As a longtime cyclist, I remember when the only real marketable competitive edge was racing on tubular versus clincher tires. Fast forward to 2019 and you’re hard pressed to find any bike (see above image), wheel, bike part or clothing that doesn’t advertise it’s weight savings in grams, a decrease in aerodynamic drag, or guarantee to increase your power by a nominal amount of watts. Now, I’m sure that these findings are all based on thorough research and are likely accurate, but here’s the issue… for the most part, all of the performance gains being marketed are marginal gains (read: small performance gains).
ARE YOU A PRO?
As such, the population that would benefit the most from these marginal gains are elite and professional athletes, as they have likely exhausted most, if not all of the other areas of performance gains (ex: nutrition, mental training, strength, physical training, etc…). Additionally, at the elite level, most of the competitors are within a few percentages of each other physically, so it makes sense that any additional gains in any area would be impactful.
I get that a small increase in efficiency over a long period of time such as a marathon or bike race can add up to decent reduction in overall time – my argument is that there are other ways to get these gains that are likely not being addressed.
While not to go down too deep of a rabbit hole, this is also why some professional athletes turn to performance enhancing drugs – to gain an edge on the competition. Let’s be honest, I could take every drug in the book and I’m still not going to anywhere close to winning the Boston Marathon or the Tour De France.
So why am I writing this blog today?
As someone who went from competitive cycling to running, one of the things that I love most about running it’s relative simplicity – at least in regard to gear and shoes. I love that when I pick up a running magazine, most of the articles are about training versus equipment to buy for thousands of dollars. Sure, there are ads that promote shoes that are better for pronators, supinators or those that have wide feet – but the ‘increase your performance X amount’ type of ad was largely missing… until now.
Yesterday, the day before the London Marathon where world record holder, Eluid Kipchoge would compete, I read this Wired article that discussed the latest Nike Vaporfly running shoe, the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next%. The article discusses the science behind the shoe. Given that it’s predecessor, the Vaporfly 4% sold for $250, I can only imagine what the Next% will go for. Yes, Kipchoge won the marathon wearing the Next%’s – though something tells me he could have won it wearing Crocs!
To be clear, as the founder of a science-based endurance sports education company – I love science whether it’s applied to the human body or to equipment as both are equally fascinating to me.
However, my issue with marketing a shoe (or any product) to the masses that guarantees a particular percentage performance gain is that for many people, the shoe is viewed as a ‘quick fix’ in regard to increasing one’s speed. Additionally, while I haven’t read the study or studies regarding the 4% increase in efficiency as claimed by Nike, common sense dictates that some people will likely realize less than a 4% increase in efficiency, while others might realize more than a 4% increase in efficiency – if one were able to quantify it in real-world scenarios.
WHAT IS RUNNING EFFICIENCY?
As our certified UESCA triathlon and running coaches know, the term ‘efficiency’ is a pretty vague term that is applicable to many different areas. For example, one’s weight, stride, flexibility and overall form have a large impact on a runner’s efficiency. That said, biomechanics and muscle/connective tissue stiffness are typically the most discussed areas of efficiency as it pertains to increasing performance of well-trained runners.
In summary, if you want to get a pair of expensive shoes that claim to increase running efficiency by a certain percent – go for it. However, it should be primarily because they feel good and you’ve already done a lot to increase your body’s natural efficiency.
For the rest of us, focusing on increasing the stiffness of our body’s natural spring systems and improving our mechanics will likely have a greater impact on efficiency and will almost definitely cost a lot less!
PS. The views of this rant are the sole opinion of our opinionated founder 😉
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