The Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4 shoes are the go-to racing shoes for many elites. But are they worth it for a “normal” runner? Well, I CRUSHED my half marathon and marathon PRs in them but they do have a few drawbacks. Here’s what I love – and what I don’t.
After working with my running coach for a few months, he suggested getting a pair of the Nike Vaporfly 4%, telling me there is nothing like them for racing. I had heard a lot about these shoes before he suggested them, and what I heard more than anything was how expensive they are. And that is certainly true.
But, I finally broke down and bought a pair since I trust my coach… and because I wanted to see what all the hype is about.
The verdict: I absolutely love them.
I have never worn a shoe quite like them. They feel different immediately, just walking around the house. They’re bouncy but not soft. Firm but not stiff. I truly felt propelled forward. Here’s the pros & cons about them.
FAST – I ran personal bests in two race distances while wearing the Vaporflys, a half marathon and a full marathon. And I finished both races feeling VERY strong, like I had more in the tank. All of my speed workouts in them felt shockingly easy too.
On multiple workouts, I looked at my watch and realized I was running way too fast for the day’s workout. They definitely take getting used too since it’s easy to overdo it, without realizing it. Yes, I trained with a running coach for the first time, but I still feel confident that these shoes contributed to my success.
VERY RESPONSIVE – They’re ultra-light and responsive, with a ton of energy return. Most racing flats are ultra-light, but I don’t typically feel as much return from them as my trainers. The Zoom Vaporflys have the best of both worlds.
PROPELLING – It’s crazy how real this feels, like I’m being pushed forward. They have that full-length carbon fiber plate (that is becoming a bit controversial), but that’s what gives you the feeling of being propelled.
Side note: Hoka just released a similar shoe with the carbon fiber plate, the Carbon X. Rumor has it that Hoka developed the technology first, but that their lead designer left and went to Nike to launch the 4%.
COMFORTABLE: Racing shoes are generally not comfortable, often leaving my feet (and body) beat up since they’re so minimal. These had much more cushion than other up-tempo or racing flats I’ve tried. And I felt fresh every time I ran in them.
FLYKNIT UPPER: I love the flyknit uppers since it hugs the foot and is super breathable. It also helps keep them lightweight. This is personal preference, but I just find the flyknit super comfortable like a nice pair of socks. (Note, I DO wear socks with these but I’ve heard some people don’t.)
EXPENSIVE: These cost a whopping $250. They are definitely the most expensive running shoes I have purchased. I have 3-5 pairs of shoes that I buy regularly and none is over $150 (and I often find them on sale).
SHORT LIFE: These are NOT daily trainers. They are racing flats and they need to be replaced every 100 miles or so. (More on that below, under Tips!) So, not only do they cost a lot more than your everyday shoe, they max out a lot faster.
Yes, all racing flats tap out sooner than trainers — flats last 100-300 miles, while trainers last 300-500 miles — but it’s something to keep in mind given the price of these.
SIZING: They only come in unisex sizing, which is a little annoying. I ordered two sizes to make sure I got the right ones, which is a lot of money to shell out up front. They also are sized differently than my other Nikes. I’ve worn a size 7 in Nike for YEARS and I ended up with a women’s size 6.5 (men’s 5.0).
NARROW TOE BOX: The flyknit upper is forgiving with some stretch, but it’s not a wide toe box. I have a little bit of a wide foot so I struggled with this a little bit. But I couldn’t go up a size to help it since I needed them snug.
I ended up getting a MASSIVE blister on race day between my big toe and second toe. But hey, totally worth it. And, I didn’t experience that with the half marathon or any workouts in them previously. So, it may have been a fluke with the marathon where things can just get gnarly.
LIMITED COLORS: This obviously doesn’t impact the performance of the shoe, but when I’m spending that much on shoes, I want a color I love. The colors they have are fine, but I do wish there were more options. But, it doesn’t make it or break it for these shoes!
I am very strategic about when I wear these. Since I planned to race the Boston Marathon in them (read my race recap here), I ran three workouts in them, race one half marathon and then ran in them for the marathon.
This helped me test drive them while still keeping them fresh. It also helped me figure out the sizing situation (I had to exchange them after my first workout!) and make sure there weren’t any other kinks before I laced them up for the long 26.2 haul.
I only did the KEY portion of workouts in them. I always had a 15-20 minute warm-up before starting any sort of interval or tempo run. So, I did my warm-up in another pair of shoes (usually the Brooks Launch or Nike Pegagus) and then changed into the Vaporfly’s.
Then, I changed back into my other trainers for my cool down, usually 10-20 minutes. Yes, I had to circle back to my car. But I think it’s worth it.
See how they feel before retiring them at 100 miles. They supposedly last around 100 miles, but they may last longer. I asked my running coach, Enoch Nadler, about their life span. (Enoch is an elite runner, runs a hugely successful coaching/training group and was the 9th American male finisher at Boston, i.e. he knows his stuff). He shared the following advice:
They say around 100 miles or so. I would say you don’t want to run a key race in them after 100 miles but you can certainly still use them for workouts or smaller races if they are holding up ok. It also depends on your running style and how much you beat them up.
I’ve yet to put 100 miles on any of my pairs. I know some people who have put 200-300 miles on them in workouts and they hold up ok. I think this iteration has held up better than the original one