Nike’s Alphafly 3 Proto retails for $285, and the Vaporfly 3 retails for $250. The Adidas Adios Pro Evo 1, even more remarkably, retails for $500, an enormous price tag for a pair of runners. More astonishingly still, these shoes are not long-term investment pieces: The Adios Pro Evo is designed to be used one time only, to be worn throughout a single marathon before needing to be replaced. Elite runners hardly have to worry about the price tag of a superior performance shoe (and sponsored athletes get these shoes provided for them, naturally). But what about someone for whom running is a passion but not a career? A supershoe might help them shave a few minutes off their PR—but without world records on the line, is it worth the cost?
“I’ve long had the impression of these shoes as being something for the pros,” says Jeva Lange, a New York–based runner who flew to Berlin in September to run the marathon. A supershoe for her, she says, has long felt like “a Stradivarius if I’m just in the high school symphony—silly, expensive overkill.” Recently, however, her attitude has shifted: “Supershoes have become a lot more mainstream, and I’m definitely curious about how it would potentially improve my time in an actual race,” she says. “I don’t care necessarily for the clout of having the cool shoe that the pros have, but I keep going back to look at them, just because they seem to be such a game changer in technology.” She says that she could “absolutely” see herself getting a pair within the next year or two.
As even noncompetitive athletes become the beneficiaries of these huge advancements in performance technology, it’s likely that more and more people will feel the pressure to opt in and compete to the best of their ability. Even if you’re not going for gold, the temptation to maximize your own output—to finish with the best possible time, full stop—will be too tempting to resist. Running without supershoes might eventually seem like playing basketball in jeans: possible, but severely limiting. And no one wants to impose an unnecessary limit.
At the same time, as the tech keeps getting better, it begs the question: Is there a limit to the change? Will, at some point, the efficiency of the shoes overshadow the natural skills of the runners? Will marathon running become simply a race between shoe companies? There might be a time in the future when supershoes or their next logical iterations will be limited in professional races, if not banned entirely, the way that super-suits were banned in professional swimming. It’s an arms race for the time being. We’ll have to keep watching to see if it turns into an all-out war.
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