Gear Review: Nike VaporFly 4%
Updated: Feb 13, 2020
Each leg of the triathlon requires very specific and consistent training. Just as coaches and physiologist work to improve and further understand training techniques, gear is also undergoing a continuous research and improvement process.
As an aero geek, and a junkie for anything (legal of course) that could be termed “ergogenic“ to the sport of triathlon, I am always interested in learning about and testing new gear. Typically, it’s all about the bike, but there has been so much attention to the run this past year centered around the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%
Lucky for me, Santa brought me the Vaporfly. This shoe has had plenty of press and notoriety and it’s been almost impossible to keep up with all the accomplishments associated with this shoe. Here are just some of bragging rights from the last few months that I recall: Eluid Kipchoge’s Marathon Record, 18 year-year-old Jacob Kiplimo’s 26:41 10k, and Camille Herron’s 100 Mile & 24 Hour Run records. The paces of those recent records range from the low 4’s (yes as in 4:18 miles) to high 8’s. (More Vaporfly marathon results here.)
Why it’s fast: Carbon Fiber Plate and Nike ZoomX Foam
As a triathlete, anything with carbon is of course going to pique my interest. And I initially thought that was what provided the benefit, but having now worn them and read a bit more about the tech, I think the benefit of the ZoomX Foam cannot be understated. There are various articles about the why, so I’m not going to delve into that too much. But with the success, we are seeing other manufacturers working to further improve upon the design. There was a recent article on Slowtwitch discussing some of the past and present ideas of carbon shoe plates.
My initial reluctance:
Despite the hype for these shoes over the last 18 months, I was initially reluctant. I’ve been running in fairly minimal drop shoes since I started running, and exclusively zero drop for the last 4 years. Going from 0 mm to the 10 mm heel-to-toe drop of the Nike VaporFly’s scared me a bit. Much of my running philosophy was built on the importance of minimal heel-to-toe drop and these shoes were quite a departure from that. Despite this, with a marathon on my calendar in a little over a month, I couldn’t ignore the data and results behind the shoes.
My first impression:
After a couple of weeks of rainy weather, I finally had the opportunity to put these to the test last Sunday in a local 5k. Again, coming from Zero Drop I was a bit concerned of how I’d feel going out in them. I put them on about ten minutes before the race start, and besides trying them on inside my house this was the first time they’d been on my feet. (I would not recommend new shoes on race day but that's how it worked out.) The FlyKnit upper has a great, sock-like feel and they felt comfortable and snug going on. They have standard laces, but I think if I were using them in tri, the FlyKnit upper would be secure without laces. I did a quick quarter-mile warm-up just to try and feel them out and make sure the drop wasn’t going to be a major factor. I was pressed for time, so I just made sure nothing felt too odd. It didn’t.
A few minutes later, the race started and I tried to jump up to ignore pace and settle in based on feel for the first mile. I felt an immediate responsiveness and poofiness (not sure if that’s a word) that delivered a feeling of energy return. I looked at my pace for the first time about half mile in and realized I was about 20 seconds faster than I thought I’d be (and below my 5k PR pace). The best way I could describe the feeling was that I felt like I was getting everything I put into the shoe right back. While the landing felt soft, it offered a springy “return” behind the softness. I kept a relatively quick pace for the first 1.25 miles, and despite the great feel of the shoes, and the lack of expenditure and fatigue in my legs, the cold I’d had for the few days before led me to back way off. Even though my time didn’t reflect it, this race made me a believer in the shoes' purported 4% advantage.
In conclusion, these shoes are the real deal. In endurance sport, very little rivals efficiency in terms of importance. These shoes seem to be supporting the efficiency claims. Like everything “efficient” on the bike, they also come with a real price tag ($250) and don’t last as many miles as a typical running shoe. That said, I still highly suggest them as long as they are not used as a substitute for smart training and recovery, and/or don’t break your budget. They do sell out almost immediately so may take some time to locate.
There are also lower-priced versions of the shoe without the ZoomX Foam that allow training with the same “fit”, but without the full material efficiencies.
Personally I’m excited to test them out in a few more road races and an upcoming marathon. And I can't wait to experience the poofy/spongy return after jumping off the bike.