Inspired by Stanford athletes’ training that included barefoot running on the University golf course, Nike shoe developers sought to create a shoe that would give the benefits of barefoot running with the protection to practice it on any terrain. And the Nike Free was born; a shoe that accommodated the foot’s natural landing angle, pressure, and toe position to give a flexible and light-weight ride.
Nike Free Run+ 3 Impressions
I am not a shoe geek. Not yet anyway. When I find something I like, I generally stick with it and don’t vary much. I have a handful of favorite running routes that I’ve returned to hundreds – maybe thousands – of times, but I continue looking forward to heading to the familiar trail for another lap. When I began running, I was fit with the Nike Pegasus due to my neutral stride and desire for extra cushion. The shoes worked well for me, and I’ve bought dozens of pairs since, trying other models on only a few isolated occasions. I even run the Pikes Peak Marathon in the Pegasus, despite loose trail and bruising boulders. All this to say, I was somewhat skeptical about trying new shoes.
When the Nike Free Run+ 3 showed up at my door, I opened the box and slipped them on. They turned out to be so comfortable, I found myself wanting to wear them all the time. My first run in the Free was a morning hill repeat session (on 15% grade asphalt). I was immediately impressed that my foot showed minimal movement (going either up or down) within the shoe and seemed to be comfortably locked in place. The Nike Free Run+ 3 transferred my energy directly to the road. I enjoyed my first run so much that I decided to do an easy afternoon run as well. This led to my first disappointment. I noticed minor Achilles pain following the second run of the day (something I don’t typically experience). Upon reflection, I’m sure my Pegasus-loving legs weren’t ready for so much time in these minimalist shoes.
Once I learned to ease into the shoes more gradually, I found only benefits. On another run, I decided to put their slipper-like feel to the test: a sans-socks run in 105 degree weather. I assumed this would reveal the hot spots that must be hiding within the stitch-free upper. After a number of hot, Phylite-melting miles, I removed my sweaty feet and was surprised to find not even the slightest rub mark. I’m sold. I’ll be adding the Nike Free Run+ 3 to at least one of my weekly speed workouts, and I will don them at my next local 5K. Maybe I’ll start looking for some new running routes too.
Nike Free Run+ 3 Sole Unit
Unlike most running shoes, the Nike Free Run+ 3 is constructed of only a midsole (the cushion portion) and lacks an outsole (the more dense and durable portion). Nike’s Phylite material fills both of these roles by being resilient enough for cushion, but durable enough to contact the road, resulting in reduced weight. Designers have placed abrasion-resistant BRS 1000 carbon rubber pads on the high-wear areas of the sole to further increase durability. Another striking difference in the Nike Free Run+ 3 sole unit is the cuts, or sipes, through the sole that give the shoe incredible flexibility and enough stability to provide a barefoot-like feel. The resulting flex grooves reduce impact shock and can help correct over-pronation. Diagonal cuts have also been placed along the arch area to increase flexibility and increase foot strength. The Nike Free Run+ 3 is equipped with an opening in the midsole to hold a Nike Plus Chip, which can link to certain iProducts and the Nike sportwatch to transmit and store running data. The opening doesn’t appear to affect the flexibility.
Nike Free Run+ 3 Upper
This is the part of a running shoe where I would most love to have a barefoot-like feel. I like some protection on the sole of my foot, but don’t want to feel the upper digging in anywhere. The Nike Free Run+ 3 upper is secure enough to keep the foot locked in place, but stretchy and seamless enough to give an incredibly comfortable feel. The upper is made of Nanoply, which is both supportive and breathable. Around the arch and midfoot, Dynamic Fit is used to create an inner sleeve that provides a glove-like fit. Asymmetrical lacing is also used to link the foot to the shoe, yet allow for pressure relief on the top ridge of the foot. All of which lead to a notably unnoticeable fit.
Nike Free Run+3 Opinion
As mentioned above, I was skeptical about trying running shoes other than my favorite Nike Pegasus; however, after logging some miles in the Nike Free Run+3’s I was convinced that they could find a spot in my closet for many runs to come. The shoe is lightweight, flexible, and comfortable. These characteristics all led to a great running experience that left me wanting to leave the shoes on for the rest of the day. I wish I could wear the Nike Free Run+3’s on my local trails too, but they aren’t suited for running on even the most groomed gravel trails – as they will pick up numerous rocks in the siped soles. Wear them on the track or pavement and you will be pleased.
We thank the nice people at Nike for sending us a pair of Free Run+ 3 for testing. This did not influence our review of the shoes, written after running more than 50 miles in them.