Saturday, March 14, 2020

Nike Zoom Alphafly Next% Initial Review with Comparisons to Vaporfly

Article by Mac Jeffries

Nike Zoom Alphafly Next% ($275)

Sample: men’s size 14: 10.7oz / 303g (for context, my Next% are 9.1oz / 258g)
Stack Height: TBD
Available soon: $275

Mac: 1:59:40. In less time than it takes you to play checkers with your granddad, Eliud Kipchoge covered 26.2 miles in less time than any other human being in recorded history, and he did it wearing the Nike Alphafly. This type of accomplishment tends to excite those of us that chase numbers on a clock, and so the hype train - which was already moving full speed ahead on the heels of the Vaporfly 4% and Next% - took a jump into hyperspace. 
Now, the IAAF, along with Nike R&D, ensured that you and I will not get the exact shoe that Kipchoge used to “Break 2”. Since the non-record-eligible feat, the shoe has been nerfed somewhat, with limitations to the number of carbon plates allowed (from 3 to 1) and the stack height (capped at 40mm). (These claims vary from outlet to outlet, and the Nike rep I spoke to was not forthcoming about the differences between Kipchoge’s shoes and the production models. Arvin actually went so far as to say that he was not even aware of the IAAF ruling. I mean, Nike’s own page says he ran in a prototype similar to the AF.) That said, who cares? The search for the latest and greatest shoe technology will not be denied, so let’s take these babies for a spin!  
Mac: Unmatched cushion. Extremely boingy. More forefoot room than Vaporfly models. Shorter people are more likely to hit the height requirement to be able to ride more rides at Six Flags. 

Mac: Somewhat heavier than Vaporfly models. Upper not as secure as it could be. A little unstable at top speeds. Cornering can be tricky. 

Tester Profiles
Mac is a former 275 Defensive Lineman who took up running at age 30. Now, at 6’4” 200lbs, he has PRs of 19:19, 1:33:xx, and 3:19:xx of of 50-70mpw.

First Impressions and Fit 

Mac: Holy stack height, Batman! Ok, I am not gonna hide it: pulling this thing out of the box, I had my reservations. This is just so much shoe. Granted, it feels very light in-hand (even though the only shoes I have held with this much volume are those Size 22 monstrosities you see on the clearance rack at Ross. I was also worried about the knit upper; I had flashback of the 4%’s Flyknit sliding off of the side of my foot while cornering, but it definitely feels a little more substantial with a wider base on the ground, so maybe there is hope. 

My size 13.5E foot slid in to the space-age kicks with a little effort: the midfoot is decidedly narrow, but it opens up nicely in the forefoot. So, actually putting them on is a bit of a chore, but once on, they fit well; they definitely have a wider platform than the 4%, and slightly wider than the Next% as well. There is a little pressure under the arch of my foot walking around, but I never noticed it while running. Still, I may be performing a little surgery on some pebax soon to shave that part down so as to prevent any blisters. High arch? No problem. Flat footed? Grab your Cutco. 

Mac: The Atomknit upper may look like Flyknit, but it is - thankfully - much more secure. Nike says it is created by  “steaming and stretching Flyknit fabric, delivering a lightweight, contoured fit with minimal water absorption and enhanced breathability” .

There are also some underlays that add some structure to the midfoot. That said, as bouncy as the ride is, I think I would have preferred an upper more like the Next%: something that is really secure with minimal stretch allowed to compliment the lively midsole. 

The knit upper is largely see-through, and the material will not absorb water, so you won’t have to deal with any sloshiness in the rain (other than your socks). 


Mac: Pop Quiz: how many shoes are in the picture above? If you guessed 4, congrats on noticing the very tops of my size FIFTEEN Zoom Streak 7s peeking out from behind my size 14 Alphas. Did I mention that these things are huge? Now, consider that those Streaks were considered premiere marathon flats just 3 years ago..

