Carbon-plated running shoes have pretty much taken over as the go-to marathon racer, with more than half of our favorites featuring the latest in carbon tech. The most advanced, and arguably the best, of the bunch is the record-breaking Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2.
Worn by the world's fastest runners, including World Record-holder Eliud Kipchoge, the Alphafly has been the subject of much debate and scrutiny, with some researchers saying the shoes can give the wearer an unfair advantage on race day.
Kipchoge, however, dismisses these claims, telling Insider magazine, "Even if the shoes are on, and you are not fit enough to run, then you cannot perform. Many, many people are assessing the shoes, but they are still performing the same. So the bottom line is they need to train more than they are training now if they are underperforming." Essentially, if you want to run faster, just train more, says the Kenyan. He certainly has the qualifications to say that; after all, he's the one who set the (unofficial) marathon record in October 2019, running a 1:59:40 in the Ineos 1:59 Challenge marathon.
While we're not qualified to determine whether the shoe gives an unfair advantage or not, we at Gear Patrol can still put the shoe through its paces, give you a rundown on its tech specs and share insight on how it feels to lace them up and hit the road.
The Alphafly's exceptional energy return comes from Nike's ZoomX foam midsole and two Zoom Air units just under the balls of your feet. When you put these together, you get a plush, responsive ride that preserves energy, keeping you going faster for longer. Next, you've got the full-length carbon plate. Strategically placed within the midsole, the plate provides a smooth transition from stride to stride, giving the sensation that you're being propelled forward with each step. This is a unique feeling for someone who has never run in carbon-plated shoes before, but you get used to it after a few miles.
The upper of the Alphafly 2 stands out among the other carbon-plated racers we've tested, utilizing Nike's proprietary Atomknit — a lightweight, latticed material that cradles the foot and allows for maximum breathability. The laces are notched for a secure knot that doesn't feel too tight, even when laced for maximum stability. The heel cups are padded and provide an extremely good fit, even the first time you wear them.
What's Good About the Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2
The Alphafly is way more comfortable than expected
When you picture a shoe having a carbon plate jammed into the midsole, it's easy to think that the shoe wouldn't be that comfortable — but Nike has proved that the opposite is true. The ZoomX foam is immaculate, not only providing the bounce and energy return promised but also the comfort you'd expect from a shoe tailor-made for racing long distances.
When I set out to test the Alphafly, I expected a hard ride that was fine-tuned for racing and not exactly comfortable. I was quickly proved wrong — my first workout in the shoes was on the track, and not only did I feel fast, I felt like I could run in these shoes all day.
These shoes are, indeed, extremely fast
Did I mention they are fast? Sure, we know they're speedy, as made evident by the numerous world records held by the shoe, but can they help an average runner like me actually improve my times? The answer is: resoundingly, yes.
Once I got used to the stiffness of the shoe and really decide to take off, I could feel the carbon plate being put to work, pushing the pace with each step. I don't want to hyperbolize or default into marketing some Nike-mandated speak, so I'll just say that the Alphafly really does make it easier to run faster — it's as simple as that.
What's Less Than Ideal About the Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2
It has a very particular set of skills
You can run an extremely fast race in these shoes. 5k, 10k, half-marathon, full marathon — you name it, you can do it in these shoes. You can crush a track workout in these shoes. You can even knock out some speedwork on the road. But that's where the uses for the Alphafly stop.
You do not want to log training miles in these shoes, and you definitely don't want to spend your Sunday long run wearing them (I'd recommend the ZoomX Invincible 2 as the ideal training companion). Like Liam Neeson in Taken, these shoes are made for a very specific use case, and they're really not made for anything else. While they do excel — boy, do they excel — they're race shoes, through and through.
The Alphafly is one of the most expensive running shoes you can buy
When you line up on race day, you'll see dozens, if not hundreds of people wearing these, but that doesn't mean they're affordable — they're just that good. Given that they're optimized for race day and perhaps the occasional track or speed workout, the $275 price tag is a tough one to look past, even for folks who may be willing to drop big money on running gear.
For less cash — and in some cases a lot less cash — you can pick up any number of other race shoes, including the stellar Hoka Carbon X 3 ($200), which I tested earlier this year. The well-loved Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 is $225 and the Adidas Adios Pro 3 is $250. Those may be modest savings, but most of those can be found at a discount if you spend a bit of time looking.
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2: The Verdict
Ultimately, if you can stomach the price and want to race in the best shoe possible, you'll want to buy the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2 (what a mouthful). The springy ZoomX foam provides a comfortable base, while the embedded carbon plate works wonders once you get up to speed. The upper is comfortable once you break it in and the shoe really embraces your foot after a few runs, helping you forget how weird the shoe initially feels.
It'll take some getting used to, but trust me, you won't regret lacing these up before your next big race.