When I went to the Rome Marathon (and then to Kirchdorf for their part-trail, hilly “Über-Drüber” marathon) this spring, it was the first time in years that I had running shoes made for road running rather than trails.
Things had come to the point where I used Salomon Speedcross for training (running in Beijing) as well as road marathons (in Linz as well as in Beijing) rather more than on trails (e.g. on my attempt around the Grossglockner).
The feeling of being close to the ground, responsive and protected, as an even more specialized trail running shoe such as the Icebug Zeal provides, has become very comfortable to me.
I did (and do) like it – but as this year’s 24 Hours Burgenland proved only too well, it was time to get off the ground and cushioned for road running again.
Going Big (Shoe Sole-Wise)
Just as I had decided on that, Nike came and released the LunarEpic.
The Nike LunarEpic has a price point which is painful, at €180 in the EU ($175 in the USA), but it seemed just crazy enough a difference to regular road-running shoes (and specialized enough like my trail-running favorites) in its construction to make me interested…
One quick online purchase directly at their website and a few days wait after, a pair of LunarEpic arrived and has been in use for much of my running since.
So much of it has been on paved roads and hard-packed dirt roads that could just as well be paved-over, anyways.
Six months, two marathons, and some general training later, it is time for a verdict.
The cushioning the LunarEpic provide still feels very unfamiliar, after all the low-drop and low-stack trail running shoes I have been using, but the results have been interesting:
The feeling is a mixture of comfort and of running on a squishy surface that doesn’t quite react as normal.
At the same time, some of my training runs have been faster while being at the usual exertion, and even in the Rome Marathon, where some issues seriously hampered my running, the problems that road marathons usually caused on less-cushioned (trail running) shoes didn’t occur.
The Epic(?) Cushioning
Moving to overall performance of the shoe, as it feels, is constructed, and has been holding up, the Nike LunarEpic is a fascinating beast:
The sole is pretty thick and a “plush ride” as it says on the insoles themselves.
It is constructed of Nike’s Lunarlon, with “sipes” laser-cut into the soles and advertised as compressing just as much as the pressure exerted by their wearer’s footfall warrants.
Quite a few reviewers have described this to work like a piston compressing to cushion the motion against the ground and then rebound and put a bounce into one’s step.
This, I cannot subscribe to.
Maybe one could feel that there were something of that if running with a decisive heel strike, but with a soft midfoot strike, I’d still say that such soles feel slightly mushy.
The results I’ve been having, however, make me want to continue my road-running in these shoes and reserve the low-and-fast trail running shoes for the trails, where a different running style and strategy is required.
All the more so as there isn’t just a sole to that shoe, even as it can sometimes feel like it, given its comfortable fit and low weight…
One necessary caveat to these “sipes”, as everyone has been pointing out: As soon as you run on split gravel rather than totally clean roads, the shoe soles will collect small rocks.
Where I run, this happens a lot, but it doesn’t seem to affect the shoes’ performance in any way. (It is necessary to clean those stones out, though… which makes me feel like I’m back to taking care of horses’ hooves.)
The Flyknit “Sock”
The upper is what sets the Nike LunarEpic really and noticeably apart from pretty much all other running shoes (so far):
Constructed in Flyknit, it wraps around the foot, including the ankle, like a sock.
It feels just one step removed from gluing the shoe soles to the soles of one’s feet – except that this feels rather more comfortable than glue would, I’m sure ;)
Personally, I wouldn’t want to wear shoes without socks, so I finally found a good use case for the no-show low socks I hadn’t had so much use for so far, but such low socks and the shoes themselves wrapping around the foot feels very good, light and yet supported.
Eventually, I remain undecided. The shoes have held up pretty well, in spite of the small stones their soles keep collecting.
The upper is really comfortable, the whole shoes are pretty light.
I just remain undecided as to whether such a thick sole helps or hurts me.
My recommendation: Just try it out for yourself; shaking things up a bit sure isn’t the worst you can do.