Carbon fibers in running shoes - the future?

A running shoe that makes you faster - that's probably the dream of every ambitious runner. In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion in runner circles about topics such as sprengung and damping. But since Nike's sensational Breaking2 project and the release of the VaporFly 4%, the focus has once again been on speed. Everything revolves around the fundamental question: what makes a running shoe faster and more powerful? Carbon fiber panels might be the answer.

Although carbon fibers have been used in the midsoles of running shoes since the early 90s, this particularly lightweight material has hardly caused a stir in runner circles. It wasn't until the Nike VaporFly 4% that this changed fundamentally. More and more brands are now using carbon fiber plates to improve the energy recovery and efficiency of their running shoes - including Hoka One One, which is launching the Evo Carbon Rocket+, a competition-ready racer with a continuous carbon fiber plate. We take a close look at the promising material of the future, its range of applications in running shoes and the much-discussed "bounce effect" of the novel carbon fiber plates.

Super-light, flexurally stiff and tensile - with these properties, the highly resilient high-tech material is virtually predestined for the manufacture of sports equipment. Whether it's a racing bike or a ski pole - hardly any sports equipment can do without carbon these days. The fact that carbon can absorb and transfer large amounts of energy also makes it interesting for the running shoe industry. Reebok was the first company to integrate carbon fibers into its running shoes in the early 1990s. The Reebok Pump Graphlite and Graphlite Road were the first to use a midfoot bridge made of carbon fiber. A few years later, the Instapump Fury was also equipped with the groundbreaking Graphlite technology. Adidas also installed a stiff carbon fiber plate in the sole of the Gazelle Pro Plate as early as 2001, which was intended to increase the energy return of the running shoes. Despite these promising beginnings, carbon fibers sank back into obscurity in the following years, as their use was initially still very costly.

This was not to change until 2008, when sports equipment supplier Zoot launched the Ultra Race, a running shoe specifically for triathletes. Zoot chief designer Aaron Azevedo was a shoe developer at Reebok in the early '90s, when the label first used carbon fiber panels. He took the design of Reebok's Graphlite midfoot bridge as a model and adapted it to the specific needs of triathletes. The CarbonSpan+ plate in the midsole not only made Zoot's triathlon running shoes much lighter, but also supported the rolling motion, counteracting premature fatigue of the foot muscles.

World market leader Nike had also recognized the immense potential of ultra-light carbon fibers and gained fundamental experience with the material as sponsor of the exceptional lower leg amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius. The South African "blade runner's" carbon fiber prostheses lacked grip, so in 2012 Nike developed an innovative carbon fiber plate with spikes that was attached to the feet of his prostheses.

"Today, many running shoe manufacturers relied on the ultra-light carbon fibers."

But in the end, it was once again fierce competition with Adidas that drove the Swoosh brand to innovative excellence. For a long time, the Adidas Adizero Adios was considered the fastest marathon shoe in the world in running circles: at the Berlin Marathon in 2008, running legend Haile Gebrselassie started his triumphal procession in this Adidas running shoe, and Dennis Kimetto also broke the world record in an Adizero Adios Boost in 2014. But in 2017, the competition from Oregon hit the big time: with the VaporFly 4%, Nike launched a revolutionary running shoe with which Eulid Kipchoge set an outstanding world best time of 2:01:39h at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. The fast Nike Racer caused some controversy - the reason was the integrated carbon fiber plate, which functions similarly to a spring. The spoon-shaped plate in the midsole stores energy with every step and releases it again in the push-off phase, so that the runner is literally catapulted forward. According to Nike, this saves up to 4% energy. The VaporFly 4% hit like a bomb, but at the same time fears were raised that the fast Nike shoe could give an unfair competitive advantage in commercial running. Some even called for the shoe to be banned, which did nothing to dampen the hype surrounding Nike's new secret weapon - on the contrary. Today, many running shoe manufacturers rely on the ultra-light carbon fibers - and not just since the release of the VaporFly 4%. Among others, the brands Salming and 361° use specially developed carbon fiber plates in the midfoot area of their performance running shoes.

With the Evo Carbon Rocket+, which is also available in the Runster Shop, Hoka One One presents us with a particularly promising candidate. The French running shoe company has been working with carbon fiber for quite some time and has developed an aggressive but well-cushioned competition shoe in collaboration with top athletes from the Hoka One One team. The continuous carbon fiber plates of the Evo Carbon Rocket+ are supposed to provide a particularly reactive and fast running feel. We are curious to see if the new Hoka Racer can compete with the Nike VaporFly 4%. The race for the fastest running shoe continues in 2019!