Do Nike’s New Shoes Give Runners an Unfair Advantage?

Mar 08, 2017 · 186 comments
Detached (Minneapolis)
There has never been any democracy in running shoes. Those who can afford lighter-weight shoes have an obvious advantage over the 33000 strides of a marathon. And running shoes have always always experimented with springier materials without objection. Biking shoes have had carbon inserts or full carbon soles for years with no objection. Even the bikes are full carbon. I see every competitive runner, or at least those who can afford them, wearing shoes with carbon inserts in the future.
MWR (Ny)
That's a tough one. Shouldn't the standard be whether a shoe returns more energy than a runner can deliver? Energy is dissipated through all shoes. The challenge is to mitigate the loss to reduce fatigue and improve efficiency. All shoes will return less than 100%. If a shoe returns 101%, it's enhancing performance (not merely mitigating loss) and should therefore be banned.
Ronald Goossens (Los Altos, CA)
Curious that there is no mention of general availability as a criterion for fairness. I am all in favor of technological improvements. However, IAAF should insist that shoes are only eligible for official races, if they are available to all athletes that want to purchase them, not only to the athletes that they choose to sponsor.
PJ (Northern NJ)
Simple physics laws say something like this: you can't get more energy out of a process than you put into it. As a competitive runner, you should be able to wear anything on your feet, or nothing on them. Any device worn, however, must not contain a motor that gets its power from anywhere besides one's legs and feet. In the spirit of competition amongst runners, perhaps Nike should share (or license at low cost) this technology with its competitors.
Brendan Jones (Rome)
Just a note on Kenenisa Bekele. The article seems to imply that he ran so fast just because of the shoes, but he is in fact one of the greatest middle distance runners of all time: he holds the current world record and Olympic record in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. He won a double gold at the 2008 Olympics in those events and he also won the 2004 Olympics in the 10,000. If anything, it is surprising he hasn't gone under two hours already.
Liz (Brussels, Belgium)
I hope the IAAF moves in to ban them.
Running has always been the most democratic of sports. We don't need two classes of runners, namely the ones who can afford 250$ Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes and the ones can't.
I personally don't care much for the sub 2h marathon effort by Nike either, not in the way they want to achieve it. Let's see what their runners can do in the Berlin marathon on normal shoes, no shortcuts.
Jay Felaffel (New York)
Every shoe company's dream is to have a shoe banned by a professional sport so that millions of amateur athletes will want to buy it.
Nate (Stockholm)
People realize that marathon running falls under the category of recreation and entertainment, right? This is about a small serious as when the Jersey housewife flipped a table.
Tony Mendoza (Tucson Arizona)
Except to the people making millions running professionally.
Bob Bunsen (Portland, OR)
Simple solution to a simple problem: every competitor wears the same brand/model shoe, plays with the same brand/model racquet, skis on the same brand/model skis and bindings, etc. Which brand that will be is determined by lottery before each competition season.

Automobile racing has a similar practice, with individual racing series mandating that cars use the same engines, tires, and sometimes chassis. If it works for them, it can work for track and field.

Of course, since modern-day sports are nothing more than marketing opportunities for equipment manufacturers and income opportunities for corrupt coaches, trainers, and officials, my brilliant solution will never receive the praise and acceptance it so richly deserves.
Andrew (Sonoma County)
A long time modest pace runner, my problem was always pain and strain in my feet and knees, sometimes moving up towards my hips. It prevented me from going longer distance and at faster pace.

After switching to a newer model Adidas running shoe, the difference was more than remarkable. It's not an elite shoe but the sole construction provides more than the usual comfort and support.

And both my pace and endurance has improved. So much that I am able to run farther and at faster pace, which moves my running from mere moving along to actually using my muscles in ways that previously was hard to accomplish without experiencing pain.

So from this perspective the innovations in running shoe technology is great because it will give everyday runners a chance at improving their form and speed with less energy and fatigue, which should help promote health and endurance, and most importantly boost the fun factor!
Architect (NYC)
A spring is a spring whether made of steel or carbon-fiber. If these shoes are storing energy and returning it as the runner lifts his foot then they are doing some of the work normally done by the foot and lower leg muscles. As Ross Tucker notes, the precise component of this mechanical aid can be quantified. It's why the Spira shoe was banned. Similarly, these shoes are conferring unfair advantage over normal, unaided human performance and should be banned by the IAAF.
Ronald Goossens (Los Altos, CA)
Your line of reasoning fails when you realize that every springlike material also exhibits dampening behavior and every dampening material also exhibits springlike behavior. Are you arguing that foam midsoles should be banned? After all, they too exhibit some amount of spring-like behavior.
pbala (india)
We are like breeds of dogs, every race, built and size capable of doing different things and excelling at different sport. Imagine Simone Biles dunking or LeBron doing a back flip. If technology helps one excel, so be it. I am Indian and joke that with every workout, I am fighting my genes every step of the way. Am going to pre-order the shoes and try to break my 10 minute mile sprint.
Dennis (Logan UT)
I find this a pleasant departure from the short lived barefoot and minimalist craze fuel by a lot of wishful thinking and anecdotal evidence in "Born to Run"
Dr. G (kansas)
Google Abebe Bikila.
William Stuber (Ronkonkoma My)
Not everyone is Abebe Bikila. Google how many people suffered injuries following this barefoot prescription.
Dr. G (kansas)
A lot of people suffer injuries running in everything from low end sneakers as well as very expensive high end running shoes. Per your response everyone is built different. I believe Zola Budd also competed barefoot.
Reader (Brooklyn, NY)
I have no problem with this. If runners are claiming that it leaves them less fatigued, it is good for all of us in the end, especially those that suffer from foot pain. This is how progress is made.
Giovanni Ciriani (West Hartford, CT)
I was able to replicate Dr. Tucker estimate, obtaining a 1.7% inclination. If the Nike claim is true that would correspond to starting a Marathon at an altitude of 2300 ft and finishing at sea level.
jrj90620 (So California)
As long as there is no external power,like batteries,they should allow all shoes.
Lawrence (Montreal)
I think a shoe like this would allow a life-long heel-striker (or a runner who has always run in a heeled shoe) to compensate for a poorly developed gastroc-Achilles chain. So those runners can get some spring off their heels rather than from their intrinsic musculature. The obvious disadvantage to this is that that same Achilles-gastroc chain will be poorly engaged during extension. I suspect this would shorten the stride.

Transferring weight to the heels while running is likely going to result in knee problems, over-pronation and other fun things. Imagine jumping rope on your heels on a spring-board. I don't know about that...

The real issue, I think, is the cost of such shoes, which put them out of reach of the average runner. Is the marathon to become like Formula I racing, only available to those with sponsors?

