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Nike Unveils Shoes Designed to Run a Sub-2-Hour Marathon

Nike just released info about the shoes its athletes will be wearing while attempting the Breaking2 challenge.

Su17_RN_FASTPack_VaporFlyElite_ProfileNike Zoom Vaporfly Elite, Photo: Courtesy of Nike

You may have heard about Nike’s latest passion project recently—Breaking2, an all-out assault on the marathon world record using every means necessary to enable someone to run 26.2 miles in less than two hours: Sport science, nutrition, fine-tuned race tactics, and, of course, footwear.

While the Swoosh has walked its typical line of being both tight-lipped and very splashy about most aspects of the project, today it officially unveiled the shoe that its three runners—Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea—will be wearing when Nike stages the grand attempt. (We can reveal, though, as of today, the location of the Breaking2 event: a 2.4K loop around portions of the Autodromo Nazionale track in Monza, Italy, home to Formula 1’s Italian Grand Prix.)

The shoe they’ll be running in is the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite. It looks crazy on the outside, and, according to the specs shared by Bret Schoolmeester, senior director of Global Running Footwear, it’s crazy on the inside as well.

Su17_RN_FASTPack_VaporFlyElite_Detail2Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite forefoot detailing, Photo: Courtesy of Nike

After starting at square one in designing the ideal footwear for a sub-2-hour marathon, the team initially conceived of a shoe that was little more than a track spike. It apparently didn’t get very far, because the runners balked at the lack of cushioning and protection for such an endeavor. So, in an effort to devise the ideal mix of weightlessness, energy return and aerodynamics, Nike came up with the Vaporfly Elite. It’s got a new midsole foam called ZoomX that Schoolmeester says is a third of the weight of standard EVA foam, and offers 13 percent better energy return.

Embedded within is a full-length carbon fiber plate to increase stiffness, reduce fatigue and minimize energy loss. Its curvature provides what Schoolmeester says is a downhill sensation when running in them. You can find carbon-fiber plates in track spikes, as well as everything from cycling to cross-country ski footwear, but they’re otherwise only found in a tiny handful of running shoes. The extremely upturned heel is said to “delay air separation and reduce drag,” according to Nike, as even in a marathon-distance effort, aerodynamics still play a large part when that effort is at sub-five-minute pace.

Su17_RN_FASTPack_VaporFlyElite_Detail3Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite heel detailing, Photo: Courtesy of Nike

And while these shoes are built strictly for breakthrough performance—not looks—an audacious attempt like this demands audacious marketing: hence the oversize Swoosh spilling onto the midsole.

It’s got a 21mm stack height, with a 9mm heel-toe drop to go easy on the Achilles strain. Each pair will be tuned to the three runners mentioned above. By now you’re probably wondering about the cost: Unfortunately that’s irrelevant, because these shoes aren’t for sale.

Nike is, however, releasing two other shoes in this line: The Zoom Vaporfly 4% and Zoom Fly.

Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%_3Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%, Photo: Courtesy of Nike

The Zoom Vaporfly 4% uses the same ZoomX midsole and carbon fiber insert, and a light Flymesh upper. It’s got a 10mm offset (31mm heel/21mm forefoot) and a men’s size 10 weighs just 6.5 ounces. You may have heard of a few runners who’ve already worn them: Galen Rupp won the Olympic Trials Marathon and a bronze medal in Rio in these; Amy Hastings and Shalane Flanagan each wore them at the Olympic Trials and in Rio as well; Eliud Kipchoge won the London Marathon and Rio Olympic gold in them. Oh, and the silver medal in the Rio Olympic Marathon was won in these shoes too, by Feyisa Lelisa. It drops on June 8, for $250.

Nike Zoom Fly_mens7Nike Zoom Fly, Photo: Courtesy of Nike

The Zoom Fly features the same upper as the Zoom Vaporfly 4% and a carbon fiber plate, but the midsole is made of Nike’s tried and true Lunarlon foam. It’s got heel-toe drop of 10mm (33mm heel/23mm forefoot). A men’s size 10 weighs 8.5 ounces. These also drop on June 8, for a (relatively) more economical $150.

Will the carbon fiber plate prove to move the needle in shoe design? It’s hard to say, but Schoolmeester notes that all kinds of testers—from heel strikers to forefoot strikers—said they like the feel. In addition to the downhill running sensation, Schoolmeester claims it lets people run with a taller posture.

Since there are only a tiny handful of runners who could even attempt to break two hours over 26.2 miles, anything this lightweight that actually reduces fatigue, helps improve posture and feels like running downhill sounds pretty amazing to the rest of us.

RELATED: Study Finds Sub-2-Hour Marathon Is Completely Possible