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RESOURCE CENTRE > ARTICLES > Nike LunaRacer+ and Trainer+ Launch

NIKE LUNARACER+ AND TRAINER+ LAUNCH by Jamie Pang

Despite a hectic schedule, nothing was going to stop me from attending the Nike Lunar Trainer and Racer briefing at the Nike Sales office. To me at least, these duo act are even more revolutionary than the Zoom Victory [review here], which is already quite a happening shoe. Therefore please indulge me if this seems like an extended writeup here. I entered the briefing somewhat informed as I've been tracking various running forums on user feedback. The shoes have been launched on limited distribution in the United States. I'm incidentally reading Geoff Hollister's book Out of Nowhere: The Inside Story of How Nike Marketed the Culture of Running and I've to say that what Nike is doing right now certainly epitomizes the traditions and the visions of Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman.

My lunch that day consisted only of a slice of pizza and a bun at 3pm. I was still mildly hungry when I was walking with Loke and Geraldine to the Nike office but daren't eat anything more in anticipation of the 5K run following the briefing. We were greeted by Alison Lee, Nike Sales Malaysia's Marketing Communication Manager soon after we stepped into the cool waiting area. Incidentally the décor was all about the upcoming Beijing Olympics. A section of the floor was even painted to look like a running track.

The briefing room was all set up for the event and the "stars" of the moment (the shoes of course!) were prominently displayed. In a corner stood a refreshment table with bottled water, marshmallows and bananas. Little did we realize that these “props” serve a larger purpose than just to satisfy our snacking urges.


"Guards" flanking the exhibits

Nope, not X-Files. Just the LunaRacers!

A small crowd was already there and the size grew to about 30 soon after. The gathering consisted of familiar faces in the running and triathlon scene as well as some media personalities. With the elites and national athletes there, you can bet that outside Beijing at that moment, that was the largest gathering of fittest lungs and strongest legs! Shahrudin (currently hard in training for the Asian XC Champs), Kimberley Yap, Emma, Julie Foreman were among the top tier athletes while Ming, Kok Kee, Christine, Rudy (of Hitz FM), new parents Eric and Vivian, Rashid, Loke, Frank, Geraldine and about 15 others complete the party.

The chattering among us jocks died down as the friendly Nike folks ushered us to our seats indicating the start of the program. Siva, the company's Marketing Exec, opened the proceedings with a warm welcome before Raymond Liew who is the Country Marketing Manager shared with us the reason we were there: to test out the happening shoes before others and to provide user feedback on them. How cool was that?! At that point I was quite sure that the anticipation was already peaking amongst us. Think Steve Jobs about to unveil the latest Mac. My excitement certainly was!


Nike Sales Malaysia Country Marketing Manager, Raymond Liew welcoming the group

Wong Li-Zren taking us through the tech specs

Wong, the resident EKIN (which really means that he's a gear freak) then took over the session by telling us the evolution of the shoes and the tech behind the Lunars. He also handed out the Zoom Victory Spike and the Zoom Victory+ and flashed some funny Nike ads along the way. Since I'd smartly positioned myself at the back of the room, I had extra time with the spike and had a chance to don it. It certainly felt like a pulling on a pair of socks. The lightness is unbelievable and at 93 grams (3.28oz) it deserves the title of the lightest distance spike in the market. Lightness is very important if like Bernard Lagat, you're gunning for an Olympic Gold or two.

On to the shoes. What follows are the technical notes on the Flywire technology and the shoes.

Flywire

Given Flywire's early success with middle-distance Track and Field events, bringing its lightweight support to distance racing seemed natural. So, too, did marrying the technology with Lunarlite foam, Nike's most advanced new cushioning system. Flywire works like cables on a suspension bridge, providing precisely engineered support for the foot. The Flywire filaments are placed only where support is required, allowing for the reduction of materials, which equals reduction of weight.

Made with Flywire, an upper weighs mere grams, while Lunarlite foam is both lightweight and highly responsive, two qualities which are usually mutually exclusive in cushioning. The foam also distributes the pressure patterns more evenly across the foot to protect it from pain and injury—all important for distance events.

LunaRacer
In the Nike Zoom Victory Spike — designed for middle distance Track and Field events — Flywire proved a great success in competition. After Nike athletes Kara Goucher and Bernard Lagat both medaled in the 2007 World Track & Field Championships in Osaka, designers looked at where else the innovation could be applied.


Kara Goucher winning the bronze in the women's 10,000m in Osaka

Bernard Lagat after his historic 1,500m / 5,000m double at the '07 World Champs

The Victory Spike - a really mean shoe!

