I have just heard from Nike that they are unleashing the 31st edition of the Pegasus on the running public, after developing the product with insights from elite athletes including Mo Farah, Galen Rupp and Rita Jeptoo – note they didn’t ask me! As a result, Nike believe they have been able to construct their fastest, most responsive collection of Air Zoom running shoes yet and I am going to be testing a pair soon.
The blurb that I have been sent sounds promising:
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 31: A neutral running shoe for training day in and day out, the new Pegasus feels faster and more responsive than any model in its impressive 31-year heritage. The latest Pegasus retains key features loved by loyal Pegasus runners – heel Zoom Air for a cushioned ride, a breathable upper and excellent fit – and introduces enhancements like a contoured last for streamlined fit, dropped offset (10 millimeters) for a more natural stance and an engineered midfoot saddle for targeted structure and support.
Well, I have history with the Pegasus, so I will reserve judgement, but if the shoe is good enough for Farah and Rupp, then I guess it’ll be good enough for me! Stay tuned for a review as soon as I get my hands on the pair that I have been told are on their way to me.
In the mean time, here is a picture to whet your appetite!
I once heard someone say that the Nike Free is the best selling running shoe ever and whether or not that is true, this year Nike are celebrating 10 years of their iconic, floppy, flexible friend-of-the-foot.
As part of the celebration, Nike brought Sean McDowell, Vice President and Creative Director for Nike Running, over from Oregon to London and hired a space that they turned into a very cool museum and technology lab rolled into one in honour of the Free… and I was invited to check it out.
All cool and no fool either
It is undoubtedly the case that when it comes to ‘cool’ Nike are the kings of the runnerverse. Other brands might be purely dedicated to running or more likely to be worn by the fleet-footed speed merchants. But Nike will be on the feet of the trendy types and the fashion conscious.
And Nike also has some serious pedigree when it comes to running. The event that I attended last week really hammered that point home. The first and most immediate thing made it clear that Nike is a serious running powerhouse was the way in which I and my fellow invitees were made to wait on the pavement outside the space for quarter of an hour after the time we were asked to arrive, by big burly security men with ear-pieces. Apparently the Nike team weren’t ready for us… so who was getting themselves ready? None other than Olympian and marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who was joining us for a run. And she would be accompanied by future stars Jessica Judd and Charlie Grice.
The irony was that once we were inside, Paula, Jess and Charlie were all absolutely lovely and down-to-earth: not a hint of the prima donna amongst them!
The running pedigree of the brand with the swoosh was also really brought home when we heard from Sean McDowell and he went through a brief history of the brand, illustrated with picture of Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, standing with his coach and business collaborator Bill Bowerman – the man who invented the rubber waffle sole that revolutionised running shoes.
Whilst Nike has fingers in so many sporting pies, there is no doubt that running is deeply ingrained in it’s DNA.
Experiencing the Nike Free
The Nike Free Experience that I was invited to, was being run by Charlie Dark from the RunDemCrew – a very important man in my life as well as being a brilliant public speaker and motivator. He was the perfect person to get everyone invited to the event relaxed and receptive and was also the perfect partner for Paula, who clearly finds Charlie’s antics quite amusing!
After a quick introduction, Charlie had all of us go through a warm-up so that we were ready to head out for a run in the new Nike Free 3.0 that we had been issued with. As Charlie exhorted us to grab a foot and lift it behind us to stretch out our quads, you can imagine my surprise when I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder steadying themselves and I turned to see it was Paula – one of my all time heroes!
Out on the run in the Nike Free 3.0
After the introduction and warm-up, Charlie and his team had all of the invitees back out onto the pavement and off running.
I must admit that I was feeling a little bit worried about running in the Nike Free 3.0 two days before the London marathon. They are – to put it mildly – minimalist. As we were to hear later, that is the point. I was worried that a shoe with a very minimalist sole and a zero heel-to-toe differential might give me some Achilles grief, especially as I had pushed myself in my last few sessions and was feeling typically sore in my calves already. But running with Paula Radcliffe was too good an opportunity to miss!
