Nike Alphafly Next% 3 Review: We Tested the World-Record Marathon Shoe

(Due to high demands, the Nike Alphafly Next% 3 has currently sold out.)

The shoe Kelvin Kiptum wore to run 2:00:35 in Chicago goes on sale in January 2024. Here’s a look at what’s new and how it’s performing for us.

nike alphafly 3 side view

Trevor Raab

If you’ve studied the lead pack at any major marathon, you’ll have noticed one obvious trend: Nike-sponsored elite runners not named Eliud Kipchoge (and, now, Kelvin Kiptum) all tend to lace up the latest Nike Vaporfly when racing 42.2 kilometres. On the American side, Conner Mantz is an AF loyalist (he prefers the Alphafly 1). Farther back, it’s a mix.

But, this ratio of Vaporfly among the fastest runners is curious, given the fact that the Alphafly was specifically designed to be a superior long-distance road racing shoe.

So, it’s with that intel that Nike set out to overhaul the Alphafly in an effort to get more of its paid athletes to opt for that shoe. Did it succeed? Well, time will tell. The Nike Alphafly Next% 3 was officially announced today but, at recent marathons, we have seen a few more pairs—prototypes were relatively hard to come by, even for pros.

nike alphafly 3 announced

Trevor Raab

Nike Alphafly Next% 3 Specs

Price: $370
Weight, as tested: 228 grams (M12, as tested)
Weight, claimed: 221 grams (M10); 175 grams (W8)
Stack Height: World Athletics approved limit (must not exceed 40mm)
Drop: 8 mm
Cushioning: ZoomX foam and dual Zoom Air units
Carbon-Fiber Plate: Full-length Flyplate
Available: January 4, 2024

I got a test sample of the Alphafly 3 this week. Sadly, it arrived too late for me to lace up in my turkey trot race on Thanksgiving. That’s probably just as well, because I didn’t need to flex that hard at a community jog. But it would have given me the best opportunity to push my pair hard in advance of this writing. Instead, I had to settle for yanking them out of the box and running six kilometres, with a good clip at marathon pace, just 24 hours after a 22-kilometre long run. (I don’t recommend doing so, but such is the price I pay to help you get an understanding of the newest footwear.)

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Key Improvements to the Alphafly 3

As with any shoe update, we always want to know what has improved—and what was messed up. For insight into that, I chatted with Bret Schoolmeester, Senior Product Director overseeing Nike Running Footwear via a Zoom call.

The task for his team, he said, was, “How could we make a really good shoe even better? And how could we increase adoption from all of our athletes in the Alphafly?

“The Vaporfly is now more of a versatile racing and training tool that everybody’s using for everything from 10K to the marathon,” he continued. “Alphafly is really intended to be a specific marathon-racing tool. So we wanted to say, ‘alright, what’s keeping some athletes from choosing the Alphafly for race day?’”

jeff dengate tests the nike alphafly 3

Trevor Raab

V62 on the “Atomknit 3.0” upper is said to signify the number of iterations Nike went through to dial in this version.

The answer to those questions, Nike believed, could be found by focusing on a few key qualities:

  1. Create a smoother transition
  2. Redesign the arch to eliminate irritation and improve stability
  3. Reduce weight
  4. Maintain energy return

The most obvious change addresses point 1 above. The shoe visually looks like an all-new model with the sole fully connected by foam. Previous versions of the shoe had an awkward break right behind the Zoom Air units, highlighting the carbon-fibre plate under the midfoot. Now, ZoomX foam runs the length of the shoe, including the few millimetres between the rubber outsole and Air units, an update we saw in v2 to increase energy return and make the shoe run quieter.

jeff dengate wears the nike alphafly 3

Trevor Raab

Foam bridges the gap that was prominent on the two previous versions of the Nike Alphafly.

