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Updated March 16, 2017
Rumors persist about shoes being banned. Seem to be just rumors. Both are fine shoes, but, remember, shoes do not make the runner, runner makes the shoes. Both shoes are light and for fast running. Can they help make you more efficient? Perhaps. Are they better than shoes from five to ten years ago? Probably so! But, try to remember hype from reality.
I asked Cregg Weinmann the other day to write up a short piece on the Nike Zoom VaporFly Elite and the adidas adizero Sub 2. Cregg was more than equal to the task as he had described, in alluring detail, the differences on the shoes. As our favorite shoe geek, Cregg Weinmann wrote the following description about the two very, very fast shoes for the elite of elites.
And remember to follow Cregg's Shoe Showdown on his Instagram (@theShueMann)!
If you had a running shoe, no, a racing shoe, which had the name "Rocket," your expectation would not be that the shoe would actually propel you at escape-velocity speed, but rather that it would allow you to perform with as little hindrance as possible. The name would clearly be hyperbolic, not literal.
Two shoes have been unveiled with the goal to do something that is more likely than human effort at supersonic speed, though for all but a very tiny sliver of humanity, nearly as difficult. The 2 hour barrier in the Marathon is on the horizon, though the distance to that horizon is undefined.
The shoes are from rivals, Titans of the Athletic Footwear industry, adidas and Nike. The World Record in the Marathon has tumbled in the past several decades, and the shoes which were used to accomplish the task, has volleyed back and forth between Nike and adidas. Presently the prize rests with the German brand, and its technology known as Boost, a blown TPU foam with a lively feel and a protective nature. However, Nike is not far behind, a mere 6 seconds or so. Both brands have employed the world's finest marathoners to run in their gear, Nike with each of the men's medallists at the Rio Olympics, adidas with the men's winner of 2017's only World Marathon Major, the Tokyo Marathon.
The adidas adizero Sub 2 was the first to debut, at the Tokyo Marathon. A thinned out, pared down mesh upper sits over a Boost Light midsole which has similar geometry to the adizero Adios, but with additional foam under the midfoot as well as the heel. The description (and name) imply something akin to the difference between oil popped popcorn and air popped popcorn. The more air - the lighter it is, but in this case, the elastomers in the Boost foam have a resilience that cushions and protects, and even if less durable than its denser sibling, it is sturdy enough. The success of the compound is causing much of the industry to find solutions which are made from blown TPU, because it feels really good to run in.
The development of the Sub 2 is not so revolutionary when compared to the Adios, but rather is optimized for speed. One key element to the project and product is that it will be a commercialized effort, and marathoners around the globe will have access to the shoe sometime later in 2017.
The Zoom Vaporfly Elite debuted at a more exclusive event, a half-marathon time trial on the Gran Prix track in Monza, Italy. The race, which included only three contestants, produced 2 sub-one hour half-marathons, and was designed to maximize drafting, pacing, and removing detrimental variables from the equation, as a dress rehearsal for a sub 2 hour marathon attempt at a later date. The shoe features a Pebax nylon foam - the plastic with the lowest specific gravity to date, and extremely durable - obviously a preferred combination, so is able to offer more material for protection, with excellent performance properties and less weight than earlier Nike foams. A vital technology in the shoe is the use of a carbon fiber plate embedded in the midsole which flexes with the forces from the foot strike and recoils to ease the strain, and preserve the athlete from excessive fatigue - at least during that window of just under two hours.
One red flag has been the announcement of the IAAF, the sport's governing body, that the shoe will be scrutinized to determine if it violates the rule concerning the gaining of an unfair advantage. One wrinkle to that aspect is that the shoe is not scheduled for commercialization, though a similar shoe which includes the springy plate and has already been in use by a number of the Nike athletes (including the aforementioned Nike sponsored athletes from Rio), and was used in the race which produced the second fastest time in history - has been scrutinized by IAAF officials, and has not been banned. The Vaporfly Elite utilizes an ankle-high Flyknit upper giving it a unique appearance, part of Nike's attempt to keep things edgy.