Sunday, December 30, 2018

Jeff Beck's Top Running Gear for 2018

Article by Jeff Beck

This was a hard list to put together. Not because there weren't enough shoes that deserved accolades, but because there were too many that were outstanding. We're living in the Golden Age of running shoes , and from what I've seen of what's coming, next year is just going to get better.

Below is my breakdown of the best daily trainer, trail shoe, and speedwork/race shoe , and of course the shoe of the year before getting into a little bit of tech. If you've been following along the reviews, I have a habit of making shoe/car comparisons in the comments so as a little bonus, I'm also adding a car comparison to each shoe.

Best Daily Trainer

This was a rough contest for me because I tested so many shoes this year that fall under this heading. I went back and ran in a number of shoes I hadn't touched in months, and found that it's true - absence makes the heart grow fonder. A few of the shoes I raved about earlier in the year seemed just fine when I revisited them, which is exactly why I rely on memory as little as possible and just throw the shoe on for a few laps around the neighborhood. There are a few more shoes (Salomon Predict RA and Adidas Solar Glide in particular) that if I'd put more miles on them, they might have found their way onto this list. Sorry fellas. Maybe next year?

3rd Place: Topo Athletic UltraFly 2
I haven't gotten around to writing a full review of this shoe, but I really should. I'd been intrigued by Topo for a little while, and when I learned I'd be reviewing the UltraVenture, their extensively-cushioned trail shoe, I figured I should have some frame of reference in the Topo world. I have zero regrets, this shoe is fantastic. It's one of those shoes that has a very comfortable but supportive upper with an exceptional toe box (absent any weird midfoot issues that have plagued Altra models), a plush but not mushy midsole, and a well-covered rubber outsole that still gives the shoe plenty of flexibility. The UltraFly 2 is an awkward looking, if not smooth running, daily trainer that works for every run. I've used mine on a few light trail runs, and they were fantastic. Some shoes get a lot of hype that isn't completely deserved. This shoe has almost zero hype, and deserves so much more.

Car equivalent: Alfa Romeo Giulia. Its looks are polarizing, the brand isn't a household name, and everyone sleeping on it is doing themselves a major disservice.

2nd Place: Saucony Triumph ISO 5 (RTR review)
There's no tiptoeing around it, this is a heavy shoe. Saucony's answer to Boost, Everun, is incredibly dense, and density means weight. However, unlike so many of its brethren, the Triumph ISO 5 works so well with its chunky midsole. It also has one of the most comfortable uppers I've ever put on my foot. Would I like to do a tempo run in it? Hard no. But if I had fifteen plus easy road miles on the schedule, I don't know what other shoe I'd even consider. Or if yesterday was hills followed by intervals, today's run is going to be in the Triumph ISO 5. Major bonus points to Saucony for pulling out of the nosedive that the Triumph has been in for a few years - this is the first model since the Triumph 11 in 2014 that I actually want to run in.

Car equivalent: Audi A5. Heavy beast with great luxury that handles better than its weight should suggest, but has plenty of brothers and sisters for real speed.

1st Place: New Balance 1080v9 (RTR review)
This is the best daily trainer of the year, and the biggest surprise. Aesthetically it shares 99% of its DNA with the 1080v8, but they could not be more different. The upper is super snug (but enough room up front), the midsole has good cushioning but is still very responsive, and the outsole is covered in a full coating of rubber that has enough flexibility that you wouldn't know it. If I could pick one shoe that I had to use for every single road run for the next three months, it's the 1080v9 without a moment's hesitation. The upper gave me a little heelslip on the first run, but a runner's loop later, this shoe isn't going anywhere. And even though the Beacon uses Fresh Foam in a completely different way, I'd say this is the best application of Fresh Foam New Balance has done yet. It took them a few years, but New Balance is figuring FF out.

Car Equivalent: Volkswagen Golf R. It may look like many others, but when you put the pedal down it behaves unlike anything comparable. Smooth to drive or at home when pushing the limit, this thing can do it all.

Best Trail Shoe

I'm breaking away from my colleagues pretty hard in this category. Maybe it's the different style of trails we run, maybe it's the extra cushioning I'm always looking for, or maybe it's my insistence that a shoe should be shaped like a foot (looking at you most Hoka, Salomon, or La Sportiva models), regardless, here's my top three. Another two shoes that should get an honorable mention - the Topo Athletic UltraVenture and the Skechers Performance GOrun Maxtrail 5 Ultra. The Topo is a super comfortable trail cruiser that is one of the most plush rides out there, and the Skechers shoe is the most race inspired trail shoe I've ever run in. Small issues for each keep it off my personal list, but make no mistake, both are fantastic.

3rd Place: Nike Wildhorse 4
Sure, this shoe didn't come out this year,  but the colorway I own did debut just a few months ago, so I'm counting it. Another shoe I've loved but haven't been able to review, the Wildhorse 4 has a lot going for it. The upper grips my foot like few others, but it gives plenty of room up front for the toes. It has more than enough cushioning for a mid-long run, and it has a rock plate that turns nasty technical trails into...well slightly less nasty technical trails. The outsole has tons of grip, though, I have run exclusively dry trails and roads in it (not my fault, I can't make it rain more in Phoenix) so I can't address the prevailing opinion that the Wildhorse 4 is severely lacking in wet traction. I just know it's a blast to run in, and can be found in a number of different colorways for a sizeable discount. So much better than its cousin the Terra Kiger, even though the Kiger is the more expensive and more premium posited shoe.

