Nike Vaporfly 4% Claim Reminds Of ‘Suit Wars’ In Swimming

Nate Boyle
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I’m a former NCAA swimmer, I have not tried on the Nike Vaporfly. But I have worn the speedo fastskin and coached through the suit wars in swimming. What I don’t understand is why we ban them from competition. They actually helped many push past perceived limits without performance-enhancing drugs.

Swimmers were swimming faster than ever thought possible. Marathon records fall and more runners return to the sport. Casual observers pay attention. So perhaps, increased technological gains simply change the way we perceive training contributions to performance – similar to epigenetics.

The conclusion was obvious.

The Vaporfly 4%, a sleek, feathery running shoe that Nike developed for elite marathoners, was designed with one goal in mind: slashing more than three minutes off Wilson Kipsang’s then-marathon world-record time of 2:03:23 (set at the 2013 Berlin Marathon).

When Nike announced their new Vaporfly shoe for runners, everyone talked about how fast the shoes were. That misses the point. Sure, Eliud Kipchoge three minutes off Wilson Kipsang’s record time, but that hardly makes them revolutionary. The real revolution lies in their design and engineering, which has steadily trickled down from elite marathoners to the masses.

Vaporflys also use a new type of foam called Pebax, which is about 87% efficient in terms of energy return. The ethylene vinyl-acetate foam in most traditional running shoes, by contrast, returns about 65% of the energy you put into it, according to Geoff Burns, a kinesiology researcher and pro runner.

Business Insider

Then along came the debate about how Nike’s carbon-fiber racing shoes actually helped them in their quest for personal bests.

Marathons are supposed to hurt.

When the Nike VaporFly Elite came out, it was apparent even to a casual observer that this shoe was vastly different than any other running shoe to date. The 4mm heel-to-toe drop was unheard of, and the way the bottom of the sole looked almost like blades or shark’s teeth seemed odd.

You can push off faster and fly further with the full-length carbon fiber plate underfoot. Flex grooves adapt to your stride, creating the sensation of flying to help you run stronger and extend your range. Optimized to launch you forward, this is a whole new way to fly around a track or go for a run.

The goal of having a plate is to reduce how much energy loss happens when the runner bends at the toe. This curved plate is stiff enough to achieve that and because it has this geometry, it does so without increasing demand on the calf.

Dr. Geng Luo

Fashion is in the eye of the beholder, but performance is universal. And innovation always comes with a cost.

A Nike VaporFly in motion tends to stay in motion

When efficiency is believed to be the way forward in athletics, some are questioning whether the obsession for speed and records has sparked a trend that has pushed new technologies to their functional limits in running shoes. The debate over whether or not “cheating” occurs in record performances, especially those set by long distance runners, is fueled by advances in shoe technology.

Running shoes are now restricted to what types of footwear can be worn in major competitions such as the Olympics and World Championships to limit an unfair advantage. However, these rules will be unlikely to apply to amateur racers who race or run for mere enjoyment.

Nike built a shoe for the sole purpose of breaking a record. The pair Kipchoge wore wasn’t an anomaly that got approved in secret; it was designed, tested, and worn by elite athletes in open view at the world’s highest-profile race. The shoes—both the prototypes and their successors—don’t actually bend the rules. They are directly responsible for them.

Too much of a good thing

In sport, there is no substitute for hard work and being at the top of your game. But in sport, as with business, there is always an element of adaptation needed. There is a constant change — a movement if you like. That requires an openness to new ideas and thinking, and that’s where Nike’s investment in technology has been effective.

So despite the critics’ demand for governing body regulations, they appear to be trying to turn back the inevitable.

Apparently, it is complicated for the IAAF and FINA because the new Nike VaporFly appears to break the rules in similar ways as the Speedo LZR suit did, after the fact. The difference between the suits and shoes are simply the ease of putting them on.

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