You probably have heard of Nike’s masterplan to run a marathon (26.2 miles / 42.2 km) in less than 2 hours—the Breaking2 project.
As part of this incredible endeavour, Nike put together a team of elite athletes—Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa, and Zersenay Tadese—, and scientists and coaches from all over the world to work out all the fine details. At the beginning of this year, the Nike team travelled to Africa in Kenya and Ethiopia to train and test the technology necessary to accomplish this extraordinary feat.
One of the key components of Breaking2 was revealed just a few days ago: the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite.
Nike presents the shoe as a breakthrough innovation. It was originally conceived as a barebone track spike model with cushioning added later on at the request of the Breaking2 athletes. The Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite features a unidirectional carbon fiber plate customized to the individual athlete and set-up such way to minimize energy loss. According to Bret Schoolmeester, senior director of Global Running Footwear, the shoe provides a ‘downhill sensation when running in them’. Logically, there’s already some controversy on whether this alleged-innovation represents an unfair advantage.
With all the buzz around Breaking2, Adidas, Nike’s sworn competitor when it comes to running, had to come out of the bushes to get a bit of spotlight. Their response is the Adidas Adizero Sub2 Boost.
Adidas’ project is much more low-key than Nike’s. The very different design of the two shoes perfectly illustrates this. The Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite seems to come straight out of an Asimov novel with its very futuristic design while the Adidas Adizero Sub2 Boost, though looking very sleek, seems more conventional.
Nonetheless, the Adidas shoe was already rewarded with some success: it debuted at the Tokyo Marathon on February 26th 2017 at the feet of Wilson Kipsang who won the race in 2:03:58, setting a new course record.
So who will win?
The current marathon world record for men was set in 2:02:57 by Dennis Kimetto (Kenya) on September 28, 2014 at the Berlin Marathon. Can it be beat?
It’s important to note that while Nike plans to break the 2-hour mark on a closed circuit—the Breaking2 team is scouting the world for the perfect spot—Adidas aims instead to set the ultimate record at an official race. Of course, it’s most likely a marketing play for Adidas: Nike also aims to set an official record but it’s likely to take much more time.
According to a team at the University of Colorado Boulder, a sub 2:00 marathon is possible and boils down to biomechanical changes that could reduce energy consumption and improve running economy. Part of these changes are lighter shoes: the researchers determined that the shoe should be only 130 grams. With its forefoot stack height of 21mm and heel height of 30mm it doesn’t seem like the heavy cushioning of the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite will meet this condition.
The other factor is the course: the team recommends a slightly downhill course with a strong tailwind. In other words, it looks like the Nike Breaking2 project is feasible but it may take a while before it can be certified at an official marathon race.
As for the shoes, sadly Nike does not plan to commercialize the Zoom Vaporfly Elite at this stage. The Adidas Adizero Sub2 Boost on the other hand should be available at the end of this year. We will make sure to carefully review it then!