Vibram Five Fingers got me back into running after I had pretty much given up on it because of back and knee pain. Forefoot strike running in Five Fingers solved those problems and I was on my way. Running in Five Fingers is a blast. The ground feel and freedom is unmatched. However, as I logged more miles and did longer runs I began to develop nagging achilles tendonitis. This led me to search for other “barefoot running shoes” that would allow me to maintain my forefoot strike and perhaps be easier on my achilles. I first tried the Saucony Grid Type A4s and found that running in them really lessens the stress on my achilles. Also, I am able to consistently land on my forefoot and get good ground feel with the A4s. Then, after Edward Edmonds mentioned the Nike Air Zoom Streak XC 2 in his Q&A on marathon training, I wanted to see how they suited my needs. So, after running in them a few times, here are my thoughts.

The Streak XC 2 is a very minimal racing flat with a low heel-to-toe drop and a whisper of an upper. Advanced Nike technology cushions and protects the foot with a firm but springy sole. Bottomline, I love the upper, which feels like it is not there! However, for me, the sole is just a little too thick, especially at midfoot, to maintain my forefoot strike.

My detailed review is after the jump.

The Upper

The upper on the Streak XC 2 is feather light, and upon initial examination, I questioned the durability of its paper thin, super lightweight mesh material. It’s hard to say whether or not it will last. I have read of some people experiencing tears. The shoe is pretty narrow with a small toe box and probably more prone to tearing if you have a wide foot. Also, I wondered how well it could stabilize my foot. However, after running in them on trails and asphalt, I feel like they are fairly stable. There are few lightweight reinforcements at the heel, toe, eyeletes, and around the arch, but mostly the upper feels non-existent. This is a good thing! I wear them with very thin wicking socks, and can feel the weight of the socks around my foot more than the upper. I have walked in them with no socks and it almost feels like I am barefoot with cushions attached to the bottom of my feet. It is truly remarkable that Nike could engineer such a lightweight upper that works.

The Sole

At an ultra light 5.4 oz., most of that weight is in the sole. The midsole is made of Nike Cushlon and has at least one Zoom Air unit in the heel. The picture at the left, from the Nike XC 2 page, shows another one in the forefoot. However, their online chat person and most internet references say there is just one in the heel. I am not ready yet to cut mine open and find out. Whatever is in there, I get a cushioned, yet firm, ride with plenty of protection from the elements. Unfortunately, there is not much ground feel, but this shoe was not designed to be super close to the road. Nike does not give out heel-to-forefoot drop information, but Lightning Racer at the Runner’s World forum says these shoes have a 20mm-to-15.5mm, 4.5mm drop. So, while fairly flat, they are pretty high off the ground at 20mm. After just a few runs, I am finding it very hard to maintain a forefoot strike in these shoes. The thick midfoot and cushioned heel lure me back on my heels like a addictive drug. I find the thickness in the midfoot causes the whole shoe to hit the ground immediately after my forefoot lands. These shoes may be great for someone who wants to land midfoot.

Under the Hood

A super thin, orange, suede-like material lines the heel and is used for the tongue. The heel is comfortable and very minimal. Also, there are two strips of lightweight reinforcing material at the arch. Finally, there is no arch support to speak of and the insole is glued in.

Not barefoot, but very unique!

In summary, this will not be my primary running shoe because of the lack of ground feel and difficulty I had sticking with my forefoot landing. However, a more disciplined runner, a midfoot striker, or someone needing more cushion may find it great! It is a very unique shoe. It has the most minimal upper I have ever seen while employing Nike’s sole technology to give a cushioned and protected, yet firm ride.

If this shoe was a bit wider and had a much thinner sole it would rock!