And, you know what? I liked tennis better back in the small-headed, wooden racket days. Far fewer wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries, for one thing.
Tony Mendoza (Tucson Arizona)
$250 is not that much more than the $100 I pay for my running shoes.
mirving (Mission Viejo, CA)
Fairness is not the issue. As many have pointed out, if the shoes are available to all, it's fair. The issue is the definition of the sport. Baseball people are very interested in the history of the game. They want to compare Ruth to Aaron to Bonds. Who was the best long-ball hitter? By keeping the equipment the same, they can compare past and present. Hence, no corked bats and no PEDs. Other sports like tennis and golf want to see the most exciting performances possible, so they adopt technical innovations. Sometimes some people want the innovation and others don't, and the sport schisms so a new is invented as in skiing and snowboarding. It's up to the community of marathon runners (athletes, fans, sponsors, governing bodies, ...) to decide how much new technology they want. If they go so far that purists don't like it, they can always invent a new sport, say greco roman marathoning where the contestants run bare-foot and naked (X-rated Games?). In any event it's not an ethical question; it's just how you want to play the game.
William Stuber (Ronkonkoma My)
The baseball analogy is particularly inapt. How many of the players of the past were playing under the influence of speed as opposed the perpetually criticized "dopers" who used steroids.
MSD (New England)
If technological improvements were not a part of track and field, then we would continue to pole vault with bamboo poles (like my father did) or run on cinder tracks (like I did), or land in sawdust for the high jump and pole vault (like we both did).
If the NIKE shoe is so great then everyone will copy it or run in NIKEs until there is another future improvement. Much ado about nothing.
Dave Cushman (SC)
Professional athletes move their sports forward by constantly improving their equipment, except in individual protective gear, which invites more violence.
Marathoning should be no different.
And the plodders for whom the technology will make no discernible difference, will pay for it.
anthony weishar (Fairview Park, OH)
As a high school high jumper and hurdler, I can see where this shoe design pushes the boundary of technology. I would have enjoyed a leaf spring in my left shoe when I planted my foot to jump. Leaf springs in both shoes for high hurdles probably would have made them feel like tiny speed bumps. I'd never break my full sprint stride. Are the working on carbon fiber gloves for shot put and discus?
Traveling Man (Alabama)
What if everyone wore Nike or Adidas shoes would anyone have an advantage?
Richard MacKenzie (Montréal)
I am surprised there are any rules at all regarding running shoes, other than not having wheels or a motor. Whatever design of spring device one can come up with should be fair game.
Young (Asia)
Many commented that this debate does not pose an issue if all runners have access to the new Nike shoes. Many other elite-level runners are sponsored by non-Nike shoe companies and are obligated to wear their brands at races.

If Nike gets a patent on its new spring design, its runners will have the 4% advantage over runners wearing other brands until other brands catch up in technology. So the outcomes of races, to a consequential extent, becomes influenced by a competition of patents. That's the crux of this debate.
Aftervirtue (Plano, Tx)
Time to buy stock in Nike. As we speak, the same middle age, slightly overweight triatlete and/or Saturday morning road warrior who thinks nothing of dropping $2800.00 on carbon fiber wheels because he read somewhere they'll give him a 2 watt advantage ( about the equivalent coefficient of drag of having a loose bandaid on your arm in a 40k time trial) is sitting in a lawn chair outside a shoe store.
David H. Eisenberg (Smithtown, NY)
The physiologist quoted "thinks" that the same discussion happened when tennis went from wood to metal rackets. Older people remember that discussion. It was heated. The rackets got bigger too and I remember people being called "cheaters." It was the same type of discussion when pole vaulters started using carbon fiber poles, which gave a much greater advantage than these running shoes. There were similar issues with hockey sticks and always with running shoes.

Technology eventually allows greater performance in most everything we know of - in sports and otherwise - and always will. If we are not going to actually make athletes perform in the nude as in ancient Greece, we gradually accept the change. The guiding principles should be that the athletes should be able to use improvements to the materials for clothing or tools which do not substantially change the sport (jet packs would make it a different sport), which are available to most everyone at a reasonable cost (so, no $30,000 sneakers), that do not cause safety or health issues (no steroids). If folks at the gym will be using the shoes, why not racers? There will always be gray lines that will be incrementally breached. If others can quickly adapt, that's normal progress. There will be disagreement. "No one seems to know precisely," where to draw the line because we are balancing abstract terms, as in the law. Sometimes vague or arbitrary rules are necessary.
Phrixus (Yucatan, Mexico)
What's next? Surgically implanted pneumatic devices? An auxiliary bionic cardiac assist pump? Oxygen-carrying nanobots? The competition for money and fame has led athletics to an insane level.
idnar (Henderson)
This article is about shoes.
Scamp (Toronto)
Gene manipulation
David (California)
"All shoes are considered to enhance performance. Otherwise, everyone would run barefoot."

Non sequitur. Many people wear shoes to protect their feet, without any performance enhancement.
Lamont MacLemore (Kingston, PA)
"Non sequitur. Many people wear shoes to protect their feet, without any performance enhancement."

That's tue. I wear shoes to protect my feet. The article isn't about "many people," however. It's about world-class athletes. There are few such people.
Joshua Pines (London)
And don't you think protecting your feet enhances your performance???
Making your feet less vulnerable than they naturally are can be construed as an enhancement.
Liz (Seattle)
If runners day their legs are less fatigued, especially if this can be proven through some studies on this, then it would seem to be a good idea for them to be able to use something that reduces wear and tear on their battered bodies. So many equipment advances over time have made their sports safer by reducing impact in various ways. The potential to reduce injury should not be ignored.
Zen (Earth)
I must have a corrupt gene. When it comes to sports, I don't believe there are unfair advantages, providing there is equal access to them. Steroids, shoes, let them all rip as far as I'm concerned. I loved watching Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds hit homer after homer. No one will convince me it was the drugs that did it. If so, every doper could be a superstar.
Rafe Evans (NYC)
I am with you. Athletes are merely entertainers. Let them loose so they can amaze us.
lather33 (Amboy, IL)
I want clean entertainment, thank you.
David H. Eisenberg (Smithtown, NY)
Zen, how do you think most athletes get to the pros in sports like football or basketball? By being great in college. How do you get to colleges where you can shine? By being a high school standout. If pros are doing steroids, then college players will and if that's how to get into a competitive college, high school kids will. That's actually already happening. Back when I was in high school, most kids were very active and even if not on teams, athletic. But, no one looked like many young people I've seen at the gym do for the last 10 years or so. Muscle upon muscle. Why? Steroids, obviously. This is why it should not be allowed. But, even without kids being affected (most who still won't go to the pros) it is unfair to make people do steroids to stay in sports. This isn't like a better shoe or racket. It's a fundamental advantage that changes a person physically. As for loving McGuire, Sosa and Bonds hitting home runs, it ruined the game for me and other people. I no longer have any interest (admittedly, I had little then - but it killed it) and records have been rendered meaningless. If you don't think the drugs did it, respectfully you sound either delusional or willfully ignorant. Do you also think Arnold Schwarzenegger and other body builders would have looked the same without chemical aids too? Come on.
Nick Heer (Calgary)
There is precedent for this: in Formula 1, all teams are required to use the same tires on their cars. If there is concern about a competitive advantage from using different shoes, then identical shoes should be worn by competitive runners during IAAF events.
Lamont MacLemore (Kingston, PA)
"all teams are required to use the same tires on their cars."

This is a righteous suggestion, there being no essential difference between cars and people.
Joe Mc (Baton Rouge)
That won't happen, because athletes have sponsors who pay them to run in their shoes/shirts/shorts. And since running sports don't pay very much relative to many other professional sports, giving-up sponsorship money isn't an option. If Nike really has discovered something useful, it won't be long before everyone else is copying it, anyway.
planetary occupant (earth)
Humans have differently shaped feet. Any runner will tell you that he or she has a favorite brand or model of shoe, and that others do not fit right, do not provide the right kind of support, on and on. It's not quite the same as tires on cars.
GoranLR (Trieste, Italy)
I agree with the comment by walterhett below.Moreover, it seems to make long distance running healthier by better protecting runners' feet and legs, so it ought to be welcome.
ChuckF (Iowa)
Let's have everyone here who's run a marathon raise their hand...

Okay, do not many people here have done that.

Now let's see who's run a couple barefoot.

Damn. Even though one guy won an Olympic marathon back in the day - and imagine what the roads were like then - not many have tried it.

