In October 2019 Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge ran for the first time an unofficial sub-2h marathon in Vienna, as part of the Breaking2 Project.
But everything started a couple years earlier, in May 2017 with the introduction of the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite, which introduced a new shoe technology based on three key features:
- Midsole of a novel foam with high energy return
- An inserted carbon fibre plate in the midsole area
Since then, almost every running shoe company has launched models incorporating carbon fibre plates. Because of this World Athletics has promoted new rules to control the “shoe war career”, that had seen world records improved in the marathon (and many other distances also) in a short amount of time. Thus, more than half of the 50 best times in history has been achieved since the creation of this footwear.
A recent article has studied if these shoes with carbon fibre plates had any influence on the improvement of marathon performances in the last years. To do so they used the top-100 performances in men’s marathon from 2015 to 2019. The 500 entries included 40 marathon runners who completed a marathon with “normal” and carbon fibre plate shoes.
- Marathon performances improved from 2015 to 2018 (0.88%) and 2019 (1.50%).
- There were significant differences in performance in runners who wore carbon fibre plate shoes, finishing an average of 26s faster than those who didn´t wear them.
- From the 40 runners who competed using both type of shoes, 29 improved their performance with the new models.
- No differences were observed due to environment conditions, marathon orography or birthplace of the athletes (86.4% Africa, 3.60% Asia, 2.4% Europe and 0.40% America).
- It seems that there are more convenient circuits for running with this type of footwear. Circuits where runners run faster were Amsterdam, Berlin, Dubai, London, Prague, Rotterdam, and Valencia.
Carbon fibre plates shoes has a clear effect in marathon performance, estimated between 1 and 6%, an advantage probably due to improvements in running economy.
Influence of advanced shoe technology on the top 100 annual performances in men’s marathon from 2015 to 2019. Rodrigo-Carranza, V., González-Mohíno, F., Santos del Cerro, J. et al. Sci Rep 11, 22458 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-01807-0