What shoes should you wear for a tower race?

Posted: March 31, 2018 in News

If you’ve signed up for a stair race, you may have started thinking about what you’re going to wear on the day.

For the most part, what you wear for a stair climb won’t differ too much from what you would wear for any other running race. Ideally you want to dress as light as possible in some form of technical gear that is breathable. Follow the link to read our brief guide on what to wear for a stair race.

But what about on your feet? The most common question we get about gear is related to the type of shoes best suited to a tower run.

Read on as we take a closer look at this popular question.

What shoes should you wear for a stair climb?

If you’re just starting out with tower running you will be fine wearing any general purpose trainers you have to hand. And until you start making significant improvements in your times because of the training you’re doing, you’ll continue to be fine in any type of running/gym shoes.

But once you reach the point where you’re looking to make small, but potentially significant, gains through gear choice, technique adjustments, strict diet etc, you might consider changing the shoes you stair race in.

There aren’t any shoes designed specifically for tower running. Why would there be, you might be thinking. It’s just running, but up stairs, right?

Well, yes and no. The various factors that influence the design of road running shoes are somewhat insignificant when it comes to stair climbing. This is mostly because of the different biomechanics involved in stair running vs regular running, and partly because of the duration of stair climbing events.

Stair climbing doesn’t generate anywhere near the forces and impacts involved in road running. It’s a very low impact activity and so decisions about the amount of cushioning you need are far less important.

For the same reason, most people can throw out their worries about over pronation when they enter the stairwell (we would suggest most people could throw it out anyway regardless of where they’re running, but that’s for another time and place).

So, while you may not feel comfortable picking out a pair of very lightweight racing flats for your upcoming 5k, 10k, half- or full marathon, you could easily get away with wearing them in the stairwell and probably take a bit of time off your finish as a result, too.

Even if stair running did generate similar forces as road running, the events (at least in the UK) are relatively short enough in duration (think 4-6mins and 5-7 mins for the faster men and women, respectively) that you could get away with a really stripped back shoe anyway. The race would likely be over before the negatives of wearing a very light shoe outweighed the positives.

So what shoes should you go for?

A famous study conducted by Nike in the 1980s showed that adding 100g to a running shoe increased the aerobic demand of running by 1%. It makes sense of course. Less weight equals less energy expended moving those shoes and faster times.

But there’s a drop off point, especially when the weight of a shoe is reduced by having less cushioning in the midsole. At a certain point the muscles will begin absorbing the landing shock the cushioning is designed to and that will lead to faster fatigue and greater energy costs.

Interestingly, the Hoka One One range bucks the trend of cutting weight by reducing the amount of midsole cushioning. Some of their thickly cushioned shoes, such as the Cavu and Mach, are only 231g, which is as light as some ‘minimalist’ shoes.

Running shoe manufacturers work tirelessly to find that cushioning sweet spot, particularly with the shoes pitched at the very fastest band of runners.

Because of the reasons given above, we think you can afford to go as light as possible with a shoe for stair climbing, without having to weigh up the same factors you would when picking a pair for road running. We feel there’s not too much need to consider aspects such as traction, responsiveness or the durability of the outsole if you’re only using them for stair running.

If you want to buy a pair exclusively for stair climbing, we’d recommend getting a pair as lightweight as possible. The less weight you have to carry up the stairs, the more energy you’ll save and the faster you’ll be.

Many people have embraced the minimalist shoe trend that’s popped up over the last decade, and we certainly have made use of zero drop shoes with little or no cushioning on both road and stairs, and that type of shoe would be a good choice. But they’re often actually not even the lightest shoes on the market. Plus, they’re not for everyone and lots of people will want at least some sort of cushioning.

New Balance have previously sold shoes that weighed less than 100g, and you can find options from multiple brands weighing less than 180g.

What are the best shoes for running and stair climbing?

But what if you’re not so into tower running that you want to buy a pair of shoes exclusively for it, and you’re looking for a dual-purpose shoe that will serve you well on the stairs and in road races?

Well, you can buy very lightweight shoes with 6mm-10mm drop and decent midfoot cushioning that will be excellent for stair climbing and will also serve you well in road races – provided you have decent running form and economy.