OK, so this thing is crazy looking… and we know that at least one person ran a crazy fast time in them… but how does it ride? The answer: pretty darn fantastic, depending on what you are looking for. I have used the words “springy” and “bouncy” to describe several of my favorite pairs of shoes… but calling this “bouncy” is like calling Noah’s ark a “nice boat”. If you have worn the Vaporflys, let me just say this: wearing one shoe on each foot, the Vaporfly (Next%, in my case) feels like a firm racing flat by comparison. Every step, whether walking or running, feels like you are being bounced on a trampoline. It is truly an odd sensation, even for someone who was awed the first time wearing Vaporflys. Here is the difference: the Vaporfly, firmer (only compared to the Alphafly could someone use “firmer” and “Vaporfly” in the same sentence), seems to propel your foot forward, while the Alphafly seems to want to keep you airborne. I would be lying if I said the AF felt “faster”, but you definitely get the sensation that you could just run forever. As far as the air pods go, I am not sure how functional they are: the stiff parts in the center of the pod are, well, stiff enough that I imagine the shoes would function the same way even if you cut the plastic pods off. 

Mac: Probably the least remarkable part of the shoe, the forefoot is covered with a patterned rubber than grips well in wet conditions, while the heel is exposed foam to save weight. The exposed foam seems to have a higher density material around the edges that should add some durability but which is not as firm as the Next's rear wear areas. It is high quality, good looking, and functional. 

Mac: I have put in as many miles as possible at a variety of paces as I can in a short time. Basically, they feel great on easy to steady-state runs; at faster paces, you start to feel the massive midsole almost pulling your foot forward. It is a fast, but less-than-stable feeling. The sweet spot for this shoe is around marathon effort; you just feel like you are floating along. (I am speaking in relative paces, meaning that a hobbyist like me doing reps at a 6:00 pace would probably find these less stable than an elite cruising along at a 5:45 pace. For instance, my marathon PR pace is 7:30ish and these started to feel unstable around 6 flat… but Kipchoge looked plenty smooth at a sub-5min pace, so I really think it is all relative to effort.) Honestly, the longer (duration) you plan on running, the more you will like these. 

One other noteworthy sensation is that there is so much midsole, I am slightly conscious of the weight of the shoe beneath - and not on - my foot, especially at faster paces. If you play golf, you may know what it is like swinging a club with too much flex in it. This is a similar sensation: at faster paces, you really need to smooth out your stride to not feel like you are fighting centrifugal forces of these. 

If I have a concern, it is cornering at high speeds. The super high stack height combined with the boingy ride really makes me want to check my stride in tight turns, rather than bombing away like I would in the Next%. 

Conclusions and Recommendations
Mac’s Comparison Chart HERE
Although it isn’t perfect, the Nike Alphafly is going to be a fantastic marathon and ultra shoe. I would be torn between the Alpha and the Vapor for a half, and would definitely choose the Vaporfly on anything faster than a half. RIDE: It is a very different feel from the Vaporfly - and it doesn’t have the forward propulsion - but it is a fantastic fun ride in its own right. FIT - I would like a little more security from the upper, although I commend Nike for the wider forefoot. VALUE - major props for performance, major ding for the $275 price tag. 

Comparisons Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Vaporfly Next % (RTR Review
Alphafly for Marathon and longer, Vaporfly for Marathon and shorter. Vaporfly is lighter and more secure, while AF has more protection. 
Still, it is crazy how different the rides are between these two shoes, as outlined above. 

Vaporfly 4% (RTR Review
I consider the Next% to be a superior shoe to the 4% in every measurable way; that said, it is still a fantastic shoe. Everything I said about the Next% applies here: AF for the longest stuff; 4% for the fastest stuff. I will add that the Atomknit is a marked improvement over Flyknit (even though I prefer the Next% upper over both). 

