Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Initial Review: New Balance Fresh Foam Zante- 2nd Generation Fresh Foam. Smooth did just get Fast.

The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante is a 7.5 oz 6mm drop racer trainer just released in limited quantities ahead of a certain "big" running event in NYC this weekend. It represents the first shoe of the 2nd generation of New Balance's Fresh Foam concept. It will go into wider release in March 2015 along with a new version of the Fresh Foam 980 now called the Fresh Foam Boracay (Feb.2015). See my preview from this summer's Outdoor Retailer here.
Fresh Foam Zante

I reviewed the previous generation trainer the Fresh Foam 980 here as well as the Fresh Foam Trail here. The Trail was a home run for me, the 980 overly stiff and firm for my taste. The Trail did a better job of leveraging the geometry of the concave ( for cushion) and convex (for firmness and support)  hexagons which are along the midsole to soften and smooth the ride on roads yet provide excellent stability and performance on most trails. The Trail was outstanding on all surfaces.. This computer generated patterning of materials based on stride forces and their effect on the shoe's mid and outsole is the key innovation of the Fresh Foam line. At OR I discussed the shortcomings and strengths of the then current models and saw where they were heading with Fresh Foam Zante and Boracay. I was optimistic.

Well, I am happy to report that New Balance really listened and learned from reaction to the first generation of Fresh Foam.   The Fresh Foam Zante is a fabulous shoe.  I am calling it a light trainer racer in the same category as the Adios Boost I like so much due to its Boost material rebound and snappy toe spring or  the Saucony Kinvara which weighs about the same and which for me is too soft and unstable in the forefoot.  More than decently cushioned especially in the forefoot, only 7.5 oz, and very smooth running due to its simple construction, hexagon patterning and continuous outsole the Fresh Foam Zante is one heck of a fine shoe. It is equally comfortable at speed or slow, an unusual combination as often fast responsive shoes are not particularly suited to slower running, for example the Saucony Zealot I recently reviewed here

So while the Zante and Fresh Foam 980 are  different shoes they are of the same basic design concept:  hexagons to tune the cushioning, a single density midsole, and a continuous outsole. Why could the Fresh Foam Zante a far lighter shoe at  7.5 oz feel so much better,to me : less harsh, stiff and firm, and far more responsive and smoother than the Fresh Foam 980?

Midsole Outsole: The Fresh Foam concept in practice
  • The Fresh Foam midsole material is softer or in tech speak has a softer durometer at about 40 vs. around 45 for the Fresh Foam 980 by my not totally accurate but still relatively accurate gauge. The 980 was about the firmest midsole I have measured with the exception of the way to firm Pearl Izumi E:M N2 Road version 1, Version 2 a very different story, review here. The concave hexagons which tune the cushioning on the lateral side are larger towards the heel and longer and flatter towards the forefoot. The 980 had convex firming hexagons towards the toe which I think made the shoe overly firm and stiff.
    Fresh Foam Zante- All Hexagons on the Lateral side are Convex for cushion and better flexibility
      Fresh Foam 980- Forefoot Convex hexagons added firmness and stiffness to forefoot.
    The forefoot hexagons, now on both lateral and medial sides seem to help provide the nice snappy flex and toe spring. Far more flexible and snappy than the 980, understanding the 980 had a higher forefoot stack as well as firmer outsole material upfront.  The heel through mid foot medial side retains convex hexagons to provide a touch of pronation support and guide the foot to toe off. 
  • The outsole material, unlike the 980, is made up of 2 densities of rubber. A firm decoupled heel piece, with the rest of the outsole a considerably softer rubber  not far in firmness from the midsole firmness by my measurements.  The outsole hexagons in the forefoot are elongated compared to the 980 much as they are on the 980 Trail  The majority of the Zante outsole is considerably softer than the outsole of the 980 Road.  In all likelihood the overly firm feel of the 980 came from this very firm outsole covering so much of the shoe combined with a firm midsole.  The Fresh Foam Zante's close matching of the midsole and outsole firmness contributes to the smoothness of the ride from heel forward. The heel crash pad is firm, almost too firm for me. I wish the very slight heel bevel was increased with more of an angle as on the Adios Boost.  I think that would really make the shoe even smoother from heel to toe but this a minor complaint.
So, the net results of these midsole and outsole improvements is a far smoother ride from heel to toe and a more flexible shoe than the Fresh Foam 980.

Fit and Upper
The Zante is a half size small for me and fortunately I ordered half size up. Zante is built according to New Balance on a 'different last than the 1400.  The shoe is built on the new VL-6 performance running last and has a wider forefoot for proper toe splay." They are somewhat pointy and occasionally I could feel my toes touching either the front where the top bumper is fairly thick and substantial or the top of the shoe. Not an issue for me but this shoe may not work for those with wide high volume feet.
Fresh Foam Zante-Toebox

The upper is beautifully made up of 2 grades of mesh: finer up front and slightly more robust over the mid foot saddle. There are no seams in front of the last lace hole The overlays in the toe area remind me of the pattern on the Energy Boost, strips over the top and sides of toes without a connection down to the midsole where the shoes flex. As the shoe flexes, the overlays don't impede or bunch. Some recent testing I have been doing tells me the flexibility of the upper material plays a role in how the shoe flexes or how it is perceived to flex when running.

