Berlin Marathon: the technology behind the shoes that could break the world record

Eliud Kipchoge has already run a marathon in less than two hours, but it has not been in an official event. This is your chance

In October 2019 Eliud Kipchoge became the first human being to run a marathon (42,195 meters) in less than two hours. Part of this achievement has been linked to the shoes worn by the Kenyan runner, without taking into account that Kipchoge holds the world record for this distance, is a double Olympic champion, has won more than 13 official marathons and is recognized as one of the most great athletes of all time. And this weekend he could set the bar even higher if he drops under two hours in the Berlin marathon… with a little help at his feet. Or at his feet rather.

The Berlin marathon, due to its type of route (with little slope), due to the date on which it is run (very good temperature) and due to the place it occupies in the sports calendar (optimal for annual preparation) is the favorite event of many athletes. So much so that the last 6 world records for the distance have been broken in Berlin. In athletics there have been three historical barriers: the 10 seconds in the 100 meters, the 4 minutes in the mile (1,609 meters) and the two hours in the marathon. The first two have already been transferred and only the marathon remains.

When Kipchoge dropped below two hours in 2019, he not only did it in an unofficial race, he was also “helped by hares” that marked his pace, a formation was designed that reduced air resistance and he used footwear not yet available for the race. public, something prohibited by the World Athletics Federation. Three years later, that legendary shoe developed by Nike has inspired the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2 that the Kenyan-born athlete will presumably wear this weekend. What is special about this version? How much do they resemble the 2019 prototype?

Let’s go by parts. As far as science is concerned, the answer is yes: sneakers can make us faster. In a 2017 article in Sports Medicine, Nike’s Zoom Vaporfly shoes were reviewed. What does it mean that they were analyzed? Basically, the times obtained in more than half a million marathons were evaluated. Those who used this shoe improved their times by 4%. For an amateur runner who finishes the marathon in three hours, 4% means reducing his time by almost 5 minutes. Just for the shoes. According to the authors of the study, these shoes “improve running economy by allowing you to maintain your pace for longer.” The results seem to prove him right: since the Zoom Vaporfly hit the market, twice as many men have finished a marathon in under 2:10 and twice as many women in under 2:

In advances of this type, the secrecy is enormous and the exact characteristics of the shoes used by Kipchoge to lose two hours, a prototype, let’s remember, have not been published. What we can do is analyze a patent that was granted to Nike in 2018 and that, due to the details, are very similar to those used on that occasion and also to the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2.

The Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2 have been inspired by the prototype used by Kipchoge.

The Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2 have been inspired by the prototype used by Kipchoge. PHOTO: Nike

For example, in the patent drawing you can see that the cushioning zone includes a plate between the outsole and the first layer of chambers. Add to that an extra plate between the cameras and another plate above the cameras, directly under the foot. All of this cushioning is for the purpose of accumulating the energy of each stride as you land. Then the cameras or bags come in.

The air chambers in the Nike patent

The air chambers in the Nike patent PHOTO: Nike

These would also allow the accumulation of energy thanks to a very light foam developed by Nike. What is done with all this energy? Introducing carbon plates. These would divide the midsole and would be in charge of distributing the energy accumulated in the heel or in the fingers, to the rest of the shoe so that it is used when taking off. Then, when the other foot hits the ground, the impact re-creates energy that builds up in the cushioning and is distributed by the chambers and plates an instant later, so that energy is recovered by the foot. And the cycle repeats. For 42 kilometers.

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