Having a full carbon plate, explosive Zoom Air pods and brand new Atomknit 2, the Alphafly holds the record for the fastest ever marathon distance.
Marathon Runner and Shoe Expert
Nike is one of the most innovative running shoe brands out there. While they do stick to some popular models for years (ie the more than 30 years history of the Nike Pegasus), they constantly introduce new technologies and with them, new names and classification.
This article will help you make sense of all those model names, technical jargon and finally understand which of Nike's running shoes is meant for which runner.
Nike Air Zoom Series
The first and most popular category is the "Zoom" family of running shoes. Built around the hyper-popular Pegasus, it includes shoes that are meant for both daily training, speedwork training and even race day.
Zoom Air is is characterised by a fast and responsive ride that still provides great cushioning.
“The Nike Air Zoom Structure 24 is a supportive neutral trainer which can handle most types of runs. It has comfort and durability in spades and is great value for money. Version 24 is a minor, upper-only update which is more streamlined but makes the shoe heavier than its predecessor. ”
If you're a runner who finds the Vomero 16 too firm or the Invincible Run too unstable, the Structure 24 is a great supportive, well-cushioned trainer for daily runs.
“The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39 is a comfortable, mid-range daily trainer designed to be durable. It doesn’t have an exciting or lively ride but it’s great bang for your buck and very stable. The 39th version has a new upper, midsole and outsole but the biggest upgrade is that it has lost an ounce of weight. ”
If you’re looking for a neutral running shoe that will last a long time and won’t break the bank, the Pegasus 39 is a great choice.
“The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 Shield is a daily trainer which is perfect for keeping your feet dry and warm in damp conditions. The Shield version has a thicker, water repellent upper and a modified outsole which makes it ride slightly firmer than the regular Pegasus 38. ”
If you're a fan of the Pegasus franchise but you're looking for a more rugged daily trainer to protect your feet from the elements, the Pegasus 38 Shield is the shoe for you.
“The Nike Tempo Next% is supposed to be the replacement for the Pegasus Turbo 2 and a training companion for the Alphafly Next%. While having a very unique and highly responsive ride, the Tempo Next% rides much firmer than the Pegasus Turbo 2 and a little too firm for easy and marathon paced runs. It's best suited to fast runs below 15 kilometres. ”
If you're a heavier runner looking for a shoe for mainly fast runs and price isn't an issue, get the Tempo Next%. It has a comfortable upper with great lockdown and a firm but very responsive ride.
“The Nike Air Zoom Vomero 16 is a plusher, more comfortable version of the Pegasus 38 that has greater versatility because of its ZoomX core. Version 16 is only an upper change with the main difference being that it now has a thick, padded tongue which makes it feel more luxurious. ”
If you find the Pegasus 38 too soft and slow, the Vomero 16 is a great alternative which is more expensive but does much better at handling faster-paced runs. The Vomero 16 is extremely comfortable and has a more durable outsole than other daily trainers.
“The Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 3 is a neutral, max-cushioned trainer that feels like a stability trainer due to its stability features which includes arch support and a plastic heel clip. It’s best used for easy, recovery and long-distance runs because of its high level of cushioning and its gentle rocker. Version 3 has an updated upper which feels thicker as well as a new strobel lining which makes the ride slightly firmer. ”
If you’re looking for a durable, stable trainer with deep cushioning, the Infinity Run 3 is the shoe for you. It doesn’t have much flair but it’s a dependable trainer with a more modern, more fun ride than the Pegasus.
Rocker midsole helps you transition through the gait cycle
“The Phantom Run 2 is a superb, everyday, neutral trainer and can hold its own against the best staple daily trainers on the market. Even though it looks like a casual shoe, the Phantom Run 2 is a serious running shoe with a versatile and supportive ride.”
The Phantom Run 2 is for the runner who wants a versatile and supportive neutral trainer which can be slipped on and off with ease.
There's no denying Nike's recent dominance in marathon racing. We like to think the runners had some credit too - but the sheer amount of victories show the commitment the Oregon brand has towards marathon racing.
