Friday, December 29, 2017

2018 Altra Duo Review: Max Cushion & Zero Drop with a Twist

Article by Derek Li with Sam Winebaum and Shannon Payne

Altra Duo
Stack Height: 31mm heel/ 31 mm forefoot, Zero drop
Sam: my pair of men’s US 9 comes in at 8.46 oz./240 g
Derek: my pair of men's US9.5 comes in at 8.6oz/244g
Shannon: my pair of women's 8 weighs in at 7.6 oz/215 g
$130. Available January 2018, exclusively at Fleet Feet Sports

Derek: Any maximalist shoe with a sub 9 oz. weight is always intriguing to me, against the previous gold standard of the Hoka Clifton v1 at 7.8oz for US9.5 but with stack numbers of 24mm/29mm (5mm drop). The Altra Duo, with its massive 31mm stack at a similar weight, is going to garner a lot of interest. The other intriguing aspect about this shoe is the super-breathable upper. With a growing number of ultra-distance races being competed in high heat and humidity, surprisingly few shoe brands have made maximalist shoes with very breathable uppers; the very bulky Hoka Stinson Lite being the only one with a similar upper to the Duo in this respect. Unsurprisingly, the folks at Altra consider this shoe to be perfect for runners planning to use it for ultras, marathons, and long run training, as well as day-to-day wear for people spending long hours on their feet such as medical professionals.

Sam: Very lightweight and super cushioned shoes are all the rage, think the Zoom Fly and Vapor Fly from Nike. Here we have a massive 31mm of stack, front and back, whereas a shoe such as the Zoom Fly (also about 8.4 oz) has 23 mm in the forefoot and 33 mm at the heel. So the challenge for Altra was to make all that front stack flexible and agile enough while retaining decent outsole rubber coverage.

To get to that light weight and flexibility the outsole and midsole is deeply grooved, and through the center lugs deeply cored into the midsole. As Derek mentions above, the upper is a very thin single layer mesh with well placed overlays leading to extreme breathability, broad Foot Shape forefoot room and provides mostly surprisingly good support.  

Shannon: The Altra Duo will be my first foray into the world of zero-drop footwear, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect here. That isn't because I'm either for or against zero-drop footwear, I think there is too much biomechanical and anatomical variation from person to person to say that it's right or wrong for everybody, I simply haven't tried it myself. Anyway, I've also always been interested in the possibility of whether zero drop maximalist shoes would cause an eccentric loading of the posterior chain when the rear foot foam becomes compressed upon impact, maybe amplifying the risk of calf, soleus and Achilles issues. But I suppose that would be specific to the wearer’s mechanics. At any rate, I was super stoked to try this light, super-cush shoe, and was anticipating a Clifton-esque feel to it.
Altra Running Duo
The upper uses an incredibly thin ventilated mesh throughout the entire forefoot and midfoot, held together only by several well-placed TPU overlays. 
Notable, there are TPU overlays lining the entire circumference of the junction where mesh joins the midsole, presumably for added structure. A thicker continuous strip of TPU forms a semi-rigid external toe bumper up front, which helps to maintain a fairly tall toe box. 
Altra Running Duo- Lit up to illustrate upper breathability and overlays

Altra founder Golden Harper says the Duo has the widest and highest volume toe box of any Altra to-date. He also told us the Duo is the shoe he has put the most effort into over the last 2 years. That's saying something as Golden and his team have created a fleet of great shoes in the last 2 years and for 2018. See our Spring and Fall 2018 Altra Previews
Side by Side with the Torin 3.0 

The tongue is made of a thin flexible fabric, keeping in line with the minimalist theme, and this is paired with inelastic oval laces. Altra used a material they call Nubuck suede to create a pillow tongue, meant to prevent “lace bite” on the instep. 

The sidewalls of the heel opening are very low, allowing plenty of clearance from the medial and lateral malleoli of the ankle bones, and terminate at an elevated but minimally padded heel collar. There is no structural heel-counter in this shoe, and support is primarily derived from the use of more rigid materials around the heel.

