Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: NIKE Vaporfly Shoes - Should they be banned???

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

NIKE Vaporfly Shoes - Should they be banned???

NIKE Vaporfly 4% Flyknit shoes

Here they are, the controversial shoes! Since they were introduced, the NIKE Vaporfly 4% shoes have had a huge impact on the running world with many records being broken.

Back in October of 2019, Eliud Kipchoge ran the marathon distance in under two hours by wearing these shoes. In the same month, Brigid Kosgei set a new world record for women by running 2h 14m 04s in the Chicago Marathon.

The 'Vaporfly' effect has filtered its way now down to local road races where the competitive runners feel that are at a disadvantage if they don't wear them.

NIKE Vaporfly's in evidence at the start of a local road race

How they work... The NIKE Vaporfly shoes has a very lightweight and flexible material called Pebax built into the sole. This foam in the midsole both absorbs or cushions the foot at impact and then as it springs back into shape to help propel the runner forward. It is estimated that about 85% of the energy stored in compression is released back to the foot pushing forward.

The shoes also contain a controversial carbon fibre plate which acts as a lever. This has the effect of giving an extra kick when pushing forward.

The net effect of the cushioning and the level action has the effect of improving running economy by an estimated 4%. This results in faster times especially over the longer distances.

Cutaway of the Vaporfly shoe showing the various levels

NIKE have already released their next generation of the controversial shoe with the NIKE ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%.

NIKE ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%

Why the controversy?? ...

a) Unfair... Many feel that the Varorfly shoes give competitors an unfair advantage. In the past, it was a case of whoever was the better athlete would win a race. Now if both are pretty evenly matched, it's probably the person wearing the Vaporfly's that will win.

b) Records... The extra efficiency of the NIKE Varporflys also means that old records are falling by the wayside. It's not that the new record holder was a better athlete than the older one but the fact they had access to the new Vaporfly shoes.

Mary Wittenberg, the former head of the New York Road Runners and the New York Marathon quipped that races results and records should have an asterisk with BV and AV - Before Vaporflys and After Vaporflys.

c) Cost... The NIKE Vaporfy 4% shoes currently retail for about €200 with the newer NEXT% retailing for about €275. As running shoes go, that's pretty expensive and when you factor in the lifespan of just 150 miles or 250 kms then that's expensive.

Running has traditionally been open to all regardless of wealth. As long as you could afford a reasonable pair of shoes then you were at the same level as everyone else. The expense and short lifespan of the NIKE Vaporflys may prove to be a factor for some at the competitive end of the sport.

This 21 minute podcast from RTE features Joe Warne talking about the Vaporflys. It's worth a listen if you have an interest in the subject...

Should they be banned??? Or I guess that should be two questions.... should they be banned and can they be banned.

When they first appeared, the Vaporflys were very much an issue for just a few elite runners. Now that most of the elite runners wear them and since they have appeared at all of the local road races, it has become more of an issue.

Should they be banned? Some say they should be for the reasons outlined already. Others will take the view that shoes evolve. It's new technology and the new controversial shoes are just part and parcel of equipment and gear getting better over time.

As for can they be banned? Who is going to ban them?

Some say that it should be the IAAF, the international federation for athletics. The main focus of the IAAF however is on athletics... i.e. track and field, not road races. NIKE is a major sponsor of athletics which is in decline whereas NIKE sell huge numbers of shoes to road runners. Will the IAAF bite the hand that feeds them?

An IAAF ban would also mean pretty much nothing to the average runner turning up for a road race, they'll just wear them anyway.

And then there is the legal issue. You can't just ban a shoe just because you don't like them. If the IAAF did that then NIKE would quite rightfully be entitled to sue them for a loss of earnings. Any particular shoe probably can't be banned but the specifications of exactly what is a running shoe could be defined. And again, that would probably apply only to elite athletes as the vast majority of runners will carry on with the Varorflys regardless.

Some have said that they should be banned at local races in Cork. The race organisers can't even stop people from wearing headphones let alone asking them not to run in a certain type of shoe.

What do you think? Should they be banned? I kind of think that the cats out of the bag at this stage and there's no going back.

