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Two and half years ago, when Nike decided to make running a major focus of the company once again, they assigned a small team to revisit racing shoes. They began by talking to marathoners, and discovered that many were wearing flats that were seven to 10 years old, shoes like its Marathoner model worn by Paula Radcliffe in 2003 or the two-generations-old Zoom Streak LT 3. To learn where it had gone wrong, the team flew to Kenya and spent a week with elite marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, running with him and others in Patrick Sang’s training group and talking about what they liked and didn’t like in shoes.
The first characteristic of the shoe they developed is its more foot-shaped last. No longer the tight, narrow toe of traditional racing flats, the Zoom Streak 6 flares forward of the arch, particularly on the medial side to leverage the push-off power of the big toe.
The Nike team also made sure the sole of their new racer didn’t have a specific flex point like many racers. Instead, a strong upward turn of the toe, as well as a slight rocker shape across the foot, allow for a rolling stride and the flex—which occurs wherever your foot most needs it—bounces back quickly due to a plastic flex plate embedded in the midfoot.
The Nike team brought a prototype of the shoe to Kipchoge the Wednesday before the 2015 London Marathon. Kipchoge walked around in them for two days, as is his habit, according to Seb Tesche, Nike Product Line Manager of the “Fast” team, and declared the night before, “I’m absolutely going to run in them.” He did, and won (in 2:04:42). In the coming year, Kipchoge continue to help the Nike team refine the shoe. “He’s good at nudging us in the right direction,” says Tesche.
Kipchoge ran 2015’s fastest marathon time (2:04:00) in the next version of the shoe at the 2015 Berlin Marathon, but unfortunately all the headlines were about the insoles that came loose and flapped in the wind for much of the race. Nike rues letting their ace down, but lessons were learned. Rest assured, the insole on the Streak 6 is firmly anchored. We couldn’t pull it out or even loosen it with considerable effort.
Another change came about when Evan Jager, the American record-holder in the steeplechase, showed designers his bloody feet after a hard 800m workout where the flywires on his racers had dug in too hard. Nike designers ditched the flywires on their racers, both road and track. Instead they have integrated an interior midfoot wrap, made of a soft and flexible (but less-stretchy) material, that ties directly to the laces. As a nod to the popular Streak 3, which had a light, open, mesh with holes throughout, the new, engineered mesh on the Streak 6 also has holes that let you see your socks. Look closely, however, and you’ll see they are bridged with a thin layer of translucent yarn to maintain integrity and durability.
At the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Feb. 14 in Los Angeles, men’s winner Galen Rupp, women’s winner Amy Cragg and third-place finisher Shalane Flanagan all wore prototypes of a shoe developed alongside the Streak 6. The 2016 London Marathon saw the debut of the final Streak 6, which reached the finish on the feet of victor Kipchoge in a time of 2:03:05 as well as on runner-up Stanley Biwott and women’s winner Jemima Sumgong (2:22:58).
How does it feel on the foot? Remarkably smooth and protective, while light and fast. We took it on track workouts, road repeats and steady runs, and from the beginning felt like we could fly—without getting beat up from the ground underfoot or by a constrictive, rigid upper. The 8mm drop and zoom air under the heel provide plenty of support for later miles of the marathon when everyone’s form reverts to heel striking (maybe not Kipchoge). But the protection doesn’t affect the weight (6.7 ounces in men’s 9) or the ride at top speed, when you’re rolling fast off your midfoot and toes. The fit is snug, as befits a racer, but you should check the size before you buy.
The Streak 6 will retail for $110 when it becomes available on June 1 and should make a great racer for many, a marathon shoe for the swift and even a light trainer for the efficient.