Like most recreational tri-athletes, I don’t pay much attention to what’s happening in the top levels of the sport, let alone in the separate worlds of swimming, cycling and running[1]. But I took notice last year when Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon distance in under two hours, a barrier long thought to be unbreakable, and one that reminded my of my failed attempts to break four hours over the same distance.

Kipchoge had plenty of help in his effort, including pace runners (providing an added drafting benefit) and a guide car projecting laser light on to the track to ensure exact pacing. These non-standard features mean that the time doesn’t count as a record for the marathon event.

Apparently, the biggest boost, however, came from his shoes, Nike’s recently released Vaporfly’s which incorporate a special carbon plate and a foam designed to return as much as possible of the energy expended from the impact of each pace. In subsequent events, runners with Vaporflys have produced winning times as much as 4 per cent faster than would be expected. And, it seems, the benefit is just as great, or even greater, for middle-aged slowpokes.

As with similar innovations in swimming and cycling, there was a lot of pressure to ban these technological marvels. But the International Olympic Committee, unwilling to take on the might of Nike, decided to allow the shoes, while trying to limit further innovations.

So, should I lay out $A300 or so for a pair of these marvels, which apparently may last for only a couple of hundred km (YMMV)? For the moment, I’m not going to. I’m going to have one more try to break four hours, and for this purpose I’m racing against my (not quite as old) self, not other competitors or even the clock. Once the technology becomes general, I’ll no doubt adopt it like everyone else.

In the meantime, what really appeals to me is the claimed capacity of cooling wristbands to lower body temperature. Even in moderate temperatures, I end events drenched in sweat and temperatures in Queensland aren’t always moderate. Does anyone have any experience/thoughts on this?

24 thoughts on “Vaporfly

  1. It’s worth reading this:

    h t t p s : / / w w w.a b c.n e t .a u/news/2019-12-11/why-everything-you-thought-about-running-is-wrong/11775598

    In all three disciplines (running, swimming, cycling) style training and understanding the ergonomics of the body (even your particular body) and the equipment in interaction will help you. But how much time can one put into an interest or hobby?

    I doubt the cooling wristbands would do much, if anything. But I don’t know for sure. A cooling vest with frozen ice in it would certainly work but it adds weight. You need enough ice to absorb significant amounts of heat from yoor torso as the ice melts. We may be talking of the need for a few liters which would add a few kilos to your running weight.

    An interesting idea might be this. Start without a cooling vest. Have a support person at the marker where, from experience, you feel getting hot becomes a problem during the marathon. Take and don the jacket at that point. The ideal cooling jacket would be one which contains potable water. As it melts you sip the cool water. This saves slowing down to take drink bottles at water stations. I have no idea if such a cooling jacket is on the market. Run through all cooling spray stations if these are provided.

    The shoes may help. Older people lose tendon elasticity. This might explain why these shoes could help them even more. The shoes might reduce the tendency to injury too. They could be worth wearing for this reason alone. Considering how over-priced all modern footwear is, the price does not seem outrageous. (Ain’t it sad when we have to say that a price does not seem outrageous because all prices are outrageous.)

  2. It seems to me if the reason for running, cycling, swimming is exercise then magic shoes mean you need to do longer distances to get the same benefits. Improved cooling would seem to be all benefit; I am noticing that with increasing age (and insufficient, mostly unenthusiastic exercise) it doesn’t take much to overheat.

  3. Even with magic shoes, most “oldies”, even fit ones like J.Q., get plenty (maybe too much) exercise if they run “long” distances (anything over 10 km). Exercise studies show that there is a golden mean to exercise. Too much can be as bad for you as too little. I would say the potential reduction of injury from wearing the shoes is worthwhile in itself.

    As for older people overheating, It’s mostly due to having too much fat. I speak from personal knowledge. Fat is a good insulator. J.Q. doesn’t have the fat problem that others like myself have.

  4. What’s the problem with better shoes? Running shoes have been continually improved since the concept of running shoes was invented.

    “But the International Olympic Committee, unwilling to take on the might of Nike”

    The shoes Gold Partner for the 2020 Olympics is ASICS, so it’s not obvious why the IOC would be afraid of offending Nike.

