The Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% is one of the most discussed, most anticipated and most sought after shoes to date. They were designed as part of Nike’s attempt to break the 2-hour marathon barrier (Breaking2 project) earlier this year. The shoes have been available to non elite runners since June 2017, but have been sold out most anytime I’ve checked Nike’s website (we are now at the end of October).
The Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% promises to make us faster, to be precise it promises a 4% increase in running economy according to Nike. The shoe has a thin upper mesh and is superlight (195g for size 10). Apart from being a light shoe many other aspects of its engineering contribute to making it a faster shoe than others. It has a pointed heel to make it more aerodynamic. Its springy but thick foam ZoomX provides up to 85% energy return according to the manufacturers. Its most interesting feature though is the curved carbon fibre plate that runs from heel to toe that is embedded within the foam. This is the feature that has caused all discrepancy as to whether this shoe gives an unfair advantage to runners that wear it due to the spring-like effect that this plate can create.
Runner’s World has tested the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% in their labs and this is what they have found as presented in their July 2017 issue. The pointed heel offers no real advantage. The ZoomX foam gives the highest energy return than any other shoe they have tested, with runners testing it showing 4% less muscle activity compared to control shoes and a lower heart rate. Although the distance between the foot and the ground is comparative to distances experienced in heavier shoes, they found superb cushioning in the forefoot and the best dampening of impact in the heel than any other shoe. There is also an 11mm drop from heel to toe which protects the Achilles and gives the sensation of leaning forward. The plate increases push-off by restricting bending of the toes, thus saving energy.
So this is what has been found in the lab. However, how does this shoe do for a non-elite runner pounding the track and streets?? I managed to get my hands on a pair of Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% this summer and instantly put them to the test. I normally wear Asics Kayano stability shoes due to being a heavy overpronator, which although are quite bulky and heavy, make me feel safe and protect me from injury while out on long runs. So the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% was promising to be quite different!
The first session I wore the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% was at the track for short intervals followed by a mini cooper test (get as far as you can in 6 minutes).
First impression of the shoes when putting them on was that they were very light indeed. The pointed heel along with the thick layer of foam make the shoe look a bit strange. It’s not an ugly shoe but it’s not the prettiest I have worn either. It looks efficient and means business. Walking on them at first felt a bit strange, a bit like walking on a platform and I had to watch it not to not fall off. I soon got used to that sensation and when I started my warm up I could feel the difference. My feet wanted to go faster and my friend running with me actually said “look at you, you can’t hold yourself back today”. The interval session of the day consisted of sets of 100s and 200s with very generous breaks, a qualitative session, good for running economy. When I started running fast (that is fast for me) I felt like I was flying. I felt light, fast and that I had good posture. I was running tall with my legs going high behind me towards the butt. The more power I gave the more I got out of my legs while still running very smoothly. I felt like flying! I have recently been running my 100s at around 22 seconds and my 200s around 43-44 but that day I did 20-21 for the 100s and 41-43 for the 200s. The times I managed were not personal records but were better than what I had been doing recently and more like the times I used to do when still running with my running club in London. The intervals were followed by the mini cooper test, for which I would consistently run about 1350m after an interval session. That night, with similar effort, I managed for the first time ever (while feeling quite tired) to reach the 1400m line.
The Sunday after, I took my Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% for a half marathon training run along my usual route.
That day I completed the half marathon distance in 1.54.40, while a few weeks back on my Asics shoes I had done 1.57.54, still a good time for me at training. The improvement in performance with the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% was 2.8%. These shoes made me faster on the flat parts of the route but they made no difference in the hilly parts at all. One complaint, the front of my feet hurt at the end of the run, they felt quite exposed to the hardness of the pavement after a while running in them. Nonetheless, while training, I have never done a faster time running this route (I have done slightly better on flatter routes and this only once).
My conclusion is that in training, I was generally faster and more comfortable than I would usually have been under similar conditions. I broke my training time records for the mini cooper test and half marathon distance for this particular route I tried. The shoes made me feel like a good runner as I was running with ease and felt like I had good form. On the fast intervals I felt like flying, a wonderful sensation and a taste of what really fast runners must experience.
The next test would have been to test my new shoes in a race. However, as my gut feeling was that they were going to make a difference, I didn’t wear them for the next 5k race that I did, as I wanted to compare myself in similar conditions to what I was doing 3 years ago when I took part in the same event. However, one could say that by doing intervals at the track and running 5-10k races in the very structured and heavy Asics Kayano shoes I’m not doing myself any favours either.
So far the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% do not appear to break any of the vague rules of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and use technology that has been used in other shoes for some time. I will keep those shoes for some of my faster, shorter runs or interval workouts, alternate them with my regular running shoes and will wear them to remind myself what running like an elite must feel like. As I am not a professional runner and I basically train to compete with myself even when I enter races, my problem with these shoes is that by wearing them I may get better results in competition/training and new PBs that would however not be due to me improving but due to wearing better, more advanced gear. However, if I was after winning races, as long as the shoes remain legal according to IAAF regulations, I would totally go for them!
I am grateful I have had the opportunity to try the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% on and to know what running in them is like, it has been a revelation. Who knows, perhaps the better running technique I adopt when running in them may rub on my body and mind and some of the good habits like running tall may become more natural to me.