.

La Sportiva Crosslite
The Crosslite is La Sportiva's trail racer for muddy trail races requiring a lot of traction. This shoe isn't quite what I expected when La Sportiva advertised it as a "neutral, lightweight" shoe. It's bulky, stable, and heavier than my trainers. The outsole is extremely aggressive, with large lugs for traction. While La Sportiva markets this as a trail racing flat, this is my gross weather shoe, since it is as close to waterproof as shoes come without actually utilizing Gore-Tex, and the lugs provide great traction in the winter. There's also a gaiter that covers the lacing area, to further reduce the chance of debris getting inside the shoe. It can potentially make tightening the Crosslite difficult though. Unfortunately, it's a bit stable for me to wear for multiple days in a row. The Crosslite tips the scales at 11 oz for a men's size 9.

New Balance 790
*Note: The New Balance 790 has since been replaced by the MT100, which is lighter and more minimalist. But I don't have that shoe and don't do enough trail races anymore to warrant buying it, so...sorry!
The 790 is New Balance's trail racing flat. The 790 is very light for a trail flat, and during production, it was the lightest trail flat on the market (though it has since been surpassed by the New Balance MT100 and the Inov-8 X-Talon 190. It's very flat with minimal rubber underfoot for a trail shoe, which contributes to its low weight and good flexibility. The lack of rubber also allows the runner to feel the ground, which may be a good thing when it comes to being sure-footed over rocks and roots, but could potentially be a downside concerning protection. Additionally, the 790 lacks the lugs on the sole that trail shoes often have, so the traction on muddy courses may be lacking. While the 790 is minimal for a trail flat, it is far more substantial (more cushioned and more stable) than most road flats, and road runners may liken it to a performance trainer. The 790 is (was?) available in both men's and women's sizing, so women with narrow feet need not worry. The 790 weigh 8.0 oz for a men's size 9.

Nike Free
The Free is Nike's "barefoot" shoe, and while it's not marketed as a racing shoe, it's very much a performance trainer. Unlike actually running barefoot, the Free has a good amount of rubber underfoot and provides a fair amount of cushioning (with higher numbers, such as the 5.0, having more cushioning than lower numbers, like the 3.0). There is also more of a heel-toe drop than in most racing flats (with the exception of the T6, assuming the numbers on Brooks's website are correct). All models of the Free are very flexible, with deep siping in the outsole, and have a flexible sock-like upper. Nike Frees are available in both men's and women's sizing, though even the men's models are on the narrow side. I had trouble finding the weight of the Free models, but suffice it to say that I have worn both the 5.0 and 3.0, and both are lighter than my trainers but heavier than my flats.

Nike Zoom Katana Racer
The Katana is Nike's lightweight racing flat for the biomechanically neutral runner, intended for distances ranging from the from the 5K to half-marathon. However, while the description is similar to that of the T Racer, the Katana is a completely different shoe. The Katana is lower to the ground and more responsive than the T Racer, though the weights are comparable. I've often heard the Katana compared to the Streak XC 2, but the Katana has a more traditional "road flat" feel, while the Streak XC, which was originally developed for use on California cross-country courses, feels more like a hybrid between a road flat and a spike (the fit of the Streak actually reminds me of the Zoom W spike). The Katana is also a very breathable shoe, with a mesh upper. I had the opposite reaction to the Katana versus my reaction to the T Racer: the fast, low to the ground responsiveness enticed me initially, but over time, I decided that the cushioning of the T Racer makes it more versatile. Like most Nike shoes, the Katana runs fairly narrow. The Katana Rac3r weighs 6.0 oz for a men's size 9.

Nike Zoom Streak 3
The Streak 3 (not to be confused with the Streak XC 2) is Nike's marathon flat. The marathon flat category is a bit crowded in the Nike camp, with the Streak 3, Marathoner, and Lunaracer all vying for attention. Of these three flats, the Streak 3 is the closest to a traditional racing flat, with the Marathoner (the heaviest of the bunch) straddling the line between racing flat and performance trainer, and the Lunaracer (the lightest of the bunch) being a softer shoe with a close-fitting flywire upper. The cushioning of the Streak 3 is comparable to that of the T Racer, but it has a wider base and is a slightly more stable shoe, with perhaps a bit less flexibility. It's very light and responsive for a marathon flat, but the upper is a bit baggy, particularly in the toebox. Like the Katana, the Streak 3 has a breathable mesh upper. The platform is also more curved than I expected, though not in a bad way. The Streak 3 runs between a half size and a full size large and like most Nike shoes, the Streak 3 runs fairly narrow, though there is more toebox space than in the Katana. Additionally, the laces are prone to coming undone, and may warrant replacement. The Streak 3 weighs 6.7 oz for a men's size 9.


  1. I came across the Nike Free yesterday at Sportstown and I liked it. Looks like a very comfortable shoe and I would not hesitate to buy it. Back in the day when I was a runner, I really liked the Asics Tiger X-Caliber GT.

  2. Hi JC! Which Free was it? I have the 5.0 and 3.0. The 5.0 has been replaced by the Free Run, and the 7.0 and 3.0 remain under the same name. There are also a few cross-trainer models out, I believe.

    Looks like Asics has rereleased a retro version of the X-Caliber. Wonder if it's pretty much the same shoe (with updated materials, no doubt) or if it's a totally new shoe that just looks the same. It seems like many runners have pretty fond memories of their Tigers!

    1. Oh yeah, I remember the Excaliber GT-II. That and the Nike Internationalist are those that I have the fondest memories of. It would be great if they reissued them, to give us a chance to relive; but that is really a fantasy. I had those in my early 20s, at 135 pounds. I am 53 now, and, ummmmmm.......

  3. Awesome shoes! Love this. Thanks for sharing this.


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