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Finlay McAndrew  •  Running Gear •  29.12.2023 •  8 min read

Nike Alphafly 3 Racing Shoes - Half Marathon Review

The Nike Alphafly 3 running shoes are Nike’s most tested racing shoes ever. They’ve been tested in the lab, and most importantly on the road. With over 300 athletes involved, from elites, to 4-5 hour marathon runners, they’re designed to be racing shoes for all athletes. After 62 different versions, Nike decided they’d found the right recipe.

"The Alphafly 3 is not solely responsible for any athlete’s achievements, but there’s enough evidence that suggests it comes from a lineage of footwear that makes a difference." ~ Nike

We couldn’t agree more with this statement. You have to put in the time, work, and effort in order to perform at your best. Particularly when it comes to marathon running. However, it’s clear that the innovation in running shoes over recent years has played a key role in more runners achieving their goals. Nike has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in the success of many athletes; elite and amateur. The Nike Alphafly 3 running shoes are surely about to unleash a wave of new personal bests.  

**A limited number and size run of the Nike Alphafly 3 in the prototype colourway will be available to buy on on 4th January 2024.**

Pair of Nike Alphafly 3 Proto road racing shoes perched on a graffiti wall

The midsole

ZoomX foam is technically all the same. However, the foam is pressed differently during the production process across the models it features in. This changes the characteristics and attributes of the foam. The ZoomX foam in the Alphafly 3 has been pressed differently to the ZoomX foam used in the Alphafly 2. As a result, the foam should offer up to 23% more energy return. 

The most significant change in the Alphafly 3 midsole tooling is the continuous midsole. This new geometry is designed to improve the transition from landing to toe-off. It also means the midsole should work for a greater range of footstrikes. Critically, when a runner fatigues in the later stages of a marathon, the cushioning should compensate accordingly. 

Heel and side view of Nike Alphafly 3 Proto road racing shoe

Zoom Air Units are still positioned in the forefoot. The primary function of these is to improve energy return and propulsion. Even though the cut-outs throughout the midsole help save weight, they also help improve how the Zoom Air Units function. The carving should result in you getting even more energy back from them. 

Coming back to the weight, anything that wasn’t needed has been removed. This is why the heel area looks so different to the last model. As a result, the Alphafly 3 are the lightest Alphafly that have ever been made. 

Let’s not forget about the full-length carbon fibre FlyPlate. As ever, this structure works with the ZoomX foam and Zoom Air Units to improve energy return and propulsion. The key change to the FlyPlate is it’s slightly wider in the midfoot than before, which should provide more support and stability. The actual midsole base is not any wider. 

The outsole

The Nike Alphafly 3 features a new outsole material. It’s now lighter, but durability isn’t sacrificed. A lot of attention has been paid to the lug pattern and direction of tread. The almost circular shaping helps aid traction while moving around corners and navigating wet surfaces. 

Outsole of Nike Alphafly 3 Proto road racing shoe perched on a graffiti wall

The upper

There’s also a new upper: AtomKnit 3.0. This is a version of FlyKnit and is made to be ultra light and minimal. While it’s almost see-through, it’s very strong - and the soft yarns can stretch and accommodate foot swelling over the course of a run. There’s also containment yarns in the midfoot area that run up and down into the eyestays. This improves lockdown without adding weight. 

In a similar vein to the last version, there’s some padding around the inside of the heel counter to provide more comfort. For the avoidance of doubt, the tongue is fully gusseted. This should ensure a consistent fit and feel throughout a run.

Close-up of upper material on Nike Alphafly 3 Proto road racing shoe

The test run

Nike very kindly sent a pair of the Alphafly 3 Proto running shoes for us to test out. As these are designed to be the ultimate long distance racing shoes, I decided to put them through a proper test and ran a hard half marathon in them as my first run. 

After a short warm up, I got to the loop I was using for the half marathon. The loop is a little over 2.5km long, has a few turns, and features a gradual incline/decline. I do a lot of sessions on this loop, as it offers some protection from the wind and doesn’t have any traffic. The conditions were relatively cold, and there was a decent breeze. 

The image below shows the session and splits for the run. I ran slightly over 21.1km to ensure I hit the proper distance. If you’re interested in the specifics, 1:13:17 was the exact half marathon split:

Strava screenshot of half marathon activity and splits in the Nike Alphafly 3 Proto

How does the cushioning feel?

As soon as I started running in the Alphafly 3 I could feel the incredible propulsion. For me, this is the most noticeable difference to the previous versions. A lot of this heightened responsiveness felt like it was coming from the Zoom Air Units. The changes to the midsole sculpting have certainly worked to get more out of them. 

