The Nike Free Run 2 is an interesting shoe in the context of my running and the other shoes I have reviewed on Running Technique Tips. Part of the reason for this is the Nike Free Run came along after I’d commenced working towards better running technique and wearing more minimalist running shoes. The Free run is often pitched as a good starting point for runners to looking to begin a transition towards minimalist running and is marketed by Nike as being barefoot like.
Pete Larson did take issue with this positioning in his review and I agree with his sentiments, but on the flip side the Free Run does have one critical element that regular running shoes don’t have that makes its barefoot like credentials not too far off the mark. The reason the Free Run can make some claim to barefoot like running is mainly because of the flexibility of the sole and lack of stiffness. This means your feet have to work harder than in regular shoes because there is no lazy plantaflexion (foot stiffening) help provided by the shoe.
Where does the Free Run 2 fit in my running?
When I commenced minimalist running it was in the Adidas Adizero Adios & Ace (old model) with a little bit of Nike Lunar Racer thrown in for good measure. A bit further along I added the Nike Free 5.0 into the mix.
So by the time the Free Run came along I was well entrenched in Free 5.0, Free 3.0 and marathon racing shoes. I did buy a pair, but I initially found them better for walking than for running so I’ve been wearing them around for about the past year or so – more on this later in the review.
More recently the Free Run 2 arrived and I was keen to add it into my running repertoire, it was a bit better locked down that the previous version, making the forefoot area more stable. I had hoped to make this shoe a regular partner on my longer and easy runs. Slightly more support while maintaining good ground feel and the foot strengthening elements. But it didn’t quite turn out that way.
I’ve run about eight or more times in the shoe now from distances of 10-12 km and for different types of running, speed work twice and a tempo session just the other day. The other runs have been easy jogs on the dirt, roads and also some moderately rocky trails.
Good for faster running
My initial reaction, and this is based around my recent running history and progression, is that the faster you run, the better these shoes feel. Even though they look a bit bulky, once you run a bit faster you don’t notice them. In terms of speed work I’ve worn them on two sessions of 4 sets of (200,200,400) in 37-40 and 77-81 seconds.
The warm up jogs didn’t feel as great as the actual sessions, in which I found the Free Runs surprisingly fast and responsive. The tempo session was a short 3 by 4 minute efforts at about 3.55 kilometer pace. The rest of the easy runs were done at or slightly under 5 min km pace. So you could use these shoes for some of your faster running sessions, especially those completed away from the track.
Slow running not as comfortable
I found on the whole that if I was just easy jogging that it was more difficult to maintain a comfortable relaxed forefoot oriented foot-strike when running at about five minute km pace. I tend to agree with Pete Larson that it’s easier (as a runner transitioning to forefoot) to maintain forefoot in a shoe with minimal cushioning. In my view this doesn’t mean the shoe needs to be completely devoid of cushioning and be zero drop.
Other runners using this shoe have not agreed with this assessment, but as I’ve mentioned before choosing the right shoes is a very personal assessment, so many runners will find them just fine for easy runs.
So are they a good transition point for would be minimalist runners?
Well it depends on where you are coming from and how you run. I’d generally say wearing a lighter neutral trainer such as a Nike Pegasus or Mizuno Precision would be a better place to start if you’ve come from a background of running in heavier, more cushioned shoe models.
And this isn’t a generic recommendation as I’m not against suggesting a lighter weight shoe with a modest amount of support if the runner feels and looks like they need it. A couple of examples might be the Adizero Tempo, Nike Zoom Speed Lite+ 3 or Adizero Mana. Many of these shoes could be a better first step down. The Free Run 2, in this scenario, could be used then as a walking and gym shoe.
So your pathway to shoe minimalism is something that you need to decide for yourself. Will you take gradual steps down while maintaining your regular running volume or cut back on intensity and volume and go straight to a more extreme endpoint? I think for the majority of runners taking gradual steps down is probably the lowest risk approach. Also remember that you don’t need to go all the way to the barefoot endpoint to get significant benefits.
Collects less rocks
The Free Run 2 have slightly shallower grooves cut into the sole than the Free 3.0 and the old 5.0 model. This is especially evident in the heel section so they don’t collect quite so many rocks as you might first expect. It makes them a reasonable shoe for wearing on trails, provided they are lightly rocked.
What about as a walking/working shoe, commuting and a quick get away?
You could reasonably wear the Free Run 2 on the way to work, and I’ve heard there is an all black upper and sole version on the way which could be good to wear with your work attire or at least give you an unobtrusive option for wearing to and from the office.
If you have a job where you find yourself on your feet all day then the Free is also not a bad option. At a couple of warehouse sales businesses I’ve seen, a number of guys have taken to wearing Frees as they go about their business – steel capped Frees maybe?
Wearing them in jeans could make for speedy extraction from sticky situations such as muggings, public transport ticket inspectors or stalkers. Yet more advantages of wearing your running shoes more often in everyday life.
I think even if you’re not confident to try Frees in your running they are worth a look for walking. I’ve lived in my Free Runs for walking and casual wear for most of this year and while at times I’ve felt like Jerry Seinfeld, I have been very comfortable – a small price to pay for not being at the cutting edge of fashion!
Break them in
The Nike Free range of shoe seem to be at their most comfortable and responsive after a good breaking in phase. I estimate this to be around 100 – 160 kilometers. If you’re new to the Free, use this breaking in process to help you begin a slow transition to the shoe. Initially you shouldn’t run further than 10 – 20 minutes in your new Frees – preferably less and after you’ve walked around in them for a few days, but who’s going to listen to that advice?
One piece of advice you must follow is to listen to your body, when taking on new shoes – especially one with less cushioning and support you need to be on the look-out for discomfort and tightness. If this occurs put them away for a few days, let things settle and then recommence using the shoes at low volumes of running. Take your time and if you can’t run comfortably in your Frees use them for walking or gym and take a step backwards into regular shoes again for a while.
While I’m not as in love with the Free Run 2 as I am with the Free 3.0 it’s still a good shoe that has a range of potential uses depending on your background in running and current needs. I think I’ll tend to wear them more in tempo running sessions alternating them with Adizero Adios and the Free 3.0. While they were good for speed I’m trying to move onto the track a bit more to get used to wearing spikes. I did my first 200 rep in these the other day, scary, it’s been 20 years – looking forward to wearing them a bit more as the Australian Summer progresses.
Written by Brian Martin