Shoes are weight. They also prevent abrasions on longer runs. Good for training but on race day the weight has a negative effect. Nike and Adidas just want your money. They don't offer an advantage.
Robert (Flagstaff, AZ)
Cyclists have been using carbon-soled shoes for decades; it's not considered cheating in the slightest. Why would it be for marathon running? The $150 difference in price between these shoes and conventional racers is a drop in the bucket compared to what it costs to enter, train for, and travel to a marathon.
CJ13 (California)
Cycling shoes are meant to be light and the soles very stiff. It a very different carbon construction than in the new Nike running shoes.
LarryAt27N (South Florida)
I'm going to shift the subject slightly because there may not be another chance like this.

Imagine a two-man swim race. The men stroke and kick at about the same rate per minute. Swimmer one is 5'6" and swimmer two is 10'3" and their arm spans are equal to their height. Assuming they dive off the edge simultaneously, who will win the one-lap freestyle race?
Right. Now you get it. THE QUESTION: Is it in any way unfair when tall swimmers with great arm spans compete with swimmers who are several inches shorter and have lesser arm spans to help them paddle forward?

Check this out, ""Generally, a man's arm span equals his height but in his (Michael Phelps) case it's 6'7"-three inches more than his height. Naturally his arms work as powerful propulsive paddles, giving him a clear edge over others."

With this, I hereby propose that swim competitions have height categories the same way that boxing, weightlifting, and wrestling competitions have weight categories. It's only fair. (And they don't even wear shoes.)
Shannon Taylor (Flint, Michigan)
This is absolutely true. As the mom to two petite female swimmers, I've often joked that they should do races in weight categories, rather than girls would dominate! As anyone with kids or a memory knows, there are 11 year old girls that look like full grown women, and 11 year old girls that are 4'6 and weigh 50 pounds. That said, my 13 year old was out-touched by a much taller girl one lane over in a race this weekend by 1/100th of a second. Such is life!
Paul Kramer (Poconos)
Could not care less about a sub-two-hour marathon. I'll dish out a buck and a half just to see if a shoe will keep my knees from aching. Ran a 4:47 high school mile in '71 on a dirt track with a pair of shoes salvaged from a gym bin. Springs? Blades? Tiny rockets? I just want to stay out on the road blasting classisc rock through my ipod.
Ivy (Chicago)
If these "new shoes" are commercially available to anyone willing to pay selling price, then how can one say the users of "those shoes" are at an "unfair" advantage?
JC (Florida)
I am sure that Nike is distraught over all the attention this shoe is getting.
Phil (Las Vegas)
"It stores and releases energy with each stride" So, its a spring. As a runner 'of a certain age' the main reason I use shoes with springs in them is the lower 'impulse load'. Spread the period of impact over a longer time period (which is what springs do), and the impulse shock drops dramatically, and this shock is what wears down your joints (ankles, knees, hips, etc). Not for nothing are springs heavily featured next to the tires in your automobile. Sure, padding (i.e. foam) will do likewise, but it does it by deforming outside its 'yield strength' (i.e. by breaking down). Anything that pads your joints by breaking down eventually is broken down and must be replaced. And now you know why shoe companies love foam (i.e. designed obsolescence). Only a spring can deform within its yield strength, and come back from impact looking just as good as it did going into impact. The problem, for shoe companies, is that these shoes last forever. They don't just protect your joints, they protect their joints: their lacings, their fabrics, their layers. So, shoe companies do not want springs in their shoes. Except maybe when they are competing for the endorsements of elite athletes. In the meantime, if you're an old fart like me, look for shoe companies that put actual metal springs in their shoes. They cost more, but they last forever and protect your joints.
Phrixus (Yucatan, Mexico)
God knows I could use some of that. My poor feet are beat to hell. Can you say, "Lateral column overload?" But $250? Time to sell one of the kids into child slavery I guess.
Dave (Wisconsin)
Phil: Couldn't of said it any better. Was waiting for Young's modulus and plastic vs elastic deformation and sure enough you covered that. Personally, I can't wait to buy one and maybe get under 1:30 in a 1/2 marathon. I bet I'm far from alone. Someone once told me there is a section of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn devoted to old ideas--like the spring--that suddenly flourished due to breakthroughs in materials--like carbon fiber. I will go to bed dreaming about that carbon fiber 'leaf' spring which unlike all the other stuff I've bought--Ultraboost, Fresh Foam, Wave Prophecy...all brilliant ideas. Yet all elastic which as engineers know is the code word for "subject to fatigue, wear, losing its 'umph' " etc....where-as plastic, by definition, means it will always be there for ya. Add to that some of the very nice rubbers being used on the bottoms and you are right again, ;lack of obsolescence may hurt profits. Alas, there are always new colors, new springs and of course stinky shoes to keep sales sprightly.
Of course the only way to level the playing field would be to require identical footwear.
Lamont MacLemore (Kingston, PA)
"require identical footwear."

As well as requiring identical musculature, identical heights and weights, identical nationalities, etc.
very sore loser (tampa fl)
Shoes should be worn to protect the foot, not to increase speed artificially
Aron Yoffe (Los Angeles, CA)
The author writes "All shoes are considered to enhance performance. Otherwise, everyone would run barefoot."

I think that's too glib, since it lumps together pure performance enhancement (faster pace for equal energy expenditure) with other reasons runners wear shoes, including protection (from surface debris, burning-hot surfaces, cold weather, etc.), and absorption/distribution of impact forces. Yes, one could argue in favor of lumping them together, saying that these also improve performance (if you bruise your foot, it's hard to continue the race), but I think that obscures, rather than clarifies, the issue at hand.

Part of the reason this issue is challenging is that we are only beginning to understand the relationship between footwear and energy expenditure. For instance, we don't yet know, definitively, whether running barefoot results in reduced, unchanged, or increased energy expenditure relative to shod running (and the extent to which this is runner-dependent), even after accounting for the effect of the weight of the shoes. [You'll know when this is understood definitively because then, and only then, will the sports physiology community show a consensus on this subject.]

Thus, for instance, we can't answer this basic question: Let's suppose the Nike shoe gives better energy return than conventional designs. If so, is it improving on nature, or simply reducing an energetic disadvantage that conventional shoes create?
Tom (san francisco)
It used to be (my God have I become one of those people) that running was a culture and a community built on friendly competition. The Dipsea Race in Marin County, or the La Luz Race, in New Mexico, or dozens of marathons all over, were competitive but not because of money. The infusion of capitalism, or at least of profit-motivation, continues to ruin whatever individual pleasure can be gained from the sport. If the new technology improves performance and reduces the possibility of injury, and allows us regular folks the ability to run longer and maybe even faster then it should be used. We are talking about running shoes! Does anyone truly believe that shoes will make the difference between who wins and who doesn't in a marathon? Lest we forget, Abebe Bikila ran barefoot in Rome and won the Olympic gold medal. He ran 4 years later in Tokyo, this time with shoes, and won again. Milliseconds and minutes are now the basis for millions of dollars in profit based on claims of who does what in a prime race. Abebe moved up to shoes and no one complained. This is a tempest in a teapot because of the money.
a goldstein (pdx)
Not surprised to see well-funded Nike research continuing to improve running times. Time was when elite runners took the best shoe available for them and shaved off parts of the shoe, removing mere grams for slight advantages.

Technology marches on.
Dave (Wisconsin)
It must be in one of these comments, but since I haven't found it yet I'll bring it up. First there was the BWWI technology Bowerman Wife's Waffle Iron:

Now the carbon fiber "plastic" (in terms of deformation) spring.

