I apologize for writing yet another post on the Nike Free Run+, but for some reason this shoe has made me think a lot about what a barefoot-like running shoe should be, and this post clarifies and corrects some of the points that I have made in previous posts. I wanted to first send out a thank you to Glenn, who wrote a comment on my previous post alerting me to a discussion on the Runner’s World forum about the new Nike Free Run+. In that thread, a representative from Nike (Ernest) corrects some of the speculation that I’ve put forth in my previous few posts.
1. Regarding the Heel-Toe Offset
In my earlier post criticizing the heel on the Free Run+, I stated: “The Nike Free Run+ appears to sport a bigger heel than on either the 3.0 or 5.0 – I could be wrong, but just look at the comparison picture to the left and see if you agree.” Turns out I was wrong – Ernest points out in the Runner’s World thread in response to similar speculation about the large heel on the Free Run+ that “It’s important to note that the height of a midsole as visible from the side-view of a shoe is not necessarily indicative of its thickness under the foot.” He goes on to say that “In the case of the Nike Free Run+, the actual height of the midsole under the heel of the foot is 1 mm lower than it was in the Nike Free 5.0 v4. The forefoot height has remained constant, which means the differential in height between the forefoot and heel–what we call the heel/ball offset–is also 1 mm lower than it was in the 5.0 v4. The net result is a more barefoot-like feel.“
So the heel of the Free Run+ does sit lower to the ground than the Free 5.0, I admit my mistake. However, I’m still confused as to why Nike states when introducing the Free Run+ on their website that it has “more cushioning for an exceptional ride” and “increased support under the arch for improved stability.” And why do they state the following on the Nike Free Run+ product page on on the Nike Store: “The Nike Free Run+ Men’s Running Shoe pulls from elements of the Nike Free family in order to deliver a shoe that’s more flexible, more supportive and more cushioned than ever” and “If you’re ready for the benefits of barefoot training but require a shoe with a plusher feel than others in the Nike Free line, don’t overlook this shoe’s heel design – a new addition to the series – which delivers a cushioning experience that won’t compromise your flexibility.” More cushioning and stability than what? I had assumed that meant the 5.0 since that seems to be the most comparable shoe in the line. What’s more, the proper heel design for a barefoot-like shoe is no heel at all, so it is hard to “overlook the shoe’s heel design.” I’m still a bit uncertain on this one. Irregardless, a 1 mm reduction in drop hardly makes this a barefoot-like shoe in the vein of the Vibram Fivefingers, or even most racing flats, and the last time I looked at a bare foot it didn’t have any external arch support.
My problem is not so much with the Free Run+ as a shoe, because I do think it’s a whole lot more minimalist than most shoes on the market (which is a good thing), and it’s a fine choice for those wishing to transition into minimalist running. My problem is with it being marketed as barefoot-like, and as a shoe that might encourage a barefoot-like gait. In my opinion, no shoe with a pronounced heel can make this claim. Of all of the factors that have moved humans away from the mid-foot/forefoot strike of our ancestors and those who are habitually unshod (see Daniel Lieberman’s paper in Nature), I suspect the presence of a cushioned heel is most important, and that is why I have a problem with the barefoot-like claims about this shoe. I think the Free Run+ is better described as a transitional minimalist shoe, but I doubt that’s going to be a winner in a marketing campaign.
2. Regarding the Discontinuation of the Free 5.0 and 3.0
My basis for assuming that the Free 5.0 and moreso the 3.0 were being discontinued was twofold. First, a post on the Running Warehouse blog stated “For Summer ‘10 the Free 3.0 and 5.0 combine to become not the Free 4.0, but instead, the Free Run.” I took this to mean that the 3.0 and 5.0 were going away. My other reason was that the 3.0 has been nearly impossible to find anywhere in stores or on-line, including Nike’s own on-line store, for quite some time (this was also noted on the Runner’s World thread and by numerous people I know who have been trying to buy them). I was alerted just the other day that some stock of the 3.0 had appeared at the on-line Nike Store, which is good news.
On the Runner’s World thread, Ernest indicates that both the “Nike Free 3.0 and Nike Free 7.0 will continue to be available in some channels and markets.” I’m not sure what this means for the future of the 5.0, or where specifically the others will continue to be available, but I’m happy that the 3.0 seems to have at least some life left. Maybe all of my grousing about the Free Run+ is just because I liked the Free 3.0 so much and was afraid that a good thing was going away (hence the ridiculous # of posts I’ve written about this new shoe!), but I still think that if the Free Run+ is the future of the lineup, then Nike is making a mistake.
So after all of this, what do I want? I’ve made it clear on this blog that I’m a big fan of the Vibram Fivefingers as a barefoot-like shoe. I don’t run in them everyday, but the strengthening benefits they provide goes farther than anything even the Free 3.0 did for me (my soleus muscles let me know that right away after my first Vibram run). What I’d like to see from Nike is a Free 2.0 or 1.0 – keep a minimalist upper like that on the 3.0, and create a shoe that has a heel-toe offset of 0, or as close to 0 as is feasible. If they do that, I’ll be the first one to tout the shoe as barefoot-like, and I’ll be first in line to try them out.
Update 10/27/2010: I have now posted my own Nike Free Run+ review. Check it out here: http://www.runblogger.com/2010/10/nike-free-run-review-nice-transitional.html.