It was my birthday on Tuesday and I received a pair of Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next%’s. I wasn’t really aware of these controversial shoes until the week beforehand when I watched a YouTube video from my recommended and then stumbled upon a magazine article on the very same day. I now know that there are many who call the Vaporfly’s (which were released in 2016 with a 4th edition currently at a prototype stage) a form of “mechanical doping,” while fans of the shoes keep growing in number due to the alleged performance boost demonstrated by a succession of world records including Eliud Kipchoge’s 2hr 1min 39sec marathon time. In any case World Athletics recently ruled that shoe companies are not allowed to let their athletes run in prototypes and that new shoes cannot have a sole thicker than 40mm with more than one rigid embedded plate or blade – this makes the Vaporfly’s legal and thus Kosgei’s and Kipchoge’s records will stand despite the uproar from various competing brands over Nike’s patenting of both the ZoomX foam compound and the angle of the carbon fibre blade within the sole which puts said brands at a significant disadvantage when scrambling to catch up with this sudden innovation. In this post I’m not going to go into specific details about legality and patenting, instead I’m going to go over my initial reaction upon trying the Vaporfly’s and will then compare them against my Addidas Adizero Takumi Sen 5’s (my previous favourite running shoes which are pictured below) using my results at the last 10K at Regents Park and 5K at Finsbury Park as a baseline to decide if they really are wonder shoes…
Pink is my favourite colour so it only made sense to get the subtle fluorescent pink Vaporfly’s in all of their obscene glory. The first thing I noticed upon unboxing them is how unconventional they looked with the spiked heel and extremely thick sole (that the pink fade at the front tries to hide) but in essence the Vaporfly’s look like a highly specialised tool made for one thing only – to break records; the ZoomX foam stamped with “measured in the lab” combined with the Nike ‘Vaporweave’ fabric (which is practically transparent) make the shoes look like they belong more on a spaceship than in the shoebox I just took them out of. The next thing that surprised me is just how light the Vaporfly’s are considering how big they appear – they weigh 195 grams which, astonishingly, is only 25 grams heavier than my Takumi Sens which I expected to be considerably lighter.
I rushed to fit them on in my living room and I immediately noticed a difference in the fit. Both my Vaporfly’s and Takumi Sens are size 10 and they both come up just a bit below that size meaning they fit me perfectly (being somewhere between a 9.5 and 10), however, the Vaporfly’s properly fit. They fit perfectly. I can honestly say that I have never worn a more comfortable pair of shoes in my life. The tongue is wide and made of a plastic-like material meaning that it was able to mould over the top of my foot better than any other shoe I’ve used; there was none of that rucking up that those ultra-light tongues on certain running shoes or track spikes do and yet the tongue was still lightweight and thinner than that of my Takumi Sens. The tongue and lace pattern are also asymmetrically aligned on the Vaporfly’s which enhances the comfort of the shoes once tightened, on my Takumi Sens (and other previous shoes) there is a limit to the amount you can tighten the laces before certain areas (particularly of stitching) begin to dig in or the shoes deform and become uncomfortable and so inevitably you cannot lock your foot inside as tightly as you might wish. The Vaporweave is so thin and flexible that it wraps itself around your foot tightly gripping it so it does stay in place, no more angst wondering whether your laces are too tight (cutting off circulation) or too loose (causing those annoying rubs you only notice when it’s too late too do anything about them). The Vaporweave and the ZoomX foam also don’t absorb any water which means that your feet won’t suddenly start to feel heavy if you accidentally step in a puddle or it’s raining during a competition. Nike even have the laces covered, they have a flat-profile to prevent any slipping that might cause uneven pressure across the top of the foot and they are the perfect length, no need to tuck them under the laces so that they can’t be stepped on… every little detail has been thought of.
Onto their actual performance. Nike say that the Vaporfly’s are supposed to make you 4% faster than you would be in any other shoes however some research suggests that they might be closer to 5% faster. This gave me high hopes for my 10k, my PB was 39 minutes at Regents Park so I was aiming to get 37.44 if the shoes really did make a difference. To give them a fair trial it’s worth stating that I should have been faster anyway because I’d been stepping up my training in the 2 weeks beforehand, but the course was wet and I was recovering from a cold which probably dispensed with any benefits I should have received from the training.
I got a time of 38.15 which is a huge improvement (45 seconds), however it was 29 seconds slower than I had hoped for. How do they feel? They felt amazing. I had no rubs, my foot stayed in same position throughout the race. There was a definite spring in my step and I noticed the feedback from the carbon fibre plate within the sole. I’m not particularly light on my feet and I felt a lot more cushioned during the run especially on the brief downhill sections. Do I attribute this faster time to the shoes? Definitely. You might argue that there could have been a placebo affect and that I was capable of being faster anyway (which I’m sure is true), but the conditions were nowhere near as good as when I got my previous PB and I was not at my best and felt it, the fact that I managed to smash my PB despite this is very interesting.
Next I wore them for Finsbury Parkrun (5K) the following weekend. The weekend before my 10K I had just improved upon my 5K PB by knocking off 17 seconds (in my Takumi Sens) and getting 18.20. This meant it would be more of a challenge to beat my PB because it was much more recent and under ideal circumstances whereas I was still feeling a bit under the weather on the start line this time. In the end I managed it in 18.06 which is an all-time 5K PB for me, though I firmly believe the shoes could have delivered much more and that if I had been wearing them when I got my time of 18.20 (instead of my Takumi Sens) I could have got down to 17.30 no problem. This 5K confirmed all of the things I liked about the Vaporfly’s from the 10K but it also revealed their weaknesses – they don’t corner well and they don’t perform well in the wet. The Vaporfly’s place you much higher off the ground than most running shoes (especially the Takumi Sens which are surprisingly low) and it makes you feel a bit like you’re wearing platforms. Once you start running you get used to this but when it comes to taking a tight corner I felt my ankle buckle more than once which is never a good feeling. Will I get used it? Yes. Do I like slowing down for corners? No. My only other criticism is that compared to my Takumi Sens the grip pattern is next to useless, as most runners will know you lose more time than you realise if your shoes lack grip and the Vaporfly’s might be fine for dry tarmac or track running, but as soon as it rains you have to be careful. Solution: save them for perfect conditions when you’re more likely to get a PB anyway because the odds are in your favour.
My final thoughts are as follows…
- Contributed a lot to both of my PB’s.
- Very much more comfortable than any other shoe I’ve worn
- Felt very light on my feet
- Noticeable spring in my step
- Much more cushioning against impact
- Didn’t absorb any water from puddles etc
- Much more still to offer
- Not particularly grippy in the wet
- Poor cornering due to the height of the sole
Are the Vaporfly’s a worthwhile investment? 100%. You should believe all the hype and if my word isn’t enough, the rest of the running fraternity is backing me up, either by owning a pair themselves or by complaining loudly that they don’t. The pros more than outweigh the cons and that 5% speed increase is very much a reality.
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