Runners who wear Nike’s fastest shoes may have a 4 to 5 per cent advantage over others during races, according to a recent New York Times analysis.
Nike’s controversial Vaporfly shoe was met with constant debate before and after Eliud Kipchoge, who was wearing the shoes when he shattered the two-hour marathon record in Vienna in October.
He completed the marathon in one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds.
Brigid Kosegi’s impressive run at Chicago’s Marathon helped place the $250 Vaporfly’s on a pedestal.
Now, according to the Times, the high-tech shoes may actually give runners more of an advantage than it was initially thought.
Runners who wear Nike’s fastest shoes (file image, Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next%) may have a 4 to 5 per cent advantage over others during races, according to a recent New York Times analysis
The newspaper’s analysis found that a runner wearing the the Zoom Vaporfly 4% (file image) or ZoomX Vaporfly Next% ran 4 to 5 per cent faster than a runner wearing an average shoe, and 2 to 3 per cent faster than runners in the next-fastest popular shoe
These numbers (depicted above) mean that in a race between two runners of the same ability, a runner wearing the Vaporfly’s would have a significant advantage over a competitor not wearing them
The newspaper’s analysis found that a runner wearing the Zoom Vaporfly 4% or ZoomX Vaporfly Next% ran 4 to 5 per cent faster than a runner wearing an average shoe, and 2 to 3 per cent faster than runners in the next-fastest popular shoe.
These numbers mean that in a race between two runners of the same ability, a runner wearing the Vaporfly’s would have a significant advantage over a competitor not wearing them.
A closer look at recent numbers in the final months of 2019 show that about 41 per cent of people who ran marathons in under three hours were reported to have been wearing these shoes.
A similar study was conducted in November 2018. That study from researchers at the University of Colorado explained why Nike’s VaporFly 4% shoes have had so much success in reducing the amount of energy expended during marathons.
The study served as a follow-up to a previous study that concluded that the VaporFly reduces the amount of energy needed to run by an average of 4 per cent and gave the shoe its curious name.
But the November 2018 research shed light on what exactly gives the shoe an edge over its competitors.
‘Life and science is a bit like peeling the layers of an onion, so at first I was like “wow, this is a great onion,”‘ said Rodger Kram, director of the University of Colorado’s Locomotion Laboratory and one of the authors of the study.
‘And then we peel the first layer off and it’s like “wow, that’s how much energy it saves,” and then “why does it save that energy,” and that’s the next layer.’
Constructed of a super bouncy and lightweight foam and outfitted with a carbon-fiber plate in its sole, the VaporFly has attracted attention due to its dominance among professional runners.
The university’s study debunked the common assumption that the plate in the shoe’s sole is its main strength. Instead, researchers found it’s not just one factor that can account for how well it performs.
Nike’s controversial Vaporfly shoe was met with constant debate before and after Eliud Kipchoge (pictured in Vienna), who was wearing the shoes when he shattered the two-hour marathon record in Vienna in October
A Nike spokesperson said at the time: ‘In Vienna, Eliud (center, white jersey)wore a future version of the Nike Vaporfly that is currently unreleased’
‘We found that it is not one magic thing that explains the metabolic savings in this shoe, but rather a combination of a whole bunch of biomechanical factors related to the foam and the plate,’ Wouter Hoogkamer, a post doctoral researcher at the Locomotion Laboratory and one of the authors of the study, stated in a news release.
Researchers also found that the shoe didn’t change hip or joint movements, a surprising result, leading them to the conclusion that the bulk of the energy saved while using it comes from the runner not having to use muscular torque at their ankles, reducing the amount of work the calves need to do.
The carbon plate wasn’t useless, either. According to the study, the stiffness it provided allowed for the muscles that stabilize toe joints to expend less energy.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) created a group to determine the high-tech sneaker’s place in the running circuit months before Kipchoge’s historic run, but it’s unclear how that will affect their judgement.
In November, the association said in a statement that they’re working to determine the middle ground between new advancements and the fundamental ethics of the sport.
‘The challenge is striking a balance between spurring development of ‘new technologies’ while preserving ‘the fundamental characteristics of the sport,’ they said.
According to the IAAF: ‘Shoes must not be constructed so as to give athletes any unfair assistance or advantage and that any type of shoe used must be reasonably available to all.’
A Nike spokesperson said at the time: ‘The shoe that Brigid wore in Chicago is the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%. In Vienna, Eliud wore a future version of the Nike Vaporfly that is currently unreleased.’
‘However, a shoe is only one factor in a race, and Eliud’s incredible run should be acknowledged.’