“The Nike Alphafly Next% 2 is a super shoe which was designed for narrow-footed runners and runners with high arches because it has a very narrow midfoot. It’s best suited to short, fast-paced workouts rather than long runs because of its firmer ride and prominent arch. This version has been updated with a new, snugger Atomknit 2 upper, a more durable, flatter outsole and a wider, more stable midsole. ”
If you want a super shoe with a stable ride that's firmer than most super shoes, the Alphafly 2 is an option. This expensive super shoe needs you to have powerful footstrikes in order to engage the Zoom Air units in the forefoot.
Cheaper than the previous version (in certain countries)
Upper is more comfortable than previous versions
Propulsive springboard-type carbon plate
High level of cushioning
“The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2 is still a superlight racing powerhouse with excellent cushioning and propulsion. What makes it so special is its unique forefoot geometry that provides a forward-tipping sensation during each toe-off. This version is an upper-only update that improves the fit and comfort of the shoe. ”
If you're a runner with good form, looking for a super shoe that's best suited to fast paces, the Vaporfly Next% 2 is the shoe for you. It shines on tempo, threshold and interval workouts but doesn't do easy paces very well because of its narrow rearfoot.
“The Air Zoom Alphafly Next Nature is a fast and natural-feeling super shoe which has exceptional versatility but comes with a hefty price tag. This Nature version of the Alphafly is partly made with recycled material. It has a firmer midsole so it has a faster ride but its upper is more relaxed so it has a lower level of foot lockdown. ”
If you're an Alphafly collector or if you loved the feel of the Alphafly Next% but you found its ride too soft, the Alphafly Next Nature is the shoe for you. It has a more stable ride than the original but is also much heavier.
“The Nike ZoomX Streakfly is a super soft, flexible racing shoe with a natural ride. It feels more like a trainer than a racer due to its relaxed transitions. This new version of the Streakfly is an evolution of the Zoom Streak series. It’s been updated with a modern, racing upper and a super foam midsole which gives it a much softer ride. ”
If you’re looking for a super lightweight, soft short-distance racing shoe, the Streakfly is an option for you. It lacks the speed of a super shoe but it makes up for it in stability and affordability.
“The Nike Zoom Streak 7 is a minor update to the previous version of the popular racing shoe. The updates are so minor that the seventh iteration of the Streak still provides a great responsive feeling with similar upper issues to previous versions.”
The Zoom Streak 7 is a great racing option by Nike for runners looking for maximum performance in a lightweight shoe for any racing distance, including up to a marathon. It is a cheaper option for a race day shoe compared to other Nike offerings.
“The Nike Air Zoom Rival Fly 3 is an old school, lightweight tempo trainer with a flexible forefoot and a natural ride. It's best suited to short, speed workouts but it can also handle long distances. Version 3 of the Rival Fly has been updated with a softer Cushlon midsole and a thicker, more comfortable upper which makes it a better daily trainer. ”
If you're a runner who prefers a natural-feeling traditional trainer over a more modern, plated trainer for speed workouts, the Rival Fly 3 is the shoe for you. It's durable, comfortable and good value for money.
“The Nike ZoomX Zegama will be a solution to medium length trail races for some runners while others will relegate the shoe for shorter, dry training runs. This marks the trail debut of the same bouncy ZoomX midsole foam Nike uses in its Alphafly and Vaporfly road shoes. Do note that the Zegama doesn’t have the full ZoomX package in the midsole, as it would cause stability issues on the trail.”
Built-in faux gaiter prevents debris from entering the shoe
“The Nike Pegasus Trail 2 is sufficient for road to dirt or grass trails; however, it does not perform well on most other types of trail terrain. While its trail-specific features provide protection, this shoe’s traction and stability are particularly unreliable on rocky or steep terrain making it impractical for any technical trail running.”
“The Nike Terra Kiger was created with speed on the trails in mind. From toe to heel, the shoes are designed to let the runner blaze down dirt trails, paved trails and roads. The more technical the terrain, the less effective the Kigers can be. ”
“With only minimal updates the Wildhorse 7 continues to be a reasonable choice for longer moderately paced runs. The Wildhorse continues to be unstable and sloppy on technical terrain keeping it more suitable to rolling pastures versus the wild Wild West.”