Worried (NYC)
Strictly speaking it isn't the shoe that wins the marathon, right? The
person wearing it plays a role too, I think. Or is this whole shoe
war moving running into the same category as horse racing -- where the horse
wins and the guy on top is relatively unimportant?
vulcanalex (Tennessee)
Well it would be unfair only if they are not available to all for the same price.
douglas gray (Los Angeles CA)
It would be great to have a marathon where the surface was grass (I mean real grass, not artificial turf). Children love to run barefoot on grass, that is the way to go.
Art Work (new york, ny)
Really? And just how long do you think the "real" grass would be there with all those people running on it? Or slipping and sliding, depending on the weather.
drdeanster (tinseltown)
I don't follow running in general, or long distance running in particular, except during the big events like the Olympics. Headline events like when a record is broken or an American medals in the marathon. I'm like the majority who are enthralled when a Usain Bolt appears on the scene captivating the world during the Olympics, but otherwise care about as much about track and field as I do college volleyball or the WNBA.
But it does seem as though Kenenisa Bekele has unusually prominent quadriceps for a marathon runner. His upper body in comparison is far less muscular. Usually the distance guys are thin as a beanpole.
Perhaps Mr. Bekele's hovering near the mythical 2 hour mark has more to do with a changing understanding of muscle physiology. More development of the fast-twitch muscle fibers without sacrificing the more economical and anaerobic slow-twitch ones. The dominant runners from East Africa used to look a bit like victims of a famine. Perhaps the paradigm that the distance runners need to be significantly beneath ideal body weight for their height is changing, and that explains more runners flirting with the 2 hour barrier than the shoe technology.
I'm all for comfort and function over what was used yesteryear. If they all have access it's a fair competition. Advantages always accrue to the more fortunate: better coaches, massage therapists, equipment. Any skiers want to wear the boots that were worn just a few decades ago, or the older leather ones with laces?
Art Work (new york, ny)
“This is a game changer, in the sense that if the shoe companies get patents and these shoes go onto the market, and they’re in wide use, it does make you wonder if it’ll be a level playing field if people can use these advantages,” Hirsch said. GEE, DID HE SAY "IF" ?
Lamont MacLemore (Kingston, PA)
"it does make you wonder if it’ll be a level playing field if people can use these advantages,” Hirsch said.

It doesn't make anyone me wonder that. "If people can use these advantages,” then why should they not? They do, in every other aspect of life. Is it "unfair" for me to have my taxes done by tax attorneys that I keep on retainer, just because other people can't afford to do that?
Lydia B (New Orleans)
Everyone in competition should wear the same brand shoe. May a football team deflate its ball to substandard psi so its team players can get a better grip on it?
Liz (Seattle)
But every runner does not have the same foot. Duke may need wider shoes or higher arches, etc. Shoe fit is very brand and model specific.
Nikki (NYC)
You read my mind. My feet don't like Nike. If I ran professionally, wouldn't this put me at a disadvantage, even if I could easily purchase the shoes for myself?
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
What an odd question this headline poses. An unfair advantage over who? It's not like elite level runners pay for shoes.
Dexter Ford (Manhattan Beach, CA)
All running shoes have springs. The foam of the sole compresses, storing energy, then rebounds, giving it back, on every step. Nike Air shoes used air as a spring. Now it's carbon fiber---but the idea of a shoe rebounding and giving back energy is as old as the first foam shoe sole. The argument is about whether it's OK for a maker to make a better, lighter spring. I say why not? Hey, people use technology to improve their performance in any sport. Corrective eyeglasses are tech used to allow better performance---it's hard to run 26 miles if you can't see where you're going. But we don't see it as cheating.
walterhett (Charleston, SC)
The shoe is available to everyone who runs and competes. That availability levels the track. Each competitor has the same potential gain. What is the problem?
MAC (The Midwest)
The problem is that this far only Nike sponsored runners have had access to these shoes. And the shoes were customized to the individual wearing them. Even in track & field and distance running, corporate sponsors vehemently protect their right to be the sole brand visible on these athletes. Once the shoes are on the market and anyone can purchase them, it might be a level field. But even then, should Nike patent the technology, an elite athlete with a different sponsor would not be "allowed" to wear the shoe. Sure, there are ways around this, but a lot of money in sponsorship is on the line for these top elite athletes.
Lamont MacLemore (Kingston, PA)
"The problem is that this far only Nike sponsored runners have had access to these shoes."

That's not a "problem." That's the breaks.
Nancy (Great Neck)
Just finished my daily run, and after reading this article before I ran I thought I was floating all through. I wore Nike shoes because of the feel and evidently the feeling was justified. This article is important to me since I always run, and mean to continue. I am not running in competition, but I want what is best for my feet and legs and obviously the comfort I have gained holds.
ChuckF (Iowa)
Also - to break the 2 hour mark for a marathon the correct approach is to put the world's elite marathoners on a surface designed to not cause abrasions and have them run barefoot - similar to that found at high school tracks.

All road marathons are run on artificial surfaces. The roads are designed for car and truck traffic. Put the athletes on a track surface designed for runners and remove the shoes. That is the fastest approach. Shoes are just dead weight.
Peter S (Rochester, NY)
Anytime you put money at the end of a race, it becomes a business. So if everyone can use these shoes, what advantage is there really? The advantage is only a perspective of past running performance. Shoes today are a lot better than the shoes used by Roger Bannister when he broke the four minute mile. It doesn't take anything away from his accomplishment.
Jay Raju (Princeton, NJ)
Formula 1 is a sport which fosters technical innovation and yet tries to provide some level of standardization. Every sport should develop a set of standards and refine those standards as technology advances. The two major factors that should be considered before allowing new technology in a sport should be:

a) Are there enough providers of the technology in an open market that it does not provide an unfair advantage to one group over the other.
b) Is the technology relatively affordable to all sports persons at that level/ geographic/ economic sphere for the event.

If tomorrow there is an invention of a shoe that substantially reduces knee injury, wouldn't it be smart to adopt it? Else, we should really be barefoot runners as they probably did in the first Olympics!!!
vincent (encinitas ca)
“This is a game changer, in the sense that if the shoe companies get patents and these shoes go onto the market, and they’re in wide use, it does make you wonder if it’ll be a level playing field if people can use these advantages,” Hirsch said.
That the shoes are in "wide use" is the level playing field.
Rich (NY)
If everyone can buy them, then I don't see any reason to ban them. It's not like a PED that could adversely affect your health and separated users from non-users. And after you tie still have to run 26.2 miles.
DMutchler (NE Ohio)
Everyone cannot buy them or, more correctly, everyone should not have to buy them to compete on the same level. Such logic smacks a bit of that "everyone can have proper healthcare" or "everyone can have a proper meal," which are also "true" but only if one can afford it. (Smells a bit like "Trump Truth.)

Perhaps if everyone was paid a proper wage, then indeed, everyone could buy a $250 dollar running shoe...but my god, why?

Like most high performance shoes, they probably have a run-life of perhaps 250 miles. They are not made for training; hardly made to last.

Granted, the price of a traditional running shoe today is crazy (and as one who buys multiples, I get excited when I see a shoe I prefer in the 50-60 dollar (rare) range), so it is in fact already a bit unfair, i.e., expensive to run (although in the amateur ranks, it is lovely to see the dude or dudette in a pair of Keds or 10-dollar shoe take the race; just lovely!).

But again, when the "really good" equipment starts to be the "really good, but only for those who can afford it," it becomes "really, really" unfair. (Exponential 'reallys').

FYI, PEDs are in fact such a big deal not because all those pros (and local amateur runners) are working towards potential injury with their choices of supplements, but because it is unfair to use them. (E.g., testosterone is not harmful if used properly, theoretically, yet it gives an unfair advantage to the user.)
Lamont MacLemore (Kingston, PA)
"everyone should not have to buy them to compete on the same level."

