Nike has announced the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite with Nike ZoomX midsole, a new concept shoe that will be worn by three elite marathoners in a special event race later this spring as part of the Breaking2 effort to bring the world record marathon time under two hours.
While the shoes being worn in that race are customized for each runner, Nike plans to release non-customized consumer market versions of the Vaporfly this June, including the Zoom Vaporfly 4%, which will be priced at $250, and the slightly heavier Zoom Fly, priced at $150.
Nike said the key to helping its athletes’ realize the marathon goal is to improve their running economy by 3% to 5%. Variables that dictate running economy include “weight, to reduce the energy of lifting the foot; cushioning, to support bones and muscles; and propulsion, to push the runner forward,” a company official told Wired.
Nike said it has been working on this shoe for the last three years, and that its designers have had it in mind for about a decade. If that's the case, it might have been disappointing for them to see Adidas last month launch its own shoe, the Adizero Sub2, dedicated to delivering a sub-two-hour marathon time. The timing of Nike's launch now looks a little bit like a "me-too!" attention grab, even if there is a lot more to it than that.
Nike can at least claim that it has a broader market rollout date and prices already set for the rest of the non-elite marathon running world to try these shoes. The most specific thing Adidas has said about general availability is "later this year."
The competition between Nike and Adidas may be more intense than ever right now, as the latter just reported a huge quarter, and is clearly looking to challenge Nike for the top spot in the athletic footwear market. Specially-designed marathon running shoes represent just one small facet of that competitive war, yet it could become a very high-profile battleground once a runner finishes a marathon in under two hours, and the global media spotlight shines on everything from the shoes they wore to what they ate for breakfast that morning.
Nike said some technology advancements like 3-D knitting, progressive midsole cushioning (lighter, softer and more responsive than traditional foams) and biomechanics analysis made the production of this shoe possible and was key to the timing, but of course the long-time whittling down of the marathon world record to where it currently stands — 2:02:57 — had a heck of a lot to do with it, too. Often, these records shrink by just a few seconds at a time, not by nearly three minutes in one fell swoop. But the current mark is close enough to a once-unheard-of threshold that someone's going to turn their legs to spaghetti in order to try to break it sooner rather than later.
Will all that matter for the general consumer market? Even the most elite non-professional runners are not going to break two hours, but once one of the pros does it, they certainly might consider running out and buying the shoe that helped make it happen.