Nike Free Run+: Corrections and Additional Thoughts

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.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Josh Morales55 says:

    Why isn’t there a 4.0? I don’t get it.

  2. Irregardless is not a word.

  3. fire4605 says:

    HI great site,would anyone out there in running land help.Started running in nikefree 5.0,s a couple of years ago thought is was xmas when I started running in 5.0,s(62 years young) thought this is the shoes for me not barefoot but good enough.But they stoped making the 5.0,s in my size US12 ,Tried 3.0,s not he same and five fingers to hard).Can any one have the same problem and help me pick an other shoe thats like the 5.0.

    • Pete Larson says:

      The Free Run+ is the successor to the 5.0, so that would be your best bet.

      • fire4605 says:

        Hi Thanks I got a pair of the + they just don,t have that feeling that the 5.0,s have I,v been running in these for a few years.

      • fire4605 says:

        Hi Again I use the 5.0,s to train in and race in the 3.0,sTrainning is the problem.The thing that I don,t understand you might be able to answer why nike don,t make size US 12 the biggest is US10 in the 5.0,s can buy them except in my size any where in the world. Great rambling by Chris K expressed the why I felt about the 5.0,s.when I first tried the shoe.Except I can,t use that many words.

        • Pete Larson says:

          No idea, might just be that the 5.0′s are discontinued.

          • fire4605 says:

            Thanks Yes but if you search the web you can buy the 5.0,s anywhere in the world except he in Australia, as long as your size is US10(balm parents for the shoe size) and below.I brought a pair of waffle 5.0 in my size US12,from the US a month ago, confused.Can you recommend a replacement pair of a shoe with the flexibility as the 5.0,s to train in?

  4. That is a lot of articles you’ve written about a shoe that you haven’t even tried.

    I appreciate the effort, but these reviews would be a lot more effective if you actually went out and tried the shoe.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I appreciate you response, and yes, you’re right, I have not worn these
      shoes (but I have run extensively in the Free 3.0). If you read through the
      comments on this post you’ll see why I feel justified in writing these
      commentaries on the Free Run+:
      link to runblogger.com
      .

      An analogy might be useful. I drive a Prius, and I like fuel-efficient cars.
      Would I need to drive a Hummer to know that it isn’t going to fuel efficient
      in the way that my Prius is? That’s my problem here – Nike is marketing the
      Free Run+ as a shoe that promotes a barefoot gait, which is simply not
      possible with a heel that large. The science is clear on this (read Daniel
      Lieberman’s Nature paper), and one only needs to look at the shoe to see
      that it has a cushioned heel – in fact, Nike touts its cushioning and
      stability. These are both things that are not desirable in a shoe that
      promotes a barefoot gait.

      Pete

  5. kevinrhollo says:

    Hi Pete,

    Love the continual critical push of your blog!

    Thinking about building a website/blog/internet thing to garner energy/sprinkle salt/throw punches at nike design to produce a free 1.0 shoe.

    Thoughts?

    Pretty sure a grassroots/commutiny type effort (if enough momentum) could inspire/warp/command nike to take notice.

    Anywho, keep up the great writing.

    Oh, if you use nike’s running site (such a great tool, and the main reason i’m an evangelist) i’m Jah Runner.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Kevin,

      Thanks for the comment! I’d love to see a Nike Free 1.0, but my suspicion is
      that the only way it would come about is if there’s a big enough market for
      it. Blogging and pushing on-line for it is not a bad idea, and was one of my
      motivations for writing this series of posts – I want to see them come out
      with a truly barefoot-like shoe, not one that is simply marketed as such.

      Pete

  6. walt chadwick says:

    please keep writing about the free and other shoes like it. it would be nice to know NIKE’s plan for future generations of the Free. perhaps someone there will pick up on your thoughts and improve some of their designs.

    thinking about and discussing shoe design never needs your apology.

  7. I was just at the Nike store here in Chicago today and they had the following in stock and on display: Nike Free 3.0, Nike Free Run+, & Nike Free 7.0 V2

    I was asking the sales rep about the Run+ and the new 7.0 and he was saying that the 7.0 V2 took the place of the 5.0 while providing more of a curve to the sole to contour to the foot and the thickness of the sole was more like the “retired 5.0s”… interesting.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Ricky,

      Thanks for the info – seems to confirm that the 5.0 is going away to be
      replaced by the Run+. Did you try any of them on? I did buy a pair of 3.0
      v2′s myself, and they compare favorably with the original 3.0.

      Pete

  8. Chris K says:

    My rambling first impressions of the Nike Free Run:

    I’m relatively new to running this go around. I’ve been running in the Mizuno Wave Ronin 2s (very light, neutral trainer/racer). I have also tried the Saucony Kinvara and the Nike Free 3.0. Was not really impressed by the Kinvara, constricting material in the upper and weird fit on my ankle bones. I love the Free 3.0s, but my foot strength is not that great yet and I developed bursitis in my ankles. I need just a little more shoe while I strengthen my feet and transition. I love the Mizuno Wave Ronin 2s.