Why should this be true, in this case, when it's not true in any other case? Should all basketball teams be composed only of players of a certain height and ability, in order for them to "compete on the same level"?
douglas gray (Los Angeles CA)
In rock climbing, some years back, they came out with SLCD's or "spring loaded camming devices" . They are things you can stick in a crack, and then they open up through camming action. They were a step up from passive jamb nuts, and pitons, which damaged the rock. They were briefly controversial at first, but saving the damage to cracks allowed them to win the day over using pitons.

In this instance, you would have to have the runners do the same course several times, with similar weather conditions, to see how much the shoes might take off their time, to see if they do, in fact increase performance.
buster (philly)
The issue with Pistorius was that he had blades and other runners didn't. But if any and all runners can wear these Nike shoes, what's the problem?
jojo (chicago)
Require that the runners purchase their shoes from what is available to everyone in stores instead of having companies create something for them. Easy Peasy. Of course the next hurdle will be trying to find those that create their enhanced shoes and make them look like those in the open market.
JR (San Francisco)
This Nike propaganda is nauseating. There is zero evidence that these shoes "increase performance" at all. Salazar and his goons are ruining the sport with their gimmicks (masks, cold hats, Intravenous L carnitine).

The sub 2 hour marathon is 20 years away. Neither Kipchoge nor Bekele will ever break 2:01, despite them being the greatest in history.

Let them race in London and Boston in front of the world! It's all a ploy to clear the field of the best Africans so Rupp can win in Boston. And take the springs out of their shoes.
ChuckF (Iowa)
Entirely marketing hype to sell shoes. Watch videos of Zola Budd dominate the field in the World Cross Country Championships in 1984 and 1985. She was barefoot. While the announcers talk about the decision to go barefoot she gaps the entire field in an amazing performance. That would never happen now because any world-class athlete would want the sponsorship revenue. Zola did not need shoes to win and neither do these athletes today, but there's no money in barefoot for Adidas or Nike.

All the armchair academics can debate this but I've run some marathons barefooted, including Chicago and NYC. While shoes are helpful for training miles they're just dead weight on race day.
Kevin (New York)
Running suffers from the frustrating irony of being the cheapest, most accessible form of exercise while simultaneously causing a myriad of injuries. If something as basic (from the runner’s standpoint) as better shoes can help prevent injuries, the benefits could be tremendous at all competition levels – improved performance without the worry of long-term health damage.

One reason for banning PEDs in sports is to protect younger athletes from potentially serious side effects. Prolonged usage of traditional anabolic steroids can cause severe mental and physical health problems, but we know less about the possible dangers of HGH and newer designer drugs.

Some will not agree, but I see a big difference between improvements in sports equipment and PEDs. Equipment improvements have mostly been visible and somewhat measurable – we can see golfers and tennis players hitting the ball harder with more accuracy and understand how they can do that. However, due to the variety of drug compositions and the unique chemical makeup of individual athletes’ bodies, it is nearly impossible to quantify the exact benefit of PEDs.

Certainly an argument can be made that every runners’ body is different, and may respond differently to a particular pair of shoes, but we can at least determine with certainty what materials compose those shoes. There is less mystery surrounding a physical piece of equipment worn on the body’s exterior and a drug cocktail ingested internally.
Uscentral (Chicago)
This isn't really like going from wooden to metal tennis rackets
This is more like adding torque or a spring to a tennis racket at the top of the handle to increase the head speed above and beyond swing speed
Next thing they'll do is tweak or increase the carbon fiber pressure in the shoe and you'll be closer to the full on blades
They'll just be concealed in the shoes
I suppose a 1:30 marathon would be fun to watch
Especially the start
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
This is like going from wood to composite and larger tennis rackets. Modern rackets are much stiffer than wood and much larger as well. They absorb less of the force in a player's stroke, transfer it to the ball and allow the player to hit the ball harder. They have larger "sweet" spots and are thus more forgiving for a player who does not consistently make contact with the center of the string bed. They have transformed the game of tennis far more than these shoes are likely to transform running.
Nikki (NYC)
Absolutely true and I am old enough to have experienced the difference when the metal rackets came on the market. My sweet spot seemed to cover the entire racket by comparison. Your game improved immediately, without any difference in your stroke.
Matt Lampner (Venice Beach, CA)
The message here is clear. Sport-legal or not, these shoes are helping athlete to run faster. From a marketing point of view that's "mission accomplished". Formula 1 is probably the leader in setting technical standards for equipment (skinnier tires, engine capacity, ground clearance). It's a normal part of professional sports.
A. West (Midwest)
Could Eddy Merckx win the Tour de France today if he were on the same bike he rode in the 1960s and 1970s? No--he probably wouldn't even finish in the top ten, even though he was the greatest cyclist of all time. It's the same thing here. It ain't cheating. It's progress.
Liz (Brussels, Belgium)
I dispute that. Only Chris Boardman (and Sosenka who later got banned for doping) has so far beaten Merckx on the "athlete's hour" i.e. with similar gear, and barely by 10 metres. Contrary to Merckx, he had specialised in it for years.
If Kimetto's world record on the marathon gets beaten in a pair of Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes, I can no longer say that athlete did better and it would be a real shame to see running advances be split in mechanical versus athletic gains like so many other sports. It will be like those 51km hour cycling records on carbon bikes , perhaps with some wings on the side they can go to 60km.
Uplift Humanity (USA)
Nike's executive Schoolmeester sounds like a used-car salesman, openly saying, “We’re not using any sort of illegal springs or anything like that.”

Sure, a stiff carbon-fiber insert in the mid-sole won't act like a spring.
Nothing illegal, if you say so.
bored critic (usa)
nike, addidas, rebok, all the major shoe companies who have some form of this tech in their shoes sponsor all the best runners. Seems to me the playing field is equal. unless there's a little motor in there like the cyclists are now putting in their bottom brackets, move on.
the dogfather (danville ca)

Does anyone think less of Don Bragg or Dutch Warmerdam because they lacked John Uelses' access to fiberglass? Does not a composite track return more energy than cinder? Will we re-issue trowels and ban starting blocks?

Different eras, different materials, different training mathods -- greatness is to be judged head-to-head. It's not like somebody deflated the football.
Marcos Hardman (California)
I think this issue should be looked at from the body's physiology point of view. As a defense mechanism against trauma and stress the human body uses pain as a warning system which then influences athlete's performance. I think new technologies in sports should allow the body to reach its maximum physical potential without the minimum interference of external factors like surface rigidity or weather conditions. The issue here is to make those technologies available to everybody so we can have fair competition. Of course there is a difference between technologies that ease the trauma conditions the body undergoes while in extreme exercise and technologies that enhance the body performance like using a spring or any other device which can artificially provide advantage. This is where the I.A.A.F. has to make the rules clear.
Jay Arr (Los Angeles)
It's only a matter of time and science. Bending poles for vaulting, slick water swim suits, smart bikes and many other customized innovations over the years have greatly improved performances. The real challenge is to make any innovation available on a level playing field. In other words, top performing shoes that are accessible to all competitive runners.
HapinOregon (Southwest corner of Oregon)
To borrow from the old Memorex commercial (the one with Ella Fitzgerald...):

Is it the runner, or is it the shoe?

If it's the shoe, does the question then become which runner(s) can afford it? Despite the vagaries of different courses and tracks, they are the same for the runners. It seems shoes are not and may be the difference between the "thrill of victory" and the "agony of defeat"...

