Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
—Adapted from a fable by Liè Zĭ, Taoist philosopher
Here’s a quick way to drop a minimum of 9–18 seconds from your 5K time without having to train or diet: Race in a lighter pair of shoes.
Research has found that decreasing the weight of your racing shoes by 3.5 ounces per shoe will improve your 5K time by about 1 percent. The average training shoe weighs 11–12 ounces, while most racing flats tip the scales at about 6–8 ounces, with the lightest racing flats boasting a barely-there 4 ounces.
By switching from training shoes to the lightest, 4-ounce flats, a 20-minute 5K runner can cut about 24 seconds from his or her time. Even if already racing in 7–8-ounce flats, he or she can save 12 seconds by switching to the lightest shoes. A 30-minute 5K runner would gain 18–36 seconds. A 15-minute runner would improve 9–18 seconds.
And it gets better. By running your hard workouts—tempos, hills, drills, and repetitions—in lighter shoes, you’ll improve the efficiency of your stride at faster paces.
Some runners mistakenly believe that doing hard workouts in heavier shoes strengthens their legs, making race-day running in lighter shoes much easier. Not so. Instead, doing hard workouts in heavy shoes simply hardwires a stride that’s slightly different than the one you’ll utilize with lighter shoes. The result is a less-efficient stride in the lighter shoe come race day. If your aim is to race fast and efficiently in lighter shoes, then practice running fast and efficiently in lighter shoes.
One caveat: There’s a point at which lack of cushioning outweighs the benefit of racing in a lighter flat—and research has shown that barefoot running is the least efficient race choice of all. As a rule of thumb, if your feet hurt due to lack of shoe, add a little more shoe.
Shoe Weight vs. Performance Improvement Charts
These charts illustrate possible performance improvement for runners of different abilities, based upon the weight of their racing flats. The 12-ounce weight represents the heaviest side and assumes the runner is racing in heavy training shoes. The 3-ounce weight represents the lightest side; shoes that weigh less than 3 ounces offer no advantage (in fact, studies show there is a disadvantage to shoes lighter than this, as well as to barefoot running).
Republished and adapted from the forthcoming Fast 5K: 25 Crucial Keys and 4 Training Plans by Pete Magill with permission of VeloPress.