We ran for about 45 minutes and there were lots of stops due to traffic and waiting for the group to come back together so I was absolutely fine in the shoes and didn’t feel that I was stressing my foot or lower leg all that much. And in terms of how the shoe felt on, I think the Nike Free 3.0 is exactly what it sets out to be. As Nike say:
Our the most flexible and natural ride, the Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit Running Shoe features a lightweight, supportive Flyknit upper and an ultra-flexible, low-profile outsole…
Personally I don’t enjoy running on hard concrete in a shoe with so little cushioning and I must admit that I was pleased when I found myself running along next to Paula and we got on to the subject of what she wears and she pointed out that while everyone at the Nike Free Experience was wearing the new Flyknit Free 3.0, she was wearing a pair of Pegasus. She explained that with all the foot problems she has encountered, nothing would dissuade her from wearing the best shoes given her injury and the Free was not the best shoe in that situation.
The science and the application of the Nike Flyknit Free 3.0
Perhaps inadvertently, when Paula was talking to me – and by the way, what a privilege to spend 10 minutes one-on-one, running and chatting with such an amazing athlete – she predicted everything that we would hear later: that the Nike Free is a great addition to a runners collection of shoes, but it can’t be the only shoe you run in. When Paula is running on hard concrete pavements she does not wear the Free.
Having returned to the Nike Free Experience space, we were invited to listen to Sean McDowell from Nike talk about the development of the Free. And what was so refreshing was the open and rational way that Sean talked about the shoe; the fact that one of the shoes that Nike developed and which ended up as the Nike Free was in response to Mike Parker’s challenge to make a shoe that fits like a t-shirt for the foot; the fact that the Free was developed after meeting a running coach who had his athletes do bare-foot strides on the grass after track sessions; the way that a series of shoes – the 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 – were developed to allow runners to choose the Free with the right amount of cushioning for them. It all made a lot of sense to me and there was very little of the bombastic “Just Do It” messaging that Nike can sometimes resort to.
My thoughts about the Nike Free 3.0
Personally, I think the Nike Flyknit Free 3.0 is a bit too minimal for the vast majority of running that I do. It was fine for 5km with lots of stops on Friday, but anything more than that and I think I would suffer from the lack of cushioning and the minimal heel-drop. I could adapt but frankly at my age and with as little time available to train as I have, I don’t want to put in the time required.
However I do think this shoe might come into its own when I was to want a pair of shoes to do strides in after a session or if I am looking for a really light shoe for track sessions.
The Flyknit upper is great – really light and highly breathable so these will also be a great shoe for the summer when feet can tend to get a bit sweaty, which can cause rubbing and blisters.
I would say that the shoe is a great addition to the shoes that you probably have at home and would be great for shorter stuff on forgiving surfaces where you want to give your feet a good work-out. For people who are dedicated to minimalist running, this might be an all-round shoe for miles and miles on the pavement, but that is most definitely not me.
And finally, to confirm what I have heard so many times before, Paula Radcliffe is really one of the most friendly, engaging, fascinating and easy to talk to people I have met. She is a great ambassador for the sport and for Nike and it was a real privilege to meet her – thanks Nike!
The Nike Flyknit Free is available now – here – for £125.
I was recently sent a pair of Nike’s latest Flyknit creation for runners – the Nike Flyknit Lunar2. This is the first Nike shoe that I have had the chance to try out for quite a while and I was excited to see if this would be the Nike shoe for me.
Me and Nike
The thing is, I like many things about Nike. I like the company’s philosophy. I like the history of the brand. The athletes that they support are usually heroes of mine (well the runners at least – the cheating cyclist and philandering golfer not so much). And I like the design of so much of the Nike gear.
But since my first ever pair of running shoes – a pair of Nike Pegasus that I had to take back after they started squeaking as I ran (annoying in the extreme!) – I have not found a pair that I really liked running in. The Nike Frees have all been a bit too unstructured. The Marathoners were almost a bit too hard. The Flyknit Racer was almost too light and the midsole felt a bit too narrow for my trotters.
But what about the Flyknit Lunar2? How would they work out?
The Nike Flyknit Lunar2 review
Well straight out of the box and on to my feet, they felt great. If you haven’t experienced the Flyknit upper, you should. It simply confirms to every contour of your feet, fitting like a glove (I know that is an overused analogy, but in this case it is actually true!) and not leaving any voids that can crease and rub.