Leave a comment below.... (Please, no comments about any local individuals winning a particular race or their times. Stick to commenting on the shoes)


John Desmond said...

Comment left under another post..."John the vapourflys need to be discussed. They are giving an advantage to those who can afford them. In the last few weeks I have seen guys who normally run 32.40 / 33.15 now running 30 odd & 31 odd 10k. They are like the wetsuits that the swimming federation banned a number of years ago."

John Desmond said...

Comment left under another post..."Be great if bhaa banned these Vapor Nike shoe's from their race's.Would be sending out the right message that any form of cheating won't be tolerated."

Anonymous said...

Competitors in the St. Louis olympic marathon wore plimsols. Running Shoes have evolved since then and continue to evolve. Viva la revolution!

Niall Bennis said...

Can't understand the upraor here. Im sure the billions that Tuned in around the world were delighted to see a sub 2 marathon. The training element still has to be there. If they were only available to a select few then I could understand unfair advantage but they are widely available to all. As for price there are some other brands at comparable prices. maybe 10-20euro cheaper. That's not a massive disparity in price.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Imagine a scenario where there is an outright ban . Research and science will simply find another way.
As each year passes , science advances. We cant stand still - whether it is physiologically or in terms of diet , graining or " equipment" i do agree that the shoes are expensive and thus do disadvantage those unable to afford the although this is not relevant at elute level.
Of course its big business. But in time , these shoes will be merely replaced by the next best thing. Banning them will simply see people looking to improve in other areas. It is clearly not cheating in my book. Its highly likely that these shoes will become standard in a number of years rendering this debate futile.

Conor McCauley said...

The shoes are good and there's no question they're a performance enhancer but nobody goes from 32.40/33.15 to 31/30 odd in a 10k race because of a shoe. But wait a minute Conor didn't you...yes hold on I'll get to it. You're talking 25-30 seconds a mile. Let's stop with the utter hyperbole. They're not magic boots, some effort and training is still required. Yes, they're giving runners an advantage, some more than others, some less than others, some none at all (not usually mentioned) but the gains are nothing like the numbers above. If you want to have the debate about banning them, then be at least realistic about the actual advantages instead of taking a few 10k results in isolation.

Incidentally, I ran a 10k recently (wearing the shoes) and I pretty much fall within the range above (maybe I'm even one of those lucky guys). I ran a big PB taking 1:35 off my previous PB but with a little context you'd find out that my previous PB (and last 10k race) was 2.5 years ago and I have progressed significantly since 2017. I was always going to take a big chunk off regardless of what shoes I wore but some like to take a performance similar to that and attribute it entirely to the shoes without knowing all variables. I actually trained a bit. Did the shoes help? Probably, but I'd say mostly it was 2.5 years of consistent training.

As for banning them? I'd be ok with it. I'd prefer if they were just a cheaper and more could afford them because they're a good shoe and possibly prevent injury more than most racers. I purchased them out of both competitiveness and curiosity yet I don't feel exactly fulfilled running PB's in them. But hey I paid for them so I'll wear them. I just love running and racing and frankly get more enjoyment out of racing people than times. Right now unfortunately if I want to feel I'm on a level field when racing my peers, I'll wear them. That's the way it is right now. They feature almost exclusively at the business end of most races, particularly marathons. If they were more affordable and Nike didn't have the sole rights to the foam, would people be so outraged? Probably not. Whatever about the moral backbone of Nike, you have to hand it to them for not only engineering such a shoe, but for creating a shoe that's sparked more internet debate than Brexit in 2019.

Unknown said...

Where does one draw the line?
If I can afford a certain diet that can give me the edge on the race track and the majority of the field behind me can't, should I be prevented from eating what I'm eating?
If get enough sleep to give my body time to recover from a work out and other people don't.....
I could go on. And I will...
I think the bigger scandal is paying €200 for a pair of shoes that you can only get 150 miles out of!

Anonymous said...

Where is the evidence that they are only good for 150 Miles? Or is that more marketing wheeze? Manufacturers have always set arbitary mileage limits for their running shoes in the hope that buyers will change them more often and spend more money. Just saying...

Iain O'Callaghan said...

