This week was lower mileage, since I'm resting up for a race on New Years Day. The race is on Monday, so I was able to squeeze in a light cruise intervals workout on Thursday (generally, when I race on Saturday or Sunday, my last workout is on Tuesday or Wednesday). Since I was tempoing by myself, I moved the workout to the roads - Hains Point, to be exact. For non-DCites, Hains Point is a flat 3.5 mile asphalt road loop with almost no vehicular traffic. It's a great, if nauseatingly boring, place to train.
I used this workout as my final test for the Vaporflies (I'm still unsure whether the proper pluralization is Vaporflys or Vaporflies). My previous easy run with them was soul-sucking, but perhaps they were different at a faster pace.
Confirmed: they are a different shoe at speed (speed for my purposes is defined as marathon pace or faster). When you generate more force, the shoe feels more stable, though still a bit soft and wobbly for my tastes. More speed also means the foot spends less time on the ground, and that may help with the perceived stability. I also wore thicker socks so the shoe fit tighter and taped my ankles for stability (I use the same tape job whenever I race the mile, have a very long track workout planned, or know I'll be running on the towpath). This likely affected my perception of the shoes as well.
Whatever the reason, the shoes felt better on Thursday. I did 2x2 miles with a short recovery, keeping the pace under control for the first and opening up for the second. And the faster I ran, the better the shoe felt.
As for whether the shoe performed better than another shoe would? This wasn't a good test for that, from a raw data standpoint. My heart rate was very low for the speeds I was running, but that's easily explained by the weather - 15 degrees Fahrenheit. When I run hard in frigid temperatures, my heart rate often gets frozen (haha) at a low value that doesn't match my effort or pace. I also finished the second two mile repeat with a mile at my 5K pace that didn't feel at all like 5K effort. However, I had a substantial tailwind at my back for that mile, so who knows. And maybe the Garmin lied about the pace.
So, I'm not totally sold yet, but the shoes felt good. Which means a lot to me, since I train primarily by feel. I like them enough to try them in tomorrow's 5K, to see how they feel at a maximal effort.
Despite the fact that I'm wearing them on Monday, I don't think this is a good 5K shoe for me. Were this a PR attempt, I'd be going with the Adios or Takumi Sen. My Takumi Sens and Adioses feel like sportscars, while the Vaporflies feel more like high-speed trains - fast once they get moving, but very slow to start, stop, or turn. Even the wide turns on Hains Point required me to slow down, carefully navigate the turn, and then pick up speed again.
In a shorter road race with a fast start off the line and most likely a tight turn or two, this would be an awkward shoe. To that point, I'd be especially nervous wearing the Vaporfly at a Turkey Trot or other race with a lot of inexperienced runners and children sprinting and weaving at the start. You can't dodge, surge, or brake fast in these shoes.
The Vaporfly is best reserved for a longer race on a concrete or asphalt surface with relatively few turns. It is NOT a jack of all trades shoe - even if it was cheap and easy to find, I would never want to wear it on the track, on an off-road surface (even packed dirt), or on a city sidewalk. And it's so unstable and cushy at slower speeds that I would fear using it as a daily trainer, for the same reason I shy away from Hokas and other high cushioned shoes.
As for how much faster the Vaporfly may or may not be, compared to other shoes...there's really no way to be absolutely certain, since I can't do a controlled blind study. I feel that the shoe is slightly faster than the Adios. But I also feel that the gap between the Vaporfly and the Adios Boost is far less than the gap between the Adios Boost and my daily trainers, or any non-Boost shoe.
I've read a fair bit of discussion on whether wearing the Vaporfly is "cheating." After giving this consideration, no - I don't think it is, by any definition.
For one thing, the shoes are allowed. They've been around for several months, more than enough time for USATF to ban them. Playing a sport with legal equipment, used in the manner for which it was designed - not cheating, in my book.
Yes, they are expensive - more so than other shoes, and perhaps some aren't able to purchase them. But if that's our criteria, then we also need to start limiting all the other expensive things that some people can afford and others can't - nice hotels near the start line, inflatable recovery boots, gait analysis, compression tights, regular sports massages.
The Vaporflies are admittedly hard to find. When they come available, they sell out in hours - modern day Cabbage Patch shoes. But if lack of easy availability defines unfair advantage, then many other shoes fit that category. It was easier to get a pair of Vaporflies than a replacement pair of my beloved and elderly Takumi Sens (still looking for those...). And there are mass market unisex sized shoes that effectively are unavailable to me, since I have somewhat small feet and the shoe isn't made in my size.
The shoes do promise, and to some extent deliver, "energy return." But that's not a new promise or achievement. That was the selling point of the Adidas Boost foam - and having run in Adidas Boost shoes for several years now, I truly believe that that claim. As I noted above, I find the difference between the Adios Boost and a non-Boost shoe to be far greater than that between the Vaporfly and the Adios Boost.
Nor is the technology of the shoes as revolutionary as it sounds at first. Mizuno has been using a "wave plate" in its shoes for years and my beloved Adios Boost 2s have an midfoot torsion system that extends into the forefoot, as do many other flats. Specialized patented energy return foam? Again, Adidas got there first. And the rolling action plus the high stack height comes from Hoka. Nike just took all of these, combined them, and did a good job of it.
In my opinion, the Vaporfly is both a great shoe and vastly over-hyped. Adidas Boost was much more of a game changer, but received less attention, both positive and negative. Why? I can think of three reasons:
- Adidas simply made the shoes, gave them to their sponsored athletes (the men's marathon world record was run in the Adios 2 Boost), and released them to the masses. No big private marathon in Italy with guest appearances from Joan Samuelson and Kevin Hart. No National Geographic Special. No Wired Magazine.
- Adidas made enough shoes to meet demand. Nike has not. Scarcity can trigger irrational behavior (see: Beanie Babies or Cabbage Patch Kids). The fact that the shoes are so hard to find leads to much discussion on where the shoes can be found - free publicity.
- Those who end up with the Vaporfly are not a representative subset of the running population as a whole. Rather, they care enough about their marathon performance to expend considerable time, effort, and money to buy a shoe that might help their time.
It's no surprise that those are the same people who are negative splitting marathons and setting significant PRs - if they're willing to work that hard for a shoe, they're likely doing all the other things that running success requires.
In contrast, since the Adidas Boost material was available in a wide range of shoes easily available to the public, a wide range of runners run and race in the shoe. Both the dedicated and the dilettantes, with (again) a wide range of performances to match.
We'll see how tomorrow's 5K run goes. My opinion of the shoe may change. Again.
Tuesday: 11 miles, including 4x1200 in 4:37, 4:36, 4:34, 4:28. Followed with injury prevention work and 1000 yards of recovery swimming. Foam rolling at night.
Wednesday: 6 miles very easy (9:20) to yoga, yoga, and then 4 miles easy (8:52), followed by drills and strides. Foam rolling at night.
Thursday: 10 miles, including 2x2 miles in 12:56 (6:28/6:28) and 12:23 (6:21/6:02). Sports massage in afternoon.
Friday: Upper body weights and core plus 9 "miles" pool-running. Foam rolling at night.
Saturday: 7 miles very easy (8:55), followed by drills and strides, and then DIY yoga. Foam rolling in evening.
Sunday: 4 miles very easy (8:50) followed by DIY yoga and foam rolling.