Last year Nike released the Vaporfly 4%, a shoe that could, in theory, make you 4% faster thanks to its magical, proprietary sole technology. A 4% boost is more significant than it sounds: Such a bump would, in theory, be enough to help a runner break the mythical two-hour marathon barrier for the first time. Today’s fastest runners are all about three minutes over the two-hour mark, but a 4% speed increase would shave almost five minutes off of those times. Meanwhile, a three-hour marathon runner would get a six-minute time allowance. But could a shoe reliably provide that much of an advantage?
The New York Times decided to find out just how much faster Vaporfly made most runners through an intensive analysis of 500,000 marathon and half marathon running times, culled from the social network Strava. Their conclusion? Nike’s claims check out.
The Times‘ Upshot blog undertook the painstaking project, confirming that the shoe’s benefits affect everyone, professionals and amateurs alike. The “advantages for runners wearing Vaporflys were consistent for slower racers and fast ones; for men and women; for runners on their second marathon or their fifth,” conclude Upshot writers Kevin Quealy and Josh Katz.
The miracle lies in the midsole of the $250 Nike Zoom Vaporfy 4%, a technology that was first put to work at the 2016 London marathon were Eliud Kipchoge won with the second fastest marathon time of all time. Nested in the central part of the shoe is a piece of carbon fiber that stores and releases energy every time it hits the floor. Imagine an ACME spring-powered shoe from a Looney Tunes cartoon. Except this shoe, unlike the ones used by Wile E. Coyote, actually work–and work well.