There are fewer things I can do faster in my life than making my morning french press (need that caffeine jolt!), completing my morning makeup routine (minimal), and cleaning the kitchen (can't leave a sink full). But recently, I did something just as fast and just as thrilling as my daily duties: I ran my fastest 5K ever. And, really, I need to credit the Nike Air Zoom Vaporfly Next% 2 (Buy It, $250, nike.com).
For context, I've been running for six years with extreme dedication to the sport. I've run several 5 and 10Ks (too many to keep track of), and have always enjoyed the shorter distance races in addition to marathons (and even ultramarathons).
So when I was invited to train to run my fastest 5K with Nike in May, I couldn't help but say yes. The plan? To follow a strict training regimen built by Nike coach Jes Woods, tune in to weekly virtual check-ins, and then slip into the newly launched Air Zoom Vaporfly Next% 2 sneakers and blast off after a month of hard work. This 5K challenge wasn't just about pace but also about the mental training, gear testing the new shoe, and also about having fun — as running should be.
Our training plan entailed a combination of speed workouts, long-distance runs (7 to 9 miles), and some shorter, swifter, tempo runs. Heading into the project, my base pace for a 5K was about 27 minutes. My goal was to beat that time — and to do so at about 8,000 feet of altitude. (ICYDK, at higher altitudes, the air pressure is lower; when you inhale, you're able to take in less oxygen, which makes exercise harder.) I was running exclusively in the Nike Alphafly NEXT% (Buy It, $275, nike.com) leading up to the start of 5K training, but switched over to the Vaporfly Next% 2 for the challenge. The former was and is a shoe I really felt good in, so, to slip into a new sneaker and like it just as much was a relief as well as a testament to the careful thought Nike put into the design.
These shoes aren't your average trainer; they're racing shoes built for speed. They're made with Nike's ZoomX foam, which provides tons of energy return so you spring off the pavement, as well as a full-length carbon fiber plate that's designed to deliver a "responsive feel." Heck, they were birthed in 2017 during the Breaking2 activation, an experiment Nike conducted in 2016 to see if the fastest runner in the world, Eliud Kipchoge, could break the 2-hour marathon barrier. They carefully crafted the entire race, monitoring environment, temperature, etc., and created their Vaporfly series just for the task. He finished just 26 seconds over the 2-hour mark that day (you can watch the whole thing unfold in the Breaking2 documentary) but later broke the 2-hour marathon barrier in 2019 (with a time of 1:59:40) in a Next% prototype. If this shoe made the fastest man alive even faster, it couldn't hurt that I try to run a little faster in my pair!
So, after a month of hard work, it was time to shoot for a record of my own. As I was lacing up, a wave of doubt came over me. The shoe can only do so much, but the rest was entirely up to me. Sure, I trained, I had worked, and I had sacrificed mornings when I could have slept in. But could I really run my fastest 5K outside a race environment, with no spectators, competitors, or race-day adrenaline fueling me — and at 8,000 feet? I did what I could to hype myself up, gulped down three shots of espresso with oat milk, flipped open my Nike Run Club app, set the distance to 3.1, and hit start. (Related: The Best Running Apps to Help You Train for Your Next Race)
With little warmup (oops), I ran my heart out. I felt strong, but my breathing was heavy as I rounded the last corner of my mapped route, cruised down the long straight stretch, and barreled into the finish. I opened up my phone, stopped the app, and there it was: .01 miles. I very well could have just run my fastest 5K ever, and it wasn't tracked! My frustration was met with tears, but also, hunger — not for a post-run snack, but to revisit the race and do it all over again. So I did.
Round 2, a few days later: I slurped down espresso, slipped into my Nike best, laced up my Next% 2 shoes, and headed out for a longer warm-up. Once my body felt ready, I started my speed portion of the run. It was nearly 90°F on the pavement in the blazing sun as I glided down a bike path at a steady 8:14 pace for mile 1. Then I kicked it up a notch 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 done it. Not only did I beat my base pace of 27 minutes, but I also ran my fastest 5K since my teen years as a super competitive high school lacrosse player. It only took 17 years, but hey, I got it done, and at an 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 cushioning to provide a balanced level of comfort and spring, making each step feel effortless. In short, they're the best sneaker you can get for chasing a PR — after all, I came away with one and a new favorite pair of racing sneaks. Talk about a win-win.