  5. John – your observation that your time is approximately twice that of the best prompts a general, slightly weary observation: I swim a bit, and occasionally cycle or run, but find it quite extraordinary that the times of the elite are basically half mine. That is, they are going twice as fast, which is just quite remarkable to contemplate. I watched Grant Hackett training in the UNE pool some years ago – he was visiting his girlfriend apparently, so just doing a gentle swim to stay loose I suppose – he was doing 25m in only about 10-12 seconds – and an incredibly low number of strokes. I guess the half thing is just a function of the shape of the distribution, but it is somewhat awe-inspiring. You are to be congratulated on doing triathlons.
    More related to the Nike thing, the nerd in me wonders why we don’t adjust times for things like gear, GDP of the person’s country etc. But that would be like having VAR totally in control of football games, rather than just stuffing up the critical decisions …

  6. I have nothing to offer on this topic but I’m impressed with the breadth of knowledge on offer here!

  7. Sweating when hot is good even if uncomfortable. You perhaps could carry a light weight small super-absorbent towel to periodically wipe dry the neck, head, and face. Such towels wrung out are almost dry again.. I’ve found that to give some comfort, and headbands to just increase the feeling of heat about the head, and they become quickly soaked. Manual workers in hot humid conditions, a real test of endurance, may often be seen to carry a towel or cloth for this purpose, eg., in the lowland wet tropics. It seems that tennis players frequently towel themselves off during matches in addition to wearing branded designer headbands… Keep up the electrolytes and fluids as the body may stop if the sweating stops, but I’m sure you know that. One thing I did not know until recently is that ordinary chocolate milk is as good as any fancy brand name recovery drink!

  8. PS. Re: “…In subsequent events, runners with Vaporflys have produced winning times as much as 4 per cent faster than would be expected.”

    If such tests (which sound to be just of runners wearing shoes that they’ve been told improve performance and so expect them to, and maybe sometimes competing against others told the same but not given the fancy shoes) were indeed honest and reliable perhaps the placebo effect may account for the improved performance. Were the tests double blind? Trust Nike??

  9. (again, because WordPress is eating my comments)

    Robert Banks: That is, they are going twice as fast, which is just quite remarkable to contemplate

    I once did a quick lap around inner Sydney with a really powerful cyclist on the front of the tandem. That was amazing! We came out of the lights really fast and just *flew* up the hills 🙂

    Cycling is more about pure power than swimming is, and the power output of some athletes is quite terrifying. For context, the maximum power assist you’re legally allowed on a bicycle in Oz is 250W. To stay in the professional pelton you need to be able to hold 350W for an hour. Top sprinters can exceed 1000W for 30 seconds or so, and Indurain is rumoured to have hit 2000W. I’m quite gifted in that area but am not competitive (choose not to compete), and that makes riding a bike in the city much easier because even at my advanced age I can still sprint to keep up with motorists (although since their average speed during rush hour is close to JQ’s marathon pace… maybe that’s not too impressive?).

    Where this really hits, though, is that I have to think if I’m to give meaningful opinions of what will suit the average person, let alone the average woman or child. So as an activist I have to be a bit careful about what I advocate for, and when suggesting bikes I need to really wind back what I expect people to be capable of. Especially because I ride everywhere, all the time – if I’m going somewhere I will almost always have a bike with me, even if I’m taking the train. So my expectations default to a feeling that everyone else can do that if they want to. It takes conscious effort to remember that a lot of new cyclists struggle to ride 1km to the train station, let alone run up the stairs carrying their bicycle. “just throw a couple of kids on the bike and ride into the city” has to be worked up to over a year or more (and requires an e-assist).

  10. If you get a lot of body piercings and — this is the important part — remove them before a competition, the increased surface area should help cool you down. The drawback is they will increase wind resistance and you may hear annoying whistling sounds.

    Another option would be to put gallium jewellery in the freezer and wear that to keep you cool. Once it reaches body temperature it will melt and drop off and so won’t slow you down once it’s of no more use.

  11. Svante +1 “perhaps the placebo effect may account for the improved performance. Were the tests double blind? Trust Nike??”

    Remember the shark suit?
    “‘Fast suits’ and Olympic swimming: a tale of reduced drag and broken records

    This sounds better – in the future…

    “”Clothing fabric keeps you cool in the heat…
    “In simulations, the researchers showed that fabric made of the new nanofibers has athermal conductivity that is more than twice as high as cotton fabrics, and more than 1.5 times higher than PVA fabric without boron nitride nanofibers.