Beyond the looks, you’ll obviously feel the change to the fit through the arch. Schoolmeester says they tweaked the last to ensure they were reducing irritation and to make it a runnable shoe. You can actually see the change when looking inside the two shoes side-by-side. On Alphafly 2, the insole rises sharply under the arch, pushed upward because of the very narrow waist underfoot. The Alphafly 3 clearly appears broader across the sockliner, which you can feel immediately when you put on the shoe.

inside a nike alphafly 2 shoe

Jeff Dengate

The footbed of the Nike Alphafly 2 is quite narrow through the midfoot and the arch of the sockliner rises sharply. Right shoe shown here.

inside a nike alphafly 3

Jeff Dengate

The Nike Alphafly 3 fits wider through the midfoot and the sockliner doesn’t rise as high under the arch. Inside of the right shoe shown here.

Stability was boosted in two ways: First, Nike widened the midfoot of the shoe when it filled in the gap with foam. Even more so, however, Nike widened the carbon-fiber plate on the medial side of the midfoot. That makes sense on paper: A wider platform underfoot, pushing down on foam that makes more contact with the road, will result in a more stable foundation. That benefits not only us amateurs but also the elite runners when they’re racing at their limits.

“These shoes are, obviously, super-high-performance vehicles,” Schoolmeester said, “but you’re gonna spend two, three, four hours in ’em, depending on who you are. So they need to be really stable and secure without sacrificing any of the other great performance benefits. I like to say, I’ve never seen somebody more beautiful and efficient in their stride than Eliud Kipchoge. But, even he starts to break down at kilometre 32, 33, 35.”

jeff dengate runs in the nike alphafly 3

Trevor Raab

Nike was able to reduce weight despite adding foam and making the midfoot wider.

It’s interesting to note that Nike was able to add the extra foam and widen the platform, yet still reduce weight. My size 12 weighs just 8.7 oz, down from 9.9 oz of v2. For comparison, my original Alphafly weighed 9.3 oz, the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 3 weighs 9.6 oz, Asics Metaspeed Sky+ weighs 8.5 oz, Nike Vaporfly 3 weighs 8.2 oz, and Saucony Endorphin Elite weighs 8.6 oz. So, while the Alphafly looks chunky, it’s right on par with the top marathon racing shoes.

To shave weight, Nike stripped from just about every area it could. “It’s grams,” Schoolmeester said, “so it’s hard to get it all out of one spot. You’re just kind of shaving here and there, to make sure we can get it all pulled back.”

One big spot they saved weight was the outsole, where Nike used a new “Fast Shot” technology, which Schoolmeester said gives the shoe more traction, too. They also dropped grams by tweaking how they process the ZoomX foam.

jeff dengate wears the nike alphafly 3

Trevor Raab

Zoom Air units return more energy than any foam Nike has ever tested, per Bret Schoolmeester.

Schoolmeester was tight-lipped about what exactly Nike doing with the foam process, saying “I can’t go into massive detail [because] it’s a little proprietary,” but here’s what we gathered. Nike appears to be working with different geometries of the preform—the plastic base material that gets expanded into a shoe-shaped midsole. But, to optimise it, Schoolmeester hinted that they’re trying to not compress the foam. This seems to be something similar to what we saw on the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro Evo 1, the $500 shoe which has a midsole that’s actually carved into shape rather than compressed.

The Alphafly 3, by comparison, still seems to have been moulded into shape, but Schoolmeester says “depending on how much [preform] you have and how much it gets compressed throughout the heel and the forefoot, we found there can be some real performance benefits there—both in terms of weight saving and energy return.”

The tradeoff, as we know, is durability. There’s been speculation that the aforementioned Adidas marathon racer has a shelf life of just one marathon race—Adidas told me “It is not accurate to say the shoe only lasts one race,” but was pretty fuzzy about the shoe’s expected lifespan. As for the Alphafly 3, Schoolmeester says Nike had testers put up to 402 kilometres on the shoe “and still be really happy with it.”

jeff dengate runs in the nike alphafly 3

Trevor Raab

I’ve had limited testing time with the Nike Alphafly 3, but already find it a big improvement upon the two previous versions.

