By Brian Metzler
At next weekend’s U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Orlando, more than 400 of the best American marathoners will be running head to head in a race that will determine the U.S. Olympic entries in this summer’s Paris Olympics. While most of those runners aren’t truly contenders for one of the top three finishing places that will earn a spot on Team USA, every runner will be running as fast and competitively as possible, and each one will be wearing next-generation high-performance marathon supershoes with hyper-responsive foam midsoles and carbon-fiber propulsion plates.
The new Nike Alphafly 3 has already earned its status as cream-of-the-crop running shoe royalty in that category of modern racing shoes. And it’s not just because Kelvin Kiptum wore a pair to set a new world record (2:00:35) in them last October in Chicago and could very well become the first runner to break the sub-2-hour marathon in a race at the April 14 Rotterdam Marathon. Certainly, the shoes played a big role in Kiptum’s world record, but the redevelopment of the Alphafly should benefit a wide range of age-group runners trying to set new personal bests. After a not-so-great update that became the Alphafly Next% 2 in 2022, this latest version has been improved in every way possible. (Buyer beware: More than likely, it will be next-to-impossible to find the Alphafly 3 in your size for a while, but the next batch in a new color is expected to drop on April 4.)
What’s New: The Alphafly 3 is essentially a brand new shoe that’s been overhauled since its last iteration. Unlike the previous two versions of the Alphalfy – which had an odd forefoot gap to accommodate the propulsion hinge of the dual Air Zoom units – this version has a continuous, slightly rockered outsole design. (It still has the energizing dual Air Zoom units in the forefoot, but they’ve been repositioned slightly and the continuous one-piece outsole design allows this version to lose the mechanical feeling of the previous editions and provide a much smoother ride.) The overall footprint and propulsion plate have been widened slightly for a more stable ride – especially later in a race or long run when leg fatigue leads to form breakdown. Nike added more midsole cushioning under the midfoot to increase stability and improved the compression ratio of the ZoomX foam for increased performance, but still managed to reduce each shoe’s overall weight by 15 percent and eliminate some notable irritation points in the arch. All of those changes have resulted in a lighter shoe that fits better, rides smoother, has more propulsive pop and, of course, is definitely faster.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The Alphafly 3 fits true to size with a medium interior volume and a low-volume (but not snug) toe box. The stretchy mesh tongue is seamlessly integrated into the Atom Knit upper, allowing it to create a very accommodating wrap-like fit for a wide range of foot shapes. Similar to the Nike Vaporfly 3, torquing down the laces to ensure an optimal fit hasn’t produced any pinch points or excessive pressure on the top of my feet. The upper feels light and sparse (but also seamless and secure), while the step-in feel of the sockliner is as smooth and soft as it needs to be with an added bit of heel cushioning around the collar for added comfort as it provides great rear-foot fit.
How is the ride? It’s exceptionally smooth and propulsive, but it also feels sublimely effortless. It’s bouncy, but not excessively bouncy or unstable. It’s one of those shoes that feels like it’s doing the work for you. Unlike the first two versions of the Alphafly, which required runners to fall into a new cadence rhythm that matched the shoe’s construction, this version – at least to me – was ready to burn rubber at faster paces from the moment I laced them up. Aside from the odd clomping sound it makes when you’re running at speed, this shoe is everything I’ve dreamed of.
Why It’s Great: It’s great because it represents an optimal evolution of what the Alphafly was always meant to be: a stable, secure and super-responsive marathon racing shoe. Obviously, without the previous editions – the design, the materials, the performance data – we never would have wound up here, but as soon as I started running in this shoe those previous models, and even the development process, seemed to fade into oblivion. I haven’t raced in them yet, but I had several “wow” moments in which I wondered if this was the best running shoe ever made.
Weight: 6.2 oz. (women’s size 8), 7.0 oz. (men’s size 9)
Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm; 40mm (heel), 32mm (forefoot)
Why You’ll Love It: You’ll love the Alphafly 3 because it feels so effortless. The sock-like feel of the upper makes the Alphafly 3 feel like it’s an extension of your foot, and the way your feet so easily transition from heel to toe is almost magical. (It’s not harsh or overly bouncy, but instead extremely smooth and very propulsive.) In fact, I found that it’s so easy to run fast in this shoe, it was actually difficult to keep my pace contained on a moderate-effort tempo run. I suspect I will really love it once my spring fitness kicks into gear and I’m ready to race a half marathon in April.
Pro: Even the outsole has been updated. The new Fast Shot outsole has five segments of rubber in strategic places for optimal durability, grip and traction. There is still a bit of exposed foam (and a cavernous open space that splits the midsole) under the arch, but I haven’t noticed any egregious cosmetic blemishes or stuck rocks after about two dozen runs.
Con: OK, here’s a mild call for a moment of restraint. The Alphafly 3 is an exceptional shoe in every way, but … it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right shoe for you or it’s the shoe you should buy. I always tell runners to go to their local running shoe store and try on several pairs of shoes – in this case I would recommend trying the Saucony Endorphin Elite, Hoka Rocket X 2, ASICS Metaspeed Sky+, Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 3 and Nike Vaporfly 3 for starters – just to see how each shoe fits and feels slightly differently for your foot shape. It’s easy to get sucked into lusting for the latest and greatest shoes that set a new world record, but that’s not the best way to find your next pair of racing shoes. Besides, there are several new racing shoes about to be unveiled at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Orlando, so the menu of choices is about to expand. So consider all of the choices, then buy the shoe that works best for you.