Hoka Carbon X (RTR Review
Including this here as it is marketed as an ultra shoe. AF has more bounce, more protection, less weight, and more room in the forefoot to accommodate foot swelling. If you can spend the extra $100 and don’t mind sacrificing some durability, this is Alphafly all day (even though I quite like the Project X as a long distance trainer, and you can certainly race in it.)

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was a personal purchase. The opinions herein are the author's.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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Greg S said...

You think heel strikers will get limited miles on these? The next %s lasted me much longer than the flyknits because of the rubber in the heel.

Anonymous said...


I don't see how this could possibly be compared to "normal" shoes. Putting it below some Asics trainer I've never heard doesn't do any of these shoes justice.

It's like saying a honda civic si gets a better car score than a maclaren F1 for its usability or whatnot. Totally different use!

Anonymous said...

The crux of your question is in the weight that you place on different categories. To your average middle class person, a Civic is a much better car, because he/she will rate Value above Performance. I am transparent in my weightings; whether someone else agrees with my weightings is up to the individual. I encourage you to develop your own set of criteria from scratch and share it with me; I would love to see how you categorize all of these different shoes. Maybe I can learn something from you.

It could very well be, however, that you need to give “some Asics trainer you’ve never heard of” a chance. Marketing hype isn’t everything, you know. Why come to an amazing site like RTR if not to find out about great shoes you have never heard of? In this case, maybe you can learn something from me :-)

All the best, and happy miles,


Anonymous said...

It's easy consider the factors in road racing that people would want:

Racing shoe: grip, turnover, leg fatigue, foot stability, sure "price" knowing that you have to pay to play (5-10% max). Important criteria are anything that allows you to travel your fastest.

For a trainer: price is more important sure, durability, recovery feeling, stability & fit. What allows you to enjoy running and train. But nobody should be comparing a nike free to a vaporfly.

Trail: similar to the trainer but adding grip rated by surface. What allows you to enjoy and not die.

I would gladly learn about new shoes but I want to know what the best racing shoes are, the best trainers, the best trail shoes are etc.

Ivaylo Benov said...

Thanks for the great review! When are they going to be available? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

High stack height...were you around during the Pegasus 27/28/29/30/31 days? Those things had stack heights higher than the Next% easily, and almost Alphafly level. Runners world measured the 29's stack height at over 38mm, or almost illegal (40mm is the max according to the new rule). And each of those shoes had drops of like 12-14mm. Talk about stack height and instability...I could barely walk stable in those shoes.

Al Stewart said...

Hi folks, I am just wondering why the Nike Alphafly has had so little attention on your excellent review site. I notice watching both World Cup short course races and the Daytona PTO long course in 2020 the men’s winners wear Alphaflys. These incredibly fit pro triathletes can run 14:27 5kms and 29min 10kms after intense swims and bikes. . Gustav Iden won the 18km Daytona race in in 53 mins. These boys can run. They mostly aren’t sponsored and chose the fastest shoe possible. Almost always the Alphafly and at any distance, from 5km up.
Any chance your site might do a real in-depth review ? Is this a running shoe for elites only or is it suitable for age groupers/ masters runners?
Thanks so much.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Al,
Thanks for your kind words! It's been a tough year for racing and few of us have the AF to even try. I am one but other than a few trials have not wound them up properly. I can say I was very pleased with my out the door 10K time trial in them this summer in heat: 7:30 pace closing last 2 mile around 7:10 pace. The only new shoe that is at its level the adios Pro and with it I easily ran 2 miles sub 7 after a few miles of more moderate pace. i am on the slow side as 63 running halves 1:39 down to as low as 1:35:30 and every race in the original VF with a 2018 BQ in 3:40 in them. My sense is the Alphafly would be my next marathon shoe but I worry a bit about the softness of the heel (even compared to OG VF) as there is less pronounced drop in feel which the OG had that pretty much no matter how tired I could easily find where as in the AF the front pod sits between the heel and a soft quite easy final toe off. Worried about way back on the heels when tired. Hope this helps
Sam, Editor