The Nike Vaporfly 4% is making waves in the running world — if you can get your hands on a pair. They’re supposedly so good, that some people consider it “cheating” to use them in a race. I managed to get a pair recently, and after logging more than 200 miles on them, I’m ready to tell people what I think.
First, I’m 40 years old. I run 40 to 50 miles a week, and my marathon PR is 3:04 (7:01 pace). I’m a great runner, but I’m no elite. I’ve tried almost every shoe out there: Asics, Brooks, Altra, Hoka, Topo, and more. For shorter distances, I’m an Altra guy. For 20+ mile distances, the Hoka’s are where it’s at for me. (Yes, weird, I know.)
What is Nike VaporFly 4%?
The shoe was introduced about a year ago as part of Nike’s incredibly ambitious project to breach the 2-hour marathon barrier. The shoe’s secret-sauce is a curved, carbon-fiber plate embedded in a lightweight foam.
They were used during the world-record-setting performances of Eliud Kipchoge and Abraham Kiptum when the men set world records this year in the marathon and half-marathon. They were also used by almost all of the top marathon finishers in the world majors throughout the year.
Research (funded by Nike), showed that they improved experienced runners’ metabolic efficiency by about 4%. (Runners used less energy to run at the same pace so they could run faster with less effort). And, while I realize the research was funded by Nike, subsequent research has shown similar findings.
Those results caused some to call for a ban on the shoes, since the carbon-fiber plate was thought to be acting like a spring, creating an unfair advantage compared to other shoes. (This is the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard. Every shoe has unique advantages and disadvantages, and any shoe manufacturer should be free to innovate. It’s not like they have an electric motor in them.)
The shoe isn’t cheap, either. A typical pair of high-end running shoes will run $90 to $160. The NV4 is a shocking $250.
How I got a pair
One word: eBay. ($310. Ouch.)
It’s the strangest running shoe I’ve ever seen. It fits incredibly snug but slides on and off like a slipper. I leave the laces loose, as the shoe grips my foot just fine on its own.
The shoe is INCREDIBLY light-weight. So much, in fact, that it looks and feels like it’s cheaply made. (My first reaction was that Nike had ripped me off since the shoe just gives the impression of being poorly made, mostly due to the thin fabric it’s made of).
I strapped them in to go for my first run and just walking in them felt very unusual. Almost like there was a “center point” on the shoe and if I misstepped, I would twist my ankle. I was pretty nervous about injuring myself.
I set off on my first mile, and could IMMEDIATELY feel a major difference. These things feel like running on spring-boards! Very bouncy, and incredibly responsive. I also figured out quickly that if my form was off even a little, the shoe became uncomfortable very quickly. Keeping the stride where it should be, and using a slight front-foot strike and the shoe took over from there.
I ran my first 2 miles 15 seconds faster than I normally do on that course, with the same effort and heart-rate. I actually couldn’t believe it. That kind of improvement with just a shoe seemed like a bit of a stretch, but then the entire run came up much quicker than my runs the previous week, on the exact same course, with the exact same effort. I got home and I was cautiously optimistic that this shoe was the real deal!
I won’t give you a run-by-run breakdown, but I can tell you that I’ve been switching back and forth between my Hokas and the NV4. The data, at this point, is irrefutable. I run 10 to 15 seconds faster per mile in the NV4, all other conditions being identical. (I’ve now logged more than 30 runs on these shoes on the exact same courses in the exact same conditions that I run in the Hokas).
Durability: The shoe is starting to break down at a little over 200 miles. (I expect a shoe to last until 350, at a minimum). This one might make it that far, but this is likely a trade-off between a sturdy, well-built shoe, and one that’s ultra lightweight. That said, the elites don’t care (they don’t pay for the shoes). But at $250 a pop, I don’t think many people could afford to make these their new, permanent, full-time shoe.
Laziness: The more I used the show for running, the more I found that I would “adapt” to what the shoe was giving me (in other words, if my “comfortable” pace was 7:30, I would happily run a 7:30 in either shoe, and just accept that the NV4 was “easier”.) The shoe was literally making me lazy because I could achieve the same speeds at a lower heart-rate. This is when I decided I would only use them 2-3 times a week, and I would switch off with the Hokas, so that I didn’t “adapt” to the easier running.
Inventory: In the summer, the only way to get your hands on a pair is probably to do what I did (pay an arm and a leg to a “shoe scalper” on eBay). In the winter these are easier to find, so stock up.
Not for Beginners: Based on the design, this is, without a doubt, a shoe exclusively for more advanced runners. It’s a neutral shoe with a strange center of gravity. Unless your form is perfect, I would think that your risk of injury is fairly high. (Just my opinion.)
This shoe is the real deal. It’s everything it’s advertised to be, and more, in my opinion. If you can get your hands on a pair, and you’re an experienced runner, I can almost guarantee these will make you faster!