Car Equivalent: Subaru Crosstrek. It is a little ugly, and it won't win any speed records, but it can go just about anywhere with comfort.

2nd Place: Brooks Caldera 3 (RTR review soon)
This shoe came out of nowhere to sneak onto this list. Only by trying to figure out its faults did I realize - it really doesn't have any. It's the perfect trail cruiser. My portion of the upcoming review goes into greater detail, but the quick and dirty on the Caldera 3: better traction than the Caldera 2, same solid ride that straddles the line between plush and responsive very nicely, better upper that is more breathable and has just a hair more room up front. I'm a few weeks out from a trail 20K, and this is on the short list to run it.

Car Equivalent: Ford Raptor. At home off road, with virtually zero compromises in that department.

1st Place: Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 (RTR review)
I wasn't a part of the review of this shoe, and for good reason. I can't run in Hokas. My foot is shaped like a foot, and I get pinch blisters on both small toes after three to fives miles in any of their models. It doesn't keep me from hoping, against all logic, that every time someone types the phrase "Best toe box in a Hoka yet!" that finally they did it. So when Dominick, Dave, and Jeff V reviewed the shoe a few months ago, and every single one of them talked about how big the toe box was, the hunt was back on. Then when I learned it is one of the few Hokas to come in a 2E width, my hope spiked even higher, but cynicism was still engaged. I'd heard these promises in the past; I'd been hurt before. The shoe's limited release made me visit the local REI, and wouldn't you know it. They did it. They finally did it. Hoka made a shoe that's actually shaped like a foot. And it's got great traction on the trail (but still works well on the road too), tons of cushioning (but not too much), and the upper is just right. There's an awful lot of Goldilocks to this shoe, but more on that later.

Car Equivalent: Toyota 4Runner. It can handle most things off road, but still works just fine on pavement, and is much more comfortable than most of its competitors.

Best Speedwork/Race Shoe

The benefit of being a heavier and slower runner is that you get to figure out how to use different shoes. Remember the Adidas Adios Boost 2? The shoe that was used to set the world record for the marathon a few years ago? That used to be my go-to shoe for weekly track workouts. After three or four miles my feet wanted to abandon ship, even though smaller and more efficient runners wouldn't think twice about wearing them for a half to full marathon. And that is exactly why this category played out as it did.

3rd Place: New Balance 1400v6 (RTR review)
During the summers the local high school allows the public to use its track (or at very least doesn't run us off), and the 1400 is my go-to shoe. Its outsole mixes grip and durability very well, and while the upper is way too tight up front to make me happy, I'm never wearing them for more than an hour including warm up and cool down, so I can make it work. The midsole has that little bit of pop that encourages you to run just a little bit harder and faster, and I like that for this type of shoe. At one point I paired it against the Nike Zoom Streak 6, and it's a night and day difference. The Nike has a better toe box, but it just doesn't have the same pop to it.

Car Equivalent: Honda S2000. Quick and zero frills, requires you to work hard to get the most out of it. If you don't keep the RPMs above 6000 you are going to be disappointed.

2nd Place: New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon  (RTR review)
See? I DON'T USE SHOES LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. While other runners look at the Beacon as an easy daily trainer, for me it's the perfect tempo run shoe up to six to eight miles. While it doesn't provide the same pop feel as the 1400, the reality of the situation is I run faster in this shoe than I mean to. Every single run ended up a full one to two minutes faster pace-wise than I had anticipated. While that can be a problem, it is a very good problem to have.

Car Equivalent: BMW M3. It looks sporty but ultimately is even faster than it looks. Very easy to get to 120 mph without realizing it.

1st Place: Nike Vaporfly 4% (RTR review)
This is the easiest answer on this list, and because of that it kind of feels like a copout. It's easy to point at the fastest/most expensive and say "Ta-da! Winner!" Except here's the thing, this shoe really is amazing. If it fits your foot (and plenty of folks are DQ'd here because of its very narrow midfoot) then this shoe is fantastic. It isn't magic, and won't simply make you faster by slipping them on, but it has the same pop in the NB 1400 multiplied by a hundred. It makes you want to run harder, but it also has an absurd level of cushioning for the weight to protect your legs and feet the whole way. This is the one shoe that I can use the same way as anybody else. When I lace up for a marathon in 2019, I have no doubt this shoe will be on my foot. My wife mocked me, hard, when I pulled the trigger on this shoe. I eventually convinced her to put my pair on, and just run down the hallway. On the second step she let out a subconscious "Oooooh" when she felt the spring of the shoe urging her to go harder. If you've ever had a dog that perked up at the mention of the word "walk", that is this shoe. Only its not a word that sets it off, its every step.

