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Can These Shoes Help You Run Sub-2 Hour Marathon?

Illustration for article titled Can These Shoes Help You Run Sub-2 Hour Marathon?
Photo: Nike

Nike Alphafly NEXT% | StockX

No matter what Air Jordan commercials may have convinced us of in the ‘90s, no shoe can single-handedly transform you into an elite athlete. It feels safe to say we’re all well aware of this, that nothing but hard work will help you achieve your fitness or sports goals in the grand scheme of things. However, when you’re talking about the literal and proverbial game of inches that is running, details like shoes do make a difference. If you’re looking to shave some time off your next 10K, half-marathon, or marathon, Nike recently released a groundbreaking new running sneaker that can make that happen (if you use it right).

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That shoe, the Nike Alphafly NEXT%, has been making headlines in the running world ever since it debuted last year on the feet of Eliud Kipchoge, a legendary marathoner who wore a pair when he made history by running a marathon in under 2 hours. The 2-hour barrier has long been the high bar serious marathoners have worked toward breaking. Kipchoge’s accomplishment began way back in 2017 as he decided to work in collaboration with Nike to do just that. His world-record marathon in Vienna last year was the result of not only a lifetime of training but of the partnership between Kipchoge and the athletic-wear juggernaut. Kipchoge’s sub-2 hour marathon made waves throughout the world of competitive runners and came with just as much controversy as it did acclaim—controversy that, you guessed it, started with the shoes he was wearing when he did it.

Illustration for article titled Can These Shoes Help You Run Sub-2 Hour Marathon?
Photo: Nike

In order to understand the advantage the Alphaflys can bring to your running game, you first have to understand the groundbreaking tech they utilize—and why it’s become so polarizing in the running world. Alphaflys are a maximalist running shoe, a far cry from those weird barefoot-esque runners that were so popular a decade ago. The flyknit upper is super lightweight; in fact, it’s a new weave dubbed Atomknit, even lighter than Nike’s already barely-there flyknit material. Lighter shoes mean less weight to lug around on your run, so you’re already starting out at a significant advantage there.

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The real magic is in the soles, though. Alphaflys feature a sole system made up of three crucial parts that aid in shaving minutes off of your run time. First there’s the dual Zoom Air Pods (no, not AirPods) in the forefoot. These pods maximize your energy return when your foot strikes the ground and pushes off, but they don’t work alone. The heel is comprised of a hefty unit of Zoom foam, a lightweight foam that delivers explosive energy return and responsiveness.

It’s the third component that has garnered so much controversy in the running world. The shoe features a carbon fiber plate running across the sole of the shoe, creating a spring that propels you with each stride. It’s a game-changer for sure, and a word of caution for those who try ‘em out: it might be a little too intense for those just starting out on their running journeys.

Illustration for article titled Can These Shoes Help You Run Sub-2 Hour Marathon?
Photo: Nike

That added boost the carbon plate provides has been called unethical by some in the running world, their reasoning being that it’s an unfair advantage. I’m not personally here to make that call for you. I’m a hobbyist runner and the most I can pull on a good day is a 10K. But I’m a full-time sneaker writer (well, writer who on many occasions has written about sneakers) and from that position, I can’t recommend the shoe highly enough.

Finding a pair to try out, however, has been a bit tricky since the shoe was made available to the public a few months back. Every Alphafly drop has been an instant sellout, fetching hefty prices on resale sites. Nike seems to be making moves to make the shoe more widely accessible, though. There are a number of upcoming colorways, one of which pays tribute to Kipchoge’s original accomplishment of breaking the 2-hour marathon barrier.

Lacing up a pair of Alphaflys is like strapping a rocket booster to your feet. It’s not an everyday runner by any means but for the days when you’re really making an effort to cut minutes off your time, it’s a stunning technological advancement. It might be a while before anyone else is able to break the sub-2 hour marathon, but when they do, chances are they’ll be doing it either in a pair of Alphafly NEXT%’s or at the very least a pair of shoes they inspired.

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