I wore these shoes for the Dublin marathon, and reckon they were worth 2:30 to 3:00 over the distance.
It is undeniable that there is a beneficial effect. You need only look at the amount of national and age grade records being broken around the world and times being set in 2019 to realise that there has been a huge step change in performance as a result of these shoes.
Ross Tucker has had a good bit of excellent discussion on the shoes on his sport science podcast. He always has well informed and considered opinions. He referenced on Twitter this week a study by Dr. Helmut Winter which finds global elite marathon times in 2019 improved by ~1:45 for men, ~1.5% or 2.5 sec/km, and ~3:00 for women, ~2% or 4.25 sec/km, relative to past years. A huge step change is clear from the data.
It is impossible now to compare performances from across the periods pre and post Vaporfly. Letsrun mentioned on their podcast how in the Hakone Ekiden in Japan this year that a number of teams all broke the previous course record, assisted by the shoes. The US olympic marathon trials historically had a couple of hundred qualifiers each year meeting the 2:19 standard. This year it'll be 700 plus.

It will be interesting when the Boston registration window closes for the 2021 race what impact that the shoes will have on getting an entry. Even after dropping the BQ standard by 5 mins last year for a 2021 entry you'll need to be much more than 1:52 inside the standard which was enough for 2020.

Technological advances are part of the evolution of any sport. I think the issue here is how quick and large the jump has been in performance for those using the shoes. It would probably be prudent to stop an escalation of any potential technology arms race between shoe companies with some sort of regulation.

Anonymous said...

Technology advances in most sports – better tennis rackets, better bikes etc. Generally speaking, in sports like these examples, a better bike or a better racket may help you beat your opponent(s). In running, there are two ways of "winning" – firstly by finishing ahead of your opponent (whether it is to actually get into the top 3 or just finish ahead of the person who always beats you) or secondly by setting a faster time (whether it is a time that is faster than anybody has run before, or faster than you have run before, or faster than the person who always beats you has run before). It is clear that the shoe, although relatively expensive, has become readily available to a lot of runners. To this end, it isn’t giving you an unfair advantage over your opponent as there is a good chance your opponent will be wearing a pair too! In my opinion, the unfair advantage relates to the improvement in times, especially relative to records from the past where runners didn’t have access to these shoes. For 16 years, no female runner came within a minute and a half of the previous marathon world record whereas last year the record was broken by not far off a minute and a half. John Treacy came second at the Olympics and his Irish marathon record is now less than 1% faster than the second fastest athlete who wore a pair of shoes reported to make you circa. 4% faster and who will probably do well to finish in the top 30 in Tokyo. In the two sporting examples initially mentioned, the racket is regulated and the bike is regulated (certain fast bikes of the past were banned). I think it is time that the running shoe is regulated – it may be too late but at least an asterisk beside a record may be of some solace to holders of previous records.

Anonymous said...

Probably won't be able to ban them, but if runners feel ok wearing them to enhance their performance, so be it.I personally would'nt feel right if i beat someone while wearing them if they had'nt them as well, but that is only my opinion which is probably not shared by too many.

Anonymous said...

Apart from the performance boost they are a much lighter more comfortable shoe to race in over a standard running shoe...given time and when more affordable these will be 2 a penny.
But all this 'controversy'. Its great PR. I doubt Nike ever expected this level of free marketing.

Anonymous said...

The comment regarding banning from BHAA races due to "cheating" is down-right daft. It's not cheating if you are wearing a pair of shoes that are readily available to everyone and anyone.
If I won a race wearing a pair of Nike Pegasus and my opponent was wearing a pair of hob-nail boots, is that cheating also? Of course not, you wear whatever is fastest if you are trying to be competitive. If you are just competing for enjoyment and health etc then wear whatever you want.

Same goes for Triathlon. You can 'buy' free speed on the bike section. An expensive TT bike for 3-4K, aero-wheels, 1-2000, aero helmet 300-400, tri-suit 100-200 and you will easily have 3-5 mins on someone on an old road bike with standard cycling gear.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I recently purchased a pair...They are v comfortable and definitely help...ran 10k today with very little effort it feels like bouncing off the road..... I am running the cork marathon in june and I will be wearing them..any help over the marathon distance is welcoming