2019 – Eliud Kipchoge

Embed from Getty Images

12-Oct-2019 – INEOS 1:59 Challenge – 1:59:40 – Nike Air Zoom AlphaFly Next%
Date of birth: 5-Nov-1984
Nationality: Kenyan

The athlete:                
Eliud Kipchoge was not content to rest on his achievement from the ‘Breaking 2’ project. While he had since gone on to set the fastest official marathon of all time, the question still remained whether the two hour marathon could be achieved. With sponsorship from multinational chemicals company Ineos, and the continued involvement of Nike, another attempt started taking shape. Nike took everything it learned from developing the VaporFly into creating the shoe Kipchoge would wear, dubbed the AlphaFly. More about that below.

As for the venue, the team selected the Prater Park in Vienna. Lined with trees along the looped course, it would block any wind from interfering. Furthermore, the location’s low altitude and time zone shared similarities with Kipchoge’s training grounds in Kenya. The time of year was chosen to give just the right temperature.

Even the formation of the pacemakers was changed, who used a V-formation to help break the wind in front of Kipchoge. Hydration and nutrition were delivered by bikes riding nearby, small bottles provided at regular intervals. In front was an electric car projecting lasers that gave the time to aim for and helped position the pacemakers.

You know what happened next. Even though conditions were tailored to delivering the fastest ever marathon, Kipchoge still had to deliver. He was consistently faster than the required time all throughout his run. He would cross the line in 1:59:40, finishing what he had started in 2017.

Although the INEOS 1:59 Challenge is not certified by World Athletics, it proved the point that marathons can be run in under two hours. It is now a question of when and not if this time is bettered in official competition. Kipchoge may well be the one to deliver, but competition is stronger than it has ever been. Watch this space.

The shoes:                   

Nike had started thinking about how to better the VaporFly as far back as 2018, patents showing all kinds of designs that were being considered. The result of these years of development was the Nike Air Zoom AlphaFly Next%.

One of the prototype designs, which famously had the patent images shared and dissected widely online, used one main carbon plate with two layers of Zoom Air pods. Each layer was supported by another much smaller carbon-fibre plate, which is where the headline of the prototype using three such plates came from.

That design was quite distinctive, with the additional carbon-fibre plates likely required to stabilise the two layers of Zoom Air pods. Apart from the photograph showing the tender moment when Kipchoge’s wife Grace Sugutt embraced him after breaking the two hour marathon, it also shows the single layer of Zoom Air pods in the version worn to set the world record.

Nike confirmed that the version of the shoe used by Kipchoge had one carbon-fibre plate, and noted that the Zoom Air pods returned 90% of the energy put into them, even more than the 80% from ZoomX foam of which the AlphaFly has plenty of. Despite what some websites have claimed, the patent images of the design using two layers of Zoom Air pods appears to show that they were to be exposed. There is no evidence of there being an additional hidden layer in the shoes Kipchoge wore, noting again that Nike said the version he wore is the version that was made publicly available.

The upper has what Nike call Atomknit, an even lighter and more breathable evolution of the Flyknit earlier versions of the VaporFly sported. All of this comes in at 210 grams, which while heavier than the 187 gram VaporFly also includes the additional cushioning described above.

In response to criticism of just how advanced the shoe was, World Athletics issued new rules that set limits to the stack height and number of plates that could be used. The Air Zoom AlphaFly Next% just fell within the new rules. There are many colourways of the AlphaFly available, including of course the same white and pink used by Kipchoge when breaking the two hour marathon barrier.