Derek: I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, but the colour theme of this shoe is most appropriate for a Halloween-themed run! The shoe fit true to size for me, and was a lot roomier than my previous Altra, the Torin 2.5. The increase in volume was more noticeable in the midfoot for me, as i found the Torin to be a bit snug around the arch once you laced things up. I like how the upper just disappears on your feet. I run in fairly warm and humid conditions of 80-90F year-round, and a poorly ventilated upper creates hot spots very quickly for me. Ventilation-wise, this is easily the most breathable shoe I’ve ever worn. With this upper and the very generous shoe volume, I can tighten the laces quite a lot without causing any pinching or pressure points. The suede tongue used here, which I first saw in shoes like the Hoka Clifton v1, but which now appears in the likes of the Skechers GoMeb Speed 4 and Hoka Tracer, is thicker than in the latter brands and does a better job of not bunching up when tightening down on the laces. No pressure points for me. 

The ankle opening is fairly big in this shoe, so I did have to use the last eyelet to prevent heel slippage. Even then, i would have liked the lacing coverage to extend a little farther up the foot. I do welcome the low ankle sidewalls though, as i have had the occasional encounter of abrasions to the sides of my ankle bones with rigid sidewalls. The stock laces that came with the Duo were very long, maybe excessively long, because even with a heel lock and double butterfly knot, I could tuck the excess laces under the second eyelet row right at the front.
Altra Running Duo Women's.
Shannon: I received a women's 8, but a half a size down would have likely been a better fit. The upper is a very thin, super breathable mesh that was quite nice, but given its width, I did have a lot of leftover bunching of the upper’s fabric when I tied the shoe adequately tight enough to prevent too much slipping and sliding, some of that could likely be addressed with a half size smaller. The laces were slightly longer than necessary, but the aforementioned things didn't really ultimately affect the overall feel of the shoe once on my foot, which was really quite good.
Sam: My test shoe size 9 was half size up from true to size for me. It was roomy and I had some difficulty getting a good heel lock as the ankle collar is low, unstructured, and quite broad, something Derek also noted. I am not a big fan of Altra’s trend toward low heel collars which have even crept into their trail shoes.  I would certainly go true to size in a future pair.  With a lace lock I was fine enough but still a bit loose with thicker socks.
The rest of the upper was spectacular with my midfoot well held, and shockingly so, despite the widest roomiest Foot Shape toe box in an Altra to date and the very light, thin, and breathable mesh. 
Left: Altra Running Duo Right: Altra Running Torin 3.0
There is clearly also more toe overhead room than in the Torin 3 and especially Torin 2.5 although I never had an issue with the relatively low overhead of these two. The Duo upper materials are softer, thinner and far more pliable in the toe area than in the Torin. The toe bumper while more extensive is thinner and more pliable. We will keep an eye on this upper's durability. The overall foot hold and especially the heel collar hold is not the trail shoe worthy hold of the Torin 2.5 so I will not be taking them on as many trails as I very easily did the Torin.  Troubled and wide feet should be very happy in this upper.
Altra does not mention what type of midsole foam is being used in the Duo, beyond that it is injection-molded. It is unclear if their newer EGO foam is being used here, or if this is an entirely new EVA foam for 2018.
Derek: I never got round to trying the Escalante as I felt the upper would be too warm for my taste, and so I never got to try Altra’s new EGO foam, but the injection-molded foam in the Duo is definitely livelier with less bottoming out than A-bound foam in the Torin 2.5. I think the diagonal grooves in the midsole have something to do with it, but I noticed that the forefoot compressed more easily than the heel for this shoe, although the difference was quite subtle, and the overall feel of the midsole was quite uniform. This is probably a new foam from Altra, distinct from EGO foam, since the stack-weight ratio is much higher than in the Escalante, and it very obviously feels different from the A-bound foam used in prior models.

