I’ve written a few posts here on Rublogger in which I was pretty critical of Nike for their marketing of the Nike Free Run+ as a barefoot-like shoe. I still stand by the points that I outlined in those posts, but I want to be clear that although I find it virtually impossible that any shoe with a heel lift can properly simulate running barefoot, I do view the Free Run+ as a step in the right direction for those looking to experiment with a more minimalist style of shoe. I’d liken the Free Run+ to a gateway shoe – try it, and before long you’re going to be sporting crazy looking toe shoes or running fully barefoot. It’s a slippery slope, and one that’s hard not to slide down once you’re on it (I myself am about 3/4 of the way to the bottom!).
Given that I probably won’t be reviewing the Free Run+ myself (I’m well stocked with a few pairs of the Free 3.0, as well as innumerable other pairs of shoes), I was pleased when a reader added a lengthy review of the Free Run+ as a comment on one of my posts about the shoe. Chris Kuykendall is a 34 yr old runner just getting back into it (3-4 months) after a lengthy break associated with starting her family. She’s currently averaging about 8-10 run/walk miles per week, just raced her first 5K on June 11th, and has several races scheduled over the summer. She’s working on increasing her running endurance and decreasing the walking breaks, and her long term goal is to build up enough endurance to run a marathon. She’s wanting to experiment with minimalist running, and rather than me blabbering on, I’d prefer to let her tell her story in her own words.
Without further adieu, here is Chris’s Review of the Nike Free Run+:
I’m relatively new to running this go around. I’ve been running in the Mizuno Wave Ronin 2’s (very light, neutral trainer/racer). I have also tried the Saucony Kinvara and the Nike Free 3.0. I wasn’t really impressed by the Kinvara due to constricting material in the upper and a weird fit on my ankle bones. I love the Free 3.0’s, 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/walk – I’m a beginner and I’m currently doing segments of running 4 minutes 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 that I have tried I really feel like my heel is dead – can’t feel anything or respond to the ground. All the ground feedback is in the forefoot only, and the heel just kinda comes down like an afterthought. Not the case with the Nike Free Run+ and this is especially nice for me, a run/walker, because they are super comfy and responsive for walking because of that. There is a considerable amount of ground feedback in the rear of the shoe because of the construction of the sole. Bravo Nike! 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, and I plan to step back down to the 3.0 at some point.
I ordered a size 9.5 (women’s) in the Free Run+ and typically wear 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+. 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 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.
So there you have it – a returning runner’s take on the Free Run+ as a transitional minimalist shoe. Chris has related to me that she has continued running in the Free Run+ regularly since posting her comment, and still feels as positive about it as when she first wrote this. I’ll add that I have a few other running friends who are raving about this shoe, so despite my personal, perhaps nitpciky concerns expressed elsewhere on this blog, this might just be the shoe for you. I want to thank Chris for providing an in depth perspective here that I as yet could not.
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.