I'd much rather see competition between elite runners, not shoe companies.
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
The competition between shoe companies started a long time ago. I still remember the difference between the shoes my high school team issued to us and the Adidas "Tokyo 64"s" one of my teammates let me wear in a major high school meet. They felt like wearing nothing and I set a pr by two seconds over a half mile. That was in 1966.
TJ (Boston)
In 1968 John Carlos was denied a world record because he wore a pair of Puma spikes with a "brush"spike design ,the forerunner of what sprinters now wear.
Lulu (New York)
I have painful neuropathy in my feet, and do not exercise as much as I should or need. I will check out these shoes in June, hoping that they work for a walker as well as a runner. They will look cool, not medical, and I will be thrilled to wear such splashy shoes! I hope they work for me!
no name (New England)
I hope they work for you. I am an older runner with 40+ years of pavement pounding having takes a toll on my body. Running on pavement is a bit painful so I minimize it now - I would love to try a pair of these shoes to see if it makes a difference for me. Will it allow me to set records? Not a chance but being able to run a 5k road race with minimal discomfort for my joints would be lovely. I am well at the back of the pack these days so I doubt there will be anyone complaining because I am wearing a better cushioned shoe.
Stan Vegar (San Diego, CA)
Is it an accident these particular athletes, medalists, are running these times? Not at all. Pay attention to the athlete quote "wearing these shoes helps me after long runs". Notice the quote was not 'after hard runs'. Here lies the reason for success at this level or just about any other.

The Africans, Scandinavians and others have moved sharply away from the typical American model of 'go hard or go home' and 'no pain no gain' because exercise science has shown since the '70s too much Zone 3 (high intensity) training in proportion to Zone 1 (low intensity) limits potential.

There is debate about what amount and how frequently the 15-20% of total training should be in Zone 3 but nearly no debate about the 80% spent in Zone 1.

Current research strongly suggests for racing distances over 2 minutes in duration, Zone 2 intensity should be avoided almost entirely. Steven Siler and others research of Norwegian x-country skiers and rowers is definitely worth reading before plopping down $250 and expecting a miracle.

Stan Vegar
San Diego, CA
Wordsworth from Wadsworth (<br/>)
This reminds me of the time when Fred MacMurray invented Flubber to give the basketball team an advantage.
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
And lest we forget, Dean Jones had Herbie. Talk about unfair.
Swim Coach (NC Foothills)
The supersuit era in swimming ended following the 2009 World Championships in Rome. Beijing highlighted the problem, but Rome really opened eyes. A good number of the records set during that time have been broken, indicating it wasn't just the suit, but now we are in an era of questions regarding doping which hopefully won't cast as much of a shadow on swimming as it did cycling or baseball (eyes on you Russia)
BeeG (Seattle, WA)
Little did we know knitted socks were the secret to unworldly speed...
Genevieve Segol (San Francisco)
Give a pair to every marathon runner who complains. End of debate, end of story.
Kevin (Troy, Michigan)
Just as in baseball, records will become meaningless once they are attributed to technological advantage, whether it be performance enhancing drugs or springier shoes. And something will be irretrievably lost from the sport. Roger Bannister's sub-four minute mile still holds a magical place in the history of running. A sub-two hour marathon achieved because of specially-engineered shoes is not likely to find such honors.
Mark (Columbia, Maryland)
One way to help runners break the 2-hour barrier is to shorten the marathon from 26.2 miles to 26.0 miles. Of course, nobody would accept that idea because it would "ruin" the event. But wearing high tech shoes is somehow different? Maybe the formula, distance = rate x time is too abstract. What next: Allow swimmers to use fins?
Cyclist (NY)
The shoes will never provide the same performance enhancement that certain drugs can. Every era in running has at some point heralded some shoe breakthroughs, but in the end the shoes don't make that much difference.

The first image in this article of the 2016 Olympic Marathon shows at least three runners wearing Nike Zoom Streak 3 shoes, which were originally sold all the way back in 2011.

I don't think the two-hour barrier will be broken this year, but I'm confident the world record will be lowered by some margin.
Matthew (OK)
Athletic sports are contests of human performance, not technology. We seem to have lost sight of that.
bored critic (usa)
so we should race barefoot?
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
We lost sight of that when athletes started wearing shoes and clothing that held certain body parts in place during their events. Both of those things happened a long, long time ago.
Matthew (OK)
If there is no other way to stop the technological "arms race", I wouldn't rule that out.
Buzz A (pasadena ca)
Every runner of marathons always looks for an advantage. I ran with New Balance running shoes in my first marathon in the 70's. It was hard to walk for a week after, let alone run. Then Nike came out with the waffle trainer. I went to a Christmas party the night of my next Marathon and was out dancing. The shoe technology had changed everything. There is always some new shoe or new idea, such as if you drink coffee before a marathon it will help get more muscle sugar into you and help at the end. We all tried it. I hope this new shoe works, but I hope more it will allow my 70 year old knees to hit the road more often.
Southern Boy (The Volunteer State)
Why include Oscar Pistorius in this discussion? His carbon-fiber prosthetics did not provide him any advantage at all. Even with the artificial legs his times for the 400 meters were nowhere near the other runners.
A. West (Midwest)
Excellent point, SB. I note, also, that Mr. Pistorius lacks legs whilst the subjects of this story are in possession of all their limbs. Big stretch to compare apples and oranges in this way.
bob (cherry valley)
What, you don't like Pistorius? His results, like his violence, are irrelevant. What Pistorius and Zoom Vaporfly have in common is obviously the use of applications of carbon fiber for running. Carbon fiber has strength and spring but it's not like metal, so it's ambiguous whether the rule banning what the article calls "technical aids that use springs" applies to carbon fiber. The court that allowed Pistorius to run apparently didn't think the rule applied, at least to his blades, and that's the last word on the entire subject, so far, which includes whether the shoes are fair.

It's not apples and oranges, it's applesauce and apple brown betty, they both use apples. I get the distinction between prosthetic devices and normal appendages -- the "advantage" provided by a prosthesis is impossible to measure directly so the science is harder to do, but the rule, the material, and physics are the same.

So no one has any good idea how much "advantage" Pistorius got. How good was the design? It was novel, so how crude was it? Maybe he actually was a little faster than he would otherwise have been, maybe not. It's beside the point.
Andrew Lee (San Francisco)
Just because he didn't win certainly doesn't mean he didn't have an unfair advantage, nonetheless. If someone playing with illegal golf club doesn't win the tourney, he has an unfair advantage nonetheless. Winning isn't the measure of cheating.
Mndy (Dallas)
The thing about holy grails is they don't exist. What is the real difference between a 2:00:00 marathon and 1:59:59? 0.01 second, that's all. Forget records and pay attention to competition. As long as everyone has access to the same technology, competition is not affected.
I'm getting old, but let us not forget that this discussion was also had around original "Nike Air" shoes somewhere around 1985-1990. The shoes, probably seen as primitive now, were then seen as so futuristically advanced that they might provide unfair advantages to make average athletes super-human like. Forgive the slight exaggeration, but the discussion was there.

Are today's shoes any different or will their "technology" be seen as just as primitively cute in 20 years too.

If the running organizations want to get rid of arbitrary external advantages, just require all athletes use the same model shoes, or one of a few across brands. It may not be their first choice but it will get their trained bodies to the finish just fine.
bob (texas)
Just buy it.
Nate (Manhattan)
When tennis rackets went from wood to metal, he said, “I bet they were having the same discussion.”