Before minimalism was a thing and before barefoot runners started burning their shoes, Nike quietly introduced the Free range with a simple idea: a shoe to add to your training rotation, to stimulate your own foot muscles and balance. So while your daily training and racing shoes might protect you, once in a while you should introduce some extremely flexible shoe so that your feet can train naturally.
“The Free RN 5.0 is a running shoe designed for short training runs, up to 5km, speedwork and drills. It can also be used for runners looking to work towards the sensation of barefoot running, with the protection of a shoe, and a little support. ”
The Nike Free RN 5.0 2020 is for the runner who wants a specialist trainer that will help them improve their running form and strengthen their legs.
“The Free RN Flyknit 3.0 is a running shoe designed for short training runs, up to 5km, or for runners looking to create the sensation of barefoot running, with the protection of a shoe. Released at the same time as the Nike Free RB 5.0, the difference are mainly the upper and the heel drop. ”
The Free RN Flyknit 3.0 is recommended for runners who are used to minimal support when running. If you are not used to this type of shoe, it it recommended that you wear this for your day to day activities first, to get used to the new foot position and minimize risk of injury.
Perfect harmony of stability, support and cushioning for all types of gym workout
Premium upper materials give comfortable support to the foot
React foam midsole provides best cushioning and responsiveness I've found in a training shoe
Superb looking shoe, great colorways and designs
“The Nike React Metcon Turbo is my new go-to shoe in the gym. The training shoe has managed to combine stability, responsiveness and cushioning to be comfortable, stable and something I don’t have to think about whilst working out. A superb all rounder I struggle to pick a fault in. All whilst keeping the weight down and looking fantastic.”
The React Metcon Turbo is for athletes and runners, training in a gym and looking for a shoe that can handle everything outside of their running training. If you’re training with barbells, dumbells, or doing any type of plyometric of gymnastics work this is the shoe for you.
Hyperlift now in heel until for better weightlifting support
Sole rope wrap provides suberb grip and durability
“This is Nike's best shoe for the gym. From weight lifting to classes, HIIT, and treadmill running the Metcon can do it all. ”
Nike's Metcon range of training shoes (now in the 7th iteration here) are designed predominantly with functional fitness athletes and CrossFitters in mind, and have to fulfil the pretty demanding brief of being suitable for heavy weight training, some running, and all around functional fitness.
“The Nike Superrep 3 is the ideal indoor class shoe for gym goers who love group exercise, or HIIT workouts. It’s seen big improvements since previous versions and looks great to boot. ”
This shoe is for your gym based fitness classes where you’ll be doing lots of high intensity interval training, cardio work and light weights. If you’re looking for a shoe with more stability than a running shoe, but something you can still get a cushioned soft landing in, this is a great shoe...
Understanding the meaning and design principles behind the tech names will help you navigate through the catalog faster. Here’s an overview.
Flyknit is a special woven fabric that makes the upper of a shoe feel like a sock, by placing yarns and knits strategically around the structure in order to support the foot of the runner when needed and leave it free everywhere else.
Flyknit running shoes are lightweight: a light yarn replaces multiple stitched or glued panels. Flyknit also allows for extremely precise upper fit, being able to seamlessly integrate tight-knit areas where support is needed and wide-knit areas to allow for flexibility.
Flyknit is environmentally friendly as it produces 60% less waste than traditionally constructed running shoe uppers.
This technology is Nike’s latest, so expect to pay a premium for Flyknit shoes.
Most notable examples of Flyknit shoes are the Flyknit Racer (as the name implies, a fast and light shoe for racing distances all the way to the marathon) and the Nike Free Flyknit (an extremely flexible and lightweight running shoe to strengthen and train the muscles in your feet).
FlyKnit Loft is a FlyKnit variation which is breathable and durable. It has 3 distinct layers which help keep the foot secure. It has a smooth, plastic-like feel and does not stretch.
AtomKnit is a new, more advanced type of FlyKnit material. The difference between AtomKnit and FlyKnit is that AtomKnit is steamed and stretched. AtomKnit is extremely lightweight, very breathable and does not absorb water.
