If there was any doubt before, it’s pretty clear now: Nike ain’t here to play nice.
Put them at the head of House Slytherin.
As we pointed out in our article last Friday after the World Athletics regulations on running footwear came out (and presumably a ban on the Alphafly), Nike had a backup plan all along.
Today that plan was unveiled with the release of the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%, the next evolution in the chain of wonder shoes of recent years. According to Nike, the shoe features two Zoom Air pods in the forefoot, more ZoomX foam, and a single carbon plate. It releases February 29 to Nike Run Club members (incidentally, the same day as the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials). Feel free to speculate.
Many thought the World Athletics ban was a death knell for Nike, a leveling of the playing field. With the release of the Alphafly, the gap has opened up significantly between other racing models and Nike. While most companies are only releasing their first iteration of elite carbon-plate racers in 2020, the Alphafly– assuming it outperforms the Vaporfly NEXT%– is years advanced in technological terms. (After Eliud Kipchoge broke the 2-hour marathon mark in October in a prototype version of the shoe, there’s no reason to believe it isn’t.) And yes, while some runners may be less affected by its technology, it’s inarguable that for the vast majority of athletes toeing a start line, it allows them to perform at a higher level than ever before.
That isn’t anything new for the Vaporfly line, and it’s been discussed in great detail over the last two years. But if the Alphafly does indeed outperform its predecessor, then it takes running dilemmas that were previously simmering and drops them straight into a pressure cooker.
For Tokyo-bound runners or major marathon elites, it puts them in an incredibly tough position. As sponsored athletes, they know the current models on their feet are not the best shoes out there on race day. And, news flash– runners aren’t exactly ripping 185 in their Maseratis down Mulholland Drive. A major marathon or Olympic podium finish presents opportunities beyond most runners’ wildest dreams. If the Alphafly does indeed perform better than even the Vaporfly NEXT%, then it presents itself as a deliciously juicy temptation in the garden of good and running.
Glory or honor?
The question lies squarely on the shoulders of the athletes who simply want to live a life of running. While athletes have routinely come to similar crossroads in many forms throughout their careers (um, doping, anyone?), there are few decision paths so obviously lit by green and pink (and now black) neon lights.
That’s not to mention the athletes’ sponsors. While we’ve seen homemade blacked-out Vaporflys here and there on start lines before, it would be an utter humiliation for Nike’s competition if the start lines of the World Marathon Majors and/or Tokyo turned into a veritable pirate’s bay of homemade murdered-out Alphaflys.
For amateur runners, the internet frenzy alone leads one to believe that Christmas came eleven months early. You thought you saw a lot of pink and green shoes on start lines in 2019? Even if the Alphafly comes in at $275, on race day you’ll see more pods than a laundry detergent aisle at Costco.
Because let’s be honest, in the back of everyone’s heads the last two years, there was a sense that maybe, just maybe this whole Nike Vaporfly thing was a little questionable. But with a firm ruling in place that deems not just the Vaporfly NEXT%, but the Alphafly NEXT% legal, the floodgates have opened. For anyone hating on a PR, a runner can pull up the World Athletic ruling and say- “Ha! Look at the rule book.” People will gun for those PR’s like there’s no tomorrow, cause tomorrow is already here.
It’s hard to say if the Alphafly is the pinnacle of progression, but as with any advanced technology (e.g. the phone you’re reading this on), previously unforeseen moral issues arise that will inevitably be carried out on a larger stage.
We can’t divine if the Alphafly is the end, or the beginning of the end, but we do know that running is the most natural expression of human endeavor. And if a shoe makes you faster at 25, 35, or even 45 years of age, let’s be clear– you’ve found a fountain of youth.
And you’d pay anything to drink from it, especially if someone says it’s legal.
Robbe is the Senior Editor/Review Manager for BITR. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and two sons and runs with the Faster Bastards when he’s not MAF training. His favorite race distance is the marathon and his favorite beer is anything but Blue Moon.