Nike has been at the forefront of the running game for decades now, but their latest and possibly most innovative addition may have just arrived. The Nike Vaporfly Next% is a neon running shoe that has crossed record breaking finish lines and has raised the bar. However, the question still remains: How?
With its signature thick foam soles and bold colors, the Nike Vaporfly still remains a bit of an enigma to the rest of us. Below, are a few of the trade secrets about the Nike Vaporfly as well as the reasons why it’s so fast.
How the Nike Vaporfly Next% Running Shoe Was Designed
The main concept for the Vaporfly shoes was created for the Nike Breaking 2 Project, which was an attempt to break the 2-hour barrier for finishing a marathon. The Vaporfly was designed to be the lightest shoe possible, providing maximum cushioning with forwarding dynamic propulsion.
The Breaking 2 Project came excruciatingly close to their goal, coming in at 2:00:25 by the best marathoner in the game, Eliud Kipchoge. After the Breaking 2 Project, the Kenyan Olympic medalist eventually ran a sub 2-hour marathon wearing the Alphafly version, a close cousin to the commercially available Vaporfly.
So what makes the Nike Vaporfly so revolutionary? The shoes are intended to give more energy and support to runners from start to finish. The fluorescent kicks cost around $250 and have a lifespan of only around 200 miles.
Why Is The Nike Vaporfly Such A Big Deal?
Road runners, especially long-distance runners, experience fatigue later and can manage their energy reserves better using the Vaporfly. For elite runners, this can shave off 60-90 seconds of their final time.
In its 2019 review, Strava, the global social network for athletes, said that the median marathon finish time for runners in the Vaporfly model Next% was 8.7% faster than runners wearing the next fastest shoe, the Adidas Boston.
Believe it or not, there have been actual scientific studies done to really put these super shoes to the test. One study found that the Nike Vaporfly gives runners an efficiency edge of 4.2% compared to Adidas’s state-of-the-art marathon racing shoes, the Adizero Adios 3. As more independent research goes into the Vaporfly, the basic claim that the shoe allows you to burn significantly less energy to run at a given pace is now widely accepted.
Features of the Nike Vaporfly
Below is a video of a Vaporfly being cut into two, in order to get a good sense of what these shoes are really made of.
The Foam Sole
The foam is ultralight, allowing the heels to be 31 millimeters high at the heel, which is about 50 percent thicker than comparable shoes, without being heavier. This reduces the impact on the Achilles and forces you to run forward. It might need some getting used to, but it definitely helps when you’re a heel striker since it might force you more onto a mid/forefoot strike.
What makes it special, aside from the height of the sole, is what the sole is made of. Using a lightweight foam called ZoomX, the shoe is designed to give up to 85% energy return. Runner’s World tested it and found an 80% return, the highest ever recorded in their lab. One of the main features of the foam is to create a softer landing without losing much energy. This is because the foam of the Vaporfly doesn’t expand horizontally on impact too much.
The Carbon Foot Plate
There’s a carbon plate embedded in the midsole which is designed to create a smooth ride and to restrict how much the toes can bend during the push-off. The carbon plate provides a springy toe-off, pushing the feet of the runner forward at each stride.
But Nike isn’t the first running brand to include carbon in their shoe construction. For example, Adidas has been using carbon since the mid-80s. The reason Nike’s Vaporfly performs so much better is presumably due to the combination of carbon type of foam, as well as the thickness and shape of it.
The Hoka Carbon X, another speedy shoe, sports a lightweight mesh upper, a chunky sole, and a carbon plate in the middle. At the launch of the Hoka Carbon X, ultrarunner Jim Walmsley christened his pair by breaking a 50-mile world record that had stood for 36 years. He knocked 43 seconds off the time, to finish in 4:50:08. It’s therefore safe to say that the Hoka Carbon X has some serious speedy power as well. However, no other commercially made shoe has truly rivaled the capabilities of the Nike Vaporfly Next%.
Will You See the Vaporfly at the Olympics?
A ruling by the World Athletics boards states that pro athletes will be able to compete in Nike’s Vaporfly sneakers at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. The international sports governing body also announced major amendments to its rules on footwear worn in elite competition, imposing a ban on shoes with soles thicker than 40 millimeters or shoes that contain more than one plate. That limit is greater than the 36-millimeter sole of the Vaporfly, which also has a single embedded plate.