The Race To Build The Super Shoe

The race  may already have been run, but there are battles ahead in the war for the world’s fastest super shoe.


Long, long before we saw the world’s first super shoe, the Nike Vaporfly 4% gets its first public airing at the Rio Olympic Marathon of 2016 where the first three finishers all wearing early variants of the production model.

The boffins in the Nike Sports Research Laboratory in Portland, Oregon, had been secretly planning world domination… for years.

In fact, development of the Vaporfly shoe began way back in 2013 and this is what that domination has looked like since 2016:

– Eliud Kipchoge, wearing a prototype Nike AlphaFly, became the first man to break two hours for the marathon in Vienna last year, albeit in an unofficial race.

– The Kenyan also wore a version of the shoes when he set the official world record of 2:01.39. Kipchoge’s 78-second improvement on the existing record was the largest improvement in over 50 years.

– His compatriot Brigid Kosgei beat Paula Radcliffe’s world marathon record in October in the latest version of the shoes, reducing the mark by 81 seconds to (2:14.4).

– Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan took double gold at the World Championships in Doha in September, when she won the 1,500m and 10,000m in a track spike version of the shoe.

– December 2019 Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei broke the 10-year-old 10km road world record in Valencia by six seconds. The top five at the event all wore a version of Nike’s Zoom Vaporfly 4%.

Analysis of the world rankings shows that in 2019, twice as many men ran under 2:10 and twice as many women went under 2:27 as compared to 2016.

Eight of the 12 fastest men’s marathons in history have been run in the last year.

The Ultimate Super Shoe? The Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%

To say these results are unprecedented would be a massive understatement.

The other big manufacturers got caught out, and only now are we starting to see anything that might look like competition to Nike’s Super Shoes.

Brooks, Saucony, Hoka, Skechers and New Balance have now all joined the fray, and all these shoes bear the common hallmarks of the Super Shoe:

  1. a carbon fibre plate

  2. a geometric rocker

  3. very large midsole stack heights

To date, adidas, ASICS and Mizuno have not released a shoe realising the definition of a Super Shoe.


Skechers GORun Speed Elite Hyper


Saucony Endorphin Pro


Brooks Hyperion Pro 2


New Balance Fuel Cell TC


 Hoka One One Carbon X


There has been a lot of chatter about why the Super Shoes are so fast. Initially many called out the carbon fibre plate, claiming it acted like a spring to propel the athlete forward.

That clearly is not the case, since, at best, the plate can only act as a lever, which is quite different to a spring!

Research published recently by Nike (1) has, however, shown that the Vaporfly Next% has an effect at the level of the 1st metatarsaophalangeal joint, by reducing the net energy loss without increasing the mechanical demand at the ankle as we would expect.

It seems more likely that the effect of these shoe is a sum of all parts..

  • the stiff carbon fibre plate helps the foam compress and expand more quickly, returning more energy to the runner (lab tests put this at over 80% and the highest ever recorded).
  • the massive stack heights exploit the rebound properties of the foams, while maintaining a lightweight profile
  • perhaps most mysterious is the effect of the rocker, present in ALL of the current batch of super shoes

Will these shoes work for everyone? Well that seems unlikely, becasue despite some common ground, the shoes are all quite different. The NB TC  for example was never going be a direct competitor to the Nike Vaporfly Next%. “TC” in FuelCell TC is an acronym for “Training and Competition”, the Nike Vaporfly Next% is purely a competition shoe,

There is also the question of responders versus non responders. Sports scientist Ross Tucker makes this point at length in an excellent blog here, but to summarise, Tucker’s argument is that Nike’s shoe tech gives so great an advantage to some athletes over others that it renders training, tactics and nutrition almost  inconsequential – and as such, we cannot have faith in what we’re watching.

Scroll through the infogram from our Instagram account for a Super Shoe Snapshot

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THE RACE MAY ALREADY HAVE BEEN RUN, BUT THERE ARE BATTLES AHEAD IN THE WAR FOR THE WORLD’S FASTEST SUPER SHOE. . LONG, LONG BEFORE WE SAW THE WORLD’S FIRST SUPER SHOE, THE NIKE VAPORFLY 4% GETS ITS FIRST PUBLIC AIRING AT THE RIO OLYMPIC MARATHON OF 2016 WHERE THE FIRST THREE FINISHERS ALL WEARING EARLY VARIANTS OF THE PRODUCTION MODEL. . The boffins in the Nike Sports Research Laboratory in Portland, Oregon, had been secretly planning world domination… for years. In fact, development of the Vaporfly shoe began way back in 2013 and this is what that domination has looked like since 2016: . Check out the infogram on this post and Head to the link in the bio for a more in depth look at this incredible shift in performance footwear innovation. . **open access** . . #runningshoes #eliudkipchoge #nikenextpercent #footwearinnovation #shoedesign #shoedog #podologia #podologue #biomechanics #runningmotivation #runningphysio #dptstudent #marathoner #marathontraining #runclub #marathonclub #hokacarbonx #sauconyendorphin #brookshyperionelite #nikealphafly #nikenextpercent

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The biggest question for me is, “is there a downside to the Super Shoes”.

In other words, could they potentially create injury.

Well, given they change running style and biomechanics, this is a distinct possibility. And we have good data that both minimalist and maximalist shoes can be implicated with increases in site specific, running related injury.

I see not much difference between the new Super Shoes and the minimalist trend which caused such division in the industry.

the question is no are they good or bad, it is will they suit the specific runner and do they have the capacity to safely utelize the unique characteristics of this tye of footwear?

As with minimalism, time will tell.


  1. Farina, E.M., Haigh, D., and Luo, G., Creating Footwear for performance running. 2019 Footwear Science 11:S1
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