For years I’ve been chasing the elusive sub 3:35. However, I’ve always consistently ended up around the 3:40 mark, and never able to get under 3:35. The closest I’ve ever gotten was a 3:36:50.
Some time last summer, I came across a NYT article talking about how the Nike Vaporfly 4% can help a runner run 4% faster thanks to the carbon fiber plate embedded in the sole. The theory is that it acts like a spring and propels the runner forward – a later article cited studies suggesting that it acted more like a lever as opposed to a spring to help the runner run more efficiently. The price tag on these babies…$250.
My initial reaction was, “I would not spend $250 on a pair of running shoes!”
The study in the first article did a comparison of the Vaporfly to all other shoes on the market, and it out performed by a wide margin. There were other shoes that did offer a 1-2% advantage, and one of them was the Mizuno Wave Sayonara, which is one that I’ve always wanted to try. And at a lower price tag, I thought I’d give it a shot. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me, and that was the end of me trying any shoe that wasn’t a New Balance (have been running in NB for the last 15 years).
A few months went by and fall marathon season was in full swing. Everywhere I looked, some runner was talking about and touting the Vaporfly.
Curiosity finally got the best of me, and after days of deliberating, I pulled the trigger. My initial impression was that the hype was real. It forced a faster leg turn over, and I was easily running 10-15 seconds/mile faster at the same level of effort. I was sold, and this was when I readjusted my time goal to 3:30. Why 3:30? Well, 4% of 3:40 is 8 minutes, which if this shoe does what it’s supposed to, then it would bring my time down to a 3:32. 3:30 is just a nice even number to shoot for.
After last year’s rain storm, everyone was fretting about a repeat of those running conditions for this year. Early weather predictions were for cold and rain, however, New England being New England, the weather on the course took everyone by surprise. The morning started off with rain and thunderstorm, but that quickly cleared up by the time I got to the start. It was overcast and somewhat cool for the first several miles, but deceivingly humid. I remember seeing a runner completely soaked in the early miles, and I wondered to myself how anyone could be so sweaty so early on in the race.
I held back on the first mile knowing that it was a steep drop, but started pushing the pace after that, averaging about 7:40-7:50 min miles. Normally, I would not have pushed the pace, but I figured I had the Vaporfly on, I can afford to be a little aggressive. Things were going well, but I started feeling slight calf cramping around miles 7-8, which was early and I started to worry that I had been going too fast. I quickly took one Hyland leg cramp pill (losing one in the process), which held down the cramping for the next 7 miles or so. The clouds started to dissipate around the 1/2 marathon mark, and the sun was in full blast by the time I reached the Newton Hills. I took my second leg cramp pill before “powering up” (I put those in quotations, because it wasn’t so much powering up as it was trotting up, as my pace had dropped) the first set of hills. For the next 4 miles I was in pure survival mode, counting down the number of hills I’ve scaled. The weather at this point was similar to the running conditions in 2016 and 2017 – warm. Luckily, training in SoCal allowed me to be acclimated to the warmer temp. Unfortunately for those from colder locales, the warmer temp meant more difficulty adjusting. People were walking, slowing down, and being tended to by the medics along the course.
By the time I got to the top of the last hill at mile 21, I knew I was going to be OK. Took the last Hyland pill to help ease the cramping in the quads, but it wasn’t sufficient. There was pain, but I said to myself, “elite runners run through the pain, you can too.” I did have to stop twice to work out the cramping when it got unbearable.
At around mile 23, the Garmin shut down completely (forgot to pack the charger). It was actually already on “low battery” by mile 14, so I really had no idea how fast I had been going since mile 14. I didn’t even know what my time was when I crossed the finish line. I just saw 3:33:xx on the clock. It was only when I met up with Joe at the family meeting area did I find out that I had run a 3:31:38. A PR! Finally a sub 3:35!
So the shoes did deliver, yet a part of me is a little bummed because I’ll never know whether this faster time is the result of the shoes or my training. Or could the shoes have unwittingly pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to run faster. Like Joe said, “there’s an asterisk next to this time.”