Free Run 5
Over the past several years the Nike Free 5.0 has consistently been one of the best selling athletic shoes in the United States. Go to any school and you’re likely to see many kids sporting the flexible and colorful 5.0s. When I was in Disney World earlier this year the Free was probably among the most common shoes that I saw on folks at the parks.
Where you are less likely to see the Free 5.0 is at a running race. The reason is that the immense popularity of the shoe is tied more to it’s use for casual wear rather than for running. In terms of typical usage, it’s more of a fashion shoe than a running shoe.
I’ve been running in various versions of the Nike Free since 2009, and they have consistently been among my favorites. With their moderately thin, super-flexible soles, and minimally structured uppers, the Frees are intended to provide a more minimal, barefoot-inspired ride. Nike described them as a training tool to be used on occasion to strengthen the feet and legs. I tend to use them more as a lightweight trainer for shorter to moderate distance runs. And for that purpose they have served me very well.
The 5.0 is the most amply cushioned member of the Free collection. I’ve run in a few previous versions (it used to be called the Free Run+), but the 2014 model was a no-go for me due to a constricting band at the base of the lace rows. It dug into my foot and caused pain, an experience others with high-volume feet have reported as well. When I first saw the pictures of the 2015 version of the Free 5.0 it appeared that this band was gone, so I ordered a pair to give them a try. I’m glad I did as the problem has been fixed, and I’ve really enjoyed running in the shoes over the past several weeks.
Upper and Fit
I’ll start by saying that the Free 5.0 is a ridiculously comfortable shoe, and I think this is part of what drives its popularity. Yes, they consistently look great. Yes, they come in a rainbow of colors. Yes, they have a swoosh on the side. But add in the fact that they feel like slippers on your feet and you have the makings of a bestselling shoe for the masses.
The 5.0 has a generous fit in the forefoot which is a major plus for the comfort factor. I think most people are used to wearing shoes that are a bit narrower – put on a shoe like the Free and you can feel the difference when your toes have a bit of room to move around. I almost always go up a half size in Nikes, and I did so in this shoe as well – the bit of extra space up front makes for an even roomier experience.
One of the things I’ve always loved about the Free shoes is that they lack a heel counter. In case you’re not familiar with the terminology, a heel counter is a firm, plastic insert located in the back of many shoes to give the heel region structure. In the Free 5.0 there is no counter at all, and this adds to the slipper-like experience. The lack of a heel counter is also one of the reasons why I often recommend the Free to people with insertional Achilles tendon issues that may be aggravated by a plastic counter in the heel.
The remainder of the upper is soft and flexible, and the interior is super comfortable and suitable for sockless wear. The laces are slightly offset to the side, and loop through flywire bands that help to lock the middle of the foot down. The mesh over the forefoot has a bit of give/stretch – very nice.
Overall, I’d go so far as to say that the Free 5.0 is the most comfortable shoe I have worn this year. I’m having a hard time keeping them off my feet!
The sole of the 5.0 has the characteristic siping grooves that are featured on all Nike Free shoes. The sipes make for an extremely flexible sole that bends and rolls with ease. Your foot will basically do what it wants in this shoe, which could be either a good thing or a bad thing. I love a minimally controlling shoe so they work very well for me, but they can also exaggerate foot movement in some cases. For example, I filmed my wife running in an older version of the Frees and the sole flexibility tended to exaggerate her pronation on one side (she has a bunion on one side and tends to cave some shoes during late-stage pronation).
Scientific studies have actually found that people transitioning to Frees can experience higher impact loading due to the reduced amount of cushion, and another study found that runners transitioning into Frees had higher injury rates than those transitioning into either the Nike Pegasus or Vibram Fivefingers. This points to the potential risk of a moderately cushioned shoe like the Free 5.0. There is enough cushion that it probably won’t stimulate a major change in your stride, but there is probably less cushion than you are used to having to deal with the impacts of running. As such, it is suggested that you use some caution when beginning to run in a shoe like the Free 5.0.
In terms of the ride, I find the Free 5.0 to be semi-firm with not a lot of rebound. It’s a smooth shoe due to the extreme flexibility of the sole, but it is not the most responsive shoe on the market. It’s not a shoe you would choose for your next 5K, and probably not the best choice for a marathon unless you have done extensive training in them. I prefer them for runs from about 3-10 miles. My max in the 5.0 2015 is a bit over eight miles in one run, and short of a few hot spots on the inside of my heels (not sure what caused this) they worked just fine.
A quick comment on durability. After about 30 miles of running and extensive casual wear the soles of the Free 5.0 look pretty good. The only exception is that one of the black outsole patches near the heel has worn down on one side to reveal a different colored rubber below (I’m a bit of a scuffer). I don’t expect this will be a problem from a functional standpoint, but you may not get hundreds of miles out of a shoe like this that has such a small amount of rubber on the sole.