All the weight savings in the midsole have definitely paid off. This results in a much faster feel underfoot. It’s actually quite hard to believe how light they feel, given how much cushioning is on offer. 

On this note, the ZoomX midsole still feels very cushioned and extremely protective. The continuous midsole geometry only adds to this. As a prominent heel striker, which you can see from the image below, I really benefit from this. The result for me is a much more fluid and seamless transition - which I expect will feel a lot better at the end of a marathon too. I would be very surprised if runners don’t find the transitions from landing to toe-off in the Alphafly 3 are considerably smoother than the previous editions. 

Running gait sequence image in the Nike Alphafly 3 Proto

Whether it’s the wider Flyplate, or new outsole tread, the midsole also feels very stable and grippy. Especially for a super shoe. I had no problems whatsoever going around some relatively tight turns at a hard pace. The midsole seems to feel more planted as well, if that makes sense. I sometimes feel like I’m moving over the top of the midsole when I’m going around corners, but not in these.

From a comfort perspective, the midsole feels amazing. I ended up almost forgetting about my feet and could just focus on my effort. Yes, I was still working very hard at this pace, but my legs and muscles did feel really ‘comfortable’. Even at the end of the run, I had virtually no discomfort in my feet or legs. 

How do they fit?

The fit of the Nike Alphafly 3, in my opinion, is flawless. I have to spend a bit of time adjusting the Vaporfly 3 upper, and often end up making adjustments at the start of a run. However, the fully gusseted AtomKnit 3.0 upper literally feels like a sock, and just morphs around your feet.

At the same time, there’s space for your feel to splay, and the midfoot lockdown is exceptionally good. This possibly contributes to the increased confidence around turns and corners - as the upper is likely stopping the feet from moving too. The ankle fit is great, as the heel pads secure the ankle area in place and feel soft. 

I didn’t experience any friction, rubbing, or discomfort at all from the upper. Which is pretty impressive considering I did a 3km warm up, hard half marathon, and 3km cool down. 

How can the Nike Alphafly 3 running shoes improve your run?

The Nike Alphafly 3 running shoes are a work of art in my eyes. I’ve never described a pair of running shoes like this before, but they are simply amazing. The level of cushioning, protection, propulsion, and comfort is off the scale in terms of how good it is.

If you’re running hard, it’s always going to be hard. And what is often misunderstood, is that the fastest runners in the world can push harder than most. Yes, you’ll get physiologically stronger as you run more and train smarter - but it never gets any easier. You actually end up pushing more and suffering more. That’s why the Nike Alphafly 3 running shoes are so good. The qualities and attributes they offer mean you can just focus on getting the absolute best out of your performance. 

Pair of Nike Alphafly 3 Proto road racing shoes propped against painted wall

I had no muscle soreness at all after the half marathon. Granted that would probably be a different case in a marathon. However, it shows how much the shoes are helping. They don’t make you faster as such, they just stop you slowing down as much. 

I’m confident, after running in the Alphafly 3, that a lot of runners of varying paces and abilities will benefit from them. Yes, we all respond differently to super shoes, and experience varying levels of improvements in running economy. But, this midsole construction is so well suited to a wide variety of footstrikes and paces. Having tested them over a range of paces, I can confirm they feel very comfortable and propulsive irrespective of speed. 

What distance are they best suited to?

The Nike Alphafly 3 running shoes could be used from anything from 5k to marathon distance. However, it’s probably best to save them for half marathons and marathons. This is when you’re likely to get maximum performance benefits from them. 

While I don’t find the Vaporfly 3 as propulsive as the Alphafly 3, they feel great when you’re trying to accelerate quickly. I would opt for the Vaporfly 3 for shorter distances. It’s worth noting the two shoes feel much more comparable now in terms of the overall underfoot experience. It’s likely more runners will find they have a place for both, and it won’t be such an approach of ‘one or the other’. 

Finally, there’s not a lot of outsole rubber on the heel area of Alphafly 3. So, if like me, you strike predominantly on the heel area, you’re probably going to want to keep these for race day. As they might wear down quickly with too many training miles.

However, this is what they Alphafly 3 running shoes are for - running personal bests. Nike has absolutely nailed the design and all the work that has gone into these has been delivered. If you’re running a marathon this year, and want to achieve the best time possible, I’d highly recommend getting a pair of these.

The level of cushioning, protection, propulsion, and comfort is off the scale in terms of how good it is.

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