Saturday, October 19, 2019

My Take and Analysis- New York Times "Those Superfast Nike Shoes are Creating a Problem"

Article by Sam Winebaum, Editor

Run shoes and Nike's Vapor/Next%/Alphafly are a hot topic at The NY Times and not for the first time as they earlier did statistical analysis from Strava data indicating yes there is close to a 4% advantage for Vaporfly across many races and runners. They cover more than politics and world affairs! 
With Kipchoge's world fastest marathon at sub 2 hours in the Alphafly and Brigid Kosgei's big world record in the Next%, Boston champion and former Runner’s World editor Amby Burfoot pens a pretty comprehensive essay including the very recent discussions about potential regulations on run shoes considered for records and championships. Geoffrey Burns the author of a recent commentary in the British Journal of Sports Medicine is quoted and proposes that regulations might simply limit overall stack height of record and championship eligible shoes. Currently regulations say "no unfair advantage" and must be "reasonably available" according to Burfoot.

It seems the key advantage of Nike Vaporfly and Next% and now the Alphafly according to the BJSM article is the combination of overall height (which essentially extends the runner's leg length reducing cost of transport), the foam characteristics, stability from the carbon plate as well as its lever characteristics reducing ankle work rate, overall geometry and of course super light weight for cushion provided, and not as much from any “spring” effect as previously thought by some. I would add that another key advantage of the high stack and Zoom X foam of the Vaporfly series is that it protects and keeps legs far fresher and for longer than any shoe I have ever run. Comfort and lessened leg damage for sure is something elites and more recreational runners need and appreciate.

According to the BJSM article authors, midsole height would be the simplest element to define and control for and I tend to agree, if new regulations are considered. They are proposing a simple max midsole and height  and mention 31mm comparing it to the Next% at 36mm. I looks like they are adding heel and forefoot stack height and dividing by 2 as Next% is 40mm heel /32mm forefoot. 

Kipchoge's Alphafly prototype is said by various sources, but unconfirmed, to have a 51mm heel/42 mm forefoot so a massive 46.5mm average.  

The original Vaporfly 4% is 39mm/29mm so divided by two equals 34mm. 

By way of comparison the adidas adizero 4, a fairly recent (before Vaporfly) world record marathon setting model comes is at 23mm/13mm so an average stack height of a minuscule 18mm and I know from running the adios and Vaporflly that the adios is considerably more punishing on the legs 

Saucony VP of Human Performance Spencer White is quoted regarding new regulations and says: "We could end up limiting creativity and losing the chance to improve running shoes for the everyday runner,” he noted. “I think the ‘must be widely available’ part of the rule is the best answer.” They have their own answer to VF on the way.. so it can be done and not just by Nike.

My proposal, if regulations are set, and that is still an if, would be to set the height limit at current state of the art Next% 36 mm, a "widely available" shoe at this point and not at the 31mm as proposed by the BJSM article as "common" says who common and why 31mm and let innovation around that parameter take flight!

I will be racing my Next% in a half marathon Sunday. Nothing better out there..yet. I look forward to racing in the competition to this amazing shoe when it emerges, as I am sure it will, and from many brands. Nike for sure lit a fire, "creating a problem" and set the bar high. Too high? We'll see as potential regulations may emerge and the competition responds!

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 62 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the 1:35-1:41 range and trains 40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah.
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JimO said...

It's crazy that all the other brands prototypes out there receive no scrutiny. Their elites run int them, (Bates was just first American female) gathering accolades but no one questions the shoes. How do we know what is in these prototypes and certainly they are NOT reasonably available. -Jim

Dave D said...

I feel Amby Burfoot is making a comparison like in Major League baseball, they have to be wood bats and not metal bats like in college, high school and younger and of course you can't cork the bats. So what has happpened? MLB bought Rawlings and now they're saying the ball is juiced. So amby is saying the shoes are juiced.

Want true regulations? We can eliminate all controversy and say no shoes at all are allowed. One must run barefoot and then we'll see who the best runners truly are. I'm not for this but it feels like that's the road this can end up going down because all shoes are slightly different. Personally would be hard to get used too but I wouldn't mind never having toe blisters anymore hahaha. I just would have other issues at the bottom of my feet

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