    “Several other types of thermal regulation textiles have recently been developed for maintaining a cool “microclimate” near thehuman body. For instance, moisture-wicking fabrics cool the body by removing excess moisture, but primarily work only in highly humid (or sweaty) circumstances. Some technologies use cold packs and others consume large amounts of energy. The researchers in the new study expect that the simple, low-cost nanofiber textile demonstrated here may offer one of the most practical solutions for keeping cool in hot weather.

    “In the future, the researchers plan to work toward realizing these applications.”

    Many other nano below ambient materials soon-ish.

  12. @Ikonoklast It’s certainly possible to run too much, but if you do triathlon, backed by gym work and maybe a little bit of hiking, kayaking or whatever takes your fancy, the marginal benefits are still positive up to 20 hours a week or so. Hard to find the time for more than that, unless you’re a professional athlete or retired with no household responsibilities.

  13. I can’t help but feel a little sad that running has reached the “Stuff it, lets just attach springs to our feet” point, but at least we’re kind of being up front about it? That said springier athletic track surfaces have no doubt helped improve records over the years so that horse bolted long ago. I look forward to the gradual ascent of double below the knee amputees sporting highly efficient prothetics to the top of the athletics record charts.

    Funnily enough I’ve gone the other direction to quite minimal shoes, and wouldn’t go back, I love feeling the ground as I run. I guess if you grow up in Kenya etc. you likely skip a childhood of feet in clompy shoes, so re-learning how to run properly isn’t something you need to do.

  14. Doubtless some Taiwanese entrepreneur will shortly market wristbands that just say “You are cooler!” I have a name for the product: PlaceGo.

  15. A cooling vest filled with a lighter than air gas would help. Some professional cyclists were sprung with batteries in the frame down tube and a small motor that acted on the crank which gave a small but significant advantage. You could probably get away with something like that at a local level triathlon. Generally though, I normally recommend cruiser style bikes to anyone over 50, good for doing the shopping and comfortable they are relatively heavy so they can give a good workout if you push them a bit.

  16. John, if what you want is to “one time” break 4 hours, your best bet is the weather. By far my fastest 10k was a miserable race I did during a cool misty rain. I hated every step, but my body was perfectly cooled. I ran 30 second faster miles throughout.

  17. Ronald: one Anerican ultrahiker actually did drill holes in his toothbrush to shave weight.

    One expensive purchase I don’t regret is a pair of Leki walking sticks. They are titanium not cheap alloy. They are endorsed by Reinhold Messner, the great solo mountaineer: maybe a lunatic, but if he thought they are worth the weight, it’s a valuable opinion. He claims the sticks saved his life when he fell into a crevasse. Don’t ask for witnesses..

  18. Surely in exercise the point for most people is simply to beat yourself, and using better technology to do so is meaningless. Or is that an artefact of spending too much time in economics where everything is relative?

  19. James, no need to convince me of the value of a good strong murder stick or two when walking in Australia. A gun is no good as that just focuses your attention on what’s in front of you.

  20. John, I don’t see how the cooling bracelet will do much good as he needs to be recharged with water every 15-20 minutes. I think maybe you’d be better off throwing water over yourself instead. (Maybe you can combine a triathlon with multiple ice buckets challenges. Just think of all the awareness you could raise for ice bucket challenges.) I could be missing something but I can’t see how metals and a battery will result in the water removing any additional heat from your body.

  21. Podiatrist podiatrist podiatrist 

    After 3yrs of occasional crutches, a podiatrist made bespoke 3d shoe inserts – coff @$500 – made ankle and knee pain almost disappear completely. I was then happy with “investment”. The podiatrist joked high heels paid for kids private schools, young athletes paid for the investment property! See a competent podiatrist first, then maybe vapourfly.

    “Ahead of the curve in the evolution of human feet

    “The longitudinal arch has long been considered a crucial structure that provides stiffness to the human foot. Now the transverse arch is stepping into the spotlight, with a proposed central role in the evolution of human foot stiffness.

    “Humans evolved to walk and run effectively on the ground using two feet. Our arched foot, which is not a characteristic of other primates, is a unique feature crucial for human bipedalism. The arch provides the foot with the stiffness necessary to act as a lever that transmits the forces generated by leg muscles as they push against the ground. The arch also retains sufficient flexibility to function like a spring to store and then release mechanical energy. Writing in Nature, Venkadesan et al.1 present a new view of how foot stiffness is regulated. Their finding not only has exciting implications for understanding foot evolution, but also provides a possible framework when considering foot health and how to design better footwear.”

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