There’s an arms race
going on in the running world. In the past couple of
years, nearly every major shoe brand has moved away
from relying solely on EVA – ethylene-vinyl acetate
– the shock-absorbing polymer that has been the
go-to midsole material since the 1970s. EVA is still
used in many models (and in a slew of other applications
that must be soft yet springy, including pool noodles
and flip flops). But its deficiencies have become well
known: it loses its snap and bounce after a few hundred
kilometres of pounding, leaving the runner feeling like
their shoes are “dead.”
Adidas has had massive
success with their Boost midsole, made of little pellets
of thermoplastic polyurethane (a.k.a. TPU), discovered
by accident by the chemical company BASF and offered
up to their German counterparts after they realized
that a melted version made for one resilient chunk of
foam. Similarly, Adidas’s sibling company Reebok
has made a recent hard charge back into the running
world with their Floatride foam. New Balance also scored
a huge hit with Fresh Foam, which allows them to “tune”
the chunk of the midsole material at different densities
in order for it to perform in specific ways for a variety
of athletic applications. Saucony’s Everun is
another softer, tougher innovation. Even Nike, who previously
invented Lunarlon a decade ago from spinning rubber
and EVA together, clearly felt the competition from
these new foams. In 2017, they launched ZoomX (in their
Breaking2 shoes) and this month they’re rolling
out React; you guessed it: it’s softer, more reactive
and lasts longer than EVA.
And now its Under Armour’s
turn to unveil their significant midsole innovation.
You’re going to hear a lot about HOVR for the
next few weeks and months. This new line of running
shoes are also what Under Armour is calling their new
midsole technology. The company have gone all in with
running in the past couple of years, and HOVR is positioned
to be UA’s signature technology innovation, with
a massive marketing push amplifying it. In fact, it’s
the single biggest marketing effort the company has
ever launched. Sorry Tom Brady, your line of UA sleepwear
is nice, but not that nice.
Dave Dombrow, UA’s
chief design officer, helmed HOVR, telling us that the
idea began a few years ago with the search for a midsole
material that would perform just as well on the 100th
run as it did out of the box. The idea must have been
compelling, as Dombrow had initially left UA in 2016
to move over to rival Nike, but reversed course and
returned to become their frontman for all upcoming shoe
designs, seeing HOVR to its fruition and beyond.
Dombrow and his design team worked with Dow, one of
the biggest chemical companies in the world (now, to
concoct an entirely new formula for running shoes. “We
were looking for something that didn’t break down
and didn’t have that compression-set problem,”
Dombrow said during an in-depth conversation in December
at the Running Event in Austin, Texas.
HOVR is inflused with Olefin,
wax-like synthetic material, which is incredible strong
and resilient. The first two shoes to get the HOVR midsole
technology are also fittingly new to the UA running
lineup: the Phantom and the Sonic.
The Phantom is all about
comfort. It has a knit bootie construction and stylish
ankle cuff. It’s delivers a soft, plush ride,
probably due to the HOVR midsole, which is used throughout
this model. The Phantom is geared towards easy runs,
and it looks beautiful, so it will no doubt become a
hit as an athleisure piece as well.
The Sonic is that snappier, slightly firmer everyday
trainer and longer distance racer that hardcore runners
will enjoy. It employs a three-quarter coverage of HOVR
midsole material, and also has a ridiculously breathable
Under Armour’s running shoes are a little different
for a few reasons. The first being that they have “Connected”
versions of their shoes, meaning that there’s
a chip in the midsole which can communicate with MapMyRun
to indicate running data that you’d otherwise
get from a GPS watch. Dombrow’s design team have
also approached some of the details of these shoes differently.
One nice touch is in the insole, or, rather, that there
isn’t one. Instead, the soft, smooth bed of the
shoe, where your foot sits, is made from cycling chamois
material. “It’s actually built in an apparel
factory,” Bombrow points out.
Expect to see HOVR in
more Under Armour running shoe models in the months
(and years to come).
So, What about Nike
The new Nike running
What the new Nike running
shoe, the Epic React Flyknit, is all about
The Nike Epic React Flyknit is the brand’s
latest shoe for runners and the brand claims that it’s
light, durable, well-cushioned and offers high energy
return on each step. The announcement comes after a
year in which Nike released the Vaporfly 4%, an unusual-looking,
max-cushioned racing flat. The difference with the Epic
React Flyknit – React is the name of the midsole
technology – is that it’s targeted for runners
of all levels rather than just those looking to run
Below are takeaways of the new shoe.
Tested through and through
Testers, from elite athletes to recreational runners,
put in a combined 27,000 kilometres in the Epic React
Flyknit, which has been in the works for three years.
The React foam went through 400 rounds of various chemistry
testing stages in the lab, too.
Nike fooled Galen Rupp
The 2016 Olympic bronze medallist and 2017 Chicago Marathon
champion was given a new pair of Epic React Flyknit
and a pair with 500K already run in them. After going
for a run with both of the shoes in the opposite stages
of their life expectancy, Rupp, who regularly trains
at the Nike headquarters with the Oregon Project, couldn’t
tell the difference in the blind test.
Lunarlon has long been the cushioning technology used
in Nike running shoes. “It [Lunarlon] will eventually
be phased out,” Holts says. React foam is far
more resilient than Lunarlon, Holts says. Runners may
know the Lunarlon technology from a number of the brand’s
trainers and racing flats including the LunarEpic, LunarGlide
and LunarRacer, among other lines.
One of the more defining visual features of the Epic
React Flyknit is that the cushioning extends past the
perimeter of the heel. Holts says it’s because
Nike tried to fit as much cushioning as possible in
the shoe and that the Nike Internationalist served in
part as inspiration for the look.
13 per cent
According to Nike, the Epic React Flyknit offers 13
per cent more energy return (less energy wasted at each
foot strike) than Lunarlon, the foam technology used
in many versions of the previous Nike running footwear.
You can run long in the Epic React Flyknit
Like the Pegasus, Nike’s most famous and oldest
running shoe, or other Nike trainers, the Epic React
Flyknit is versatile enough to go long, or short, depending
on your day’s training. Nike says testers ran
upwards of 24K in the new shoe.
For the first time, Nike is using computational design
in the creation of the Epic React Flyknit. Each shoe’s
React foam is specific to its size, down to half fits.
“We can take thousands of data points from the
lab and it spits out an algorithm of the geometry,”
Holts says. This means that the energy return will be
the same across all sizes.
is not actually new
React foam exists in Nike basketball footwear already
including in the React Hyperdunk 2017 Flyknit and Jordan
Super.Fly 2017. The Epic React Flyknit is the first
running shoe to feature the technology, which comprises
the entirety of the midsole.