Monday, December 21, 2015

Sam's 2015 Running Favorites

Article by Sam Winebaum Editor Road Trail Run

My Year in Running
I had a decent year in running with just shy of 2000 miles of fortunately injury free running, 6 decent half marathons with my best a 1:38.38 at the very hilly Mount Desert Island Half, Boston, a couple of 25K trail races, a 10K and two 5 milers. Not to bad for a 58 year old with many miles in the legs.  I was lucky enough to test and review dozens of shoes, some apparel, and a store full of fitness electronics for my new side gig writing the tech wearables column for Competitor Magazine.  I spent more time at home base in NH than in Park City this year so my running emphasis leaned towards the roads.

Road Running Shoes

It is very tough to pick favorites and winners in a year where there were so many great shoes. The industry and I moved away from the extremes of maximal and minimal shoes with many well cushioned super light shoes that were in my sweet spot of a well cushioned yet stable forefoot and a heel area that is cushioned but not too soft and unstable.

I moved away from my 2014 favorite the adidas Adios Boost as I found alternatives with a bit more forefoot cushion and flexibility. The Hoka Huaka I liked so much in 2014 was not replaced, wait till 2016! and the popular Hoka Clifton 2 while a fine shoe was still too soft for me and a bit disconnected from the road.

Uppers continued to evolve with lighter materials, 3D printing and somewhat wider softer material toe boxes most often with the foot held in place with firmer toe bumpers more traditionally seen in trail shoes. Sometimes it all came together maginficently such as in the Topo Magnifly and Salomon S-Lab Wings, other times strange misses in detail kept shoes from a wow factor all around. Unless it was a total upper disaster I forgive these small details as the ride for me is the supreme test.

Every Day Trainer
Both my everyday trainer winners came to market very late in the year. Both reflect traditional shoe companies carefully considering the impact of the maximum cushion light weight Hoka Clifton and coming up with their own answers to that challenge. Both are so close in specs and ride that sorting out the winner was difficult indeed.

Winner: Saucony Everun Triumph ISO 2. 
My kind of shoe. A lively flexible enough forefoot for the cushion. A somewhat wider than "normal" forefoot upper but a well held one The Everun TPU cushion elements give a lively rebound, maybe making them a touch too soft in the heel. Miles go by easy and quite fast in this 10.2 oz 31/22mm cruiser. My review here

Honorable Mention: New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v6.
This relatively light, same weight as the ISO2 premium trainer has just the right heel firmness for me. The forefoot ride is a bit soft but oh so protective. The upper is where 1080 loses a few points. Not quite as secure in the heel and forefoot area as my winner. My review here.

Race and Light Trainer

Winner: Altra Impulse
This shoe was a huge surprise. Sort of "pushed" on me by Altra at Outdoor Retailer I was skeptical about running a "support" shoe. Well, I guess it was the kind of support I need..  Impulse has a bit of light stability from outsole Stabli Pods and especially a combination of a full contact forefoot with thick rubber yet with just the right longer, smooth flex and enough cushion due to the innovative InnerFlex channels through the midsole which compress. As Peter Stuart said in his Impulse review, "a Newton in reverse". I ran my three fall half marathons in them and was delighted by their performance on flats and hills and especially at speed. Not a fan of Zero Drop I put a little heel wedge in them and was as pleased as can be. My review

Honorable Mention: Asics LyteRacer RS4

This Japan favorite was brought in as a limited edition by Running Warehouse.  Light weight at  7.3 oz  with 25mm heel/ 16mm forefoot stack, this 9mm drop light racer trainer ran similarly to the Adios Boost with a touch softer forefoot and a Trusic midfoot element to give it a bit of stability. Not quite as smooth running and stable as the Impulse or Adios up front it was a go to shoe for shorter tempo days. My review here.

Honorable Mention: Nike Lunar Tempo
This super cushioned and very light 6.8 oz trainer was my Boston shoe and a most comfortable and trouble free choice indeed, Not exactly a speedster due to its softness and relaxed upper it pampers the feet. In fact it is my favorite lounging around shoe as well. My review here.