Sam: I agree with Derek the midsole foam is livelier than the Torin and I really liked the Torin. It is clearly not full EGO foam as it is less bouncy than the Escalante but maybe a mix incorporating some of the EGO non EVA material.
The midsole incorporates a “bucket seat” approach similar to many Hoka wherein wrapping around the heel the midsole has walls (blue above) into which the foot sits down a solid ½”. While the heel landing is stable these walls are not quite enough to overcome the low and lightly padded heel collar’s looseness.  
I too noticed that the forefoot compressed more easily than the heel I think due to the cored out narrow walled outsole lugs in the center of the forefoot, which below the outsole are part of the midsole in the forefoot, deflecting under pressure.
The midsole also incorporates Altra’s Inner Flex. Inner Flex is described by Altra as a tennis strings shaped pattern molded into the top of the midsole under the foot which increases flexibility.  I think due to the forefoot compressing more than the heel, the full heel outsole coverage and foam not over compressing at the heel with the extensive coring and voids in the outsole/midsole, as well as Inner Flex all lead to a rapid transition off the heel, and as such the Duo is pretty much indistinguishable for me from a higher drop shoe of say 4-6mm anyways. It is by far the most “normal” feeling Zero Drop Altra to date beating out the Torin in that department.  
Shannon: I think Altra found somewhat of a “Goldilocks” firmness to this midsole, and I'm impressed. More firm than a Hoka Clifton, but less firm than a Salomon Sense Pro Max, its right in the middle. If you find the Clifton to squishy, and the Sense Pro Max a little too firm, the Duo will be right in the middle. If you've run in the Torin or Escalante, expect a slightly more firm feel than either of those. So far...I'm digging it.

Derek's Altra Running Duo at 40 miles

Altra used a decoupled outsole with a complex array of grooves in the outsole of the Duo. They used a combination of what seems to be firmer carbon-injected rubber in high abrasion areas such as the rearmost heel and foremost toe off area, while employing blown rubber in the lateral and medial heel, as well as some parts of the forefoot landing area under the metatarsal heads. Much of the midfoot is exposed EVA. The result is a long flexing platform that flexes more than decently for the huge stack and moves with the foot through the gait cycle, without so far in our testing compromising durability.

Derek: The outsole reminds me of the Brooks Neuro, but feels very different underfoot. There seems to be a lot going on here, with the cutouts and grooves in the outsole. Whatever it is, they have managed to create a moderately flexible shoe despite the 31mm stack height. Road grip is also good with this shoe. I happened to run through a downpour in the middle of my long run in this shoe, and the ride was always confident going downhill over wet concrete and drain-covers. Durability seems to be good, with no discernible wear so far at 40 miles.
Sam: As discussed above the cored outsole midsole not only balances heel and forefoot making me not “miss the heel” in the Duo as I do in many Altra, while the sectioning and coring makes for a smooth transition and admirable long and great flex for such a massive 31mm stack.  I have seen no wear at all to speak of 30 miles in.  

Shannon: The grooves in the outsole make the shoe slightly more flexible than a number of max cushion shoe, and that's not a bad thing. There appears to be a different type of outsole material on the medial and lateral heel areas of the shoe, as well as in the forefoot. Perhaps to increase durability would be my assumption, and it seems to work. After roughly 25 miles on the shoe over the course of three days, there is very negligible wear in those areas. The only drawback that I found to the multiple grooves and cutouts in the outsole is its ability to be a spectacular rock-catcher on crushed gravel. But this is a road shoe, so I can't fault them for that.
PC: Derek Li
Derek: The shoe rides very smoothly for me, and doesn’t feel like a zero drop shoe at all but more like a 5mm drop shoe most of the time. As I mentioned earlier, the configuration of the midsole grooves is such that the forefoot compresses more than the heel so it feels a little more like a 4-5mm drop shoe than a zero drop shoe. The forefoot does feel softer than the heel but at no point does it feel mushy as many maximalist shoes with this stack tend to feel. I have put it through a couple of aerobic and easy runs, as well as a moderate effort long run at ~7:35/mile pace over hilly terrain and I only missed the heel on sharper downhill sections, but even then, the cushioning of the shoe is such that the heel never bottoms out even when you land hard on it. It was versatile enough that down to 7:00/mile pace, the shoe still felt smooth and responsive, and I never felt like I was fighting the shoe when I picked it up. I haven’t done any speed work in the shoe yet though. 

