Most of my running friends know how I feel about the Nike 4% or next% shoes, but I haven’t really gone into depth on the matter. I’ve heard a lot of different opinions. Ninety-nine percent of people that have worn them say they make a significant difference, and most of those people seem to have embraced the advantage and have chosen to race in them. I want to be clear – I am not against these athletes. I am against the shoes, and what I believe they take away from the sport.
Some say they are just a placebo effect. I’m not going to say much on that, other than it is an uneducated statement. There was a lot of time and money spent in research and product testing on developing the shoe.
From the information I have gathered, the shoes do two main things: 1) lessen the effect of perceived effort – fatigue and 2) spring you forward, lengthening your stride. The fatigue factor doesn’t bother me. I look at it like a comparison of any other shoe over running barefoot. What upsets me is the spring-like force propelling you forward. I think this takes away from the purity and integrity of the sport. Sure you have to train and work hard for the result you want, but if a shoe can guarantee at least a 4% drop in a finish time, then you don’t have to run as hard to get the time result you want. The “race day magic”, the art of everything lining up perfectly for that new PR, new goal, or not and still enduring, the bad days, the good days, the crazy comebacks, the unrealistic and unexplainable…all of those wonderful aspects of distance running will be gone if we don’t draw the line somewhere – more machine and scientific formulas than grit and the wonder of human performance.
Some say the shoes are just like any other technological advance in the sport, like rubber tracks and spikes on shoes. But that isn’t a fair statement because with those advances there wasn’t a resilient device pushing the athletes forward. They had better traction but still only got out of it what they put in. Their form was not altered. But this part of the discussion also brings up another important fact that impacts professional runners.
When rubber tracks were introduced, every athlete racing had the same advantage. With spikes, every shoe company has them for their athletes to wear. With these Nike shoes, only Nike professionals can get away with wearing them and getting that 4% advantage. I think this is where some claim it is just like doping and drug violations – it creates and uneven playing field. And now we are messing with people’s careers and livelihood. We can’t say that breaking contracts to wear another brand’s shoe is a realistic option for them.
Do I think the IAAF will fix it? No. I have zero faith they will ban them. I think at some point they will have to put a limit on stack height and the amount of plates put in, but at this point I don’t think they will ban these types of shoes. But since the shoes are legal, we have no right to attack the athletes that wear them.
As much as I don’t like Nike, this is not about Nike. Life isn’t fair. Athletes have different body types and backgrounds that give them advantages or disadvantages. I want to say that a shoe company has the right to spend money on developing new and improved shoes and get the right of exclusivity. Hoka has their version of the shoe out, and I feel the same way about them. I’ve been asked by several if or when Adidas comes out with their version if I would use them. I’m still holding out hope that they won’t follow suit, but no, I wouldn’t wear them.
My sole purpose is not to win races or even get a specific time stamped beside my name. Sometimes those are my goals for certain races, but more than anything I want to push myself and I want to feel it. I want to dig deep and give more than I have to offer. I’m going to keep training hard. I’m going to keep racing without the spring-board shoes. You might say I’m giving myself a disadvantage, but I am bound to the belief that the power of the human mind is far greater than any machine man can make.