The Lunarlon midsole is now nothing new – it has been in Nike shoes for a while – but it still feels remarkable when one hasn’t run in Nike shoes for a while… which I hadn’t. It is a beguiling mixture of cushioned plushness and firm lightness, especially in this shoe. And for a runner like me, that has developed a mid-foot landing, it provides just the right amount of cushioning to deal with concrete pavements on longer runs. Which brings me on to the real review…
Erm, the Real Review
After wearing the Flyknit Lunar2s for a few steady pre-breakfast runs, all around an hour or so, I decided that I would see how the shoes felt on a proper run. I had 2 hours with the last 30 minutes at marathon pace in my training plan. That would end up being a touch over 20 miles and I wore the Lunar2s to see what they would be like in a simulated race situation.
The short version of the review – which is all I’m going to give bother you with – is that they were great. One slight criticism is that I did get a little bit of rubbing on my achilles tendon from the shoe’s collar. But if I am trying to hold on to 6 min/mile pace for half an hour after 90 minutes steady running, the odd rub is to be expected.
The shoes felt light, cushioned and stable and I would say that they would probably make a rather decent marathon shoe if you are looking for something that will give your feet a good amount of protection from the constant pounding and don’t weigh too much. Having completely woven uppers also means that no matter how far you run and no matter what the temperatures, my feet have not overheated in these shoes.
So there you go – the Nike Flyknit Lunar2. I reckon this is a rather good shoe from Nike. It is still not the racing shoe that I am looking for, to wear in half-marathons and marathons. But for me, this is a great choice for many of my runs from an easy 45 minute recovery run to a proper marathon preparation long run.
As a runners it is easy to become cynical about new things in running: the latest shoe design or midsole material that promises further or faster; personal trainers growing beyond their weight-loss and fitness remit to start offering marathon training advice; a new GPS device or piece of software to track your progress; big brands getting involved in putting on races…
So as much as I tried to go to the Run To The Beat, Powered By Nike+, with an open mind, there was a nagging feeling that I might be part of a gimmick – a marketing exercise with no ‘real’ runners. At worst a badly organised, over-hyped cock-up. Certainly my last experience of the race, when my wife ran the inaugural Run To The Beat as her very first half marathon, was not pretty. She told me about delays, confusion amongst the marshalls and a badly thought out course. Thankfully she was resilient enough to not only beat my debut marathon time on her first outing over 13.1 miles, but come back for more (though it has to be said, not more Run To The Beats).
Add to this the reaction that I got from a few people – one tweet I received read
Corporate crap. Wouldn’t trust Nike to run a bath let alone a half marathon
– and the odds on this race being one that I would remember fondly, were narrowing by the hour.
In actual fact, there were a few things that I thought probably looked good on paper, or which fulfilled the sponsor’s brief but that might not have been thought through from the runners’ perspectives:
The celebrity who starting the race was Adam Gemili, a sprinter, which given the amazing range of athletes that Nike sponsors might be considered an odd choice. That said, in an impromptu interview after the race, Adam offered some really great advice for all athletes of all types (I’ll post the interview in the next few days) and he seemed really genuinely enthused by the whole event.
Apart from water, the drinks on the course were Vitacoco coconut water in a paper carton. Not exactly the sort of high glucose energy drink in a convenient bottle that I would expect to be provided to flagging runners
The course was wiggly to say the least, with some very odd sections along narrow alleyways squashed between ugly industrial units and the muckier reaches of the river Thames. And some frustrating out-and-back switchbacks within the last mile that may have been added to make up the distance or to create more opportunity for spectators to catch sight of their runners – either way, it was annoying to run along a line of cones, reach the end and turn back round the cones to run the other way. Three times!
The winner was a 3000m steeplechaser who told me after the race that he had to stop with a few miles to go, to help one of the two wheelchair competitors who had tipped over and fallen out of his chair, so at the sharp end of the race, there was not really much competition
And maybe this is the future of road racing. I read in Athletics Weekly recently that the organisers of the New Orleans half marathon, who had paid Mo Farah rather hansomly to make an appearance last year, have decided to stop inviting and paying for elites, instead focusing their resources on ‘the masses’.