Overall, I think it works fairly well over a wide range of paces for me, from 8:30 down to 7:00 pace, and would serve well as a daily trainer for all but the most extreme of heel strikers. I like it most for easy aerobic runs in the 7:30-7:40 pace range; anything slower and i would prefer something a little softer, and even though it handles uptempo work fairly well, i think there are other shoes that i would choose if i were doing a pure uptempo workout. In terms of stability, the wide footprint of the shoe, plus the raised midsole around the sides of the heel provide adequate support for me. During one of my runs through a downpour, I never felt unstable going downhill at pace or while cornering. 

Despite the very ventilated upper, the shoe still tends to trap some water, probably because of the raised midsole along the sides of the shoe. Twice after a run, I was able to drip water out of the front of the shoe when holding it vertically. My suspicion is that the materials used for the upper do not absorb water, so it just sits in the shoe. Due to the raised midsole at the sides, and the lack of drain holes in the shoe, there’s nowhere for the water to drain out. I would have like to see some drain holes in the midsole, or near the toe bumper up front.      
Shannon: Once I got the Duo out on the roads for a test-drive, I was very pleasantly surprised. The midsole has a smooth, responsive ride from heel to toe that again, is neither too soft, nor too firm. On top of that, though it looks like “a lot of shoe,” and it is, it doesn't have a bulky feel to it. Rather, it’s light, it’s super stable, and has a really solid ride at a variety of paces. 

Fans of shoes like the Hoka Vanquish and Salomon Sense Pro Max will find this to be another shoe to add to their arsenal for everyday runs. In fact, it would be a great option for anybody looking to add a shoe with a bit more cushion underfoot that doesn't have a mushy, “running in sand” sort of feel to it. I found that despite still feeling good at faster clips, the Duo worked better for my “fluff” runs: AKA runs that are not intended to be workouts, but just to get miles in at an easy to moderate pace, on a variety of surfaces, be it concrete, asphalt, or crushed gravel. Had no one told me this is a zero drop shoe, I would not have guessed. The Duo has got a great ride that doesn't feel quite like what I had initially expected, in a good way.
Sam: This is the best ride in a maximal shoe to date for me. Duo is light, lively, transitions well, has of course has great cushion from its 31 mm of foam. It has a strong unlabored transition and pop off the road at all paces. Unlike the Clifton it is not overly soft at the heel and kind of mushy overall. The fine Skechers Ultra Road R2 and Hoka Clayton and new Mach come close but are not quite as smooth or as lively as both of these have either softer outsoles (Clayton/Mach) or very thin rubber outsoles (Ultra Road) and don’t quite manage the flexibility issues of such a thick forefoot stack as well.
Conclusions and Recommendations
I think Altra is really on to something with this midsole/outsole package. For a long time, I have liked the durometer (firmness) and feel of Altra shoes but didn't enjoy the zero drop platform. Here they've tweaked the softness of the heel and forefoot such that it no longer sinks too much at the heel and as a result it can now appeal to a much wider audience. It really doesn't feel like a zero drop shoe once you get going. It is light and responsive enough that one could conceivably use it for the bulk of their runs as a daily trainer, save for the really fast stuff. I think the main upsell for this shoe vs others would be the roomy fit and the amazing breathability of the upper. 

Runners who train in hot and humid conditions or are planning to race ultras and find that their feet expand a lot throughout the race will appreciate the high volume of this shoe. Personally I think the toe box maybe a little too wide. I thought the Torin 2.5 toe box was just right for me and the Duo toebox was perhaps just a little wider than necessary. The midfoot and heel were about right for me. Perhaps they could come up with a standard width and a wider width for this shoe. Everything underfoot is perfect as is.
Derek’s Score: 9.9 / 10
-0.1 toe box just a little too wide for me. Everything else works fine.

