I bought new running shoes this weekend (the Asics Nova Blast which I love) and was intrigued by the Nike Vaporfly.
What are Vaporflys
Vaporflys have ushered in the ‘super shoe‘ era of road racing. Paula Radcliffe’s (very suspicious) 2:15:25 marathon world record in 2005 was untouchable. Year after year women ran and no one ever came close. Until Brigid Kosgei, who didn’t just break it, she smashed it, in 2:14:04 at Chicago in 2019.
I remember watching that race feeling deflated. Like it was hard to tell what was real and what wasn’t anymore. The men’s side is equally mind-blowing. When Geb ran 2:03:59 in 2008 it seemed superhuman. Now 15 men have run faster in just the last three years.
It varies person to person, but it was advertised as a 2% improvement. That’s more than two minutes over the course of a two-hour marathon! 30 seconds over that distance can be the difference between 1st place and missing the podium, let alone two minutes.
The shoes have undeniably changed the game. But it doesn’t extend to just professionals! At the start of the Rothman 8k this past November I’d say easily more than half of the runners in the front few rows had Vaporflys (or something similar). I felt like a hobby jogger wearing six year old Adidas.
So, do I need Vaporflys?
My gut reaction was it felt like cheating. I’m not running these races to win anything. My results are not the difference between getting a contract bonus vs. not. I’m literally just try to beat my past self. If my PR at Broad Street is 55:45, why would I want to break that time while being in potentially worse shape? What fun is that?
But then I asked myself “What’s the difference between these and track spikes? Those make you run faster too.” And I don’t have a good answer to that. I grew up wearing track spikes. All my track PRs were set in track spikes, and I never thought twice about if that’s ‘cheating’ or not.
In a few decades, we’ll talk about road shoes pre-2018 the way we talk about the shoes Bannister used to break 4:00 in the mile. As long as it’s a level playing field at the time, what’s the difference?
So where does that leave me? I guess I’m buying Vaporflys. I don’t want to be the dude at parties who says “My PR is X, but I wasn’t wearing super shoes so…” (this happens to me all the time at parties).