I guess the cynical amongst us could summise that big brands are getting involved in races, not because they want to improve the state of distance running, but because 19,000 people and all their friends, families and social connections is a big audience and the brands are actually more interested in improving the state of their balance sheet.
Why Run To The Beat works
But I am not of that view. And here is why. I think that it takes big balls to try to put on an event like Run To The Beat. You have to be prepared to invest a huge amount in organizing the event, paying for the road closures, hiring the staff, etc. That is a risk that most race organisers are not prepared to take.
And the races like Run To The Beat are accessible as a result. You do not need to be a hardcore club stalwart with your 20 year old vest and tried-and-tested training methods to know about the race. You can see it on billboards and on friend’s Facebook pages. And if we are to build a legacy from the Olympics then surely mass participation needs to be a part of that.
Certainly one output of an event like Run To The Beat is that the sponsors gain the publicity that they seek. But I think that is a relatively reasonable price to pay to get people into running.
All of these thoughts were whirling around in my head as I left the race village – right in the middle of Jessie J’s set (sorry Jessie – I’m sure it was great) – and made my way to Greenwich to get on the train. I was happy to get a seat and struck up a conversation with the woman sat opposite me, proudly wearing her medal. She told me that the Run To The Beat was her first half marathon. Indeed it was her first ever run over 15km. She said that there were lots of things about the race that she thought could be improved upon. But they paled into insignificance against the things that made the race ideal for her – it was easy to find out about it. The communication from the race organisers was superb. She didn’t feel intimidated by the event.
And the best thing for me, is that she had ‘the look’ – a glint in her eye which told me that she had had a really great morning. And more importantly, she told me, she would definitely be looking for another half marathon soon. Another person bitten by the running bug and I think that Nike and the race organisers can be proud of taking at least one little step to changing the trend of inactivity and obesity related health issues in the UK.
As for me. Well I went to see what the race was all about. Having run 102km in the Alps last weekend in the UTMB CCC race, I wondered what my legs would be capable of. So I intended to take the race relatively easy and see what happened. Not being able to start my stopwatch at the start was an added bonus and force me to run by feel. Having started close to the front, I simply set myself the target of catching the runner in front and not worry about time.
So that is what I did. As I mentioned, I did find the course a bit too wiggly and there were some distinctly odd bits of running through industrial estates. Added to that, was the hill in the last mile which is not a memory I will cherish. But as I approached the finish line, running as hard as I could to avoid being caught, I glanced up at the clock and saw 1:20 which given the fact that only 7 days earlier I had just finished 24 hours of non-stop running/hiking, was pretty pleasing.
The Run To The Beat is not a race that will suit everyone. The fact that it has Nike as its main sponsor is going to alienate some. But there was a great atmosphere in the race village and for much of the course there was great support. Most importantly for me, there seemed to be a really inclusive feel about the race. If the future of distance running is at least in part, about organisations like Nike encouraging and facilitating people discovering how great running is, then I for one am all for it.
My race was 100km, involved 6000m of vertical ascent and took me a shade over 24 hours to complete. Shoe choice was always going to be important.
So when it came to choosing what to wear on my feet, I decided to go maximal. This was going to be about comfort and under-foot protection. At the best of times I tend to steer clear of really minimalist footwear, but given the duration of the CCC and the fact that most of the route is studded with rocks (or is just rocks and nothing else!) I was going to stay far away from shoes that are light on protection.
Now that I am back in the urban sprawl, however, I am back in what I think is one of the heartlands of minimalist footwear… central London! This is where people seem to talk about, and run about in, minimalist footwear. I certainly didn’t see anyone in vibrams running in the Alps (although there were a few pairs on runners post-race as they loafed around the town).
In essence the shoe looks to be a Flyknit upper (which I like – here is my review of the Flyknit racer and Lunar 1+ where I talk about the upper) on a really flat Lunarlon sole with a waffle-pattern outsole along with a super flexible optional sockliner. Basically there really isn’t much to the Hyperfeel.
