The company that would become one of the biggest names in sports began with a guy selling imported shoes from the back of his car. Phil Knight, a former runner for the University of Oregon, started Blue Ribbon Sports in 1962 to sell Onitsuka (later known as Asics) shoes in the U.S. In 1964, his former coach, Bill Bowerman, joined him and began experimenting with new running shoe designs, and that itch to push the envelope has been a Nike hallmark ever since. Although it’s now a global behemoth, Nike has maintained a strong commitment to creating shoes that help runners go faster and farther.
But why are they the chosen shoe by some of the fastest runners in the world? Earlier this year, the Nike Alphafly, a prototype worn by Eliud Kipchoge during his sub-two-hour marathon in Vienna, made headlines as it narrowly avoided a complete ban by World Athletics. According to Nike, the three ‘critical’ components that make the Alphafly NEXT% so fast are the full length carbon plate, the Zoom X cushioning and the two Nike Zoom Air Pods, which have been added to the forefoot for responsive cushioning and propulsion.
This Zoom X cushioning foam is used in shoes like the Alphafly and the Zoom Pegasus Turbo 2. Refined to save weight and increase softness, the foam is matched with a carbon fiber plate in the midsole. These two elements deliver 85 percent energy return and exceptional bounce at toe-off, which helps propel you forward. Sports medicine researchers and The New York Times backed up Nike’s claims, but the best proof is at the podium: In 2017, 19 top finishers in six major marathons wore Vaporflys.
If you’ve got your heart set on the Swoosh, we’ve rounded up the pairs worth investing in.
Best for racing: Nike Zoom X Vaporfly Next%
Eliud Kipchoge wore these shoes when he set a course record at the London Marathon in April 2019. The Next% was seen as the update to the Vaporfly 4% that Nike launched to much acclaim. The shoe is so named because the brand claims it improves your running economy even more, by five per cent. On the run, it feels fast. There’s more bounce thanks to the added foam, and improved traction in wet conditions. The shoe’s so popular, in fact, that it’s hard finding it in stock.
Our Editor, Andy Dixon writes, ‘It’s no exaggeration to say that this is a game-changing shoe – you only have to look at the number of world records and race victories recorded in them to see they’ve changed the landscape of running. The high midsole made of very light foam has a full-length carbon fibre plate embedded inside it, and this leads to a perceptible springiness on the run. It’s also a super light shoe. I wore the previous version (the Vaporfly 4%) during last year’s Tokyo Marathon and the shoe really came into its own in the latter stages as fatigue started to affect my form. I’d recommend it to anyone aiming to run a PB as it will take minutes off your time.’
Best for trails: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail
The Air Zoom Pegasus has long been one of Nike’s most popular and versatile running shoes, but the road trainer hasn’t been as effective once the pavement ends. With the Pegasus 36 Trail, Nike have added outsole lugs optimise traction on roads and trails alike and made the toebox wider for a roomier fit as you hit the trails. Unlike the harder, traditional trail shoes on the market, this has all the cushioning you’d expect a Pegasus to have – there’s Zoom Air units in the heel and forefoot and plenty of the brand’s Cushlon foam. The result? It’s one of the comfiest trail shoes we’ve worn.
Best for speedwork: Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo 2
Sandwiched between the Pegasus and the Next%, the Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo boasted all the shaping and foam of the NEXT%, but without the carbon plate. It’s purpose was to provide you with a familiar feeling shoe without over-using your precious Vaporfly.
However, it’s a very capable shoe; RW Digital Editor Ben Hobson rates them: “I wasn’t a fan on the first try, it could have been a number of things, but after a few more tries I really started to enjoy this shoe. It feels good when plodding and really helps you ping along when you need to. A testament to how capable it is is that it’s now my go-to holiday shoe; that one shoe you need to do it all when you’re packing and don’t have much suitcase room!”
Best for half marathons: Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit
The new trend in stability shoes is less interference, and the Infinity Run follows that principle by providing comfort, support, and a smooth ride without messing up your natural movement. It came to market earlier this year with the bold claim that it would help reduce injury in runners and while we’re not sure that’s true, it is a comfortable shoe. Read our full review here.
Nike Air Zoom Vomero 14
Our Commissioning Editor Kerry McCarthy is a Vomero fan, writing, ‘over the years the Vomero has carved out a fine reputation for itself by occupying a niche that, until Hoka One One came along, wasn’t exactly overpopulated. Namely: shoes that offer maximal cushioning for runners who still want to go fast. The assumption has often been that going fast means less shoe and, while this is mostly true, some runners are always prepared to sacrifice a little speediness in the name of comfort and shock attenuation, which is where the Vomero is outstanding. I love the mix of plushness and control, speed and reassurance, especially because once I start to tire I switch from midfoot- to heel-landing, and the wodge of lightweight cushioning is always there to catch my sloppy gait and help me on my way.’
Nike Zoom Streak 7
‘These are my go-to shoe for half-marathons and marathons’ writes Senior Editor Rick Pearson. ‘They feel as responsive as a racing flat but you get an added level of comfort and cushioning that helps for the longer stuff. I also really like the spacious forefoot, which allows your toes to splay naturally. Plus, they’re an absolute bargain – if there’s a better, more versatile shoe for less than £100, I’ve yet to try it.’
Best for marathons: Nike Zoom Fly 3
If you can’t get your hands on the Next%, the Zoom Fly are your next best bet when it comes to a comfortable, affordable racing shoe. The latest iteration of the Zoom Fly has a thicker, softer sock liner and a new arch-band lacing system. The upper also utilises a new transparent material which doesn’t absorb water, which means these won’t soak up rain and weigh you down. Our Deputy Digtial Editor, Jane McGuire, put this to the test during the incredibly rainy 2019 Berlin Marathon; ‘I absolutely loved these shoes. They felt lightweight and fast, and remained as comfortable at the beginning of the marathon as they did the end. Most importantly for me, they felt stable, while still having the full-length React foam and a carbon fibre plate for energy return. They might not have the Zoom X foam of the faster shoes in Nike’s range, but for the everyday marathoner, I don’t think you’d notice.’
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