Nike racing shoes: a user’s guide

Published 3rd October 2020 by mymo

September saw a huge scramble for the latest Nike racing shoe The Tempo Zoom Next %. While mymo remains completely impartial, this launch sparked a big discussion in our office about Nike’s dominance of the market and also the confusion we are starting to feel over every iteration of their racers. We are going to walk you through the latest generations of Nike racing shoes and give you some handy tips for making your choice, if Nike is your thing!Vaporfly 4%

This is where for most Nike racing fans, it all began. The 4% remains a firm favourite and has become virtually impossible to get your hands on following the development of the Next %. The 4% were first made famous by Kipchoge in the Breaking 2 event in 2017, boasting science that proved most runners would be able to make an improvement to their running economy equal to, you’ve guessed it, 4%. The eye catching racers were a light, brightly coloured fly knit with a carbon plate and Zoom X midsole foam. Vaporfly Next %

Next % came.. next! You will know Next % at a glance due to their wild stand-out colours including bright pink, green, multicolour ‘Ekiden’ and our favourite ‘Be True’ edition that had a rainbow and white upper. At most start lines you will still see a sea of these eye-catching racers. Next % were slightly different in fit but continued to boast carbon plate and Zoom X midsole foam technology which seemed to be crammed into the forefoot for extra bounce. Like the 4%, Next % came in for some criticism of their durability as despite the hefty price tag of around £260, some runners reported feeling they had lost some bounce after fewer than 100 miles. Zoom Fly

Retailing at almost £100 cheaper than the Vaporfly, the Zoom Fly remains a popular choice for runners looking for carbon plate energy return and a foam bounce with a smaller price tag. At a glance you might mistake them for Vaporfly Next % as they are available in very similar colours including the stand out bright green. Some runners find them slightly more generous in fit than the 4% or Vaporfly, but speedy workouts are still guaranteed. Zoom Fly uses React foam giving them a slightly stiffer midsole and therefore making more sense for use in longer workouts than the lighter racier Vaporfly. Alphafly

Alphafly made headlines after first being used by Kipchoge who wore a prototype of the shoe when breaking the 2 hour marathon in Vienna 2019. The first edition available to the public appeared in black and green, sporting the now well-known Zoom X foam, carbon plating and this time with the additional Air units at the front of the midfoot too. Despite another hefty price tag, Alphafly became an immediate sell-out, with many runners grabbing the first pairs within minutes of them going online. While the fit of Alphafly is reportedly great, some anecdotal reviews reported them as giving a feeling of disconnect from the ground, forcing runners to struggle to really feel their race in the same way Next % did. Was it worth it to run faster times? Without a doubt. 

Nike recently launched an updated version of the Zoom Alphafly Next % sporting a new atomknit fabric, the same foam bounce and carbon plate complete with air pods, and another new stand-out colour. Tempo Next %

One of the newest Nikes to the market, the Tempo Next % is as close to a racing shoe you can get without feeling like you’re in a racing shoe. Very similar in look to the new version of Vaporfly but retailing at £100 less, this is a mileage shoe with hallmarks of their most famous racer. First reports show the Tempo Next % has a stiffer feel than previous Nike racers and need to be carefully broken in for longer speed work rather than racing.

Nike have brought together a durable running shoe with elements of their racer, cleverly dropping this shoe to many online influencers and their sponsored athletes just before the public could get their hands on them. Result? Another sell-out shoe that many wanted to grab without really knowing why they needed it.

As with any and all racing shoes, any iteration of the Nike racer should be handled with care! Saving them for races means you will get the best out of them, and will make them last longer too. Take care over cleaning them and never use a racer in place of a decent, well-fitting mileage shoe for longer or easier runs. You could be running into trouble. It’s also worth checking the latest rules on race-legal shoes to make sure you don’t get a last-minute DQ for wearing your favourite racers. 

The debate over race legal shoes and the edge runners are given by wearing them rumbles on, but the most clear guidance given by World Athletics can be found here.

Photo credit: Emma Hawkey

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