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Nike launches its lightest and softest running shoe ''Epic React''

It was late January, and Nike had invited a handful of writers, bloggers, and influencers to a warehouse in Lower Manhattan to witness the debut of the company's new flagship running
shoe, the Nike Epic React. Those shoes, which go on sale on Thursday January 22, are billed as the lightest and softest shoe the company's ever produced.

To show off their product, Nike had set up an elaborate obstacle course for me and my fellow content compatriots. We were split into four teams of about 10 or so people each, and we rotated through 10-minute sessions at four different stations to rack up points for every completed task.

Each station was meant to highlight a specific aspect of the shoe. There were two that were a bit on the nose — one in which we were locked in a room of feathers to emphasize just how light the shoe is, and another where we bounced on a trampoline to demonstrate the springiness of its sole. The other two were quite physically daunting. There was the aforementioned foam pit where we had to jump in, grab a specific color of cube, and pull it out; and another station that had us weave around piles of tires to grab a foam ball and place it in a pit.
The thing is, I'm not athletic. I'm more athletic adjacent, that dude who will run a half marathon but struggle mightily while doing it. I try to make it to boxing classes a few times a week, during which I feel like I look like this, but really, I look like this. Fact of the matter was, I was in a room full of athletes, and I was definitely not one of them.
I should have seen this coming. There were definitely hints. Nike warned me I'd be engaging in "light to moderate" activity beforehand. Then there was the joke Brett Holts, product line manager for Nike Running, made during his opening keynote. He said this would be everyone's second workout of the day since we (clearly) all went running in the morning. If you're counting me sprinting down a flight of stairs to catch the subway, I got you, homie. 
Here's a full video recap of the event below, from my teammate Tony Mui at Complex, if you care to see me agonize through pain. 

The competition ended up being a bit more fun than I expected, though it rang a bit gimmicky. I struggled like all hell in the foam pit (I don't know if you've ever been in one of those, but it's exhausting). The trampoline was definitely the most enjoyable, since it slingshotted you what felt like 100 feet into the sky (my momentum nearly flung me into a wall more than once). But the tire challenge was the only one that was truly illuminating, proving the shoe was great when it came to running in a straight line, but not-so-great when trying to turn on a dime.
Believe it or not, our team ended up winning the competition. And I might have actually passed for an athlete. It might have been just sheer rush of adrenaline, or maybe Nike really has something with this shoe.

So what's the big deal with the Nike Epic React?

The Epic React is the result of three years of work creating the compound that makes up the sole of shoe. It took multiple teams of mechanical and chemical engineers who ran through 400 different iterations to get the ingredients just right. Nike calls the sole a type of synthetic rubber, according to Holts.
Nike wanted to give runners a shoe with four main benefits: being lightweight, soft, responsive, and durable. In all its other models, Holts said engineers had to compromise one for another. If a shoe was lightweight, it often came at the expense of cushioning. Or if one was soft, it wasn't as responsive. The React marked the first time Nike could bring all those elements together.

"The React technology itself is an all new compound, an all new formulation for us, and that's really the key innovation here," Holts told me when I visited Nike's Manhattan headquarters a week after the event. "The goal from the onset was to deliver all the four key runner benefits in one complete package."
Nike tested the shoe with Kenyan marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge, who holds the title of fastest marathon in history (2:00:25). Kipchoge used the sneakers on short distance runs as well as those as long as 40K (just under the distance of a full marathon) to test their durability.
But these shoes aren't just for marathon runners. They're engineered to be versatile. They may not give you the support of a cross-trainer, but they can be used a general workout shoe, or for casual runners who only hit the treadmill a few times a week.
"We just think this is a great foundational foam that a majority of runners are going to gravitate toward," Holts said.

But does Nike React work?

The first thing I noticed when I put on these shoes was how wildly comfortable they are — they might be the most comfortable pair I've ever tried on. If you've ever worn a shoe with Adidas Boost or any other foam-type shoe, it's a similar feel. Less like you're walking on rubber, and more like you're walking on a spring that nudges you forward.
You could feel this during every event in Nike's pop-up obstacle course, especially during the one where we had to weave in and out of barrels of tires. The shoes held up well, even if it did feel like my ankles were within micrometers of rolling when I made sharp turns. (I did recall seeing one woman during my session getting her ankle iced and tapped from what looked like an injury).

But when running in straight line, the shoes made me feel as if I could be a marathon runner, even though, if we must revisit, I am most certainly not.
The big question remains: Is the sole durable? As is the case with most of these types of shoes, the springy feeling tends to subside after a few months of use. The soles then feel more like a compressed piece of styrofoam. 
After the Nike event, I already noticed a few creases starting to form on the outside of the soles, and the event was maybe 30 minutes of sustained activity. Holts says this is normal, and isn't a sign of damage.
"I think it's just natural characteristic of most foams and rubbers that happens in a majority of running shoes over time. It's surely just a visual thing, based on your foot strike and how much pressure you apply," he said. "It certainly isn't going to take away any of the performance characteristics of the product, specifically in React."
I've since adopted the React as my general workout shoe. It's been about a month since the event, and that comfort really goes a long way. I've even replaced my old Asics with these on some shorter runs, and they feel great for the most part — though I did have minor shin pain after one particular two-mile run. Chances are, you'll love these shoes if you enjoy running on foam. But if you're a hardcore long distance runner, you'll probably still going to want to stick to a sneaker with more sturdy support.


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