Seeing innovations, meeting athletes, and getting the lowdown from the design team
Let me begin this by acknowledging what you’re thinking from the title. Yeah, it’s a cool job that I have here – on any given day I get to connect with world class athletes, speak to running culture icons changing their cities, and maybe shoot a major marathon or crash a track meet. Sometimes I even get to visit places like Nike World Headquarters.
You’re getting this from me while I’m in Portland, Oregon as a guest of local sporting goods manufacturer Nike. The team @ Nike invited TEMPO out to see some footwear innovations, speak to designers (spoiler alert – the TEMPO x Nike Vaporfly collaboration idea I pitched was a no-go), and just generally have a poke around their World Headquarters in Beaverton. Who am I to refuse that invitation? Exactly.
I’m going to break it all down for you here and save you that 14-hour flight from Australia plus the two and a half hour connect from LA to PDX. As you have come to expect from TEMPO, we’ll get deep with the details in separate features dropping very soon.
Before we start – Nike HQ, or ‘campus’ as most people refer to it, is exactly what you think it is. It’s this huge expanse with a running track, soccer pitch, a number of indoor basketball courts, indoor pool, and more (including obviously a heap of office buildings). It’s not uncommon to encounter some of the biggest names in sports wandering the halls.
From the jump – the main reason for the visit is to check out what’s happening with the Nike Free Collection. You know Nike Free – you’ve worn it at some point since the Nike Free 5.0 first dropped in 2004, everyone has. The whole idea was and still is about promoting a more natural range of motion, which would in turn help develop foot strength - while eliminating some of the injury risks associated with pure barefoot running.
Back then, the first version even dropped with a set of training recommendations to help runners adjust to the shoe and minimise injury risk.
In the late 2000’s Free was adopted by non-runners as a lifestyle shoe, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the core messaging of the product became diluted for a lot of runners.
That ends now, with the release of the 2019 Free Collection from Nike.
We’ll save the super nerdy stuff for an in-depth feature, but essentially Nike are taking Free back to its roots as a training tool. Don’t get it twisted, this shouldn’t be your everyday running shoe – but lacing these bad boys up once or twice a week is claimed to promote natural flexion and mobility, and develop strength in your feet.
"What we have always wanted with the Free is the foot to be more in control than the shoe.
Less shoe. More you."
Tobie Hatfield, Nike Free designer
Full breakdown of the Nike Free Collection, including quotes from the design team and our take on the shoe, is coming in the next few days – stay locked to our social channels to be the first to know.
From here we took it outside and got to spend some time with members of the Nike Sport Research Lab (NSRL) looking at some of the testing and data capture they do when designing footwear. Specifically, they look at where you apply pressure in your feet during your stride, foot flexibility and mobility, and more.
So after learning about the Free and getting the opportunity to throw a pair on my feet, we got to kick it with the women from Bowerman Track Club – the Bowerman Babes as you may know them.
The Bowerman Track Club has grown the female side of its roster massively in the last few years, and now boasts a dozen women, including Shalane Flanagan (who upon retirement from competing will become a coach of the group), Shelby Houlihan, Emily Infeld, and Colleen Quigley, among others.
We published a piece on the BTC women back in early 2018 which you may remember - take a trip down memory lane here.
We were lucky to have Courtney Frerichs, Karissa Schweizer, Gwen Jorgensen, and Vanessa Fraser join us for our Free workout.
So that concluded our session on the 2019 Nike Free Collection, and as mentioned we'll be deep diving into the product in a separate feature very soon.
The rest of the day was all about speed, baby. Nike wheeled out the big guns for this, including Rio gold medallist Matthew Centrowitz and American Record holder in the steeple, Evan Jager. We got to learn about a lot of great updates to the Zoom family that are dropping soon.
I'm going to go right ahead and lay all these updates out for you. More information will be on the way closer to the drop, but here's what we have right now.