And I think that there ‘not being much to it’ is the point. In the video I have posted below, Tony Bignell, VP of Nike Footwear Innovation, talks about the shoe being designed to allow the runner to feel as though there is a little as possible both on and under the foot. In the video the shoe certainly looks to be very flexible and the sole looks very thin.
I have not had a chance to try the Nike Free Hyperfeel so I can’t pass judgment myself. But my feeling is that this is Nike widening its offering even further with the Free Hyperfeel. They have pretty much everything covered from trail shoes – which I will be reviewing in the next few days – to these very minimalist shoes which I think should only really be used on surfaces where there isn’t anything to tread on or kick. I think that with this shoe, Nike might be about to crack the code to the minimalist market… they might even convert me!
As you may or may not know, my big target race this spring was the Virgin London Marathon on 21 April. In case you missed it, here is my race report. And after nailing my target I had the opportunity to then go to the Copenhagen marathon with the RunDemCrew and my friend Charlie Dark, to run for fun.
Pacing not racing
After my blast around London, I asked Charlie if he would like me to pace him around the Copenhagen marathon and to my delight he said ‘yes’!
Why was I delighted? Well three reasons really – the first was that I wanted to pay Charlie back for many hours of advice and support he has given me over the years. The next reason was that I was convinced that Charlie had a solid sub-4 hours marathon in him and I thought I might be able to help him achieve it. And finally I knew how much Charlie has poured into creating, running and leading the RunDemCrew and I felt that there should be a race that he had the opportunity to run for himself.
I have paced a couple of races before – my wife’s debut marathon in New York and a friend in the Bristol half marathon are two that stick in my mind. And this meant that whilst I felt confident that I could help Charlie, I also knew the challenges and responsibility that comes with being the man with the watch. Little did I know how much the course and the weather would make things more difficult than it was already going to be…
The Copenhagen marathon
The Copenhagen marathon is a relative old man of the racing scene in Europe, having been going for 34 years and has plenty in its favour – it is a capital city race. It is a flat course. It has a great headline sponsor in Nike and some other high profile supporters. The city centre course takes in all of the sights of Copenhagen.
But all is not perfect. I have to say that the race has a certain air of tattiness and gimcrack about it. The course seemed to be constantly crossing and running alongside roadworks. There are roads on the course that are open to traffic and on more than a couple of occasions the field was split and we were directed across a six-lane highway with a muddy median in front of impatiently waiting queues of traffic. The marshals were really not doing much and a number were sheltering in doorways out of the rain. There were just too many loose ends and rough edges to make the race great.
The highlight of the race though, was the NBRO Crew. This is the equivalent crew to London’s RunDemCrew that I am honoured to say I am part of.
And it was NBRO’s task to host the other visiting crews – from London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York, Hong Kong, Berlin and other cities. The NBRO guys, and Troels in particular, pulled off an absolute master-stroke, with NBRO branded beer, a great pasta party before the race and an immense after-party that I have taken a lot longer to recover from than the race itself!
The race was tough. As I mentioned, the weather and course made an already difficult challenge – running 5 min/km pace for 42.125km – even tougher. After a baking hot day on the Saturday, the day of the race dawned grey and cool, which was perfect, but by 5km the heavens opened and the rain poured down. We were soaked from start to finish. Add to that, the very wiggly course, with lots of open roads, road works and pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate, and we had a tough day.
Charlie and I were bang on for 3:35 or quicker all the way to 35km, but sadly an old knee injury of Charlie’s, made worse by a recent fall, meant Charlie was hobbling and soon needed to stop and stretch out a tight hamstring. The frustration for him was that he was still running well, but frequent stops to ease out his knee ate into the time.
Nevertheless, Charlie dug in very, very deep and managed to fight the desire to stop and walk, which mean that we finished in 3:48:03. Still a big PB and comfortably under the 4 hour mark.
Overall, I think that Copenhagen is a good race. I think that for those at the sharp end, the lack of people to run with could be difficult. And for everyone in the field the difficult course stops this being an exceptional race. But I had an amazing experience – I loved running with my friend and thinking that I was able to help a little. I enjoyed seeing so many other runners and witnessing their struggles and I really enjoyed the after-party.
Would I go back? Not sure… but then again, if Charlie wants to try that race again for a sub-3:30, then I might be tempted!