My First Impressions

Hallelujah! The fit is greatly improved. Alphafly 2 was excruciating for me. The upper didn’t have enough volume and pressed down tightly over my instep. I was in agony every time I wore them for just three or four kilometres. There was no chance I could make it through a marathon in that version. Plus, AF2 was nearly impossible to get on my feet—I felt like I was going to dislocate my shoulder trying to wrench them on. Consulting our database of wear-tester feedback, the shoe volume issue wasn’t a problem for our testers, but almost everybody remarked on how hard it was to get into the shoe. Alphafly 3, thankfully, is far easier to put on—and it doesn’t give me the same overall pressure.

Also, as noted above, the arch will appeal to many more runners now. The waist on the AF3 is considerably wider and I don’t feel the bite into my arch like I did on AF2, despite my arch being relatively high and my foot fairly average in width.

jeff dengate wears the nike alphafly 3

Trevor Raab

The upper has been refined and is just slightly less compressive than the Alphafly 2, making it more comfortable for me to wear.

For me, the biggest early impression I get is that the heel and forefoot seem to know what each other is doing now. In the AF2, I got a disjointed sensation as I applied weight to the heel before advancing to midstance. The best way I can think of describing it is to picture one of the costumed centipedes from the Bay to Breakers race, where 15 runners are tethered together. You know the runners at the front and the back ends are having a hell of a hard time keeping that thing all together. That’s what the AF2 always felt like to me (and still does, as I ran in them again Monday).

Now, with foam filling in the midfoot section under the carbon-fibre plate, the shoe feels like it’s all going in the same direction at the same time, both ends working in harmony. Does that actually affect performance? I’m not yet sure. But it’s one less thing for me to think about when I’m trying to run fast.

nike alphafly 3 illustration

Courtesy of Nike

An illustration shows how the various layers of the Nike Alphafly 3 come together.

One thing I absolutely was thinking about as I worked my pace down to 6:00-flat was how the Air units feel like a fulcrum beneath the ball of my foot. Right as I get my heel off the pavement, I feel the “pivot” pushing me onto the forward-most part of the carbon-fibre plate for toe-off. It’s a tipping sensation I particularly enjoy, because I like a race shoe to feel like it’s pushing me forward—one reason I also typically enjoy a taller heel-to-toe drop.

But there’s one thing that you’re just never going to get out of your mind: It’s undeniably an Alphafly, based solely on what you hear. The damn shoe still sounds like a horse clip-clopping down the road. There are still cavernous, hollowed-out spaces around the Air units and down the midline of the shoe that create that loud stomping noise. If you’re not an Alphafly wearer, you still likely know the annoyance if you’ve run any marathon in the past few years. Worse, on the second six-kilometre run, my test pair developed a steady, mouse-like squeak with every toe-off. It seems the disconnected foam just in front of the Air units may be making contact with the carbon plate, causing it to “yip.” Hopefully that goes away quickly, because it’s mighty annoying.

jeff dengate runs in the nike alphafly 3

Trevor Raab

8 kilometres into testing the Alphafly 3, my test pair developed an annoying squeak on every toe-off. Hopefully that disappears soon.

When Can You Get a Pair?

While the shoe was just announced today, you can’t actually buy a pair until January 4, 2024. That’s when the Alphafly 3 goes on sale at nike.com, on the Nike app, and at select running specialty retail stores.

As for the cost, well, I have some bad news: When I spoke with Schoolmeester, he said the shoe was holding steady at the $275 price it debuted nearly four years ago. But, upon announcement, the shoe is listed at $285 US. Outside the States, it’s going to cost $320 in Greater China; €310 in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa); and $275 for APLA (Asia Pacific and Latin America).

That follows suit with what we saw from the Vaporfly 3—its price sneakily rose $10 since it was first released in March 2023. Like seemingly everything else, you have to pay a few extra bucks for these shoes, too.

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