Time to talk some gear!
So, about 9 months ago I finally succumbed to the hype. I broke down and bought a pair of Nike Vaporflys. If you’re a runner, you’ve no doubt heard about carbon fiber plate shoes – with a high profile campaign launching them involving Eliud Kipchoge as well as a considerable amount of controversy. The idea behind these shoes is they can improve running economy by at least 4%, because the carbon fiber plate returns 80% of energy to the runner with every stride. Of course, there was a lot of talk about whether World Athletics would end up banning them for future competitions – they did not, although one wonders how much pull Nike had with respect to this decision. Whatever the case, your average runner can now shell out the nearly $400.00 price tag and get a pair (although they were awfully hard to find for awhile, to the delight of those on eBay).
The question you might be asking is, of course, are they worth it?
Well, let’s discuss.
The pair I got happened to be on sale for about 70 dollars off, and I signed up for the store’s newsletter to get an additional 10% discount, so the total price tag came to about $300 CAD. They were the hot pink number shown above. (Note – that is not my leg. Mine are much sexier.) It’s possible the lurid color was the reason for the discount. Whatever. I didn’t care as long as the shoes performed.
When I pulled them out of the box, I was struck by their definitively weird appearance, even though I had expected it from the things I’d read online. With the crooked looking laces and tongue, sharp point at the heel, and extremely lightweight mesh construction, they were certainly unlike any shoe I’d ever owned. They also felt unlike anything else when I put them on. There are many descriptions of these shoes feeling like trampolines on one’s feet, or running on rocking horses at first. This is pretty accurate – it does feel incredibly springy beneath the ball of the foot. Walking around in them feels very strange at first.
A lot of people have also asked about durability, and I can report that they are more durable than I thought they would be. I’ve run probably about 250km in them so far, and they seem to be holding up fine and are just as springy as they were when I first wore them.
The proof for me came with the very first test run. I usually tempo run at about a 4:40/km pace, and I went out feeling I was moving along comfortably with my usual effort. At the 1K mark, I looked at my watch to see where I was at pace-wise, and I nearly fell over with surprise.
4:09. I just did that km in 4:09.
Now, part of this was no doubt psychological. I was likely running slightly faster and harder than I usually would because, well, I just spent 300 bucks on a pair of shoes. But as I’ve run in them more, I’ve noted that I can run with the same effort as with my prior shoes (I still use my Brooks Adrenaline to train), and I typically go 15-20 seconds faster per km in the Vaporflys. That’s big.
Is it fair though?
Well, that’s a thorny question. Proponents of the shoe say equipment gets better with every sport over the years, and shoes shouldn’t be any different. But I do admit to being a bit conflicted. In a sport that’s supposed to be purely about how fast you can push yourself, and so based on direct comparison of individuals, it does seem to be a something of a cheat. It’s important to remember that they are legal, so I suppose critics don’t really have an argument. And I have noted that there are more and more runners in the local races that I’ve seen in them, so others are reaping the benefits. Unfortunately, there’s clearly elitism at work when runners who lack the means to afford these shoes are getting shut out.
Despite this, I definitely recommend picking a pair up if you have the means, especially if you get lucky enough to find a sale on a pair. Do they live up to the hype? Unequivocal yes from me.