Fast Running’s Robbie Britton is an outspoken critic of Nike’s behaviour with regards to doping, but he’s lining up in a pair of Next% next weekend. Here’s the story.

Am I a massive hypocrite with no morals if I wear the Nike Next%s? Maybe, but right now I feel like I’d be a bigger idiot if I didn’t wear them.

After the initial 4% study that we could choose to ignore as every single person involved had a conflict of interest through association with Nike, there were some fantastic performances, a couple more studies and then we got to the Next%. This is my favourite as it compares to the very shoes I wore in Valencia last year.

By this stage a few good friends had fancy new PBs, down to hard work but with a bit of shoe magic too, and even in ultra running we had world records set in the bouncy kicks.

The tweets about “cheat shoes” were rampant and I even tried out the Adidas Sub2 (no more than a half marathon shoe for a man who hits the ground as hard as I do) and looked at the Hoka Carbon X (similar theory, but at 260g, a little too heavy to be as effective as the Nikes for me).

As an outspoken critic of Nike sponsoring drug cheats like Justin Gatlin, putting on a pair of their shoes, as well as putting over £200 in their bank account, wasn’t going to be an easy decision. As a coach and running journalist I should investigate this new phenomenon, but really that would be thinly veiled cover-up of my own desire for faster times. Everyone wants to go faster.

The purchase

This summer I took the plunge. In 2019 I’ve tried to avoid buying new shoes (mainly down to spending 650km running across Jordan with Dan Lawson of ReRun clothing in his 2nd hand trainers). I’ve run 1000+ miles in my Adi Adios so they look like Swiss cheese and spent a lot less than usual on shoes so it was justifiable on the bank balance.

With the Centurion Track 100 in mind I got a pair of the Next%, did half a workout in the shoes and picked up an injury that very same day. I don’t think it was linked, smoothing felt strange the night before and it took me out of running action all summer and autumn. Maybe it was just karma? Ha.

Then followed the whole Nike Oregon Project and Alberto Salazar revelations and even more examples that Nike wasn’t good for the sport. Yet here I was with a £200 pair of shoes that could make me run faster. I just had to sell my morals down the river. 

A truncated preparation (due to the previous injury and some ultra-distance bike racing) and a 24hr race coming up led to it being a relatively easy choice of shoe for the event ahead. Add that Camille Heron just smashed her own world record in the Next% at the World 24hr Champs in Albi, although the Nike athlete did mention on social media that she feels the shoes do not offer any benefit over the 100 mile distance. One way for me to find out…

Are they making everyone faster?

Up until now it’s just explaining why I want to wear the speedy shoes. Why bother?

There’s some uproar about these shoes. One because they’re Nike, but two, because they actually work. There’s enough independent studies out there now that you can believe it. Then you just need to look at any start line from 5k to the marathon. Then the results.

At Valencia Marathon there were 174 people who broke 2:30 compared to 99 in 2018 and 77 in 2017. The race is growing in popularity and standards in general have been rising in recent years, but that is one hell of a jump. The same at Fukuoka International there were 151 sub 2:30s compared to 94 last year and 104 in 2017 (although it was declining beforehand with 105 in ’16, 115 in ’15 and 128 in ’14).

This could all be done to the realisation that 2:30 isn’t that fast if a little-legged ultra runner like me managed it last year and everyone’s set out to have a crack. Or it could be the shoes.

Even beyond the sub-elite, the front end is speeding up too with these shoes with 29 people breaking 2:12, five women under 2:20 and 67 in total breaking that 2:20 mark. I don’t know the figures of those wearing Nike Next% but you can have a guess by looking at any of the race pictures. It’s bloody lots of them.

No evidence of fancy “go faster” shoes in sight in the only race photo from a PB outing. Photo: Trino Half Marathon

A PB is a PB right?

Again, why write this? Well there are a few people posting about how the shoes aren’t the reason they’ve improved, even a couple of people who have hidden the fact they’ve worn the shoes and put it all down to hard work/new coach/vegan diet or any other random reason.

Those other things may have improved their performances, but they weren’t the main reason. It’s disingenuous to suggest otherwise and downright lying to crop pictures or colour your shoes in so they look like different ones as we saw at the Dubai Marathon earlier in the year.

Last weekend I ran a new half marathon PB of 70:54, but it didn’t feel like a PB. Go back 12 months and i was fitter, faster and ran a 71:56 at Lausanne Marathon in the build-up to Valencia. Last weekend I’m not as fit but I went faster, so it all feels a little weird

Is it just the shoes?

I could say it was down to new strength of cycling 1100km in one go in November, because I’ve improved my diet, my strength work and got better hair. But it doesn’t feel right.

One thing I have noticed is that you don’t want to turn up on a start-line in Next% and be shit either. So when it comes to getting to bed on time, eating well and doing your strength work, it can make you knuckle down a little more.

Several friends have backed up their shiny new Nike 4 & Next% PBs on the roads with track 5000m marks set in flats or XC performances that are phenomenal. It’s not just the shoes.

If you get a taste of that success in your speedy footwear then you might start to make the extra% efforts elsewhere. Either that or the reduced impact on your legs of running big tempos in the Nike shoes mean you can get more consistency. Maybe you’re ending race cycles less broken because of the Nikes too?

The 24hrs

There were no pictures taken at the Trino Half Marathon with me in Next% shoes. I could put them back in a cupboard, keep my new PB and wear a pair of Hokas or Adidas for the Desert Solstice 24hr with my morals about Nike intact.

That slightly empty feeling about my half marathon PB could be the same for my 24hr so why bother? 24hr running isn’t about just running economy and fitness, but so much more. It takes a huge amount out of you and it could be that in 12 months time everyone’s PB is set in these shoes anyway.

So I’m sure a bunch of people will call me out for being a hypocritical arsehole, but I’ll say this. Right now if you’re not wearing these shoes and you’re not sponsored by someone else, then you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. In that sense Nike have levelled the playing field and you just need to look at any video of CIM from this weekend.

There’s a shitload of patents that will make sure the competition take a while to catch up, but eventually they all will. So why wait? I still don’t like Nike for supporting the like of Justin Gatlin and Alberto Salazar, but the fuckers do make good kit.

Robbie is sponsored by Odlo, Profeet Sports Lab and Precision Hydration. If you want to follow his training you can also see it here on Strava or the highs and lows of Twitter and Instagram.

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