- Due mid-year like Pegs normally are
- New engineered mesh upper delivers breathability where you need it
- New tongue is more like what you would see on a racing shoe and contributes to weight saving and reduced bulk
- Midsole and outsole carries over from the 35
Pegasus Turbo 2
- As with the Pegasus, it has a new upper – 3 layer engineered mesh. This looks really great in-hand
- They’ve gone away from the ‘duckbill’ style heel collar to something that looks a lot like the Pegs favoured by Mo – a lower, straighter collar
- There’s a sort of half-sleeve from the toe to the midfoot to help comfort and fit
- Midsole and outsole carries over from Pegasus Turbo
Zoom Fly 3
- Full React midsole and tuned carbon fibre plate – this carries over
- There is however more foam – this shoe sits higher
- On the outsole there is significantly more traction to assist with durability
- Translucent, lightweight and breathable upper
- The shoe differs for men and women – the women’s version features a slightly softer sock liner and higher arch, which was feedback Nike received during the testing phase
There was of course another special product in the Zoom family we got to see, but I'm not allowed to talk to you about that...yet.
After going through this range with Nike, we got to take the Pegasus 36 on a short run around Nike Campus. After running a 5k that took in the campus soccer pitch, the Michael Johnson Track (where Shalane Flanagan and Jerry Schumacker were hanging out), and the Hollister Trail, it was time to clock off for the day.
Fair to say I don’t have many days in the office like this one.
Day two started with the thing that stood out to me most on our agenda we received before the week. A session on Nike Trail. Nike what? Yep, Nike Trail.
This has been a frustrating silo for runners and Nike fans in the last few years - footwear updates have seemed to be on a slow cadence, and at times it has been hard to know whether Nike are in or out on trail. There have been just enough super limited apparel drops to keep some buzz about the brand, but information beyond that has been limited.
You can understand then my excitement to get a product update on 2019 plans, starting with the Kiger 5.
This thing is a beast.
The Kiger 5 is a revolution of the Kiger name. It gets React in the midsole for the first time (raised hands emoji, amirite?!), has Zoom air in the heel, and a segmented rock plate up front (which has been a feature of the Wildhorse for a while). In addition, the outsole is completely new – it has multi directional rubber teeth, which should make this shoe well suited to muddy conditions. It also features a sticky rubber section under the middle of the foot.
Unfortunately I don't have any Kiger's to photograph so I can't give you detailed pictures of those, but the shoe drops on April 1 so you should be able to see it for yourself then.
As well as a new Kiger, Nike have updated the Wildhorse. The Wildhorse 5 is an upper change only, but if you wore the 4’s, this could be of interest to you. I never quite got comfortable with the midfoot wrap that came over the top of the foot on the Wildhorse 4 – though I know there were plenty of fans.
The new upper is a multi layered mesh with some significant rubber skins – nothing totally new here in the way of tech, but there’s definitely a lightness and a freedom that I didn’t feel in the 4 – maybe because of the wrap it had across the midfoot.
The midsole and outsole are the same as the 4.
There seems to be a lot of energy from Nike on the Trail segment, and long may it continue – both of these models release April 1.
Oh wait, wait, wait. I almost forgot to give you guys the best bit – after we learned about the new drops, we got to chuck them around a 6 mile trail in nearby Forest Park with trail royalty, David Laney and Keely Henninger.
After the run I was lucky enough to get some time to interview David, touching on a range of topics including his race schedule, his famous nomadic lifestyle, and how his 2018 helped him reset physically and mentally. We also checked out the truck he calls home.
Full feature dropping soon.
The afternoon on Day Two was spent back at Nike HQ getting a sneak peek at a bunch of product for the back half of 2019. Unfortunately I can't say much (I think this is already too much) about that, but you know as soon as the embargo is up we will be bringing you the most in-depth info on all the new gear.
That wraps up our trip to Nike HQ in Portland, Oregon. Oh, as I was leaving I bumped into this guy who wanted a photo - I think he is a designer there?