The EXACT same discussion.
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
There was a big discussion but an even bigger one when rackets got larger, lighter and stiffer with the arrival of plastics. Swing speeds increased, power increased with more force transferred to the ball and less absorbed by the wood, accuracy increased with larger hitting areas etc.
Norm Margolus (Boston)
There is no bright line here between cushioning the feet and helping runners conserve energy. They should just make the rule, for major competitions, that you can only use shoes that are available to everyone, to keep the playing field level. It's already too late to make the comparison to old records fair, since we can't go back in time and give those competitors better surfaces and lighter shoes.
Iver Thompson (Pasadena, Ca)
Wearing them, do I still have to even try and move my legs? That doesn't sound like much fun.
lane mason (Palo Alto CA)
So, I am starting a training run with my running buddy, Jim Thomson, near San Diego State in 1965, and we have our "New Balance" tracksters on and laced up and ready (BTW, ugliest running shoe ever). He turns and says to me, "How do we turn them on?"...hahaha
Fritz (Michigan)
Although it is a relatively minor qualm, comparing the tuning of a musical instrument to an individually tailored shoe is a weak analogy. Instruments aren't tuned based on the user... Perhaps based on the style of music though (e.g. drop-D tuning on a guitar). Beyond that, interesting article!
Chris (Florida)
If it's available to all, how could it be an unfair advantage?
mjohns (Bay Area CA)
We are getting close to "angels dancing on the head of a pin" arguments. A shoe protects and cushions feet--that's why we wear them (with the obvious exception of high-heels). A shoe that absorbs energy and provides cushioning is obviously taking away from the effort of the runner (and would heat up the shoes). So, if the shoe has rubber, or foam, or carbon-fiber, to be comfortable and effective, it must not absorb energy, but rather, either transmit it to the ground (making the stride longer), or to the runner (saving the runner effort, so he or she can either make harder strides, longer strides, or faster strides.)

Every running shoe provides efficient cushioning, so every running shoe stores energy at foot-strike, and returns some it to the runner. For that matter, our feet have evolved to perform a similar function. We are literally "born to run". Lighter-weight, better cushioned shoes have been a near constant, in every spot with footwear. If we ban carbon-fiber in shoes, after it has become an absolutely routine component across the rest of sport, what is the justification?

I would argue that the answer needs to be some limitations on the thickness of the shoe, maybe a minimum weight, and a requirement that every shoe worn in competition be available at a reasonable price to every competitor. The issue has to be "unfair advantage" not "can't reduce sore knees and shin-splints".
The Wanderer (Los Gatos, CA)
If you are an elite competitive runner and cannot afford $250 for shoes that help you perform better than your current shoes, then you as well just give it up and become a couch potato. What sport out there requires nothing more than shoes and something to keep your dangly or floppy bits in place?
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
If you are an elite runner and don't have a shoe contract, you're either not an elite runner or need a better agent.
Joe Mc (Baton Rouge)
Contrary to what's stated in this article, the plate only adds about 1% efficiency. The other 3% efficiency gains come from a springier foam, similar to the foam Adidas has been using for the past few years. It's also worth noting that other brands have used a carbon-fiber plate, in the past. The Runner's World website has an article that provides more info.
Me (Upstate)
Healthier for the runners, available to all, and it's not a power source. Keep it legal.
Koko The Talking Ape (<br/>)
_I_ give my SHOES an unfair advantage!

Actually no. I suck at running.
Maximus (The United States)
As a mere mortal running about 20 miles per week, I can't wait to buy these. Great marketing-by-way-of-controversy.
John (Santa Monica)
If the shoes are available to all comers, then how are they an advantage to anyone? The Pistorius case was different because you had to be a double amputee to wear the blades, something nobody in their right mind would ever do, not even to win Olympic gold.

If you make the shoes illegal, some runners will disguise them and wear them anyway, or similar shoes that have similar technology. Then the only way to determine who's "cheating" would be to slice open their shoes. This is a Pandora's Box.
Al Galli (Hobe Sound FL)
It seems to me that if the manufacturer makes their best shoe available to everyone it should be allowed. There is no unfair advantage if everyone has access to it. Tuning a shoe to an individuals needs, however, should not be allowed.
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
"Tuning a shoe to an individual's needs" may mean no more than building a shoe that best fits the specific anatomy of a given runner. That's expensive but elite runners are paid to wear the shoes they wear. They don't buy them. As for average people like me, I'd love to have athletic shoes that fit each of my differently sized feet perfectly. But no one I'm aware of currently offers them.
Elli (Plainsboro)
Maybe Major League Baseball should finally permit corked bats.
danarlington (mass)
What's unfair about it if everyone has access to these shoes?

Unnatural would be a better word, and that means barefoot, as others have noted.

Pay your money and take your choice.
Liz (Brussels, Belgium)
At 250$ a pair, not everyone has access to these shoes.
Moreover, running has been one of the only sports in which gains could be attributed almost 100% to athleticism. Why give that up now?
PK (Moscow)
It is true that winners in major marathons tend to wear either Nike or Adidas, but are these runners the ones who choose their shoes, or the shoes, or shoe brands, choose them? If elite runners were not paid to wear specific brands and models, what would they prefer? What shoes do they use during training? It is great that big brands support athletes and help them achieve great victories and records, but the runner, not the shoe does the job. Remember how Kipchoge ran the Berlin marathon oin 2015? With his insole sticking out most of the race, and despite the fact that his legs were "blistered and blodied" when he reached the finish line, he still managed to show a fantastic result. So the fact that major brands invest a lot in making sure that top runners wear their products does not make these shoes as amazing as one could think after reading this article.
Arthur Silen (Davis California)
This is the aestheticism of the absurd. It's not as if marathon runners who won't be wearing Nike's newly designed running shoes would be unable to compete on an equal basis. The short answer is to buy the shoes and run the race. Banning the shoes because of their innovative design would be comparable to banning long-legged runners from East Africa because they have a natural physiological advantage over short, stocky runners from North America, Europe, or elsewhere. Regardless of their genetic predisposition so, marathon winners succeed because they train harder and push themselves to perform. But even then, the element of chance drastically increases the odds that even the best trained and equipped runner will fail on any given day or race. Twenty-six and two-tenth miles is a course long enough for anything to happen, and wearing Nike's newest product does not make the wearer a 'Rosie Ruiz' (the woman whose first place finish in the Boston Marathon some years ago was nullified when it was determined that she shortened her running time by riding a subway train for some distance before emerging to finish the race on foot).

The idea that an energy conserving shoe design is somehow 'unfair' to running gear manufacturers and their clientele is laughworthy.

As for the runners, if you think that buying Nike's product will make you a winner, think again.
Inveterate (Washington, DC)
Excellent advertorial. Anyone running now must buy Nike Zoom shoes.
JeffB (Plano, Tx)
The Nike shoes are not a game changer. The 'game' has already been changed and irrevocably altered with the advent of sports medicine. With doping routinely being uncovered, shoes are the least of our problems. Let's just take this to its logic conclusion and allow every possible device and/or medical enhancement to create the best super human athlete we can. Better yet, let's just build robots that compete; the sponsors and endorsement revenue might be the same in the end.
Southern Boy (The Volunteer State)
What's the issue here? I remember when Nike introduced the Tailwind and the Mariah in the late 1970s, both with air cushions, similar concerns were raised. These are shores, not performance enhancing drugs. The only issue is see is the price, which for some may be a little steep. But as someone I knew long ago who ran an athletic shoe store once said, "You have to play to play." Thank you.
Morgan (fort collins)
"All shoes are considered to enhance performance". That statement is false. The most economical way to run is barefoot. Very few runners do it, especially over long distances because of increased landing shock injuries. The more cushioned the shoe, the less energy returned. It's like running on sand or running on concrete. You'll run much faster on concrete. The issue is the plate or spring in the nike shoe. Those types of devices that create a spring or rebound effect, have always been banned. I don't know why this shoe should be allowed if it indeed acts like a spring.
Jack (Boston)
It's cheating, pure and simple, just like a corked bat (illegal) can hit a baseball farther than a regulation bat.
stevevelo (Milwaukee, WI)
So, based on this comment, fiberglass vaulting poles, carbon fiber tennis racquets, carbon fiber rowing sculls, carbon fiber oars, aerodynamic bike handlebars, carbon fiber archery equipment, lightweight aerodynamic bicycle disc wheels, carbon fiber skis and poles, etc., etc., etc., are all cheating. And, don't forget skin tight aerodynamic speedsuits for track cyclists, runners, and skiers. Then there are flexible floors for gymnasts. Plus, with golf coming back into the Olympics, I don't think those players will be using wooden club shafts. I'm not sure the "cheating" argument holds water.
Luis (Chicago)
Last I checked, the shoes did not run by themselves.
Nancy (Great Neck)
Terrific response.
Nancy (Great Neck)
Well, this is the best advertisement for Nike shoes ever and I could not be happier that I already run in Nike. The point then is for competing companies to match and better Nike.
Evan (San Francisco)
Scott Anthony (State College, PA)
I am hoping this focus on shoe performance enhancement leads to greater competition in the athletic shoe industry, and greater value for consumers at every price point.
Michjas (Phoenix)
One year, records were set at Boston because it's a point to point course heading southeast and there was a significant tailwind. None of the records were recognized, which was controversial, but fair. There is a general sense of what an unfair advantage is, even if it is sometimes ambiguous. Here,, the cushioning doesn't seem material. The carbon fiber plate is the real issue. Its effect can be studied in shorter races and it should not be all that difficult to decide whether runners get an unfair advantage. I don't think it's the technology that matters as much as the results. That's how the swimming issue was resolved and everyone seemed happy with that.

