In his biggest race, distance runner Jacob Riley might slip on a pair of shoes he's never even broken in.
The reason is simple: They're supposed to be fast.
Or so the research suggests on Nike's new Alphafly Next% sneaker. Riley, who has no shoe sponsor, wants to be able to go stride for stride with anyone wearing Nike's game-changing shoe, or any of its competitors, when he lines up Saturday at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Atlanta.
“It's an annoying decision to have to make this close to the race, but it is what it is,” said Riley, who planned to test shoes up until race time.
No matter what times the marathoners turn in, or how well they run, they know that, after this race, the real headliner will be their shoes.
Which ones will cross first? Will it be the supposedly groundbreaking Nike Vaporfly or its next generation Alphafly Next%? Will it come from a Nike rival, several of which are desperately trying to close the gap? Or will it be a shoe without any of the new technology that just happens to be worn by a runner who is, quite simply, faster than the rest?
“Shoes are what's in the back of our minds right now," said Jared Ward, one of the race favorites. "Because it's what is in the front of the headlines.”
World Athletics, track's governing body, recently outlined new guidelines to significantly tighten rules surrounding shoe technology. One of the stipulations is that any new shoe, in addition to being compliant, needs to be on the open market by April 30 if athletes want to wear them at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.