Some examples of this type of shoe include:

But pretty much any racing flat will do the job of a good dual-purpose option.

With all that in mind, we take a closer look at some of the shoes we’ve used for tower running events to give you a flavour of what we prefer to have on our feet when racing/training in the stairwells and why.

Merrell Trail Glove

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This was the first shoe we wore when we began stair racing.

As a trail shoe, which we primarily used it for at the time, we had mixed feelings about it. But on the stairs it was ideal.

Even though it’s a trail shoe, it lacks the deep, chunky tread usually found on trail shoes (making it a bit rubbish for wet/muddy trail conditions). This means you won’t get that sometimes lumpy underfoot feeling you can get when you wear trail shoes on hard flat ground.

It’s a flexible, minimalist ‘zero drop’ shoe that, as the name suggest, has a snug ‘glove’-like fit. This is something we personally look for when picking a running shoe to stair climb in, especially when a tower has lots of landing turns. But it’s not restrictive. We have a wide forefoot and this shoe fits it well, so if you have narrow feet you may well find the toe box a bit roomy.

While we prefer a spacious toe box for flat level running, we find the snugger fit works well for stair climbs. Especially in shorter runs where you’re running at pace and pushing off hard at each landing turn. Too much lateral foot movement inside the shoe can be annoying.

The Merrell Trail Glove has a reassuring Vibram outsole, which grips really well in dry conditions (such as in a stairwell). Even though the outsole grips really well, we never found any issues with the shoe sticking as we pivoted on landing turns, which is another plus point for this shoe.

At 230g per shoe it’s pretty lightweight, and if you race in them without socks, you’ll feel really light and free in the stairwell.

The latest version of this excellent minimalist running shoe is the Merrell Trail Glove 4, which has some design differences to the original version pictured.

Adidas Adizero Adios Boost 3

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We’re a big fan of many of the shoes in Adidas’ Adizero range. Lightweight, well-designed and with Boost cushioning they make for nice, pacey racing shoes. Although the notoriously narrow fitting brand can be a bit of a squeeze for the wide footers out there, we’ve favoured them for 5k and 10k road races and fast training runs for a while. And we’re in good company.

Dennis Kimetto broke the marathon world record in 2016 in a pair of the Adizero Adios Boost, while world tower running champion and perennial podium-topper Piotr Lobodzinski wears a variety of Adidas shoes in the various events he takes part in.

adidas

At the recent La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel in Paris, Lobodzinski (above) appeared to be sporting the Adizero Takumi Sen 3. Weighing just 170g per shoe, these are the second-lightest model you can get in the Adidas Adizero range. The newly launched Sub 2 shoe, designed solely with the two-hour marathon barrier in mind, weighs just 160g.

These super-lightweight running shoes are a great choice for stair climbing. If we were advising on a specific shoe for stair climbing it would be something like one of those two.

For most people, they’re probably only suitable for shorter, flat road races, and even then only if you’re fairly lightweight and have good running form. So they probably aren’t the ideal dual-purpose shoe for most.

We’ve recently ran on road and stairs in the Adizero Adios Boost 3 (pictured above in blue). At 230g they’re still a light shoe, making them a good choice for stair climbing, but they also have enough cushioning to make them comfortable, and more forgiving, for longer runs/races on the road. It’s probably our preferred dual-purpose trainer.

Barefoot

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If you can get away with it, you don’t need to wear shoes at all.

Most event organisers/building managers we’ve encountered have prohibited bare feet in the stairwell on account of health and safety concerns. But we have managed it a couple of times at different events and it’s obviously as lightweight as you can get.

We’d recommend giving it a go, even if just in training. It gives you a greater connection with your surroundings, and the completely stripped-back feeling is a wonderful one. Plus any barefoot training will help strengthen your feet and lower legs, giving you a firm base for your running/stair climbing.

That said, regardless of whether the organisers would allow you to or not, barefoot stair running is not suitable for all races. Outdoor stair climb events, where the steps are sometimes grated, could prove unnecessarily uncomfortable and being barefoot could impair your performance.

We’ve also made use of a couple of Vibram Fivefingers – particularly favouring the KSO Classic, which weighs just 167g. Slipping on a pair of these is a decent alternative to going completely barefoot.

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