Duo is one heck of a great combination: a very light weight to cushion ratio, a superb midsole outsole design leading to very adequate flex on a 31mm forefoot stack, a lively snappy ride-no mushy soft here, smooth transitions, no sense this is a “Zero Drop” shoe-so a great option for newcomers to the concept, plenty of foot friendly room- except maybe for very narrow feet who may swim in them. My only complaint is the low relatively unstructured heel collar leading to less than ideal heel hold. A bit more height, structure, and collar padding would perfect the Duo for me. With the Duo Altra has introduced a shoe that incorporates all of its key design philosophies of Zero Drop and Foot Shape while making a maximally cushioned shoe light, flexible, and lively.  It is by far the most “normal” feeling/riding Zero Drop Altra to date beating out the Torin 2.5 in that department for me.  

The Duo should have wide appeal not only to Altra fans but to those seeking light weight with great cushion but also runners who typically chose a premium trainer such as the Brooks Levitate and Glycerin, Saucony Triumph ISO 4, and Asics GEL Nimbus 19, if the upper and zero drop works for you. You will get a considerably lighter and livelier shoe with tremendous cushion for about $30 less. Finally, as Altra's marketing calls out, the Duo is a great option for those who are on their feet at work for long hours.

You may ask what the "twist" in the title is? Well, despite its massive stack the Duo is a super run able shoe at all paces, not usually the case with such shoes, and the Altra Zero Drop just isn't noticeable for the first time.

Sam’s Score: 9.85 / 10
-0.1 for loose heel collar
-0.05 for a bit too roomy, high volume toe box, at least for my feet.
The combination also reduces the versatility for smooth trail use the Torin had.

Having never really tried Altra, with my somewhat limited experience, I'm convinced and this is a great shoe to add to your line of trainers for everyday runs, maybe excluding fast days. The zero drop is somehow very subtle, and is not a shock to the system for those more used to a slightly higher drop. It has a terrific, lively ride with a great midsole consistency not always found in more max cushion models, and it comes in at a great price point.

Shannon’s Score: 9 / 10
-Sizing runs a touch off, for the women's I would advise going a half size down.
-The upper is great material! Super light and breathable, but just a bit loosey-goosey.
-The rock-catcher (and maybe snow-catcher, we’ll see!) of a tread. Not a deal breaker for me given it's intended running surfaces, but a more Torin-esque tread may be more adequate and versatile?


Duo vs Torin 2.5 and 3.0 (RTR reviews Torin 2.5 here 3.0 here)
Derek: The Duo is altogether a much more fun shoe for me. The Duo is noticeably lighter than the Torin 2.5 firmer, and more versatile for me. The Torin feels nicer at slower paces but feels a little too soft if you try to go faster. I also miss the heel a lot more in the Torin. I can see the Torin being a better choice for colder weather though.
Sam: The Torin 2.5 was one of my favorite all around shoes of 2016 and the Torin 3.0 is not far behind. With the exception of the trail versatility of the Torin due to its more supportive upper, the Duo is lighter, more lively and agile, and more comfortable.
Shannon: Given that the Duo got me very interested in the Altra line after my first couple of runs, I wanted to compare it against the Torin. I found the ride of both shoes to be to my liking, even though theTorin feels significantly softer. I would chalk the Torin up to having slightly more versatility than the Duo in terms of what it can handle pace-wise and surface-wise, just owing to its outsole and more nimble feel. Also, I did like the sturdier upper material of the Torin a bit better with its more glove-like fit.

Duo vs Clifton 3 and Clifton 4 (RTR review Clifton 4)
Derek: I do not own the Clifton 4, so my comparison will be with version 3. The Duo is slated to retail for $130 so that puts it at the same price point as the Clifton. The Duo actually feels closest to the now discontinued Hoka Odyssey, which was a firmer more responsive version of the Clifton 1. Vs the Clifton 3, the Clifton is softer, and has less traction than the Duo. Both have similar ground feel and I would not hesitate to use either for long runs. Additionally, the Duo is also lighter and can handle pace changes a lot better so I would consider it the more versatile shoe. The Clifton is also significantly tighter in the arch, so if you want a wider fit, the Duo definitely gets the nod.