The people at Nike recently sent me a pair of the new Nike Free 5.0+ to review. Having always had Nike Frees in my ‘collection’ of shoes, I was interested in trying them. But I must admit that I have bought Nike Frees in the past as a shoe for walking around town, rather than for running. However since hearing Mo Farah talk about how he incorporates natural running into his training to strengthen feet and ankles (and my ankle is my (ahem) Achilles heel when it comes to injuries) I was immediately interested in seeing how a minimalist shoe like the Nike Free 5.0+ could help me get back into running since the Virgin London Marathon. The short answer is that they are a pretty good first step as far as I am concerned. The 5.0 refers to the amount of cushioning and support that the shoe provides, with the Nike Free 4.0 and the Nike Free 3.0 offering decreasing levels of both. So if you are after a shoe that can help you take the first steps (sorry!) into minimalism, perhaps give these a go. And if you want to have a look at them, here is a short video review – bad hair and all!
My friend and training partner, Terry Stephens, kindly offered to give me his thoughts on the new Nike Flyknit Racer recently. A sub-3 hour marathon runner, Terry trains and races hard, so he is the perfect man to put the fastest Flyknits through their paces. Over to you, Terry…
Flyknit is Nike’s current flagship innovation, and the technology that is starting to be rolled out across other models within their vast range. It’s fair to say that I was more than a little skeptical that this new technology was very much more a fashion statement rather than a breakthrough in sports apparel, so I was extremely keen to give these a try.
The sales pitch highlights weight reduction and increased breathability – two things which are pretty obvious when you take these things out of the box. The construction of the upper clearly offers the improved breathability but more impressive is how super light they are. At 160grams it’s definitely the lightest show I’ve ever run in, it also has the largest heel drop (approx 10mm) – thought that isn’t something that I found particularly noticeable when using them.
The sock-like fit is something that has been well documented in the shoes official PR (even offering a steam fitting service them in a few of their flagship stores), but what isn’t clear is whether designed to be worn sock-less – something of a personal preference I guess, but not something I’ve tried to date. After a bit of digging about online, I understand that they are designed to naturally mould to your foot after a period of use – the steam-fitting process Nike offer is an instant way of achieving this custom-fit straight out of the box.
Weight aside, the next thing that hit me was how narrow and seemingly firm they are.
For these reasons I’d presumed that they’d be a predominantly track-based shoe for me with the possibility of a few 5k races thrown in. I wanted to test them out over a number of different sessions to give a rounded review of their performance so I trained in them for a few weeks across a variety of distances and surfaces.
As suspected they felt perfect for track. Great grip (even in the icy/snowy conditions we’ve had recently) and the firm ride felt fine on the track surface. The biggest surprise came on a longer run after having worn them a few times, an 8-mile tempo run on the road. After the first 20mins the shoes started to feel really responsive, helping to give me an extra spring in my stride along the embankment. Not sure if this was a sign of them beginning to mould to my feet, but I began to understand some of the comments that have been made about it feeling like you’re not wearing any shoes. The single piece upper offered enough support for me and certainly didn’t make me feel vulnerable to excessive pronation.
It was this last tempo session which left me thinking about the idea use and distance for these shoes. I know plenty of people that have, and still are, running full marathons in them, but for me the half marathon feels like the optimum distance. As beautifully light as they are I need a little more stability when my form begins to dip a little in the final third of the 26.2 miles.
I’m a big fan of the LunarSpider LT – they’ve been my footwear choice for all races under the marathon distance for the best part of 2 years. I see the Flyknit Racer as a rival for that mantle, although they’re obviously a lot lighter (-40grams), they share a similar level of heel drop (+2mm) and the fit is fairly comparable too. Ironically (given the super lightweight nature of the upper) I’d expect the Flyknits to be a little more resistant to wear, which hopefully will start to counteract the large price deficit between the two shoes.
In summary, for me the Flyknit Racer is a great (if not expensive) option for races up to the 13mile mark. The price will no doubt play a big factor in how successful they are, but I’d also like to think as the technology continues to grow the £150 price tag will start to creep down (they’ve already dropped to £130 since I began testing this pair).