6 spikes for middle distance track race

Ummm...it's not a defect

The designers are sure that Bowerman would've approved

The marathon was a natural choice. On race day, marathon runners sacrifice cushioning. It's not responsive enough, meaning that it absorbs too much energy so marathoners end up expending more energy as they run. The race might be more comfortable but it's more work, and at 26.2 miles, energy conservation is critical. Nike designers didn't think distance runners should have to sacrifice either in a road race, so they came up with a lightweight racing flat, the LunaRacer, that wasn't stiff, that was soft and returned energy to the athlete.

Articulated with flex grooves, the LunaRacer's outsole follows the foot's natural motion, while Flywire works with the foot, stretching where an athlete needs it and providing support where it's needed—almost like an extra ligament. Over the metatarsal area, Flywire gives an important feature in a grueling road race, while simultaneously locking down the midfoot and heel.


The ridiculously light and cushioned LunaRacer+

Wanna take me for a ride?

The design team found that with a more flexible midsole and outsole, a Flywire upper has a more dynamic fit. As the technology's creator Jay Meschter explains, “We started to realize the relationship of the bottom of the upper. Because you have an upper that's holding the foot accurately, when you put on firm outsoles, they compromise the fit. With a compliant, moveable outsole, you can actually feel the cable all the way around the foot instead of just landing on this hard plank on the bottom of your foot, which causes the Flywire upper to tent out to the side.”

The LunaRacer weighs a mere 5.5 ounces, and elite athletes who've experienced Lunarlite foam cushioning are reporting that after their long runs, they feel less beat up — a good sign for the marathon in Beijing.


Interview with Jay Meschter on the Flywire technology

LunarTrainer
Typically, if a runner wants to log a lot of mileage training, they'd expect footwear with extra cushioning and support to handle the demand of the road. The LunarTrainer set out to overturn those expectations—and did it using Nike's revolutionary new cushioning system, Lunarlite foam. Nike's lightest weight and most responsive cushioning material to date, Lunarlite foam is 30% lighter than Phylon, Nike's next lightest performance foam, and works to distribute force across the foot. With each footfall, pressure is dispersed—protecting the foot from injury as well as pain and fatigue—a huge benefit in a shoe meant for mileage.

Developed by the aerospace industry, Lunarlite foam was adapted by Nike for running. The process took more than four years, but you could easily say the LunarTrainer was more than 30 years in the making. Lunarlite foam got its start when Nike designer Kevin Hoffer wanted to create a cushioning system as revolutionary as Bill Bowerman's original Waffle sole. Geoff Hollister, one of Bowerman's runners as well as one of Nike's first employees, first tried a Waffle prototype in 1971 and likened it to “running on pillows.” This very quote inspired Hoffer's search for cushioning that recreated that sensation—a nearly impossible order. Foam is rarely responsive and soft. Soft cushioning is frequently deadening, meaning it absorbs energy rather than returning it to the runner for the toe off.


Interview with Kevin Hoffer on LunaRacer

However, once Hoffer found his material with Lunarlite foam, it had to be tamed. The compound had to be reformulated for manufacturing, and Lunarlite foam itself can't be exposed to water — or to air or even sunlight — without degrading. The design team had to create an entire system — a carrier that could contain the Lunarlite foam material. Once it had been perfected, the designers set out to design a training shoe that paid homage to its original inspiration.

The Waffle's first incarnation was the Moon Shoe, which debuted at the 1972 marathon trials. The design team kept the iconic look and lightweight simplicity of the Moon Shoe's upper but updated it with a single-layer mesh. As Brian Stewart, one of the designers who worked on the project, explains, “We wanted to create a really simple upper, because the whole idea about the LunarTrainer is that it's light and uncomplicated, and at the same time it's a shoe you can run in big miles, but it's way lighter than most shoes that people would think about doing that with.”


The original 1972 “Moon Shoe”

Perfecting the outsole required many iterations to work out the proper balance with the Lunarlite foam material. The initial outsole and midsole systems were wide, almost exaggerated to compensate for people's perceptions of cushioning that light. The design team narrowed it down until they found the perfect ratio of size and stability. Wear-testers of even the earliest prototypes came back with rave reviews. They said in the LunarTrainer they felt less beat up after long runs. They reported that they wanted to run longer, and after long training runs their legs didn't feel as beat up. Now in keeping with its original inspiration, the LunarTrainer has a rubber Waffle outsole for increased durability, and at just over 9 ounces, the shoe is nearly 4 ounces lighter than most training footwear.

