Fancy Sneakers Really Make You Faster
For most of us, the best running shoe is the one that feels best when you run in it . But shoe companies claim that certain shoes – most notably the $ 250 Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% – save so much energy that they actually make you go faster. Now we finally have the data to answer that question, and it looks like Nike isn’t bluffing.
We need to be clear about the bias of this study: Nike funded it. But the experiments were done in a respected lab, reports Alex Hutchinson on Outside Online , and the results show that runners need less oxygen, which means they didn’t work that hard. This means energy savings that you can use to get yourself moving faster. The full text of the study is available here .
Eliud Kipchoge wore the Vaporfly 4% to run the fastest 2:00:25 marathon in the world, but there was a lot in this race. Nike has a clear goal of completing the first marathon in less than two hours. (The event, plus months of buzz about how they trained and studied the athletes, made up arguably the largest and longest ad for a shoe in the world.) So there was a lot more going on at this event than just showcasing their flagship shoes. about one of the best athletes in the world.
For example, Nike has booked a flat race track in an optimal location with multiple dates available in case of bad weather. They also asked three athletes to try; two got out of the race while running because they couldn’t keep up with the pace. Kipchoge also had an ever-changing group of mercenary runners blocking the wind for him; they changed places every few miles, so he always followed right behind someone who was keeping perfect pace with fresh legs. (Such assistance is not allowed in competitive races, so his time does not make it into the record book.)
What makes this shoe so special
With these results – and the added fact that Shalene Flanagan wore the same shoe to win the New York City Marathon earlier this month – it’s hard to say if these athletes really owe some of their accomplishments to the shoe. They are clearly amazing runners who will excel no matter what they’re wearing. That’s why lab studies like the one recently published complement our understanding: They looked at what happens to people who run the same standardized tests in the Vaporfly when compared to two other modern running shoes: the Adidas Adizero Adios Boost 2 and the Nike 6 Zoom Series . Indeed, the Vaporfly ran slightly more efficiently than the other two models.
The difference between the Vaporfly and the other two shoes seems to lie in the type of foam used for cushioning and a resilient plate sandwiched between layers of that foam. Now that the Vaporfly is available for purchase, Wired was able to do its own impromptu exploration by looking at finish times for 138 New York City marathon runners, including 21 with the Vaporfly. These results indicate that people who wore these shoes were more likely to run negative splits (they ran faster at the end of the race than at the beginning). This is in line with the idea that shoes make people run more efficiently, but there can also be a serious placebo effect associated with the knowledge that you are wearing a pair of shoes that should make you faster.
The point is not that we should all work at Vaporflys. The point is, if you’re determined to cut your marathon time by a few minutes, it’s worth considering whether it’s worth $ 250 for you. Maybe you better spend the extra money on a few sessions with a coach to get you in shape, or babysitting time to work out again. And that’s not a decision Nike can make for you.