    When I first put on my Nike Free Runs, I really wasn’t all that impressed. They aren’t quite as comfy as the 3.0s. Just walking around on the carpet they didn’t really feel much different than my Kinvaras. But walking/running on the road was an entirely different story. I just got back from my first run. (well run/walk, I’m a beginner and I do segments of running 4 mintues and then walking 3 minutes, as I build up my muscles to be able to endure longer running periods). I went about 4 miles total. I have finally found my shoe! I’m in love! No more worrying about my form, my feet just did their thing, it felt natural, and I felt like I was just flying! For the first time I found it very easy to land under my center of gravity and not too far ahead of my hips. My cadence fell into a fast groove that I didn’t have to force. I could stop focusing so much on my form and just run! Fabulous!!!! I’ve struggled in the past to keep my feet under my COG (midfoot landing was easy, but I always felt like I was forcing myself to land under my COG and it felt awkward) and so to just have it click with the change of a shoe is awesome. They are so amazingly comfortable and I really do feel like my feet are moving similar to how they move when I walk or run barefoot. Ground feedback is superb. I feel like a kid running! The Nike Frees are really, well… FREE!

    I’m really impressed with the heel of the Free Run. In most lightweight racers/trainers with a moderate heel (9-10 mm) that I have tried, I really feel like my heel is dead, can’t feel anything or respond to the ground, etc. All the ground feedback is in the forefoot only and the heel just kinda comes down like an after thought, with no real feedback to tell you where it is at. Not the case with the Nike Free Runs, and this is especially nice for me, a run/walker, because they are super comfy and responsive for walking because of that. (You tend to land more on your heel when walking). There is a considerable amount of ground feedback in the rear of the shoe because of the construction of the sole. Bravo Nike! This is awesome! My whole foot feels alive and engaged in the running/walking process, not just my toes/forefoot. This really allows me to land lightly with a nice midfoot plant when I’m running, and walk gently and quickly during my walking breaks. As someone who needs a bit of a heel right now (due to recent ankle bursitis), to have a moderate heel that still has ground feedback is the perfect solution. I really feel like this is the perfect transition shoe into more minimal shoes. I plan to step back down to the 3.0 at some point.

    I ordered 9.5 (womens) and the LRS has measured me at a 9 in most running shoes. I prefer lots of forefoot room and toe splay, and the 9.5 was just right in the Nike Free Run. (I wear a 8 mens in the Mizuno Wave Ronin and a 9.5 in the Kinvara) The fit is snug around the top of the foot, heel, ankle, etc, like a sock (but not constricting because the material gives), and I have a thumbnail’s width between my big toe and the end of the shoe. If I had gone smaller, my toes would have been touching the guard material along on the front of the shoe and I would not have liked that at all, as it isn’t very stretchy there. As it is, my toes are in an area where they are free to stretch with the mesh material and they are very happy. The width in the forefoot is superb. First time I’ve tried on a women’s specific shoe that I felt actually had enough width here! I was a little worried about the booty construction because I have narrow heels (and wide ankles, LOL) so I wasn’t sure how it would fit me. I have problems with lots of shoes slipping in the heel or being too tight along the top of the foot. But not the Nike Free Run. Fit is superb! No slippage, very comfy!!!! I thought I loved my Mizuno Wave Ronins, but I think we are breaking up. I’m in love with my new purple shoes! So for me anyway, the Nike Free Run is the perfect transition shoe.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Chris

      Thanks for the in depth review – I’ve been hearing good things about
      it from lots of people. As you suggest, I suspect it’s a great choice
      as a transitional shoe for those wishing to move into more minimalist
      footwear.

      Pete

  9. raykeller says:

    I think that Nike is out to make a buck, bottom line. That is totally understandable. The thing that disqualifies the Free is arch support. While it does fit into a “minimalist” definition, it certainly doesn’t come close to a “barefoot” conception. Full disclosure: I wear VFF…

    Also, if you REALLY like the free 3.0 check out Nike’s website and I think you can still order a pair (for future use).

    • Pete Larson says:

      Ray,

      I agree completely – arch support and heel means not barefoot-like. I also
      wear Vibrams, but not on every run. I tend to mix things up, sort of
      following the philosophy that the more I throw at my legs in terms of
      footwear, the more muscles I’ll hit, and the stronger they will be overall.

      I did see the Free 3.0 on the Nike site – thanks for the comment!
      Pete

  10. I ended up cutting the heel down on my 5.0 nike free’s using a hack saw!
    taking about 4 mm away made a big improvement, but like you I wonder why nike insist on thinking that a heel strike is besthttp://runwitharthurlydiar…

  11. Michele says:

    was just at a running store and they were pushing custom insoles and cushioned heel. one woman actually got another rep when i asked her about minimalist running. when i told her i wanted to feel the road & avoid heel strike, she rolled her eyes.

    the problem is, i don’t know enough to counter it. why is arch support a negative in a running shoe? (as someone w/ feet that pronate – arch support is always thrown at me as a corrective measure) all i know, is that it doesn’t work and my feet & ankles still hurt and i feel like simplifying the things i put on my feet makes the most sense and i want to give it a try.

    bottom line, they didn’t have any nike frees or vff which is what i wanted to try on.

    • Pete Larson says:

      That’s an unfortunate response (eye rolling), and I really don’t understand
      the resistance on the part of some against those who simply want to try
      something different. If traditional shoes aren’t working for you, why
      shouldn’t you try something different?

      Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of definitive science showing
      that arch support or a cushioned heel are any worse or better than going
      minimalist in terms of performance or injury prevention. I think the more
      salient point for you is that what you have been doing isn’t working for
      you, so trying something different would seem to make perfect sense. We are
      all an experiment of one.

      Pete

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