Ride and Recommendations
While some shoes require many runs to "figure out",  the $115,  7.5 oz 6mm drop, Fresh Foam Zante spoke clearly and almost immediately. This is a very refined, smooth riding fast shoe with some toe spring and a small hint of structure and stability much as the Adios Boost has. The New Balance marketing for this shoe is "Smooth Just Got Fast." and I agree.
Size up half a size.
The drop at 6mm is a very reasonable compromise between very low drop shoes where I struggle when tired and back on my heels late in a race, and conventional 10mm plus drop models.
The tuned hexagons, when combined with the relatively simple (one midsole material and 2 densities of out sole rubber) do not introduce, let's just say any "artificial ingredients" such as plastic plates, multiple densities of midsole foam, variations in the outsole pattern or stiff to flex overlays in the toe area into my feel for the ride.
While not heavily cushioned, it certainly is cushioned enough to be a daily trainer for lighter, faster runners.  This said a Hoka Clifton at about the same weight it is not in terms of max cushioning. For many this will be a great all race distances and tempo shoe. Unlike many speed oriented shoes it runs very nicely slow as well as fast.

Highly Recommended!

See Pete Larson's fine review of the Fresh Foam Zante at Runblogger here

( The Fresh Foam Zante was a personal purchase at retail)

Fresh Foam Zante are available from Running Warehouse: men's here, women's here. Your purchases support my blog. 

Deals for New Balance 1980 v1 Fresh Foam Zante

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Review: Saucony Zealot-Firm where the rubber hits the road, Soft where the upper meets the foot.

The Saucony Zealot is a 8.3 oz lightweight trainer with a stack height of 21mm in the forefoot and 25mm in the heel. The forefoot stack height puts it in the more cushioned,  not quite maximal category. It features Saucony's innovative ISOFIT upper, a sock, bootie like soft mid foot upper material with the foot supported by foam bands tied into the laces and at the midsole, but with the bootie only partially attached to the sides of the upper.
Saucony Zealot

The "numbers" of stack height don't tell the whole tale of the Zealot. One would think with a 21/25mm stack height and relatively soft blue midsole as measured by my durometer (a device to measure foam firmness) that the Zealot would be a softish shoe, a bit firmer than Kinvara, Hoka Clifton or adidas Energy Boost. It is definitely something different. The  heel  is quite firm despite the cushioning as the outer rubber orange pods are very thick and firm, among if not, the firmest and thickest outsole material I have measured to date. The forefoot has slightly softer outsole lime green rubber but it too is quite firm, thick and covers much of the surface in pods.  Outsoles can definitely change the ride. Needless to say all this hard rubber will give tremendous wear and I have almost no wear visible on the heel pods after 35 miles in the areas I usually wear extremely rapidly in other shoes. The deep forefoot grooves make the Zealot plenty flexible.
Saucony Zealot-Outsole

The ISOFIT upper, also featured on the new Triumph and Hurricane and previewed at OR here is by and large fantastic. The innovation came from Saucony's track spikes. The mid foot upper (yellow) from first to last lace is made of a very stretchy super soft mesh, truly sock like. The upper meets the tongue at the edges of the laces tied together into an excellent, thin, soft tongue. No tongue slippage is possible. The foot is held securely by 4 foam bands tied to the laces with only the first lace band and top half of the last band near the toe attached to the upper towards the top of the foot.

Saucony ISOFIT upper-Zealot
This means there is complete freedom for the foot to bend and expand during the gait yet with adequate support. The toe box is made of a less stretchy and a more dense thinner mesh but still very soft. The toe box is essentially unstructured with the overlays  also very flexible. The foot has full room to splay. I notice a bit of slipping forward towards the front of the shoe so potentially a bit more structure to the toe box might be called for.  I have a narrower foot but believe overall the Zealot and ISOFIT will fit many different foot shapes well.
Saucony ISOFIT upper-Zealot

Saucony Zealot
Now the hard part...

Ride and Recommendations
If you like a very firm yet still well cushioned heel the Zealot is for you. At slower speeds and heel striking, a lot of my day to day running,  the Zealot is not much fun or very comfortable and smooth for me. The ISOFIT Triumph would be more my style for a trainer. 
As speed increases Zealot shines. This is a shoe that calls for an efficient quick stride with focus on rapidly getting to toe off leveraging the SRC (Super Rebound Compound) Impact Zone of the midsole through the mid foot. Efficient, fast, sub 8:30/min mile training pace and mid foot runners will like this shoe as a everyday light trainer and marathon shoe.  So for me not a day in day out slower pace trainer but a tempo or 10K race shoe. Unlike for example, the adios  Boost, Energy Boost, the firm new Pearl Izumi N2 Road V2 or the Hoka Huaka this shoe is not particularly "forgiving" and will remind you to move along! I expect long term outsole wear to be outstanding. The ISOFIT upper is a comfort and fitting innovation. 

Available February 2015. $130 MSRP.

