Course records, personal bests, a sub-two-hour marathon—what’s happening in running sports these days? The answer lies very near the ground: a new breed of footwear known as “super shoes.” But are the people logging the miles getting lost in the hype over the gear?
Running shoes are big news. Nike’s new Alphafly racing shoe is built to help runners shatter records. It’s made with two air “pods” in the forefoot and extra foam in the heel. That technology helps cushion the foot against shock (and therefore fatigue) and provides bounce.
In addition to the pods and foam, the shoe contains a carbon-fiber plate. The plate gives what Nike calls “a snappy sensation with each stride.” Energy from the runner’s leg would normally stop at the ground. The plate redirects that energy back upward, propelling the runner forward with a little boost.
One elite U.S. runner, Jake Riley, compared an early Nike prototype to “running on trampolines,” according to a BBC report. That’s about as close as possible to “run and not be weary.” (Isaiah 40:31) The shoes are said to give runners as much as a four percent edge.
To some, such advances in the world of shoes are an exciting and popular change. Eliud Kipchoge wore an early Nike Alphafly model when he ran the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon last October. America’s best male marathoner, Galen Rupp, won the U.S. marathon trials in March in a pair of Alphaflys.
Others say marathons have become nothing more than a shoe competition due to the technological advances. Employees of Runner’s World took shoe notes at the marathon trials. Of 565 pairs of shoes counted, 404 were “some version of Nike’s Vaporfly or Alphafly shoes.”
“This has been such a controversial thing for our sport,” says marathoner Jake Riley. “It’s changing the conversation away from the athletes, which is a little bit frustrating.”
World Athletics, governing body of track and distance running, recently outlined strict new shoe rules. In order “to preserve the integrity of elite competition,” WA President Sebastian Coe wants to make sure the shoes worn by the elite runners aren’t giving them “an unfair boost or advantage.”
The new rules control sole thickness and number of plates. They also say that any shoe used in the future Olympics must be available to the public well in advance of the competition dates. That’s so that anyone—not just shoe-sponsored athletes—can get a pair.
Marathoner Tyler Andrews didn’t earn an Olympic spot at the trials. But he didn’t blame the shoes. He says of his competition, “They’d run really fast even if they were wearing Crocs.”