All that having been said, I was most upset by Nike's staging of a non-qualified run to beat two hours. Two hours is the holy grail, the 4 minute mile, it should be treated with respected. Allowing runners an unfair advantage for a publicity stunt is too gimmicky and too disrespectful for what is at stake. Phil Knight should know better.
Sally (NY, NY)
Boston's not eligible for records because it's a point to point course (which means it can be affected by wind) with a net elevation loss. They weren't making up the rules as they go along, after that particular tailwind.

It's interesting once the article gets to the carbon footprint and compares it to Oscar P. but the first half just brings up notable athletes who wore Nikes. Slyly correlating Olympic performance with Nikes, when half the elite field wears Nike. (If you wear Skechers, you're gonna have stomach issues; with adidas, you may break the world record.) Kipchoge once won a marathon with the sole slipping out of his Nike shoe like a rabbit's ear, for 18 or more miles. Nike may be making improvements but they're not going to be limited to just a few athletes, and at this point it's still the wearer and the training that makes the difference.
Warbler (Ohio)
The key question here, though, is what constitutes "unfairness." One way of thinking about it is that a condition consists of an unfair advantage if it's not equally available to all competitors. The tailwind at the Boston marathon would fall into that category, since other marathoners can't arrange for a tailwind to be available for their own races. Metal tennis rackets are better than wooden, but we don't think that metal rackets are an unfair advantage, because every competitive tennis player can just buy a metal racket of his or her own. Running in shoes is better than running barefoot, but we don't think that having shoes is an unfair advantage, because every competitive runner can buy a pair of shoes. So why aren't the fancy shoes more like the metal tennis rackets than they are a tailwind? They are not something which is in principle available only to a select few.
Arthur Silen (Davis California)
Huh? Disrespect of what? Race promoters have no cause for complaint if record breaking performances are achieved at so-called 'unsanctioned' events. They have no particular claim for lost revenue and missed opportunities for publicity. If the performance was not blessed by the High Priests of Sport, that doesn't detract from the accomplishment. Get over it.
Danaher M Dempsey Jr (Lund NV)
Time to go back to no advantage. 1960 Rome Marathon winner, Abebe Bikila ran barefoot. 2 hr 15min 16 sec was his then world record time. Let see the current crop of Nike assisted runners run barefoot.
Magnus (<br/>)
This is ludicrous. I hope you're joking.
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
Bikila did indeed run barefoot in Rome. But he didn't have to and was apparently the only runner who did. Four years later he won again, this time wearing shoes in Tokyo (Pumas) and setting a world record. So what's your point exactly?
Paul Webb (Philadelphia)
I still have a pair of my father's track spikes from the 1950's... they weigh almost as much as my wingtips. My spikes (from the 1980's) and my daughter's spikes (current) are as light as ballet slippers. My father also ran over unforgiving hurdles on a cinder track, and high jumped into a saw dust filled pit. Technology has changed sports, but as long as your current competition has access to the same technology, the field can remain level.
psubiker1 (vt)
As long as any runner can purchase and use this technology, they should have that option... I trail run in Hoka shoes... love them...
Jasoturner (Boston)
Gives new meaning to "having a spring in your step", for sure.
Look Ahead (WA)
"Kipchoge said he likes the cushioning and reduced pain in his legs in recovering from long runs."

That's a good enough reason to allow technology to enhance running just as it has tennis, skiing and other sports. Training for distance running can be brutally hard on the body, so anything that maintains the benefits of running while reducing the costs should be encouraged, for recreational and competitive runners.

Conservation of energy is different than addition of energy, as in doping, hidden bike motors and the like.
John S. (Cleveland)
Look Ahead

On the other hand, the most 'popular' of the drugs banned in professional sports are noted for reducing recovery time after injuries and intense training. Are you saying they should be legalized because they don't "add energy".

And if your recommendation is to be followed, it must be made universally available to all runners, not subject to vagaries of economics, corporate patents, and marketing.

Already, as you see here, these advanced shoes have been made available to elite runners on a very, very limited basis. This cannot possibly be something you endorse, and yet there it is.
Pecan (Seattle)
Regarding the conservation of energy, the article states the plate:

(1) stores and releases energy with each stride and is meant to act as a kind of slingshot, or catapult, to propel runners forward.

(2) saves 4 percent of the energy needed to run at a given speed when compared with another of its popular racing shoes.

(3) equates to improvements equivalent of running downhill at a fairly steep gradient of 1 to 1.5 percent (according to Ross Tucker, the quoted South African sports scientist)

It is up to the I.A.A.F to decide if the shoe gives an unfair advantage, but it seems clear the shoe does more than simply conserve energy.
Michjas (Phoenix)
You've confused training and competing. You can train in any shoes you like. But race day is different. Then, you're competing against everyone else and the record book. If your shoes give you a three minute advantage, records will shatter. We compare runners from generation to generation. If a mediocre runner can outrun Grete Waitz, that feels wrong. Waitz has a proud and honored legacy. A mediocre runner and an extraordinary shoe are not the right combination to compromise that legacy.
jzuend (Cincinnati)
We must acknowledge that sport is not anymore an individual feat. Sport is a business with large industries being served by the sports star. In return the industries and starts make profits; profit paid by the consumers and fans.
The Industries are shoe makers, pharma companies, health industries, etc.
There is nothing wrong with that; but let's stop pretend sport is the pinnacle of individual achievement and fortitude. It is just a business.
S. Reader (RI)
If a person can break the 2-hour mark for a marathon without performance enhancing drugs, it means they broke the mark. Wearing a pair of shoes isn't going to change things that dramatically. You've still got to get your body to work for you.
S. Reader (RI)
Michael Jordan didn't do what he did to sell shoes for Nike. Air Jordans sold because the design was solid and everyone wants to be like Mike. Does his helping Nike sell shoes diminish his accomplishments as an athlete? His requests for improved materials and structure benefited other basketball players, too, because they were influenced by true needs of an athlete pushing the boundaries of the sport.
Michjas (Phoenix)
Corporations sponsor exhibits at the Met and the Museum of Natural History, performances at Lincoln Center, and all kinds of scientific research. There is nothing wrong with that, but let's stop pretending that the arts and sciences and natural history are the peak of individual achievement and fortitude. They are just businesses. Impressionism, the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, dinosaurs, and the search for life in the universe are probably my favorite businesses.
Paul Gamble (New York, NY)
We live in disturbing times (going to place my order . . . shhhh!)
See also