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Photos of Bullos’ feet and her taped up Nike incorporated shoes quickly raced around social media and reached one head coach of a professional team in the Philippines. Although the minimalist running craze has come and gone, the Nike Free continues as a stripped down, highly flexible trainer for short distances. The latest version sports a completely redesigned midsole that bulges in key areas to provide more support to the foot and a new curved groove pattern that maximizes flexibility. The upper is a mixed bag, however: It’s seamless and roomy, but many testers felt it didn’t keep their feet stabilized on the run.
The ZoomX foam found in the Vaporfly Next% (and in the Zoom Pegasus Turbo 2) ups the ante even more. 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, and Eliud Kipchoge wore a yet-to-be-released version during his historic sub-two hour marathon run in Vienna in October 2019.
Unlike other brands, Nike does its chemistry in-house, and its foams are the product of years of experimentation. One early success was Lunarlon, a blend of EVA and bouncy nitrile rubber that debuted in the Lunaracer in 2008 and won a following for its springy, responsive feel. More recently, Nike released React foam in the Epic React Flyknit in 2017. Designers honed the formula to maximize cushioning, energy return, and durability while maintaining a low weight. RW lab tests on the Epic React confirm the foam’s impressive balance of softness and bounce, and testers felt a noticeable improvement from Lunarlon-based shoes.
We could then examine the change in performance of two similar runners â€” people with similar race performances and, ideally, training regimens â€” and compare the improvement of a runner who switched shoes with a runner who did not. In Berlin, runners who switched to Vaporfly or Next% shoes improved their times more than runners who did not, on average. That was when Nike first planned to release its own footwear, unveiling the iconic swoosh logo for the first time. By 1976 Nike was already running national ad campaigns, and by 1980 it owned half the U.S. market share for athletic shoes.