It was in December 2016 when Nike announced the Breaking2 project. At the time, Nike wanted to break the 2-hour barrier for marathon runs, which meant beating the then men’s world record time of 2:02:57 by as much as 3 percent. Nike decided to take a look at everything that goes into making a running shoe, including the materials, design, engineering and make even the smallest of improvements necessary to achieve that target. In May 2017, the Breaking2 project came close to what it wanted to achieve—Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge finished an event at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza race track in Italy, in 2:00:25 on the clock. this was not an official time recorded by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). But the seriousness of the achievement was not lost on anyone.
Fast forward to 2019, and the learnings from the Nike Vaporfly 4% are the foundations on which the next big leap is being planned. At the London Marathon last week, Kipchoge wore the latest Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%. Nike claims that the upgrades to the NEXT% in comparison with the Vaporfly 4% will be faster and also save the runners’ energy.
And there are reasons why Nike is confident. The Nike Sport Research Lab has been hard at work. For starters, there is the VaporWeave upper, which is a material lighter than Flyknit and also absorbs far less water. This moisture wicking means the weight remains controlled. The outsole has been redesigned for better forefoot traction, after feedback from athletes including Kipchoge, British distance runner Mo Farah and American long distance runner Shalane Flanagan. The ZoomX mid-sole has also seen significant upgrades, including the reduced offset from 11mm to 8mm which runners believe means better propulsion during foot strides.
“This shoe is truly the result of our athletes, sport scientists, engineers and designers closely collaborating throughout the entire process of design, testing and manufacturing,” says Brett Holts, Nike VP of Running Footwear.
Then there is the attention to the smaller details. Such as the placement of the eyelets for the lacing mechanism. Nike has slightly offset the lacing system, something clearly visible in the photos too, to reduce the pressure on the foot. There is now a thin foam pod under the heel, to provide support to the Achilles area. The outsole gets contoured treads for better grip during turns.
The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% isn’t a shoe you will be able to buy easily in stores, because only a limited number are dropping in stores as of now and are priced at $275 (around Rs 19,000).
As things stand, no other shoe companies are able to catch up with Nike’s technological prowess. So much so that these could give marathon runners a significant advantage over rivals wearing less blessed shoes.