When Nike embarked on a bold plan to break two hours in the marathon, the company put its vast resources toward training three super-stud runners, pinpointing a perfect course with ideal conditions, and, of course, developing finely tuned footwear with innovative new technologies. The completely custom footwear (called Zoom Vaporfly Elite)

unveiled for the sub-two attempt this spring reignited debate over whether a shoe can give a runner an unfair advantage.

Will it? The jury is still out, but the company is applying some of the R&D from its elite “concept car” shoes into two mass-market models, so you can chase a faster performance of your own. Using lightweight, resilient foam and a stiff carbon-fiber plate,

the Zoom Vaporfly 4% ($250) is designed to get you from start to finish using less energy. (A second consumer model, the Zoom Fly, with a different foam and carbon-infused nylon plate, will cost $150.) At the Runner’s World Shoe Lab, we tested the Zoom Vaporfly 4% on a former NCAA Division 1 runner who made nationals in the 10,000 meters, at speeds up to 2:17 marathon pace. Here’s what we found.

A thin layer of engineered mesh helps keep weight down (a men’s size 10 weighs only 6.9 ounces). It lacks typical reinforcements like overlays and a heel counter, relying instead on thinly padded patches and sueded materials inside to secure the foot to the soft platform.

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