The battle for supremacy among running’s biggest brands intensified on Sunday when the women’s marathon world record was obliterated in a pair of new ultra-light £400 Adidas super shoes that are supposedly designed to last for just one race.
Ethiopia’s Tigist Assefa crossed the line in 2hr 11min 53sec, shaving more than two minutes off Brigid Kosgei’s 2019 landmark of 2hr 14min 04sec. A former 800m specialist, Assefa only raced the marathon for the first time last year before winning the 2022 Berlin race with what was then the third fastest women’s run in history.
Kosgei’s record, which itself beat Paula Radcliffe’s 2003 world record of 2hr 15min 25sec, was also set in the era of the new super-cushioned carbon-plated shoes that emerged in 2016 with Nike’s Vaporfly and then Alphafly innovations.
The benefit of the shoes - reckoned to be as much as four minutes over a marathon among elite runners and even more for recreational runners - has long been widely accepted and Nike athletes briefly dominated the marathon, with their athletes taking 31 of the 36 podium places in the six majors of 2019.
Other brands, however, have been working hard to catch up and, having largely all now established their own carbon-enhanced shoe, Adidas believe that they have further pushed the boundaries with their lightest and fastest design.
Weighing in at just 138 grams, even with a sizeable 39mm heel, the Adios Pro Evo 1 uses a new foam midsole with carbon rods inside that are designed to propel the runner forward. Assefa, who kissed and then lifted the shoe above her head following a run that was almost four minutes faster than her victory in the same race last year, said that they were like “nothing I’ve felt” before. “This is the lightest racing shoe I have ever worn and the feeling of running in them is an incredible experience,” she said.
The shoes, which were being used for the first time in a major race and have so far only been released selectively, will become more widely available this week, albeit with a large double caveat. Not only are they significantly more expensive than the usual £200-£250 super shoe’s retail price but, according to Runners World, the first 521 pairs that were released earlier this month contained a disclaimer inside the box. This apparently stated that the shoe is only designed for “one race – so one marathon – plus familiarisation time”, something which has already prompted questions over the sustainability and environmental justification for the product.
Whatever their precise performance benefit, it was clearly also an exceptional athletic performance by Assefa,
Running alongside the men on Sunday, she spent much of the race alongside Jared Ward, an American who finished sixth in the men’s Olympic marathon in 2016. She was almost 11 minutes clear of Charlotte Purdue, who became the second-fastest British woman in history in 2hr 22min 14 sec to finish ninth.
“I knew I wanted to go for the world record but I never thought I would do this time. It was the result of hard work,” said 26-year-old Assefa , who with her time set a marker for next year’s Paris Olympics while also almost certainly nailing down a spot on the Ethiopian Olympic team.
“I have set a mark now. The decision does not lie with me but with officials. It is up to the National Committee to select me for the team.”
The men’s race was won for the fifth time by the Kenyan double Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge who finished outside his world record but, sporting the Nike Alphafly shoe, still ran the eighth fastest ever marathon in 2h 2min 42sec. Kipchoge had been inside world-record schedule after completing the first half of the race in 60min 22sec.
“I had some hiccups, but it is the nature of the race,” he said. “I was expecting to break the record but it did not come. Every race is a learning lesson. I’ll put all my experience of my 21 marathons into next year in the Olympics in Paris and try to be the first to win for the third time, but I would also be happy with the podium.”