Wear Test
Right after the conclusion of the briefing, boxes of shoes and gear were brought out for distribution. Just like giving out candies to kids at a party, it's not easy handling 30 eager adults itching to try out the latest shoes but the whole process was executed quite efficiently and soon white and luminous green footwear were on all of our feet. Since Shahrudin was the only recipient of the Racer, so what follows are my take on the Trainers.

The feel of the shoe was quite amazing. I agree with Kevin Hoffer that this shoe needs to be tried on. A cursory glance was enough to suggest a cushioned ride and holding up the shoe confirmed its lightweight properties. Other aspects such as ride, breathability, responsiveness and cushioning would have to be confirmed during the run. If asked to describe it in comparison with other Nike models, this all-foam shoe is definitely much softer than the Zoom Victory+ but not as soft as the Vomero. Somewhat like the Zoom Elite minus the weight. Since the construction of the shoe is partly based on the Nike Free last, the shoe has a wider fit on the forefoot, very flexible and rides lower to the ground.

The Nike Free last features a pronounced contour around the base of the heel. This contour seats your heel more deeply within the midsole than would be the case in a more conventional shoe, which moderates rearfoot motion on contact without the need for lots of bracing materials. The geometry of the midsole is also such that the shoe offers mild mitigation of overpronation (while the lateral side of the midsole features accordion-like grooves to encourage deflection, the medial rearfoot is closed, creating a sort of virtual post built into the sidewall of the midsole carrier) without the addition of conventional stability components like medial post, Footbridge, Archbridge on the LunarTrainer+ nor LunaRacer+ (oh, did I mention that they're Nike+ ready?). The virtual post is positioned right about where the Lunarlite word is.


Eager to be taken out

Post run satisfaction

The Trainer fits true to size, so I'm comfortable with the US10. The short and speedy run test indicates that the Trainer will serve most neutral through mildly overpronating runners well. I'm not sure if the accordion-like midsole are meant to compress as you run.

With all the cool gear distributed, it was time to change into the running apparels and head out for the 5K. We must've been quite a sight gathering right in front Fitness First. After some quick instructions from Siva on the route and specifically to Shahrudin to run at tortoise pace, everyone was let off. Nike staff in bright bibs were on traffic duty to ensure a smooth run. We certainly attracted stares from patrons at a neighborhood restaurant as we made the first uphill climb into the housing area. The route selected presented a good mix of running terrains and surfaces, so all of us had a chance to take the shoes over grass, tarmac, cement, bricked paths and pebbled sections of the street.

My pace was quite fast, actually even faster than my 10K race pace, but the chance to run alongside Kim and the others whom you typically can't catch at the races was too inviting to turn down. The Trainers accorded themselves very well throughout my run in nearly all aspects from its lightweight ride, responsiveness and cushioning. Only on a stretch of pebbled area in front of a construction site did a bit of slippage occurred. I attributed this to the sparse waffle configuration. Otherwise, I had no problems at all.

The hot weather following the showers did nothing to ease the challenging run (note: challenging for me but playful pace for the elites) but my feet didn't heat up. In evaluating the shoe further, I employed different styles of running from heel, midfoot to forefoot landing and also exaggerated underpronated landing, and came away very very impressed with the stable ride. Please note that I'm leanly built so a heavy-set person may need a more supportive ride.

We ended our run back at The Courtyard and got more stares from curious shoppers! We re-hydrated with large tumblers of TGIF iced-lemon tea while chatting. Then it was back to the office for a post-mortem session where the runners shared some thoughts with the Nike team to take back to their regional folks. I wolfed down two bananas and a bottle of water. Before we were let off, there was another surprise. Each of us were presented with a SportBand [review here] each!

Feedback from running forum participants in the U.S. revealed that both mechanical and long-term wear testing have indicated that the LunarLite cushioning system in the LunarTrainer+ and LunaRacer+ is quite durable, roughly on par with much firmer polyurethane foam of the same. The durability should be about that of a racing flat. So usage wise, while both aren't exactly a backup shoe for a daily trainer, they certainly will shine in a race, speed workout or in race simulation runs during the peaking stage.

For more coverage and photos of the Nike LunaRacer+ and Lunar Trainer+ launch please visit Runwitme and RunnerzCircle blogs.

I'd like to record my thanks to Nike Sales Malaysia for inviting me to the launch and for being a wonderful and generous host. It was a great session made all the more enjoyable in the company of fellow runner! The Nike LunaRacer+ will be retailed at RM439 while the Lunar Trainer+ at RM389. Both will be available in October, so have patience!

Note: To know how the Lunars perform under fire, please read my adidas King of The Road race report here.

Jamie Pang
August 9th, 2008

 

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