The folks in Nike’s running department waxed slick and technical when describing its stable of new and upcoming products. As I sat in the dim room at Cloud Place in Boston with other media types last April, I was engrossed in the geeky details of superior shoe and apparel construction presented by designers. I heard about floating heel support, biomechanics, Cooper’s ligament and gender-specific cold zones. It was fascinating and informative, but Nike’s got stiff competition in the running shoe and apparel market. What I wanted to know was, at this price point, which of these Nike pieces are worth it for runners of the non-elite variety? After three months of testing a few items, I’ve got answers. I’ll give different answers in different posts.
Nike Free Run+
What this is: This shoe appeals to consumers who like barefoot running in theory, not really in practice, although I’m sure there are real barefooters who would put this shoe in their training mix. For those of us who’ve tried barefoot running, like it, but prefer some cushioning and protection from the mean streets, this shoe meets those needs. In fact, this incarnation of the Free provides a little more framework than past versions but still preserves freedom.
The cushy sole is scored deep with fingers to help the foot “articulate,” i.e. let the foot flex and do its natural thing. It’s impossibly light, airy and comfortable, and the lack of uber-structure forces your leg muscles to work harder. Because men and women’s feet are different, construction is gender-specific.
I’ve worn these to run, walk, strength train, and as regular kicks, and performance has been great (plus I get compliments on their cuteness). It’s Nike+ ready, if you track your progress that way.
There are a lot of high-tech specifics, but the translation is: this shoe rocks in striking a balance between freedom and forgiveness.
Pass up or play: PLAY
More: The media preview also trotted out evolved versions of other Nike+ shoes: LunarEclipse, LunarElite, LunarFly, LunarGlide, and LunarSwift. The Nike folks do a mess load of consumer testing, trying to nail how to “get inside their heads but also inside their hearts.” One question that comes up often is one of my biggest gripes about shoes: Why do running shoes have to be so ugly? I paid $135 for my last pair of road shoes. Performs amazingly, but blander than homemade soap. Nike gets a big A+ on these lines for going bananas with color and breaking away from the standard-issue running-shoe look. Athletes have an emotional connection with their footwear, and Nike seems to get this.
Nike Dri-FIT Elite No-Show Running Socks
What this is: Pretty straightforward, these are synthetic no-show running socks. The Elite no-show isn’t new, but it’s new to me. Apparently, these only come in men’s, so I’m not sure why they ended up in my testing bag along with all my other women’s Nike apparel.
It has a tad extra cushion for the big toe. It comes in a white or black color combo, and I love the deep orange (go Longhorns). Unfortunately, that’s all I love about these. My biggest gripe about no-show socks are their propensity to slip down my heel and into my shoe. I have to buy brands at this same price point to get no-shows that stay put, and they do. These socks seem constructed in the same way, so my trail-walk with them seemed promising. They didn’t hold up even for a simple hike. I typically wear no socks or higher ankle socks on trails, but I can’t think of a reason for these socks to have tanked the way they did. I stopped several times to adjust and stretch them. I finally gave up and just dealt with socks bunched up in the back of my shoe. Totally annoying.
I read the comments section for this sock on the Nike site, and there’s only one commenter who agrees with me. Still, the socks were the right size for my foot, but it could be the man’s sock/woman’s foot thing.
Pass up or play: PASS UP