Athineos did. This specific comparison may be too extreme for any study of shoes, and perhaps it is. But Boston and Boston are just one pair of races, and there are hundreds of pairs of races in our data in which large groups of runners ran the same two races and in which a subset of them switched shoes. When we compare all these pairs of races among all kinds of popular shoes, we see that, on average, runners who switched to Vaporflys improved their times more than similar runners who switched to any other kind of popular shoe.
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Pros of this approach: Accounts for runners of varying skills over several races. Cons of this approach: Runners could save Vaporflys for when they expect to be faster than normal, or Vaporfly wearers could be different in some way from other kinds of runners. The runners who use Strava are an enthusiastic bunch: About one in four have uploaded data for two or more marathons, and about one in 10 have uploaded data for three or more. The Strava data allows us to follow these repeat racers over time, and, crucially, as they change shoes. Glenn Kasin, a year-old doctoral student at the Southern California University of Health Sciences , is one of these avid runners.
He has uploaded five marathons to Strava since November , and he wore a different pair of shoes in every race. In January, at the Houston Marathon, he decided to race in Vaporflys.
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In Houston, Mr. Kasin improved on his Boston time by about 18 minutes, an improvement owing to much more than a pair of shoes. He attributed his result, a , to many things: perfect weather, a fast course and the culmination of two consecutive years of a training regimen that included, on average, about 50 miles of running per week. But he said he also thought the shoes made a difference. When is it not going to feel easy? Kasin is a single data point, but in our data there are almost 4, runners just like him — men and women who have uploaded results for five marathons or more.
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When we aggregate the change in race times for runners the first time they switch to a new pair of shoes, runners who switched to Vaporflys improved their times more than runners who switched to any other kind of popular shoe. Pros of this approach: A measure of race performance most runners know by heart.
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Runners who switch to Vaporflys could be different from other runners. Race times are, in many ways, a crude way to measure performance. A marathon is not like a meter dash or a meter freestyle swim: One marathon may be hilly or feature sharp turns; others may be flat and straight. Weather, too, is important , with higher temperatures typically resulting in much slower times. And yet race times are how runners qualify for prestigious races , like the Boston Marathon, and most runners know their personal best times by heart, regardless of whether the race they ran was flat or hilly, on a hot day or a cold one.
Consider two fast runners in our data: Stephanie Andre , 35, a freelance writer from Bixby, Okla. Both women have uploaded several marathons to Strava and both switched to the Vaporflys for a recent marathon. Andre ran the Chicago Marathon and Ms. Hicks the Boston Marathon. By objective standards, both women had excellent races.
Andre placed 22nd among women in Chicago with a , fast enough to qualify for the U. Olympic team trials, and Ms. Hicks finished in Boston with a , among the top 5 percent of all female finishers that day.
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Someone can run a personal best for all kinds of reasons unrelated to shoes. A runner may train more, execute a better strategy on race day or run an easier course. Regardless, we found that runners who switched to Vaporflys were more likely to run their fastest race than runners who switched to almost any other kind of popular shoe.
None of these approaches are perfect, but they all point to a similar conclusion. Wherever we look for evidence that shoes matter in a marathon or half marathon, we find Vaporflys at or near the top of that list.
More than that, the shoes tend to be outliers among all popular shoes, suggesting that there is something happening in races with Vaporflys that is not happening in races with nearly any other kind of popular shoe. Nothing is certain, of course, and we describe some reasons for continued skepticism below. The data is self-reported — and self-typed. The race records included about 33, distinct shoe descriptions, and our analysis depends on standardizing those records. Even for a shoe as heavily marketed as the Vaporflys, Strava users found different ways to spell the name.
More problematic is when runners do not identify their shoes with enough precision for us to categorize them. But not all runners were this detailed. This was most common among Adidas shoes. When runners did not specify to this level of detail, we simply identified the parent franchise of a given shoe. This could mask high-performing shoes within a franchise.
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The shoe names published here reflect a bespoke attempt at standardizing names, but we also tried an algorithmic approach. While the ordering of the shoes changed somewhat, the general pattern did not. These estimates compare Vaporflys only with other popular shoes. Perhaps the greatest limitation of this data set is that for us to make meaningful conclusions, it requires that large groups of people to run in a pair of shoes.
This necessarily omits less popular shoes that, for all we know, may be faster than the shoes mentioned in this article. This analysis includes only the 50 most popular shoes — those with roughly races or more in our data.
But we have some evidence that it really is the shoes. First, we identified training mileage in the months leading up to a race for runners whose training logs are public, an important indication that a runner is getting more serious in his or her race preparations. Training miles are a variable we included in our statistical approach, and when we matched pairs of runners who ran in the same groups of races, we tried to match not just race time but also training regimens, where possible.
Second, the effect of the shoe was persistent across different tiers of athletes — for three-hour marathoners and four-hour marathoners alike. Faster runners improved their race times at about the same rate that slower runners did. Finally, if runners raced in Vaporflys only when they thought they might have their best race, we might expect to see fewer of them on days with suboptimal weather. But we do not see that.
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In the Boston Marathon, in particular — a race with conditions few runners would prefer — no shoe was more popular among the runners in our data who reported what they wore. This is a large sample of runners. But we believe the data set is broadly representative of competitive runners. Among the races known as the World Marathon Majors — the largest and most competitive races in the world — about one in six finishers uploaded race data to Strava and made it public.
Not counting the Tokyo Marathon, about one in five did:. These runners are a little faster than a much larger sample of runners that other researchers have examined, but they are broadly similar. In all, about different athletes reported wearing Vaporflys in marathons and half marathons.
They were the 32nd-most popular shoe in this data. The speed increases associated with Vaporflys are consistent with the increases in a Nike-funded study by University of Colorado researchers published in the journal Sports Medicine.
That experiment measured the energy output of 18 male elite runners on a treadmill at various speeds and concluded that, on average, runners in Vaporflys exerted 4 percent less energy than they did in other racing shoes.
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