The competition is heating up in the world of running shoes, more specifically, to win the bragging rights for the best shoes with carbon technology. At this year’s Boston Marathon in mid-April, runners wearing the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro swept the podium. A week later at the London Marathon, another World Marathon Major race, it was runners wearing Nike shoes who stormed to the podium while setting records such as Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum’s new course record of 2:01.25. That is the second fastest marathon time ever, and only 16 seconds slower than his compatriot Eliud Kipchoge’s world record. Kipchoge is a Nike athlete.
Though Nike was the first-mover in carbon shoes, rivals have caught up. That’s great news for recreational runners: There are now more options at various price points. But as with most other sports, the real showdown is again between Nike and Adidas as the Boston and London marathons showed. Both the Adios Pro and Vaporfly Next% are in their third edition. Both have had some good results to back up their claims to being one of the fastest and best shoes around. Both use specifically designed lighter and softer foam (Adidas’ Lightstrike Pro and Nike’s ZoomX) for top-of-the-line results.
These are aimed at serious runners, are made in limited numbers and remain expensive. The biggest difference between Adidas and Nike’s carbon tech is the former embeds multiple carbon rods in the Lightstrike Pro midsole, while the latter has a single carbon plate sandwiched between the ZoomX midsole.
While almost everything about race day shoes has been turned on its head by carbon tech, one old principle they still stick to is keeping the shoes as light as possible. To accommodate and absorb the rebound energy of the carbon plate and rods, the midsole has to be thicker, which means a lot more foam has to be used. The thick midsole dampens the carbon’s vibrations and prevents it from injuring you. That’s where the lighter ZoomX and Lightsrike Pro foams come in. A triangular notch has been cut into the side of the Vaporfly midsole exposing the carbon plate, and the Adios Pro pair has a futuristic design with a play on levels in the midsole, reducing weight further.
For the upper, Nike has gone back to the popular Flyknit weave, which leaves you feeling like you are wearing socks instead of shoes. Adidas, meanwhile, has stuck to its lightweight mesh. The Nike upper is thoughtfully perforated to allow plenty of airflow and the mesh on the Adidas performs a similar task. There is no sock liner in these pairs which leaves the shoes lighter and looking sleeker. However, both Vaporfly and Adios Pro have a thin strip of cushioning pasted on the inside to support your ankle.
In an attempt to keep the weight low, the shoes incorporate a sparse outsole rubber. The Nike shoes have exposed ZoomX foam moulded as small steps under the heel to help with traction, and the waffle-patterned rubber outsole starts under the mid-foot and goes all the way to the tip. On the Adidas pair, there is thinner-than-usual Continental rubber outsole only on high impact areas, including the heels.
The latest carbon shoes feel a bit different from the earlier generations. Foams have become lighter and minor tweaks have made a significant difference. Both ZoomX and Lightstrike Pro foams are so soft that these shoes aren’t actually comfortable to walk in.
Neither are they suitable for the gym or bootcamps. Try doing squats or lifting weights, you would find out how wobbly and terrible they are for your balance. But start running and you realise what they are actually meant for. Speed.
Hitting a sub-4 minute kilometre pace with shoes was easy without even putting in much effort. But if your muscles cannot deal with speed workouts, you would either be in a lot of pain or injured after the workout. The shoes will do what you expect of them but your heart and muscles need to be ready for it.
On the Vaprofly Next% 3, the sole is the thickest under the ball of your foot giving it the rocking geometry which aids in transition and toe-off. The carbon plate comes into play here and returns energy back, leading to a quicker toe-off. The Adios Pro 3 have a more traditional design with maximum cushioning under the heel, which gradually thins out as you move towards the toes.
If you are going to buy these shoes and expect magic without putting in the requisite training, you will be disappointed. However, if you put in the effort, expect an equal and opposite reaction from these two pairs.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.