Since the invention of the ‘waffle’ shoe by Bill Bowerman, which was one of the things that catapulted Nike into becoming the behemoth that it is, I don’t know of many game-changing innovations in running shoe technology. Nike Air revolutionised running and other sports shoes. The development of super-strong lightweight fabrics changed the uppers of performance shoes for the better. But beyond that, there has been little more in the way of truly epoch defining developments.
So I am usually a bit skeptical when a brand tells me that they have invented the next game-changing development and one of the most recent is Nike’s Flyknit technology, where the upper of the shoe is woven as one piece, rather than made by sewing together panels of material (or overlays as they are known). I was interested, but would it be really revolutionary?
Well, I have to say that I think it is a great technology – for two reasons.
Nike has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to sustainability and environmental issues. For some reason the Swoosh has become associated, for many people, with sweatshops and dodgy practices. I am not sure why Nike has been so firmly labeled with this bad press, whilst other brands in the sector have dodged the bullet – it is probably down to the enormous reach that the brand has and it’s market-leader status in many areas. But it is definitely my experience that if you mention Nike to someone there is a good chance they will make some non-specific comment about sweatshops and child labour.
But with the Flyknit, if everything they tell me is true, they have found a way to produce a shoe that eliminates almost all of the waste that usually happens when you cut shapes out of pieces of fabric to sew into a shoe and throw the cut-off material away. The story that Nike tells is that at the end of the manufacturing process, they have woven an upper from a couple of spools of yarn and simply snip off the excess at the end.
Not only that, but on my recent trip to NikeTown London to have a closer look at the Flyknit Lunar1+, my guide there told me that in total the shoe contains 82% post-consumer recycled material.
So we have a shoe that creates a fraction of the waste of a normal shoe and the material used is, as far as possible, made from discarded plastic drinks bottles and recycled rubber.
Whilst it is fantastic that Nike have produced environmentally friendly product, they also need one that performs, because without that they won’t sell many shoes.
With the Flyknit I think Nike have developed something that really does aid performance, because I think weaving the upper is not just an alternative to the traditional way of making a running shoe, it is an improvement on it.
The Flyknit Racer
The first shoe that I had the opportunity to try out was the Nike Flyknit Racer. I really like Nike’s biggest rival’s racing flat – the Adidas Adios AdiZero and ever since my last pair of Nike Marathoners went to trainer heaven, I have not found a Nike racing shoe that I felt comfortable in.
However the the Nike Flyknit Racer is a really good shoe for me. It is super-lightweight, thanks partly to the woven upper that simply contains far less material than a normal shoe.
The mid-sole is low to the ground in the front whilst also providing a good amount of cushioning, especially in the heel.
And the upper is amazingly comfortable. Pull the laces tight through the eyelets in the upper and the flywire loops that sit along the sides of the shoe and the feeling of security as the fabric wraps itself around your foot is second to none.
But could the feel be even better?
The Flyknit Lunar1+ and the steam machine
The second shoe in the Flyknit range that I have tried is the Nike Flyknit Lunar1+ and this time I was treated to the full fitting process by the Nike team.
I was invited to NikeTown London where a pair of this latest shoe was waiting for me. As I slipped them on, there was a similar feel to the Flyknit Racer. The Lunar1+ is definitely a more significant shoe and the sole is more cushioned, but the upper had the same feeling of flexibility and form-hugging as the Racer.
Kerry, the EKIN – a Nike expert who was there to tell me about the shoe – invited me to run on a treadmill set up in the lobby of NikeTown to see how the shoe felt: the upper felt nicely fitted around the midfoot – thanks to the Flywires – and roomy in the toe-box. I thought it would make for a really well fitting shoe for high-mileage running.
Then I was invited to take the shoes off and they were put into a sci-fi looking box that injected stream onto the shoes. After 30 seconds in this shoe-sauna, they were given back to me, warm and damp, and I put them back on. You can see the steaming box here…
Suddenly the upper was not just conforming to my foot – it was embracing every bump and contour and all the differences between my two feet were starkly obvious. More impressively, once the shoe had cooled (about two to three minutes) there is only one way to describe the feeling – completely sock-like.
