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Can These Shoes Make You Faster?

Researchers did the math to find out!

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Shalane Flanagan won the 2017 New York City Marathon wearing Nike’s Zoom Vaporfly 4% shoes.

Last November, Shalane Flanagan was ready to run. It was the start of the New York City Marathon. The crowd was buzzing. But her fans didn’t come just to see her. They wanted a glimpse of the bright-red sneakers on her feet. 

They were Nike’s newest model: the Zoom Vaporfly 4%. Nike created it to help the world’s fastest marathoners run even faster. No runner has ever finished a marathon, a 26.2-mile race, in less than two hours. Nike hopes the Vaporfly will change that.

Last November, Shalane Flanagan was ready to run. It was the start of the New York City Marathon. The crowd was buzzing. But her fans didn't come just to see her. They wanted a glimpse of her bright-red sneakers. 

The sneakers are Nike's newest model. They are called the Zoom Vaporfly 4%. Nike created them to help the world's fastest marathoners run even faster. A marathon is a 26.2-mile race. No runner has ever finished it in less than two hours. Nike hopes the Vaporfly will change that.

Engineers designed the shoe to save runners as much energy as possible. The sole, or bottom, is made with a special kind of foam. It’s very light, so runners use less energy lifting their feet. It also cushions each step, bouncing energy back to the runners wearing them.

The shoe has another unique feature. Hidden inside the sole is a carbon fiber plate. Carbon fiber is a strong, light material. Curved like a spoon, the plate works to spring runners forward.

Before selling the Vaporfly, Nike tested the shoe in the Locomotion Laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder. The results showed that the new shoe outperformed other top models. The sole returned 87 percent of the energy to the wearer while he or she ran.

Engineers designed the shoe to save runners energy. The sole, or bottom, is made with a special kind of foam. It's very light. So runners use less energy lifting their feet. It also cushions each step. This bounces energy back to the runner.

The shoe has another unique feature. Hidden inside the sole is a carbon fiber plate. Carbon fiber is a strong, light material. The plate is curved like a spoon. This springs runners forward.

Before selling the Vaporfly, Nike tested the shoe. They did so in the Locomotion Laboratory. It's located at the University of Colorado Boulder. Then they looked at the results. The new shoe did better than other top models. The sole returned 87 percent of the energy to the wearer while he or she ran.

“We saw a huge energy savings with Nike’s shoe,” says Wouter Hoogkamer. He’s a sports scientist at the Locomotion Lab. Researchers found that someone who runs a 6-minute mile could shave off 15 seconds per mile. This may not sound like much, but over 26.2 miles those seconds add up.

So does the Vaporfly really improve race times? George Wu thinks so. He’s a researcher at the University of Chicago. After the New York City Marathon, he analyzed the finishing times of 138 runners. On average, the runners who wore the Vaporfly finished 4 minutes faster than those who wore other models.

Or just ask Flanagan. She won the women’s division of the marathon that day, becoming the first American to do so in 40 years!

"We saw a huge energy savings with Nike's shoe," says Wouter Hoogkamer. He's a sports scientist at the Locomotion Lab. Researchers found that someone who runs a 6-minute mile could shave off 15 seconds per mile. This may not sound like much. But over 26.2 miles, those seconds add up.

Does the Vaporfly really improve race times? George Wu thinks so. He's a researcher at the University of Chicago. After the New York City Marathon, he looked at the finishing times of 138 runners. On average, the runners who wore the Vaporfly finished 4 minutes faster than those who wore other models.

Or just ask Flanagan. She won the women's division of the marathon that day. She became the first American to do so in 40 years!

Now You Try It

1.

A new pair of Vaporflys costs $250. A similar model, the Zoom Fly, doesn’t have the carbon fiber plate. It costs $150. If you were to buy both pairs of shoes, how much would you spend?

A new pair of Vaporflys costs $250. A similar model, the Zoom Fly, doesn’t have the carbon fiber plate. It costs $150. If you were to buy both pairs of shoes, how much would you spend?

2.

In the Vaporfly experiment at the Locomation Lab, each runner spent 5 minutes warming up, 30 minutes testing the shoe, 30 minutes resting, and 10 minutes completing a breathing test. How much time did one runner spend in the lab altogether?

In the Vaporfly experiment at the Locomation Lab, each runner spent 5 minutes warming up, 30 minutes testing the shoe, 30 minutes resting, and 10 minutes completing a breathing test. How much time did one runner spend in the lab altogether?

3.

Say you bought a pair of  Vaporflys on sale for $101 off their regular price of $250. How much money did you pay?

Say you bought a pair of  Vaporflys on sale for $101 off their regular price of $250. How much money did you pay?

4.

Iman Smith, a runner from New York City, ran the New York City Marathon in 3 hours, 10 minutes wearing Nike Zoom Vaporflys. This time was 40 minutes faster than his personal record for a marathon. What was Smith’s previous personal record?

Iman Smith, a runner from New York City, ran the New York City Marathon in 3 hours, 10 minutes wearing Nike Zoom Vaporflys. This time was 40 minutes faster than his personal record for a marathon. What was Smith’s previous personal record?

5.

Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon’s women’s division in 2 hours, 26 minutes, and 53 seconds. Mary Keitany, from Kenya, finished 61 seconds later. Third-place finisher Mamitu Daska, from Ethiopia, came in just 14 seconds after Keitany. How many seconds after the winner did Daska finish?

Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon’s women’s division in 2 hours, 26 minutes, and 53 seconds. Mary Keitany, from Kenya, finished 61 seconds later. Third-place finisher Mamitu Daska, from Ethiopia, came in just 14 seconds after Keitany. How many seconds after the winner did Daska finish?

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