Li-Ning Race Day Shoes: Boom Foam? Or Bust Foam?
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Li-Ning is a Chinese athletics brand with running shoes, basketball shoes, and more
Li-Ning athletes include Dwyane Wade and Tadu Abate
Li-Ning sent us the Feidian 3 Challenger, Elite, and Ultra to check out
THOMAS: Based on our Instagram posts featuring Li-Ning shoes, the running community doesn’t have a great opinion of Chinese brands. There’s more than a little bit of distrust. Consumers expect that Chinese companies are just knocking off established running brands, and the problem is exacerbated by the flood of fake products that come from China to the US market. Check out Yeezybusta on Instagram to see what I mean.
However, at least when it comes to Li-Ning, the product is unique, and the shoes deliver a premium mix of both ingredients and performance. I approached the shoes that Li-Ning sent with an open mind and was rewarded with another excellent choice for runners seeking enjoyable, smooth, and comfortably cushioned runs.
Li-Ning sent us three shoes to try, and I’ll break down each one going from most affordable to most expensive. Before we get there, let’s touch on some key tech in each shoe.
Li-Ning’s lightweight upper, made by spinning thermoplastic elastomer into thread
Li-Ning’s Pebax-based supercritical foam
Li-Ning’s outsole, designed for endurance and slip-resistance.
7.9 oz. (225 g) for a US M10.5
Saucony Endorphin Speed or Endorphin Pro
THOMAS: The Li-Ning Feidian 3 Challenger looks the most familiar of the trio. It has a profile that’s reminiscent of the Nike Vaporfly, and my US M10.5 weighs in at 7.9 oz. (225 g) and fit true to size. Li-Ning’s upper is light and breathes remarkably well, in addition to fitting nicely. Both the heel counter and collar hug the ankle tightly, eliminating any problems with heel slippage. However, there’s one piece of the upper that I can’t abide — the tongue. It’s a thin, flappy slab of felt that’s not even gusseted.
Below that, the Feidian 3 Challenger’s midsole is a healthy heap of Pebax. It feels similar to the foam on Saucony’s Endorphin Pro 3, but it might be even softer. Li-Ning’s carbon plate adds some pop to the shoe, which makes the Challenger feel a little more race-day-ready. There’s plenty of rubber coverage on the outsole, too, but the stand-out feature is the Feidian 3 Challenger’s $159 price tag — especially when you see the MSRP for the next two shoes.
Overall, I think this shoe falls somewhere between a plated tempo shoe and a race-day pick. Think somewhere between the Saucony Endorphin Speed and the Endorphin Pro. The Feidian 3 Challenger came in as my third favorite of the lineup — not because it’s a bad shoe, but because the cushioning and turnover of the Ultra and the Elite made them more enjoyable.
Races up to a half marathon
8.2 oz. (234 g) for a US M10.5
The best Newton shoe, but better
THOMAS: Right off the bat, the Feidian 3 Elite is a fun shoe. I hope Newton Running takes a look at this one because it feels like Li-Ning just came in and ate Newton’s lunch. Made it a Fig Newton, if you will. It’s the best Newton-esque shoe ever made, just without the lugs. Instead, the Li-Ning Feidian 3 Elite has a pronounced bump in the midsole right under the fat pad of your foot to help you feel the pivot behind your toes for fast transitions.
Like the Challenger, the Elite’s Boom Fiber upper fits like a glove. Although the collar is less padded, it still does the job. The Elite also adopts a soft, elastic woven material for its tongue, which feels more like a sock than a traditional tongue.
Li-Ning categorizes the Feidian 3 Elite as a marathon racer, but I found it felt closer to a 10k or half marathon shoe. The price of the Feidian 3 Elite on Li-Ning’s website is $299, but we found that the price can vary wildly if you decide to shop from another site. Anyway, my US M10.5 weighs 8.25 oz. (234 g) and fits true to size. Also, the narrow platform means that the Feidian 3 Elite won’t be a great fit if you have stability or pronation issues.
Race day at any length
8.2 oz. (231 g) for a US M10.5
Nike Alphafly 2 or Adidas Prime X
THOMAS: Of the three shoes that Li-Ning sent, the Feidian 3 Ultra is my favorite. The race day-tuned midsole has the bounce of the Adidas Prime X with a slimmer, cushioned ride. I expected a full-length dual arc carbon fiber plate to feel similar to the Nike Alphafly, though it wasn’t quite right. It’s certainly well-cushioned, but it doesn’t have the pop off the toes that Nike’s all-star delivers. However, even without that sensation, the Feidian 3 Ultra has an exceptional ride.
Once again, Li-Ning has nailed the upper — a perfect three for three. The Feidian 3 Utlra has a more structured underlay than the Elite, but the woven tongue and heel counter feel about the same.
I do wish I could see the carbon fiber plate with Li-Ning’s Jiang technology. As far as I can tell, the plate swoops down from the heel, bottoms out behind the toes, then sweeps back up. No matter the shape, it’s sandwiched in the middle of a mountain of Pebax-based Boom Foam. My US M10.5 fits true to size and weighs 8.2 oz.(231 g).
The main drawback of the Li-Ning Feidian 3 Ultra is its list price of $499 on the Shop Nings website. We’ve had people reach out and tell us that you can buy the shoe for much less, but we’ve yet to confirm that reliably. For now, we’re rolling with the published numbers that we were given, too high as they may be.
The Li-Ning Feidian 3 Ultra made history by earning a place on the podium at the 2022 Berlin Marathon. Ethiopia’s Tadu Abate finished in third place with a time of 2:06:28 while wearing the Ultra, marking the first time a Chinese athletic brand has placed top three in any marathon.
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As the founder of Believe in the Run, Thomas’s goal is to help runners pick the shoes and gear that will make their running experience the best that it can be.
All-time favorite shoes: Saucony Kinvara 2, Hoka Clifton 1, Nike Alphafly Next%More from Thomas
$500? Fuggedaboutit! I thought $300 was bonkers. Love the looks. Sounds like they fit well. But I sure hope running shoes don’t turn the sport into some elitist U-18 soccer club thing or I’m going to explore barefoot running. Tarahumara, here I come.