As I began to rebuild my running base after recovering from a hamstring strain early this year, I simultaneously hungered for a change in running shoes. The Mizuno Wave Precision 11′s I’d been running in had grown a bit tiring – maybe it was the too-thin sole, letting you feel everything on the road, or maybe it was the fact that they were just plain, well, ugly. And while I still liked the Mizuno Wave Rider 13, the 14th edition of the shoe had moved more towards implementing stability elements, versus the generally neutral design of the 13 (the epic flaw of designers who always err towards “more features are better” thinking).
Thus, when I got a $100 gift certificate for Nike as a birthday gift from my sister-in-law, I felt it was the perfect time to experiment with the second-best option I’d found when evaluating shoes back in September, 2010 – the Nike Lunarfly 2. I’d liked the cushioned-but-lightweight feel of the shoes, and had enjoyed success with Nike’s in the past. The fact that the shoe was nominally “free” made it an easy decision, and the $80 list price left me with plenty of money to buy a pair of Nike arm sleeves as well, which have proven very useful.
The Lunarfly’s are a relatively unheralded shoe in the Nike line-up, relative to its Lunarlon foam-based peers like the LunarElite and the LunarGlide, and especially to the “Zoom” and still-ubiquitous “Air” lineup. According to at least one source, the Lunarfly combines the sole of the even-more-obscure Nike Avant with the “Zoom Hayward upper”. OK, bottom line is that it is a soft-but-thick soled shoe with a very comfortable upper – frankly the kind of shoe that I enjoy wearing around on a casual basis as well.
However, first impressions out of the box make you question whether this is, in fact, a running shoe. All the Lunarlon-based shoes have a thick-looking sole with minimal profiling, either vertically (i.e., they lack the contoured appearance of, say, the Wave series from Mizuno) or horizontally. This is more pronounced in the Lunarfly, which lacks even the ridged design of the LunarGlide or LunarElite. It makes the shoe look, well, a bit clunky. But first impressions can often be wrong – weighing just 8.9 ozs. (men’s US size 9), the shoe is strikingly light. And the sole is actually only slightly thicker than comparable shoes – 19mm at the forefoot, versus 18mm for the Saucony Kinvara and 16mm for the adidas adiZero Mana.
With a 10mm heel-to-toe drop, the Lunarfly is similar to many shoes in it’s tendency to promote heel-striking, though some shoes at 12mm tend to promote heel-striking further and, as I discuss below I’ve found the heel wear on these shoes to be pretty minimal. The shoe is characterized somewhere between “neutral” and “stability” in nature, though whatever stability features are present are unobtrusive – there is no noticeable support post to provide any discomfort.
These shoes seem to require minimal breaking in, and, so long as you get the right size (I got a 13, and normally wear a size 12 “everyday shoe” but size 13 running shoes), the fit is outstanding. My foot is a bit wide but I got by on the only-available normal (D) width. In fact, the biggest improvement I have seen in moving to these shoes has been a significant reduction in toenail damage and related pain and even in callousing on the bottom of my toes, which was more noticeable with the Mizuno Wave shoes. My feet look the best they have – which still isn’t that good, but there’s been no deterioration this year.
And the ride is smooth, and the shoes are fast. I set a PR in a 10-mile event using the Lunarfly, and have successfully put on a lot of mileage (going on 4 straight months at or above 245 miles/month) this summer with no further injury issues and frankly quicker recovery from past workouts than I’ve experienced in the past. Obviously, this isn’t entirely shoe related (better stretching, a good foundation of core strength, and running at an easier and smarter pace have contributed), but the Lunarfly’s have at least enabled this to happen. The cushioning helps make recovery runs more productive (i.e., I recover better), but the light weight still enables some solid tempo and interval work.
One complaint about the initial versions is that the upper isn’t very breathable, but Nike addresses this with the Breathe version of the shoe, with a noticeably more “porous” design. Frankly, I like the idea of having the breathable upper for summer but something that helps keep out moisture in the winter. The sole has the typical Nike waffle-like design, nothing special in terms of traction, but then again, you usually don’t need anything special.
I’m on my third pair of Lunarfly’s – one nice feature of the shoe is that they seem to rotate the colors available pretty regularly, and there are some interesting designs, often based on black. The first pair (black with gray sole) is ready for retirement at around 450 miles; it’s mostly the wear on the toe that does these shoes in. A second pair (gray with yellow sole) is approaching 400 miles, and I’ve put in over 120 miles on a third pair (Breathe – black with royal blue sole). It’s as good of a life as I’ve gotten out of any shoe recently; one runner has reported getting 900 miles out of a pair, but the toe wear won’t let that happen for me, and I suspect (and feel) that the foam does compress over time and loses some of its cushioning.
Since I like to rotate slightly different types of shoes to stress and relax different muscles as I run and thus minimize fatigue and injury risk, I’m finding the combination of the Saucony Kinvara 2 (a neutral shoe with a small 4 mm heel-to-toe drop) and the Lunarfly to be a good combination. While the Kinvara is lighter, I find it didn’t offer the support needed for longer than a half-marathon (more on that in a separate review), so it was the Lunarfly I counted on to power me through the Towpath Marathon. And it delivered.
Addendum on 1/20/12: Nike has added a Shield version of the Lunarfly 2 to the lineup, offering waterproof protection from the elements in the winter. I had the opportunity to try it out for the first time today in slushy conditions, and they worked like a charm. For once, I had no fear of hitting the occasional puddle – my feet stayed warm and dry.
Update 11/14/12:I have also added a review of the Nike Lunarfly 3, the update to this series launched in early 2012.