On the Road (not like Karouak)
After the fitting at NikeTown, I took my new Flyknit Lunar1+ out for a run – a 60 minute tempo run. The shoes was as good on the road as it felt on the treadmill. The sole is certainly soft, but for high mileage I think that will suit many runners. It is not very bulky, so proprioception is not really compromised. But the main thing is the Flyknit upper – it really feels as though the shoe is bonded to your foot. There is no claustrophobia of the feet and heat is not a problem: it just feels as though the lightweight upper is holding the shoe gently but firmly in place. Just as it should be.
In conclusion, there are a few things that I really like about the Nike Flyknit range:
the manufacturing process is sustainable
the materials used are environmentally friendly
the fit – steamed or not – is superb, especially once the steaming has been done
the shoes can be steamed time and time and time again without compromising the upper
the Racer has a very fast-feeling sole while the Lunar1+ has enough cushioning for long runs and tired legs, without making you feel completely divorced from the surface you’re running on
A quick update – today I took my Flyknit Lunar1+ for a 19.7 mile outing. Averaging 7 min/mile with my training partner, I was really impressed with how good the shoe felt all the way through to the end.
The cushioning in the fore-foot was pretty much perfect for me, especially for the sections where we ran in tarmac or concrete (we try to run as much of my long slow runs on grass as possible) and the upper was super-comfortable: my feet were never too hot and the steamed upper fitted like a glove. The Lunar1+ is a light shoe and I really enjoyed that, especially when my training partner and I pushed the pace below 7 min/mile for the last 6 miles or so. All in all, the shoe performed wonderfully. Just a shame that such a nice looking shoe has got quite muddy – I may well wash ’em and go and get them re-steamed!
I have a playlist on my iPod that I reserve for when I need a real audio boost – EPO for the ears! On that playlist, which is made up of banging dance tunes, there is a live version of Daft Punk’s track Steam Machine. I really get a jolt when this track comes on and I love the whispered words
Steam machine… steam machine…
Earlier this week I received an email from the good people at Nike about the release of the Nike Flyknit Lunar1+ and an invitation to have a pair custom fitted to my feet. Now I am already a big fan of the Flyknit Racer and I will be posting my review of this shoe in a few weeks – at the moment I am wearing them for tempo runs, threshold runs and track sessions so that I can give as good a review as I can. But what has this got to do with Daft Punk’s Steam Machine?
The Steam Machine
Well the way that Nike tell me they are going to fit the Flyknit Lunar1+ to my feet is by steaming them… so they must have a steam machine, right? I can’t imagine they will be holding them over a boiling kettle in the way I used to mould my gumshields when I was a nipper playing rugby at school.
Why I like Nike’s Flyknit technology
The reasons I am a big fan of the whole Flyknit technology include:
the way that producing the upper from a single strand of material is so much better from an environmental and sustainability point of view, than the traditional method of cutting-out and over-laying pieces of material, with all the waste that comes from that
the way that the Flyknit upper is tough and yet so light – the Flyknit Racers that I am currently wearing are increadibly light! The toughness is still being tested, but so far, so good
the possibility that the technology behind the Flyknit might mean that completely customised shoes, knitted (or dare I say it printed) for the exact footshape of the athlete, is becoming a reality
So I imagine that the steaming process is a step along the road in that direction.
To give you a flavour, this is what the Nike peeps have to say about the Flyknit Lunar1+
This is the first shoe to bring together revolutionary Nike FlyKnit technology – engineered from a single yarn for a featherweight, formfitting and virtually seamless upper – with the responsive cushioning of Lunarlon. The Nike Flyknit Lunar1+ provides precision fit, support, flexibility and breathability with a more cushioned mid sole, making it perfect for everyday runners. Strategically-placed durable rubber inserts in the bottomless carrier deliver maximum impact protection in key areas on the heel and forefoot. The shoe incorporates dynamic Nike Flywire; adaptive support that tightens and relaxes to accommodate the natural motion of the foot. Five bright new colourways ensure that runners look as great as they feel on the road.
I will report back tomorrow once I have had my feet in their steam machine. I must admit that I’m rather looking forward to it and to going for my first run in the Flyknit Lunar1+, especially when that track comes on! Steam… machine… steam… machine…