So, I finally managed to get my fingers on some of the best shoes in the biz – Nike 4%’s. With the exclusion of the Hoka Carbon X’s and the Nike 5%’s, these are perhaps the fastest shoes on the planet, and they’re actually available to the general public. I’ve just tested my first ever pair, and I’m excited to share how I got on with them!
After my last pair of racing flats wore out, I decided I was going to invest a bit more and get something top-notch. When researching the latest and greatest, I came across the Nike 4%’s and Zoom FlyKnit’s. The 4%’s came in at an eye-wateringly high pricetag of $380NZD, I was shocked and certainly not willing to spend that much straight away on shoes that potentially were “just hyped up”. The Zoom FLyKnit’s came in at a more palatable $180NZD. Before making the leap and spending nearly $400 on a pair of shoes that would be for race day only, I resolved to try the cheaper version first! It’s worth noting that the only difference between the two pairs of shoes are the kind of foam underneath them – the 4%’s have the Zoom X foam (which is lighter and more responsive).
I’ve had the Nike Zoom FlyKnit’s for a few months. After putting a couple of hundred kilometer’s on them in both training and racing at different speeds, I was incredibly happy with my purchase! I ran my debut half marathon at the Huntly Half, clocking in at 1.18 (and claiming a new 10Km pb of in the process!). Having tested them out this much, I have to saw that these shoes are fantastic for both training and racing! You get 90% of the value of the 4%’s, at about half of the cost. Bottom line, I liked the shoes. I liked them a lot.
I liked them so much that I resolved to get a pair of the 4%’s. If the Zoom FlyKnit’s were this good, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about for the next model up! In addition, I ordered a new pair of the FlyKnit’s to see if the old ones still had the same responsiveness as a new pair.
When testing these shoes at track sessions, both the old Zoom FlyKnit’s and new ones (in back to back reps) seemed to feel just as responsive – a great sign! There was definitely wear difference in the rubber underneath, but ultimately they still ‘popped’ in every step. In addition, the fit and feel of the shoes felt the same. The main differences were aesthetic – however, with (an originally) white shoe that I’ve run in all conditions in, this was expected.
When I finally got around to testing the 4%’s on a very hard track session (3 x 1500m at 3 min per km pace, or 4.30 per 1500; plus 1 x 1km and 1 x 800m at 3 min per km to finish the session off), and found them amazing. My initial feeling is that I probably wouldn’t have gotten through the session without them on. Granted, it’s a very hard and fast workout, but having the ‘extra pop’ behind the shoes is noticeable. The Zoom FlyKnit’s are very good, but the 4%’s are better in every way – lighter, stiffer, and more responsive at higher speed (especially if you’re a mid-to-forefoot runner like myself). I have to admit, this isn’t a controlled study, there is no observable data other than what I felt. While I noticed a difference, I can’t claim that I noticed the differences some people claim – the shoes by themselves aren’t going to knock 10+ seconds per km off your pb without any extra effort!
The only negative I can find from the 4%’s is the wear rate. The Zoom X foam underneath being so light is also highly susceptible to running forces, meaning that they wear significantly faster than any other shoe I’ve worn. For me, this makes them a race-day only shoe – however if Nike would release them at a lower price point, I don’t see a reason why people, myself included, would ever buy another shoe again!
The bottom line for me: both pairs of shoes are great. The Zoom FlyKnit’s are great for pace work, racing, and pretty much anything else you can think of. But for people who are looking for the extra 4% on race day, I’d suggest getting a pair of the top model. They’re worth it!