Sam: While the Clifton 4 is slightly firmer and slightly more stable at the heel than its predecessors the Duo is much more to my liking in a maximal shoe as it is more stable, firmer and more responsive, more flexible and has a more comfortable upper. I am just not a fan of marshmallow soft shoes. Close to an ounce lighter the Duo is noticeably lighter on the foot.

Shannon: Both Max cushion shoes, but quite a different ride. I would be more likely to use the Duo on a day when I wished to run slightly faster than I would use the Clifton for, which is more plush underfoot, but a touch less responsive, while the Duo has a firmer ride that makes it feel better to up the pace. Again, both good options for max cushion shoes.

Duo vs Skechers GoRun Ultra Road 2 (RTR review)
Derek: I really thought the GRUR2 would be my primary long run shoe for the next few months but now I'm not so sure. The Duo seems to transmit less ground feel than the GRUR2, although both are about the same weight and similar stack (GRUR2 has a 30/26mm stack) I think the Duo midsole is firmer and does not bottom out as much as the 5GEN midsole of the GRUR2, and it ultimately comes down to preference in terms of whether you like a softer ride or a firmer ride. I think the Duo transitions better at faster paces and has slightly better road traction. Both shoes have very generous shoe volume so fit shouldn't be a big factor.

Sam: The GRUR2 is the closest comparison. I give a nod to its knit upper over the Duo breathable single layer mesh as it is more supportive. Underfoot the Duo wins out with more flexibility for sure easing transitions and for its thicker, well segmented rubber coverage leading to a livelier pop off the road.

Duo vs Brooks Pure Cadence
Derek: This might seem like an odd comparison. Obviously the fit and last of these two shoes are very different, but the durometer and underfoot feel of the Duo midsole seems closest to the Pure Cadence (v2 and v3 specifically, I understand the newer ones got a bit firmer). If you liked the Pure Cadence before, but felt it was maybe a little too thin for the longer stuff, or wanted something more durable, then you should definitely try the Duo.

Duo vs Salomon Sense Pro Max (RTR review
Shannon: the Duo has a slightly softer feel to it upon getting the shoe on, but with an equally good ride compared to the Sense Pro Max. I found there to be less of a break-in period with the Duo, while the Sense Pro Max took a few runs to really start to feel good. I felt that the Duo had a better step-in feel, although the Sense Pro Max has a much more precise-fitting upper that I liked better and a more “springy” ride. Both would be great options for anybody seeking a max cushion shoe, but the Sense Pro Max seems to handle a bigger variety of terrain with its versatile outsole. As for the ride itself, I was about equal in regards to my liking of the shoes upon running in them.

Sam: The Pro Max is stiffer, has a trail worthy upper something I like in road shoes as well and is more versatile as a road trail hybrid. The Duo is road focused and is far livelier and clearly a faster shoe on the road.  I would be very leery to take it on anything but roads whereas I have taken the Pro Max everywhere. 

Derek Li is a former tri-athlete now dedicated to road running and completing all the Marathon Majors. He has a 2:41 PR and is a physician in Singapore
Shannon Payne is a two time winner of the Mt Washington Road Race, was 3d in the World Mountain Running Championships and a 7x All American at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.
Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of RoadTrailRun. He has been running for 45 years and all that time has been a run shoe geek. He is still at it, clocking a 1:35 half in 2017,

The Duo was provided at no cost.The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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Brooks Running Launch 5 Review: A New Upper Relaxes the Launch. Too Much?