I passed the Zealots on to fellow run blogger Harold Shaw of Maine. I knew he liked firmer shoes and thought the ISO Fit upper and particularly the toe box would work for his bunions. They did! His kind of shoe. His fine review here

Derek Oxley over at Run4Lfye reviewed the Zealot here. He thought they had"... a light feeling and is the quintessential oxymoron with a unique combination of cushioned firmness.  I enjoyed the flexible feeling in the forefoot." He preferred the fit of the ISO upper on the Triumph.
The Zealot was provided to me at no charge for review purposes. The opinions herein are entirely my own.

Purchase your Zealot ISO at the links below. 
They are available from Running Warehouse: Men's hereWomen's here

Running Warehouse has great customer service policies:
  • Free 2 Day Shipping and Return Shipping
  • 90 Days No Sweat Returns
  • $9.95 Overnight Shipping 1-4 lbs
All your purchases at Running Warehouse via these links support my blog.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mount Desert Island Marathon Report- Incredible Scenery, Brutal Hills, and another Marathoner in the Family!

What a place MDI- Mount Desert Island, Maine and what a Marathon along the rocky coast. Spectacular experience!
Bar Harbor-Maine where Lobstah is King

Seal Harbor Mile 8 or so

Somes Sound Mile 15 or so

A special race as my daughter Hannah completed her first in 4:02, running  perfectly even splits despite the far harder second half. I am in trouble. She will soon catch me. Very proud of her!
Hannah finishes smiling

My Race
I had a super solid 20, or so then single slo slo speed last 5, no bonk just no hip drive. Strong tailwind in first 3 miles may had me going out a bit fast but it was...effortless at that point.
3:50 8th in AG losing a couple places, at least, in the last 3. Given my disastrous 2014 Boston and the toughness of this course relatively pleased although my recent 1:36 half and 43:18 10K would indicate a faster time even here. .I have to cross train and do runs over 15- don't, didn't. 
Did beat a relay team from the famous Maine Warden Service of North Woods Law fame though. 

The LOBSTAH Claw Medal- MDI Marathon. 

The Course
What incredible beauty and an an intimate and intense experience at this race:  the landscape, the ocean, the incredible stone walls and shingled "cottages", the wonderful quirky spectators, and 700 friendly competitors. I actually chatted with 2 guys for 10 or so miles. 
Rated "Most Scenic" and runner up for "Best Overall" by readers of Runner's World this is an event to experience and not worry about PR's for most.Make MDI a vacation and run. Highly Recommended! 
This is a brutal course with pretty much non stop hills. 
MDI Marathon Course Profile- Strong Tailwind miles 1-3 had me out...a bit too fast.

The MDI Marathon Gear:
  • Shoe: old reliable adidas Energy Boost 1 with 300 miles on them review here chosen due to 1500 feet of net climbing and all the descents. Perfect balance of cushion and response. 
  • Salomon Sense shorts (review here) to easily carry and with no bounce- 5 gels, pack of blocks, salt tabs and iPhone,  The world's most expensive shorts are worth it!
  • Patagonia Merino Silkweight shirt just right never chilled or too hot as it was 50 and windy, 
  • CEP sleeves and Ashmei socks (review here). No blisters, no cramps, no issues. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

From the NY Times: Why Are Americans So Fascinated With Extreme Fitness?

Not for me boutique, fitness, torture regimes such as CrossFit conducted in strip mall parking lots and windowless rooms as described in this NY Times Magazine article 
"It makes sense that for those segments of humanity who aren’t fighting for survival every day of their lives, the new definition of fulfillment is feeling as if you’re about to die. Maybe that’s the point. If we aren’t lugging five gallons of water back from a well 10 miles away or slamming a hammer into a mountainside, something feels as if it’s missing. Who wants to sit alone at a desk all day, then work out alone on a machine? Why can’t we suffer and sweat together, as a group, in a way that feels meaningful? Why can’t someone yell at us while we do it? For the privileged, maybe the most grueling path seems the most likely to lead to divinity. When I run on Sunday mornings, I pass seven packed, bustling fitness boutiques, and five nearly empty churches."
I'll stick to my 40 miles per week of running some road racing and a few marathons a year. Extreme enough for me and I get out in nature and fresh air.  
Many unfortunately live in places generally inhospitable to outdoor exercise with busy boring roads, in the city, in a foul climate or feel a need to be pushed by paid instructors and others in the class to get "it" done. Note winter weather is not foul, just tough and yes I occasionally duck into Planet Fitness for the dreadmill when the snow is deep and the roads a mess.  
While far "better" than this indoor regimented stuff, ultra-running races are also extreme in the sense that they too fulfil the same kind of need to suffer mightily together. Thinking of ultra runners often running together for many miles,the pacers, aid stations, etc...Mere marathons are tough but ultras can be brutal in their prolonged extreme suffering. When I was younger I often did ultra length runs in the mountains alone and occasionally with friends, rarely with any support, so I know what they feel like.
This weekend daughter Hannah and I am running Mount Desert Island Marathon, a spectacularly scenic and hilly marathon. Extremely beautiful and tough course. Extreme enough for me.