Meet your next marathon race shoes

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Nike give Flyknit upgrades to the Vaporfly 4% and the Zoom Fly

By now, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with Nike’s podium-dominating Varpofly 4%. Since its initial release in mid-2017, no shoe has won more big city marathons (the Vaporfly Elite has won several majors, but the Vaporfly 4% has won more total marathons).

The Vaporfly Elite, the pinnacle of Nike’s commitment to speed, has so far been reserved for its very top tier of athletes; Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, and Mo Farah to name a few (even Shalane Flanagan, Nike’s darling of distance running, raced in the Vaporfly 4%, not the Elite, in her famous NYC marathon victory in 2017). The Vaporfly Elite did receive an extremely limited retail release in Berlin in 2017, with some pairs now fetching over $1,500 USD online.

One of the key differences between the Vaporfly Elite and the Vaporfly 4% was always the upper. While the Elite has a Flyknit upper, the 4% has always had a more traditional cut-and-sew upper, offering comparatively less breathability and incurring a weight penalty over the Elite.


With the release of the Vaporfly 4% Flyknit, Nike have now added a Flyknit upper to the Vaporfly 4%, giving runners a better raceday feel and getting them closer to what the best athletes in the world are running in. Everything that made the Varpofly 4% such a hot shoe remains the same, with the exception of this new upper, which offers better breathability and brings the weight down.

From a performance perspective, this is a significant upgrade. It’s no surprise that the Vaporfly Elite worn by Eliud Kipchoge is Flyknit; it’s clearly a more suitable material for this type of shoe (Kipchoge toyed with Flyprint in London this year but has since gone back to Flyknit uppers).

From a feel perspective, as we have seen throughout 2018, not all Flyknit is created equal. This upper feels a lot tighter and less stretchy than you may have seen in other Flyknit shoes over the last 12 months. Where it does have some elasticity is in the tongue area, which runs all the way under the laces.

It’s not quite a one-piece upper; the heel has a sewn-in heel cup for some added support and structure, and also features some light padding to protect the foot. Otherwise, it’s an extremely minimal upper, which makes sense given Nike’s commitment to eliminating any unnecessary weight.

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The rest of the shoe remains unchanged. You’re still sitting on a mountain of Nike’s ZoomX; Nike’s lightest and most responsive foam. Sandwiched between two layers of that ZoomX foam is a full length carbon fibre plate, and it’s this plate that has been the centre of attention since Nike first announced the Vaporfly Elite and 4% models in early 2017.

The New York Times ran a feature back in July that looked into Nike’s performance benefit claims on the Vaporfly, drawing on hundreds of thousands of athletes’ data from Strava. I won’t go into it in detail because it’s worth you checking out yourself, but to say the research backed up Nike’s claims on the Vaporfly 4% would be an understatement.

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Note the subtle padding on the heel
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In case there’s any mistaking, you’re buying the Vaporfly 4% for marathon (and arguably ½ marathon) racing. If you’re looking for a shoe to log those big training miles in, consider the Pegasus Turbo - it contains ZoomX foam, a lightweight upper, and some React foam for increased durability. With the scarcity of the Vaporfly 4%, you want to keep these fresh for race day where possible.

Based on what we’ve all seen with our own eyes since the shoe debuted in mid-2017, and with the exhaustive research from the New York Times, it’s hard to imagine there’s a better shoe in the world at the moment for marathoners.

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The Zoom Fly Flyknit is the most exciting release here from Nike, and dare I say it the most exciting release of 2018 for Nike (yes, that includes the Epic React and Pegasus Turbo).

Why do I think the new Zoom Fly Flyknit is so exciting? It’s basically a completely new shoe. The silhouette remains, but with a new upper and a new midsole, plus the inclusion of a carbon fibre plate, it’s probably the best value shoe Nike make.

Before we get too excited though, let’s start with the upper. Much like what we see in the new Vaporfly 4% Flyknit, the upper has less stretch than you might be used to in something like the Epic React, except for of course the ‘tongue’ section under the laces. In fact, the upper appears to be exactly the same as the upper in the Vaporfly 4% Flyknit, so what we’re seeing is a weight saving and a breathability increase over the non-Flyknit model.

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The Zoom Fly Flynkit, shown here in the women's launch colour

The midsole is where the two big inclusions come in, and why I think this is such a great value shoe. First, you’re getting React, Nike’s replacement to their hugely successful Lunar foam. Second, and this is the big one, you’re getting the carbon fibre plate, which wasn’t in the previous model Zoom Fly.

Think about that. You get a lightweight, breathable upper with Flyknit, you get React foam on the midsole, and you get the carbon plate. Apart from the shape of the shoes being different, the only thing you’re missing from the Vaporfly 4% is the ZoomX foam. And don’t get me wrong, ZoomX is phenomenal and really well demonstrated in the Pegasus Turbo, but the Zoom Fly Flyknit is still a significant upgrade from the non-Flyknit version.

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Note the heel padding
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So why would you buy the Zoom Fly Flyknit? If you can’t afford or can’t access the Vaporfly 4% Flyknit (and let’s be honest - it’s going to be hard to access), the Zoom Fly Flyknit is a great choice. It’s a great shoe for distance racing, whether marathons or ½ marathons, and you should be able to get more wear out of these than you might with a Vaporfly 4% Flyknit.

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If you’re in Australia I’ve got good news and bad for you. The Vaporfly 4% Flyknit is going to be incredibly hard to access and won’t be in any retail doors down under. Your best bet is going to be online; the initial release to Aussie shoppers will be on on October 1st on RRP is slated for $350.

The good news? The Zoom Fly Flyknit is available in Nike stores and at selected running specialty stores across the country, with RRP of $230. When you consider the non-Flyknit Zoom Fly retails at $220, the updated offering represents great value.

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