First impressions count for a lot. And that applies to running shoes, too.
In a synchronised global launch on Thursday night, Nike unveiled its newest shoe, the Lunar Epic Flyknit, a one-piece runner with a genre-busting ankle collar.
The secrecy was almost unprecedented for the brand. The reason? The shoe is an amalgamation of all of Nike's most successful technological elements, and a few new ones, across different sports - think basketball, soccer and running. As a result, it is a step away from any current product in its range.
It's different, in look, feel and performance. Yes, it's even somewhat futuristic. Most significantly, it is functional. This, from my one 10km experience of running in it, at least, is a proper running shoe - not a gimmick.
The upper is a mid-height flyknit fabric on a 'Lunarlon' foam base with a 10mm drop from heel to forefoot. The ankle collar idea is taken from the Nike Magista soccer boot launched at the 2014 World Cup that fit players like a sock, supported their ankles, and which, according to Nike, they loved.
The rubber-free outsole of five separate topographical maps on the heel, midsole and toes is designed to resemble pressure maps of the foot - each separate ring compresses as you stride through for a smooth, yet responsive ride. Given the contoured design of these maps, they're not likely to wear down, however in my run I managed to pick up a couple of tiny loose stones between the rings.
I thought when I wore the Lunar Epics they'd attract a few looks, but in fact once they're on, the ankle collar just looks like a sock. So no issues of standing out for all the wrong reasons.
Here, first impressions really count, and they're good. The flyknit moulds to the foot, with higher density at the arch, heel and forefoot. It is like pulling on a new pair of thin running socks. The laces - tied to externally stitched "flywire" cables - are merely for fine-tuning. Because the upper has no overlays, no tongue, no internal stitching except on the a vertical heel strip, there's no sense of a toe box in the traditional sense, but also no rubbing. The comfort factor is high, even though they are designed to be worn with socks. They feel super-snug.
The mid-height collar gives a sense of support and stability around the achilles and ankle while running, although whether it's physically doing so is hard to know. When I tested them, it was too dark to take on particularly uneven terrain, but over gutters and uneven footpaths they felt reassuringly firm.
They are light - lighter than other Nike runners and all stable runners across brands. A men's size 10 weighs 246 grams versus 330g to 370g for others in the category. A women's size 8 weighs 194g.
Running shoes across all brands have got dramatically lighter as core foam has improved. Nike's 'Lunarlon' foam has been around since 2008, but in the Lunar Epic the exterior carrier foam has been reduced to 2mm in thickness, allowing for more of the good stuff to be packed in.
The 100mm pitch drop is ideal for mid-foot striking, yet the cushioning is the same as that which a heel-striker might seek. The pitch is 22mm in the heel and 12mm through the forefoot. For me, they felt more like a racing flat, but with the cushioning and springiness of a distance shoe.
Point of difference
This is the Lunar Epic's key point of difference. "We have achieved a lightweight trainer in a shoe that's designed for super-long distances," Nike product expert Michael Osten told me during a preview.
So, potentially, there's no need to segregate your running shoe wardrobe into interval trainers, tempo shoes and distance shoes.
"Because shoes are getting lighter and more naturally flexible, we are moving away from the prescription shoe to encouraging people to buy what feels best on the foot. Comfort is what will keep people running in the end," says Osten. "Because of the way they mould to your foot, the Lunar Epics are designed to fit pretty much any foot shape."
Certainly after my run this morning, I was in no hurry to take my shoes off. In fact, I'm still wearing them. Add recovery shoe to that list.
Lunar Epics come with a 4mm sock liner and an optional 6mm liner. Four main colourways are available: University Red, University Blue and Voltage Green, Hyper Orange, and Yellow Strike. Price: $250.
Pip Coates received a trial pair of Lunar Epic shoes from Nike.