This Is What Happens When An Average Runner Wears Eluid Kipchoge's Nike trainers
If I'm honest, it was with real pride that I sat and watched Eluid Kipchoge bash out a sub-two hour marathon just a few short weeks ago in Vienna. I mean, don't get me wrong, I can take no credit for the achievement itself, the pride I felt was in him, we... the human race. Well done us, that's the message. But then talk turned to his sneakers and it really got interesting.
It's his Nike Zoom Vaporfly shoes, the people said. That's what did it. As usual, of course, people were wrong. Kipchoge's time was a beautiful equation of supreme talent and near perfect conditions combined with, ok, probably the finest running shoe ever crafted. But the question for me was deeper than all that. It's all well and good using top level engineering to help an elite athlete improve his output, but what can you do for me - a workmanlike runner with dodgy knees?
At this point, it's probably good you get some perspective. Firstly on me. I am, and always have been, the type of person to buy into these advertising campaigns. In 1994, when Adidas released the Predator football boot, I was an early adopter. I thought, misguidedly as it turned out, that the shoe would improve my game beyond all recognition. Some of my friends were even worse . One still insists to this day that he could bend the ball around the local garages at a 90 degree angle. He couldn't, but we digress. I bought into the Vaporfly dream.
To the uninitiated, that dream began for most on October 12, when Kipchoge ran 1:59:40.2 at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna, unofficially breaking his own marathon world record and becoming the first person ever to run one in under two hours. A staggering feat, but amongst the list of reasons that meant it couldn't be classed as an official word record - conditions, pacing etc - were his shoes.
The Vaporflys, they claimed, offered an unfair advantage over the clock, and it wasn't the first time that people had said it. Ultimately, the situation was this: while not illegal, the shoe had been raising eyebrows across the sport for some time. With a curved carbon-fibre plate in the sole apparently improving energy efficiency by 4 percent, the shoe had been implicated in a dramatic quickening of times across the board. Understandably, it was now coveted by many of the world's best runners, and even more of the world's worst - which is where I came in.
To be clear, my shoe was the next iteration - the Zoom Vaporfly Next% (that you can buy right now! Kipchoge wore a future edition, presumably, and quite rightly, not available for mere mortals). They're pink, that's the first thing I would say (stop me if I get too technical). A shocking pink, but kind of cool too. People noticed me, let's just leave it at that.
Next thing you notice? The cushioning of the sole. The thing is big - and intentionally so. The Next% has 15 percent more ZoomX foam underfoot that aims to capitalise on the thermoplastic “Pebax” material’s high-rebound cushioning.' While I wasn't sure about all that, I knew one thing: running in this shoe makes you feel like you're being propelled by springs. Instantly I felt more comfortable, with the cushioning pushing me into my stride a little easier and resulting in a much softer impact on my joints as I ran.
There was more. The super light Vaporfly weave was now water resistant - a big improvement on Flyknit tech - and the lace-up system was located a little to the side, making for less restriction of blood flow on the top of your feet. There was also an increased traction in the wet, too. OK, not something a Middle East runner might have to tend with, but it was one of Kipchoge's recommendations made good.
While the science is all well and good, what the research doesn't tell you, of course, is the cache that wearing the shoe brings. As I ran along Dubai Marina, you could see my standing amongst other runners visibly increase. Eyeing my, until recently, very difficult to track down Vaporflys, they knew I meant business. Yes, I was wearing an old Run DMC T-shirt, ok, I was moving fairly slowly, but at first glance I was a distance runner to be reckoned with and there was nothing any of us could do to change that.
Misguided vanity aside, for me there was also a placebo effect that came with this shoe. Somewhere deep inside, I wanted this tech to work, I wanted to run faster, I wanted the dream to be true. And you know what, it helped, taking four minutes off a 5km time that I had been struggling with for weeks. OK, this was perhaps more a victory for mental strength and how our brain dictates our body than it was Nike, but the shoe undoubtedly helped get me there, and, well, y'know, whatever works.
I guess the question at this stage is would I recommend them? Let's be clear: this shoe is not cheap. Coming in at around the $200 mark it's intended for the serious runners out there, and it's undoubtedly they who will receive the biggest benefit. But this shoe can be for the average Joe, too. A tool that will help, along with effort and application, to slowly improve your times and look pretty darn good while doing so.
I was sold. Kipchoge, I'm coming for you. Just bear with me while I see if I can actually manage 10km and you're going to be bang in trouble.