Test driving Nike's most controversial running shoe
Words by Nathan Irvine
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Since 2016, Nike was obsessed with breaking the two-hour running marathon record. Such was the infatuation, the US sportswear giant had an enormous “1:59” daubed across a wall in its Portland, Oregon HQ. This served as a reminder to all about the superhuman challenge the company had set itself.
Nike achieved its goal in 2019. Its legendary distance runner and ambassador Eliud Kipchoge clocked a time of 1:59:40 in Vienna, Austria. Obviously, the Kenyan’s natural ability was paramount in breaking the record, but the sub-two-hour weapon – or weapons – at his disposal were Nike’s controversial running shoes. The Nike Alphafly propelled Kipchoge to the finish line – quite literally.
Fitted with three carbon fibre plates extra cushioning pods, the Alphafly is arguably the world’s most technically advanced running shoe. It recycles the energy from each stride that hits the ground to give the wearer a little forward propulsion.
While this tech has long been used in the world of running shoes to make athletes faster and more efficient with their power distribution, Nike is the first to demonstrably prove it on the world stage.
We know it helped achieve the almost impossible, but what of the average person on the street? Although the Alphafly was a one-off for Kipchoge, Nike has an equivalent for the masses - the tongue-twisting Nike Air ZoomX Alphafly NEXT%. So, I decided to find out if they could make me – a non-competitive runner – any better.
It’s worth pointing out that I like the idea of running for fitness, but I’m by no means a fan of it. I’m more of a cyclist. So, Nike already has its work cut out to encourage me to clock up the miles in its shoes.
What you first notice is how chunky they are. The carbon fibre plate is squeezed between generous amounts of Nike’s foam technology, and two Zoom Air units that are essentially air-filled cushions.
Not only do I feel a few inches taller in them, but there’s a certain sense of occasion every time I slip them on. It’s like putting on a pair of football boots. You then know you’re ready to play football in them.
It’s the same with the Nike Air ZoomX Alphafly NEXT% - put them on, and you feel like you’re ready to run. They’re less a fashion accessory and more a piece of serious kit for you to perform in.
Like any good piece of equipment, these running shoes need to be worn in to unleash their potential. The first few strides in these boxfresh numbers sound a little weird, a bit like you’re running in flip-flops. But once they’re supple, they’re a revelation.
What’s impressive is the way that the Alphafly has an uncanny way of making you run properly. I’d say I’m pretty flat-footed when it comes to running, but the construction of the shoe seems to automatically fix my gait. This might not be the case for everyone, but it certainly felt like they fixed my technique.
It’s clear within the first few strides that the Alphafly isn’t built like other shoes. It wants to drive you forward as quickly as possible. I felt like I was trying to keep up with the shoes’ acceleration rather than vice-versa.
Without trying too hard, I seemed to be flying through the air with every step. Sprinting in them had an edge of danger about it. Like the first time you get behind the wheel of a supercar and press on the gas a little harder to see what happens. In the right hands (feet?) the Alphafly is a complete game changer in racing.
But the biggest compliment I can pay to Nike’s super shoe is that they make me want to run. At 38, the cushioning has thankfully spared me of the usual aches and pains I get in my Achilles, knees and lumbar. I started out with weekly 1km jogs, but am regularly hitting 5km every few days now. Like I said earlier, they’re a revelation.
It’s unlikely I’ll be challenging Kipchoge anytime soon, but his trailblazing feat with the help of Nike has at least made me enjoy the sport of running these days. And that’s a challenge I didn’t think the Alphaflys would ever achieve.
Nike Air ZoomX Alphafly NEXT% are available for AED 1,049
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