In light of the half marathon world record recently being broken, I thought it might be good to go back and have a look at what adorns the feet of the top 2 professional men in half and full marathon race distances right now… and what could potentially become the usurpers from another brands.
I’m going to be honest – as far as I’m concerned, the Nike 4%’s are the creme de la creme of shoes (or maybe the newer Next %’s are, depending on the kind of upper you like; and the Next %’s are cheaper by $30 NZD). Both Geoffrey Kamworor (half marathon world record holder at 58.01) and Eliud Kipchoge (marathon world record holder at 2.01.39 officially) wear one or the other, depending on the day/how they feel/if they’re wearing prototype shoes yet to be released. My personal experience does also reflect this – I’ve had a lot of different brands of flat’s I’ve tried, and none have really come close to the current crop of Nike’s for my feet & run style. In addition to this, the upper echelons of the Nike shoe range are typically more comfortable and offer better value for money than the other new race flats from other brands.
I’ll explain why. For the purposes of this, I’ll only be talking about the innovative & newer designs around – whilst I’m sure there are some great race flats around, I’m not really interested in older technology that results in lesser advantages compared to newer tech!
The Adidas Adizero Prime Parley are $279.95 NZD. They offer a similar style of upper to the 4% Flyknit upper, as they wrap seamlessly around the foot into the sole of the shoe – but they don’t offer the same level of responsiveness, cushioning, or efficiency as the Zoom X foam found in the 4%’s. Sure, the Adizero’s are cheaper, but they don’t offer the same ride or promise the same increase in performance as the 4%’s.
Hoka One One Carbon X’s come in at $329.95 NZD, so a tad cheaper than the Next %’s. They use a carbon plate similar to the top level Nike’s in addition to ‘Profly X’ tech (basically a new kind of foam & rubber that they’re using). This supposedly gives a much softer, yet more responsive, ride when running at pace. However, there have been numerous reports of damage to the undersole after minimal mileage ie 100km or so; this certainly isn’t ideal, and makes them rather unfeasible as a proper race flat! It’s worth noting that the Hoka Carbon X’s aren’t Hoka’s answer the the Nike Next %’s; that would be the HOKA’s Evo Carbon Rocket, which come in at a light 7 oz. However it’s a rather moot point, as the Carbon Rocket’s are as rare as hens teeth and even more expensive. My take on this would be that while they’re surely a great shoe, it’s too greater risk to have a shoe that might be great, might not be great, might last, or might not last!
The ON Cloudflash: the whole ON range is slightly different! They have ‘pods’ situated under the toe, midsole, and heel of the shoe. These pods contract and expand as each stride takes place, supposedly increasing efficiency and reducing the risk of injury from the torque exerted by harsh ground striking. Javier Gomez wears them, and has done so for several years now, so they must be good (aside from the sponsorhip contract of course…). They’re definitely quirky, and I’d be keen to try them on, but at $270 NZD they’re fairly pricey for a shoe brought out pre-2012 Olympics. If I wanted to spend that much money on a pair of shoes, I’d spend a little bit more and get up to date tech!
This brings me to my last pair to look at. These are the New Balance Fuelcell 5280’s. They’re probably the only shoes that I’ve seen that could genuinely compete with the Nike’s above. I don’t often get excited about a product when I’m not planning on using them soon (as I’ve already got a pair of 4%’s that will suit me well for racing for the next season, as well as Zoomfly’s for training/ tempo work), but these really do tickle me. They’re targeted at “mile racer’s”, but I’ve seen professional athletes such as Alex Yee (ITU triathlete and Diamond League level runner) use them for everything up to 10km, and I imagine that they could be used for longer as well. Being only $270 NZD, these offer fantastic value for money, especially if they work as well as the top level Nike’s! They offer a fully seamless wrap-around upper and a multidirectional carbon plate underfoot, which ensure comfort and responsiveness in an extremely light 5.5oz, but with 24mm of rubber underfoot at the heel & 18mm at the toe (a 6mm drop/heal-toe offset) there is still enough cushioning to ensure that one wouldn’t be too beaten up by the end of a race. Combining top level performance with a better price point (they’re around $80NZD cheaper than the Next %’s whilst still being New Balance’s top offering), it wouldn’t surprise me if runners and triathletes began to switch to this shoe for anything lesser in distance than a full Ironman! Nevertheless, these shoes represent a possibility of a genuinely similar shoe (in terms of performance) to the Nike 4/Next %’s, at a lower price point, making them more accessible to everyone.
It’s worth noting that I’m in no way sponsored by Nike or any of the other companies mentioned above – all the opinions here are my own (and will remain that way until someone with a brand is kind enough to give me a sponsorship contract
which might take some time haha). I just think that when people are willing to spend so much money on gear in different fields (looking at you, cyclists), an upper limit of $400 NZD for top level performance is not too far fetched. It’s also worth noting that just simply having a pair of race flats will also likely improve your performance across any distance, regardless of the money you spend on them!
I’m in the lucky position that when my 4%’s die on me, I’m likely to have a hard time choosing between the Next %’s (or whatever else Nike might bring out by then) and the Fuelcell 5280’s, or whatever else might be on the market at the time!