My Road Shoe of the Year
Altra Impulse
This "stability" shoe puts new meaning into what stability means. Stable as in straight ahead, great ground contact yet with superb forgiving firm cushion in the forefoot, the heel being a bit firm. A great ride at speed with just the right smooth flex for me.

Trail & Hybrid Road/Trail Shoes

I ran fewer trail miles this year than in the past but some clear winners emerged.

  • Boost came to adidas trail shoes in the XT Boost, Raven, and Response Trail Boost. Not much seen at retail, these three fine shoes deserve notice especially the light XT Boost and the deeply lugged but road friendly Response Trail Boost.  
  • Salomon finally came up with a light yet highly protective S-Lab shoe with the S-Lab Wings featuring an upper that is not only a work of art but dialed for the roughest terrain. 
  • Altra missed it for me with their Lone Peak 2.5 but hit one out of the park with their NeoShell Lone Peak, not only waterproof but an upper that works for their Foot Shaped wider toe box by actually holding the foot, kind of important for trails. 
  • La Sportiva's Mutant with its ski boot liner type upper and relatively flexible forefoot was a strong performer on the roughest stuff and weighed a surprising less than 11oz. 
  • Inov-8's TerraClaw 250, classified as a trail shoe, proved as able on the road something about lugs providing a bit of extra compliant cushion, same as on the Response Trail.
  • Finally, in a surprise, in large part due to tis outstanding upper, the Topo Magnifly, a road shoe proved to be a very capable secure shoe on smoother Park City single tracks.

Readers may wonder about the superb Hoka One One Challenger ATR. It was my 2014 Trail Shoe of the Year here

Rough Terrain

Winner: Salomon S-Lab Wings review

Homorable mention: LaSportiva Mutant review

Honorable mention: Altra Lone Peak NeoShell (review coming)

Shorter, Fast Trail Running

Winner: adidas XT Boost review

Road/Trail Hybrid

Winner: Topo Athletic Magnifly review

Trail/Road Hybrid:

Winner: adidas Response Trail Boost review

Homorable Mention: Inov-8 TerraClaw 250 review

My Trail Shoe of the Year
adidas XT Boost (review)  The Adios Boost of trails. Based on a Japan favorite adidas road racing flat the  XT is versatile, light weight, heavily lugged.  It goes anywhere with agility, great upper support, and decent underfoot protection for all but the real rough stuff. Not a shoe for rough trails for me but for pure fast fun trail or road it's a winner.

My Run Shoe of the Year
Altra Impulse (my review, Peter Stuart's review)

Reviews of all the shoes mentioned in this article and many more can be found on my review summary page here.

Running Electronics & Gadgets

I don't know where to start! With my column at Competitor Magazine giving me the opportunity to test every watch, add on sensor, and fitness band under the sun I put a lot of gadgets through their paces in the second half of 2015.

Winner: Polar M400 running watch, V800 multi-sport watch, A360 fitness band.
Wait you said you would pick a "winner". Well here the Polar Flow online and app platform combines with superb hardware, including the easiest screens to see in sunlight and low light, to create what I have found is the most reliable and complete offering. All the watches and A360 fitness band are beautifully built, synch more reliably than others, and the online platform while not as elaborate as some is complete, clearly understood and easy to navigate. And.. all the Polar watches now auto-synch with Strava, do smart phone notifications, and track activity and sleep.

Honorable Mention: Suunto Ambit3 Run and Ambit3 Peak
Rugged with an excellent online platform the Ambit3 is the mountain runner's choice. I particularly like their focus on recovery status, simply displayed on the watch.

Honorable Mention: Garmin Vivoactive
This tiny square very light GPS watch has it all, even a golf app, to go with all the running features.

Honorable Mention: Epson RunSense SF-810
This "pure" running watch has superbly long battery GPS and the most reliable wrist heart rate sensing I have seen to date. No smart notifications or activity tracking but unique features for the serious runner, the real serious runner as this is Meb's watch: things like stride length, multiple configurable auto laps, instant non workout heart rate reading.

Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run.

See Peter Stuart, fast road specialist 2015 Favorites here
See Jeff Valliere, the vertical trail master from Boulder's 2015 Run Favorites here

Thank you very much for reading Road Trail Run in 2015. Here's to a fabulous 2016 on the roads and trails!  Please follow us at the links below

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