Do Nike’s Latest Racing Shoes Really Make Runners Faster?

A new report examines the effect of the shoe company’s latest offerings

Nike shoes
The Nike ZoomX VaporflyNEXT% might just make you a faster runner, new data indicates.
NIke
By Tobias Carroll / December 14, 2019 9:51 am

On their website, Nike refers to the ZoomX VaporflyNEXT% as “the future of racing shoes.” It’s a bold claim, but given that Eliud Kipchoge was using the latest shoe technology from Nike when he ran 26.2 miles in under 2 hours, that assertion may not be off the mark. Even so, a question looms large over nearly any instance of a high-tech, high-end shoe designed for sports: will it actually improve your performance?

At The New York Times, Kevin Quealy and Josh Katz explored the effect of Nike’s latest shoes — specifically, their Zoom Vaporfly 4% and ZoomX Vaporfly Next% — on the running times of those who wore them. Their findings are essentially a followup to a research project the Times conducted last year. And their findings are surprising: using certain shoes, it turns out, really can make you faster. The key takeaway here:

We found that a runner wearing the most popular versions of these shoes available to the public — the Zoom Vaporfly 4% or ZoomX Vaporfly Next% — ran 4 to 5 percent faster than a runner wearing an average shoe, and 2 to 3 percent faster than runners in the next-fastest popular shoe.

Quealey and Katz also note that “no meaningful difference” existed between the two different shoes’ effects on performance. The data they used came from 577,000 marathons and 496,000 half marathons; they also note that the increased number of runners using Nike’s shoes has provided a significant amount more data, hence the revised study. 

What’s responsible for these boosts to performance? Their design includes a plate of carbon fiber in the middle of the shoe, and midsole foam which research suggests also plays a role. And even if you’re not an elite runner like Kipchoge, the Times’ research still indicates that these shoes can make you faster; the effect is on runners across the board. 

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