Controversial running shoes allowed in Ottawa Race Weekend

Ottawa Race Weekend will allow vast majority of its 32,000 competitors to use pricey foam-soled, carbon-fibre shoes that offer runners an an advantage over their less-fancy shod peers.

Elite runners must follow new footwear rules released Friday

The new Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint running shoe. The Vaporfly technology is credited with improving marathon records since it was introduced in 2016. (Patrik Lundin/Getty Images for Nike)

Ottawa Race Weekend will allow the vast majority of its 32,000 competitors to use pricey foam-soled, carbon fibre shoes causing a stir in the running world.

A carbon fibre plate prevents the foot from bending and getting fatigued, while the thick layer of foam compresses and springs back with each step. 

Nike's Vaporfly shoe is at the centre of the controversy because people who wear them are winning major races in record times. 

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge was wearing a pair when he set the men's world record in 2018, with a time of 2:01:39 and had a prototype, Nike Alpha Fly, when he broke the two-hour barrier in an unsanctioned race in October. 

Marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya became the first human ever to run a marathon under two hours in October, though it isn't an official record because he used a pace car and other advantages. (Ronald Zak/Associated Press)

Other manufacturers are rushing to catch up, including Adidas, Asics, Brooks and New Balance.

The "super shoes" cost $300-500, or about 45 per cent more than other high performance shoes.

"It's an interesting evolving technology. If people want to come to our event and use the shoe they're more than welcome to," said Ian Fraser, the executive director and race director of Ottawa Race Weekend.

Vaporfly may give runners too much of a performance boost

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The performance boost marathon runners get from a Nike Vaporfly shoe may be too much, some sports regulators say, and the shoes could be banned from being worn in competition — including the upcoming summer Olympics. 1:59

But elite or professional runners must follow new rules released today by World Athletics, formerly the International Association of Athletics Federations or IAAF.

Among other things, the new rules that kick in April 30 limit the thickness of the foam sole, require that shoes have only one layer of carbon fibre, and be widely available for purchase as of Jan. 1, 2020.

Vaporfly shoes would be allowed, but the Alpha Fly shoes would not.

The new rules apply to all WA sanctioned events, including the Ottawa Race Weekend's 10K and marathon.

Fraser says elite runners make up less than one percent of the ORW athletes.

Runners head down Elgin Street during the second day of Ottawa Race Weekend May 26, 2019. (CBC)

The shoes can't be found for any price at Ottawa's Sports 4, a specialized running store with locations on Bank Street and College Square.

"The majority of our customers are not going to be looking for a shoe like that," said general manager Nathan Kwok.

Having said that, the shoe-loving Kwok is a believer.

"I think it's a really, really cool [piece] of gear to have. You don't often see shoes that are game changers," he said.

"To have such a noticeable difference and seeing so many records broken with this shoe — it's almost a piece of running history."

Fraser of Ottawa Race Weekend is more sceptical.

"Is there value in going out and buying a five hundred dollar pair of running shoes?" asks Fraser, a runner himself, with no plans to buy super shoes anytime soon.

"If you're a regular everyday runner, you roll through half a dozen pairs of shoes a year easily. And to be spending $3,000 a year on your running shoes is kind of ridiculous," he said.

"If one of my running buddies kept showing up in these shoes I would just look at him and say 'You're an idiot for spending that kind of money on this!'" 

Ottawa Race Weekend will be held May 23-24, 2020.


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