2017 – Eliud Kipchoge

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6-May-2017 – Breaking 2 – 2:00:25 – Nike Zoom VaporFly Elite
Date of birth: 5-Nov-1984
Nationality: Kenyan

The athlete:                
In November 2016, Nike announced to the world that Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa, and Zersany Tadese would attempt to break the legendary two hour barrier for the marathon. It had been a figure discussed in scientific papers about the very limits of human achievement, but Nike thought it was possible with the right athletes, and the right shoes. They had assessed 16 top distance runners to see who had the potential to break the two hour barrier, and Kipchoge had the most promising results of all candidates.

Their attempt would happen at the Monza racing circuit. Normally the home of Formula One, it was also witness to the fastest average lap speed in the history of the sport, an appropriate venue for Kipchoge and his fellow athletes. Nike meticulously planned the event. The three men had teams of pacers, hydration provided on demand, and a pace car to allow him to constantly check his progress. Even the start time was chosen specifically go give them the best possible chance of success.

During the attempt itself, all three would initially keep to the pace required to break the record. Desisa would eventually start slowing at 16 kilometres, with Tadese unable to continue the intensity for longer than 20 kilometres. It was down to Kipchoge, who was on pace until 25 kilometres, and was still only one second behind at 30 kilometres. Slowly, the marker for the two hour mark crept ahead of Kipchoge, and by the finish he would be 26 seconds behind. He said that was all the effort he had to give, having already sprinted to make the finish line.

The ‘Breaking 2’ project was not an official marathon as certified by World Athletics, given all the additional assistance the three runners received. On this basis, despite Kipchoge having run the fastest marathon distance in human history, it was still unofficial. It had however proven the point that under the correct circumstances, the two hour barrier was not as insurmountable as first believed.

The shoes:                   

As much as the ‘Breaking 2’ project was about trying to achieve what had seemed an almost impossible physical barrier, Nike were using it to promote the VaporFly which was formally announced in March 2017. As you can read about here, it was revolutionary in how it combined soft and responsive foam with the specially curbed carbon-fibre plate that helped provide more forward propulsion with each foot strike. The VaporFly had already proven its credentials during the 2016 Olympics, where prototypes were used with the bright pink and green uppers from the Nike Zoom Streak LT.

Kipchoge scored an easy victory, although it should be noted he was over one minute ahead of his nearest competition, who was also wearing the prototype VaporFly. Nike continued developing the VaporFly for the ‘Breaking 2’ project, customising each pair to the individual tastes of the three athletes who would be attempting the challenge. Kipchoge’s pair were the most similar to those that eventually saw limited release, using the lower collar also favoured by Desisa. Tadese preferred a sock-like collar for his pair of VaporFly Elites, which have never seen retail release. The improvement to running efficiency was found in testing to be four percent, which is why the commercial version sported the 4% moniker.

As noted, the Nike Zoom VaporFly Elite was available in several colourways between 2017 and 2019, but they are now incredibly expensive collector’s items. Nike did however use the same tooling that was used for the VaporFly Elite for the lifestyle Vapor Street Flyknit which saw much wider release. Using React foam, while still competent for running it did not feature the carbon-fibre plate that defined the model. Legendary designer Virgil Abloh gave the silhouette his stamp of approval in 2019, with multiple colourways being released in collaboration with his Off-White label, the updated version featuring his highly unique design language.

If you are looking to use the VaporFly to run competitively, the later Flyknit and Vaporweave versions are commonly available often below their original retail price.