VaporWeave is an engineered, woven mesh with a smooth, plastic-like feel which is light and strong. Its main advantage is that it doesn’t absorb water so during a race, the shoe will not absorb sweat and weigh you down. VaporWeave is very breathable but doesn’t conform to the foot so creasing may occur.
Engineered Mesh (sometimes called “Flymesh” by Nike) is a lightweight mesh construction that is – compared to traditional mesh fabrics – more breathable and is at the same time both more durable and flexible.
Engineered Mesh features more prominent perforations than traditional mesh. It is a completely different construction than the previously mentioned Flyknit and shoes with Engineered Mesh usually have a lower price-point.
An overview of Nike running shoe sole and cushioning technologies
Midsoles of running shoes are made of foam. Each company has their own trademark foam mix that tries to achieve the following: be as lightweight as possible, be soft in order to absorb the impact with the ground, be elastic (in order to compress on impact and release propelling you forward), be durable (foam does deteriorate with use, so all foam materials need to be engineered to maintain its characteristics for a decent amount of time).
React is a styrene-based material which is a synthetic rubber. It is lightweight, durable and resistant to temperature changes. React doesn’t have sink-in softness but has a dense, rubbery feel with a noticeable spring.
Cushlon is a mix of Phylon and rubber additives that makes it lightweight and responsive.
Everybody knows Nike Air. That’s how Nike got big in the 80s in the first place. But do you exactly know what Nike Air is ?
Nike running shoes in the “Air” category often use Cushlon foam in their soles. Soft and resilient, this foam has 2 limitations: it is quite heavy (as most foam is) and it is not as “bouncy” as many runners expect their shoes to be.
The solution? Cutting off areas of the Cushlon-foam-made midsole and filling them up with plastic bags filled with “Air” (Nike’s secret gas compound). What this achieves is to reduce weight (by replacing the heavy foam with a very lightweight “airbag”) and to increase cushioning (being these airbags softer and springier than the Cushlon foam).
Depending on the shoe, you can have Nike Air bags in the heel, the toe, or both.
Air bags come in 3 formats: Air, Air Max and Zoom Air.
Nike Air -> the most common, medium sized air bags that fit well especially under the heel.
Air Max -> very thick and highly cushioned bags of air. In our opinion too unstable for proper running, mostly used on lifestyle shoes.
Zoom Air -> the thinnest units, ideal to fit in low-profile shoes. They were initially developed for soccer shoes, where normal Air bags would not fit inside the ultra-thin sole
Nike Free is a concept. Started around 2005, the idea was to create a shoe that is so flexible that leaves the foot completely free to move in the most natural way.
Some people object that the Frees are still very cushioned shoes, therefore preventing the runner to have a true feeling for the ground below them.
While this might be true, the extreme flexibility of the Free sole unit, combined with very open-mesh and unconstrained upper make for a treat.
What do the numbers next to a Free shoe mean?
Nike abandoned the use of numbers in the Nike Free line in 2016, when they completely revamped the category.
Originally Nike Frees came in different versions, depending on how flexible they were. Their flexibility was ranked on a scale that goes from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 means “bare feet” and 10.0 is a traditional running shoe.
In 2016, with the coming of the new auxetic construction, the Nike Free range is completely new and the numbers are gone. We’ll go through the line and the models in a minute. Keep reading!
Nike Free Auxetic Construction
The new principle behind the Nike FREE line of running shoes is called “auxetic design”.
When your foot hits the ground, it expands both in length and width. Picture bouncing a ball on the floor: it squeezes and deforms because of the impact, then the opposite happens while it bounces back.
Nike engineers were looking for a way to design a midsole so that it would expand in both directions during the foot strike. The issue is that most materials, when stretched in one direction, become smaller in the perpendicular direction. Again think of an elastic band. If you pull it to stretch it long, it will most likely become narrower in the middle.
The auxetic design, characterized by the triangular cuts you see in the picture, allows the sole to do that. A stretch in one direction will equate to a stretch in the other.
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