Racing flats are running shoes that are designed to go fast. Stripped down, lightweight, often made of premium materials and rides low to the ground to provide the runner a firm and responsive pop. Broadly speaking, they’re also not very comfortable and will pretty much leave your legs trashed after the race. Needless to say, flats have minimal support compared to conventional trainers.
The lightest racing flats that I’ve worn are Nike’s Lunaracer series. Sub-7oz (under 198 grams) for US10 and cushioned enough for the marathon, the Lunaracer was one of my all-time favorites. Versions 1 and 2 had constrictive toe boxes and black toe nails were the norm back in the days. Version 3 corrected some of those weaknesses through minor tweaks but the current version 4 is by far the best. Nike has since killed the Lunarlon foam and with it, the Lunaracer line. I’ll save my review of the Lunaracer 4 for another post because this one is all about the Vaporfly 4% (VF).
In case you’ve been living in an alternate universe and wondering what the VF is all about, this short RunnersWorld video sums it up nicely. With that much hype and marketing power channeled into the product, the US$250 shoes are pretty much sold out the instant they hit the online stores. They were not even available in this part of the world until a full 6 months after Kipchoge and his Posse of Extraordinary Marathoners took a tour around the Monza track. The shoes were so in demand and production so limited that getting a pair meant extreme patience in monitoring the online retailers or paying scalpers through the nose. There were also some hearsays that the Zoom X foam was hard to manufacture contributing to the minimal stock levels but I’m more inclined to think that the marketing boffins behind the brand had more to do with that.
Through some strokes of fortune, I eventually got my hands on not 1 but 2 pairs late 2017 from the U.S. – a pair used and at a substantial discount (even used pairs were still fetching over retail price on eBay, mind you!), and another pair at actual retail of US$250. As one who laughed at the price tag of the Ultra Boost, I suddenly found myself with 2 pairs of bloody expensive shoes! I reckoned that if the VFs didn’t work out for me, I could always find a buyer for them. However, after 2 races – a 15K and the recent GCM18 – I’m pleased to declare that I won’t be letting go of either of mine anytime soon!
There’s little of the shoes that the Internet hasn’t Vlogged and blogged about. For detailed breakdown and tech specs, these reviews written by runners for runners will have you covered: Sam Winebaum’s RoadTrailRun | Fellrnr (with extensive photos of the shoes’ durability at 300 miles)| Running Shoes Guru | Believe In The Run YouTube Channel | Jamison Michael’s YouTube Channel | Wired. Even the NY Times chipped in with a fascinating article on the VFs’ influence on runners’ race times. With all the hard work already done by those good folks, I won’t be rehashing all the tech specs (well, maybe just a little), but instead focus on my wear experience.
Here are the facts, my observations, and experience running in the VFs in no particular order:
- VFs are racing shoes and not your daily workhorse, so they’re not something you reach out on a daily or even weekly basis. Well you could, if you’ve deep pockets or have access to some secret stash direct from Beaverton. For the majority of us, the VFs are pretty much reserved for A races.
- At 7.65oz for US10, they’re light; in fact very light for their built-up look and levels of cushioning they offer. While the 6.7oz Lunaracers beat the VFs for weight, the VFs offer far greater bounce and cushioning albeit at a price that’s unattainable for most. For more weight comparison, the VFs are nearly an ounce lighter than the Pegasus Turbo and Zoom Elite 9, and nearly 2 ounces lighter than the regular Pegasus 35.
- They may be soft and cushy but they’re hardly mushy. They certainly ride differently than Clayton 2. The step-in feel is soft and yet you get that springy feel as you move around. No other foam comes close to the feel of Zoom X except for adidas’ much heavier BASF Boost. The softness of Zoom X is complemented by the carbon fibre plate that runs the entire length of the midsole, propelling you forward. The plate also lends a little stability to the shoes. The unique shape of the plate, of course, allows the quick roll off for the wearer. I marked the location of the plate in the photo below. The piece actually extends all the way to the front close to the outsole.
- The VFs also ride differently from the just-launched Pegasus Turbo. The VFs are just short of an ounce lighter than the Turbo. We already know that the VFs’ midsole are 100% Zoom X but the Turbo is more or less 50/50 Zoom X and React. I will cover the Turbo in a separate post.
- Without the embedded carbon plate, the VFs would’ve been too unstable and wobbly to wear. Even with the plate, there’s a degree of pronation of my right foot. See next point below.
- The VFs aren’t the most stable of shoes. Due to their stack heights and the softer properties of the Zoom X foam, they only have the carbon plate as any semblance of structure. There are no external heel counters, no medial posts, no external trusstic plates. I’ve found that the mild late-stage pronation of my right foot is exaggerated in the VFs. On some of the cambered roads of GCM19, I struggled to keep my foot plants stable. So if you’ve greater support needs, I wouldn’t recommend the VFs. There are plenty of options if you’re going with Nike – Zoom Elite 9, Speed Rival 6, Pegasus Turbo, or Epic React. Other brands’ models include adidas Boston Boost 7, Saucony Kinvara 9, NB 1500 v3, and the Reebok Floatride Run Fast.
- The VFs fit and feel entirely different from its cousin, the Zoom Fly even if they share some similarities in looks. The Fly is stiff, firm and heavier, and not one of my favourites. I can take a bit of firmness but I continue to find the Fly’s transition is jarring.
- The VFs fit true to size but with a generous toe box, you can very well half size down, with thinner socks. You can see how much narrower the Vapor Street is compared to the VF.
- Their outsoles aren’t as durable as that of daily trainers, obviously. However, they’ve held up quite well for me after 130K. The rubber sections have minimal wear and tear but the midsole crinkles are very obvious from the compression and the white paint surrounding the outsole rubber are peeling off from all the abrasion. I’ve used some Shoe Goo in the high wear areas to extend the durability. Hopefully I’ll be able to get 300K in them. If you’d like to check out how the VFs look after extensive mileage, click on the Fellrnr link I shared above. Warning: He typically shreds and cuts out his shoes to make more room, a little excessive if I might add.
- Excellent breathability. Extensive cuts in the vamp area of the mesh upper ensure the feet stay cool.
- I’ve not ran in wet conditions but some runners noted that they got slightly bogged down and squishy when soaked.
- Traction hasn’t been an issue so far despite the thin threadings on the outsole but I’ve been rather careful taking sharp corners and haven’t yet run in very wet conditions.
- My legs felt great even after my 3:38 effort at the recent Gold Coast Marathon. I wasn’t the only one to have noticed this post-race feeling. I trained hard for the PR, so perhaps that was the reason.
In my opinion, shoes themselves or for that matter any piece of gear alone, will not make one a faster runner. However with a great training cycle and smart race execution, equipment can definitely enhance a runner’s chance of a breakthrough performance. I bought the VFs to run my best and to keep me honest in my training. I knew that I’ve to be at a high level of readiness to do the shoes justice and should my race didn’t pan out, I will not put it down to having poor gear. Nothing was left to chance, from training right up to gear and race execution. And the VF did prove their worth on race day.
So would I recommend the VFs? It depends. There would be many who won’t think of splurging on these shoes. Equally many will readily point to much cheaper, more available alternatives – and I will agree. I would also put into perspective that US$250 can do a lot for the needy. But if you can afford one. If you can find a pair in your size. If you’ve a running goal that you absolutely can’t leave to chance and want the absolute best gear to toe the starting line in after months of focused training, then go for it. There isn’t any shoe out there that has this unique ride that’s this cushioned yet light and fast. And I’ll leave it at that.
There’s word that the Flyknit version of the Vaporfly is due out in September. Expect the shoes to sell out within minutes of the launch as well.