Article by Peter Stuart, Dave Ames, and Sam Winebaum

Brooks Running Launch 5
Weight: US M9 9.2 oz/261 g  US W8 7.9 oz/224 g
Stack Height: 28mm heel/18mm forefoot, 10mm drop
Price: $100. Available now.
PC: Peter Stuart
The Bottom Line: 
The Launch 5 is Brooks Running entry into the sub 10 oz performance trainer race.  It is a well cushioned, lively, somewhat bouncy shoe with a new largely unstructured thin, soft and very comfortable engineered mesh upper.  For two of us the upper and the narrow mid foot platform, in combination, contributed to making it less secure and stable compared to competitors and predecessors at faster paces.The third reviewer loved the Launch 5. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Peter Stuart's 2017 Running Shoes and Gear of the Year

Article by Peter Stuart


Tie for 1st Place!
New Balance NB 1400v5 (RTR review) and Nike Zoom Elite 9 (RTR review)
Man, oh man are these both terrific shoes! They are both on the light side and for some they may be more race shoe than daily trainer. That said, both the NB 1400v5 and the Nike Zoom Elite 9 worked great for me for everything from 5k races to 20 mile training runs. In fact, each of these shoes were used in a 20 mile workout in which I raced a 5k about halfway through the run. They are light, fast, cushioned enough to withstand long miles and really fun to run in. The Zoom Elites have lasted for more miles than the NB's but they are both nearly perfect shoes.
Shop for the NB 1400v5 at Running Warehouse here
Shop for the Nike Zoom Elite 9 at Running Warehouse here

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sam Winebaum's 2017 Run Tech Recap and Best Running Shoes and Gear of the Year

Article by Sam Winebaum, Editor

A Recap of 2017 and a Look Ahead to 2018

2017 saw incremental changes to many stalwart running shoes as engineered mesh or knit uppers and yet fewer overlays and stitching became de rigueur. I rarely have issues with any of these modern uppers unless they are to unstructured at mid foot. Upper comfort became a priority as brands now can design support, breathability, and structure into the mesh itself while reducing waste and labor costs. While uppers dramatically improved, the big news was in midsole materials and overall outsole construction and integration. 

New midsole constructions and materials emerged in 2017 after several years where adidas Boost was really the only truly different midsole material as it is a TPU based midsole, with claims of higher energy return instead of the usual EVA. Saucony followed adidas with its similar TPU based Everun, first as inserts and top soles over the last few year and then as a full midsole in shoes such as the Freedom and Triumph ISO 4 in 2017, with more to come.

Midsoles really started to move away from conventional EVA and EVA blends in 2017 seeking greater energy return while providing more shock reducing cushion.

Most notable of these new approaches is Nike's Zoom X Pebax foam and carbon plate in the Vapor Fly 4%.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Jeff Valliere's 2017 Trail Running Shoes and Gear of the Year

by Jeff Valliere

A good handful of shoes that I have worn throughout 2017 had me thinking at the time "this could easily be my shoe of the year", then another great shoe would come along, then another, then another, completely throwing off my calculations.

When I look back at my 2016 favorites, I marvel at how much difference a single year has made.  In March, though very early in the year, I was absolutely, positively sure I would go with the S-Lab Sense Ultra, a reasonably light, race ready long distance Salomon shoe with added cushion and an incredibly awesome upper and fast ride.

Then came the Salomon Sense Ride, not quite as light or the super dialed upper of the S Lab Sense Ultra, but it was pretty darn awesome, sharing many S Lab features for $60 less.

Then along came the Speedgoat 2.  A touch apprehensive after a really bad experience with the SG1, I was left in awe at home much the shoe had improved, sharing nothing in common with version 1, except for the brand and model name.

After that, a string of awesomeness with the Scott Supertrac RC, Salomon XA Elevate, La Sportiva Uragano/Tempesta and the Salomon Speedspike CS.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hoka One One Bondi 5 Review. Equally At Home as A High Mileage Trainer Or All Day On Your Feet Delivery Driver Shoe

by Jeff Valliere

Hoka One One Bondi 5
10.7 oz/ 303 g US M9 8.5 oz. 9.5 oz/269 g US W8
33mm Heel/29mm Forefoot, 4mm drop


OK, kind of an unusual title.  I am between jobs/careers and in the interim while I look for something more long term, I took a seasonal delivery driver position with a major Worldwide delivery service.  I'll not say the name, but let's just say the company is massive, known for utilizing the color brown and requires us to wear a black or brown leather boot/shoe.

