There are fewer things I can do more quickly in my life than preparing my morning french press (need that caffeine boost!), completing my morning makeup routine (minimal), and tidying up the kitchen (can’t leave a sink full). But recently, I accomplished something just as swiftly and just as exhilarating as my daily responsibilities: I ran my fastest 5K ever. And, truly, I must give credit to the Nike Air Zoom Vaporfly Next% 2 (Purchase It, $250, nike.com).
For context, I’ve been running for six years with utmost dedication to the sport. I’ve participated in numerous 5 and 10Ks (too many to keep track of), and have always derived pleasure from the shorter distance races in addition to marathons (and even ultramarathons).
So when I received an invitation to train for my fastest 5K with Nike in May, I couldn’t resist accepting the offer. The plan? To adhere to a stringent training regimen crafted by Nike coach Jes Woods, participate in weekly virtual check-ins, and then slip into the newly released Air Zoom Vaporfly Next% 2 sneakers and blaze ahead after a month of arduous work. This 5K challenge was not just about pace but also about mental training, testing the new shoe’s equipment, and most importantly, having an enjoyable experience — as running should be.
Our training plan consisted of a combination of speed workouts, long-distance runs (7 to 9 miles), and some shorter, swifter tempo runs. Going into the project, my basic pace for a 5K was approximately 27 minutes. My objective was to surpass that time — and to do so at an elevation of around 8,000 feet. (In case you didn’t know, at higher altitudes, the air pressure is lower; when you breathe in, you can intake less oxygen, which makes exercising more difficult.) Leading up to the commencement of 5K training, I was exclusively using the Nike Alphafly NEXT% (Purchase It, $275, nike.com), but I switched over to the Vaporfly Next% 2 for the challenge.
The prior was and continues to be a shoe I truly felt excellent in, hence, to slide into a novel athletic shoe and appreciate it equally was a comfort as well as a demonstration of the meticulous consideration Nike applied to the blueprint.
Purchase It: Nike Air Zoom Vaporfly Next % 2, $250, nike.com
These sneakers aren’t your typical trainer; they’re racing shoes constructed for velocity. They’re created with Nike’s ZoomX foam, which offers ample energy return so you leap off the pavement, as well as a full-length carbon fiber plate that’s designed to provide a “responsive feel.” Heck, they were born in 2017 during the Breaking2 initiative, an experiment Nike carried out in 2016 to observe if the fastest runner in the world, Eliud Kipchoge, could surpass the 2-hour marathon barrier. They meticulously crafted the whole race, monitoring environment, temperature, etc., and produced their Vaporfly series specifically for the task. He completed just 26 seconds beyond the 2-hour mark on that day (you can watch the complete event unfold in the Breaking2 documentary) but later surpassed the 2-hour marathon barrier in 2019 (with a time of 1:59:40) in a Next% prototype. If this shoe made the world’s fastest man even speedier, it wouldn’t hurt for me to attempt running a little faster in my own pair!
So, after a month of hard work, it was time to strive for a record of my own. As I was tying up the laces, a wave of uncertainty washed over me. The shoe can only do so much, but the rest was entirely in my control. Certainly, I trained, I had put in effort, and I had sacrificed mornings when I could have slept in. But was it really possible for me to run my quickest 5K outside of a race setting, with no spectators, rivals, or race-day excitement propelling me — and at an elevation of 8,000 feet? I did what I could to boost my confidence, chugged down three servings of espresso with oat milk, flipped open my Nike Run Club app, set the distance to 3.1, and pressed start. (
With minimal warmup (oops), I ran with all my might. I felt powerful, but my breathing was labored as I rounded the final corner of my planned route, glided down the long straight stretch, and sprinted into the finish line. I unlocked my phone, paused the app, and there it was: .01 miles. I quite possibly just achieved my fastest 5K ever, and it went unrecorded! My frustration was met with tears, but also, a desire — not for a post-run snack, but to revisit the race and do it all over again.
So I accomplished.
Round 2, a few days later: I drank my espresso noisily, slipped into my Nike finest, tied up my Next% 2 shoes, and set off for a longer warm-up. Once my body felt prepared, I began the fast portion of the run. It was almost 90°F on the pavement in the scorching sun as I glided down a bike path at a steady 8:14 pace for mile 1. Then I increased my speed a bit, bringing my pace to a 7:40 for miles 2 and 3, racing into the final .1. I stopped my app and my watch, both recording the same time and distance (I wasn’t going to let this race go by untracked again).
I had accomplished it. Not only did I surpass my base pace of 27 minutes, but I also ran my fastest 5K since my teenage years as a highly competitive high school lacrosse player. It only took 17 years, but hey, I got it done, and at a high altitude no less.
Yes, my mind and body carried me there, but there’s no doubt the Next% 2 sneakers gave me a boost. (After all, even dressing the part for your workout can make a difference in your performance.) To me, these shoes almost feel like running barefoot in that they don’t alter my stride or weigh me down; yet, they have enough padding to provide a balanced level of comfort and bounce, making each step feel effortless. In short, they’re the best sneaker you can get for pursuing a personal record — after all, I came away with one and a new favorite pair of racing kicks. Talk about a win-win.
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