Sam kindly contacted Hoka to see if I could review a pair of leather Bondis, which unfortunately were not available, but they were able to provide an all black pair of Bondi 5.  While not leather, because of the all black color, they essentially go unnoticed and in the end, I appreciate the breathability and lighter weight.

I have been working 6 days per week, most of those days being 9-10 hours of constant movement and according to my Garmin Fenix 5x (RTR comparison review article), I easily get in 12-14 miles per day on my feet on the job alone.  I knew a standard leather boot would not cut it for me, especially for moving fast.  We are not allowed to run and risk a trip, slip or fall, but let's just say that I am always moving pretty quickly and having a light and well cushioned shoe such as the Bondi 5 has been a huge benefit!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v8 Review, with Detailed Comparisons to Brooks Levitate and Saucony Triumph ISO 4

New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v8 ($150)
Stats Weight: Men’s US 9 10.9 oz /309 g  Women’s US 8 9.3 oz
Stack Height: 27mm heel/19 mm forefoot, 8mm drop (Per Running Warehouse as NB doesn't provide full stack heights)
Available now.
Dave: It’s taken me awhile to fully understand where New Balance is going with the Fresh Foam concept. To me, Fresh Foam is extremely stiff, allows minimal flexion at the midsole in their neutral trainers, and almost all models just plain feel, blah. While they definitely hit the nail on the head with the 2018 890v6 (RTR review) and the 1400v5, current favorite racer (RTR review) I was intrigued to try the 1080v8 and see how they define heavy cushioning. The previous version of 1080 (v7) was a brick.

Peter: I haven’t had the same experience with Fresh Foam. The Zante has been a pretty great shoe for me--especially early versions. I’ve found a pretty good balance of flex, cushion and spring. The 1080 is definitely more shoe than I’m used to running in, but I was eager to give it a try--perhaps as a long, easy run shoe.

Sam: The last Fresh Foam based shoe I ran in was the Boracay in 2015 and my experience then matches what Dave describes above. It was fine but did not float my boat as I found it fairly stiff. I felt that the Fresh Foam concept was overly data driven with its tuning of the midsole side wall cushion or support and outsole geometry through differing shape and size hexagons and was less about feel and ride. In particular I didn't care much for the continuous single sheet of outsole rubber without flex grooves. In cold in particular, Fresh Foam shoes seemed to stiffen and firmer up more than I liked, to brick like consistency. Well that was then and this is now so I sort of reluctantly decided to test the 1080v8, New Balance's premium neutral daily trainer. While I am a fan of lighter shoes (9-10 oz or so) for my daily training,  I wanted to closely compare it to others in its class I have run in recently such as the new Brooks Levitate, Saucony Triumph ISO 4, and Asics GEL-Nimbus 19. I was pleasantly surprised!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Saucony Triumph ISO 4 Review with Comparisons to Triumph ISO 3 and Others in its Class

Article by Sam Winebaum,

Saucony Triumph ISO 4
Weight: test sample US9 11.3 oz/ 321 g M9, W8 9.6 oz/272 g
Stack Height: 28mm heel/20 mm forefoot, 8 mm stack
Price: $160. Available now.
Triumph ISO 4
The Triumph ISO 4 is Saucony's heavy duty, neutral daily trainer. While containing significant changes and weighing more it runs similarly to its predecessor the Triumph ISO 3 (review here)

Midsole and Outsole
The big change from its predecessor, the Triumph ISO 3 is that instead of an Everun TPU heel insert embedded in the PWRGRID+ EVA midsole, the ISO 4 has a full Everun TPU midsole. It is nicely energetic, but unlike similar full adidas Boost TPU midsoles without EVA or plastic pieces to stabilize such as the Ultra Boost, it is stable, firmer and well tamed due to the burly outsole. Everun is also somewhat firmer than Boost.