Car Equivalent: McLaren F1. Incredibly fast and lightweight, super expensive, and requires a staggering amount of maintenance after short use. Plus you get to drive it in the middle, there's something truly special here.

SHOE OF THE YEAR: Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 (RTR review)
I have said for years that if Hoka just made a foot shaped shoe, they'd set the world on fire. They finally did it, so I have to give them credit. The Challenger ATR 5 is my absolute Goldilocks shoe. It's lightweight-ish (my 10.5 2E is 10.5 ounces per shoe), the cushioning is massive (without being over the top like some of their other models), the outsole has plenty of grip on trails (without being awkward to run roads), and the upper grips the foot well, yet has a lot of room up front (without being sloppy). It's the perfect balance between too much and not enough, and that's fantastic.

Best Tech of the Year: Tie
Hyperice Hypervolt & Garmin Instinct with Emma cameo
Garmin Instinct (RTR review)
The Instinct punches way above its weight class, and we get to benefit from it. Taking most of the meat and potatoes features of its big brother Fenix line (but sadly leaving a lot of the cooler bells and whistles behind) the Instinct offers an amazingly featured watch at a fraction of the price. Its battery life is fantastic, its durability is nearly legendary, and its comfort is surprising. If you are looking for a new GPS watch that also has most standard smart watch features , you should give the Instinct a solid look. You will still have to use a debit card/phone when you buy something, and it won't pipe music to you, but if you think of that level of feature as superfluous, then the Instinct may just be perfect for you.

Hyperice Hypervolt
My guilty pleasure purchase of the year that I feel zero guilt over. I sold my wife on this bad boy like this. "Yes, it's $350, but we're both runners. We'll both use it every day - and after a year that breaks down to fifty cents for each of us per day. That sounds reasonable, right?" She signed off, and we haven't looked back. And while it hasn't been every day, there's only been a handful of days that monster doesn't get used.

There are three different speeds (30/40/53 percussions per second) and four different attachments (entry-level foam ball, mid-level flat like a hammer, and pro-level plastic bullet, and two-tined fork for getting either side of your achilles) and you can mix and match to your own comfort level. After the first month I've been all bullet all top speed, and I've learned to embrace the pain (without having to lay down on the floor grinding my calf into a foam roller) and share the fun. I brought my Hypervolt with me when I volunteered at an aid station 32 miles into a 50 mile ultra, and more than a few runners used it to combat IT band issues or cramping muscles. There are other options, both more expensive (Theragun) and less (rigging up a jigsaw with a softer tip), but what makes the Hypervolt so great is its ease of use. It isn't silent by any means, but it isn't distractingly loud. Ours frequently gets used at night as we're watching an episode or two of TV before one of us crashes out early for a run, and we really only have to bump up the volume a notch or two. If it is easy to use, it is going to get used - and ours is a regular fixture. I know of three people who bought their own model after using ours for a few minutes, and everyone of them still uses theirs on a daily basis.

2018 Wrap Up

Instead of putting my life story at the top for you to scroll through before getting to what you want to read (like every recipe website on the internet) I thought I'd hide this all the way down here. This was a huge year in running for me. Mostly because it was the year I actually got back into running. After getting bit by the mountain biking bug (as well as publishing two novels and a non-fiction book) a few years ago, my running the last few years had suffered. The only thing suffering these days is me after a long run, and my largely unused mountain bike. I want to thank Sam for bringing me into the RoadTrailRun family, as well as our readers who check out our reviews and make comments and ask questions. Lastly, I'd like to thank the guys in the Missing Chins Run Club for letting me join you all and contribute to the thousands of pounds lost. You guys are truly an inspiration. 2018 was big for me, but 2019 is going to be even bigger, and I'm elated to be able to share that with everyone here.

Happy New Year and here's to an amazing 2019!

Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck is the token slow fat guy runner. Wasting his youth on such endeavors as playing golf and writing, he only started running in his thirties, and has a marathon PR of 4:15 to prove it. A full-time property manager, this part-time author and cold brew coffee maker lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife and daughter. He enjoys running desert trails as well as the road, and is trying to get his 5K time to sub-twenty.

More RTR Best of 2018 Articles

Sam Winebaum  (Editor and Founder) Road, Trail, and Tech 
Peter Stuart Road 
Michael Ellenberger Road
Jeff Valliere Trail
Hope Wilkes Road
Dave Ames Road and Trail
Dominick Layfield Ultras

What were your Running Favorites of 2018?
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Anonymous said...

Fantastic best of for 2018 - Jeff, love you analogies. Happy new year, looking forward to your shoe reviews for 2019. If you ever coming to Australia look us up. Cheers Steve

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,
I just read you have run in the solar glide, what was your initial thoughts. I I tried them the other day, felt they were quite comfortable but didn't have quite enough cushion on the forefoot and not as responsive as the 1080 v9. They had a better upper than the solar boost though. Cheers

Jeff said...

Hi Steve,

Thank you very much, and absolutely will do if we find ourselves out your way. As for the Solar Glide, they only got here in the last 24 hours, but a few laps around the block, I'm really a fan. The upper is a MASSIVE upgrade from the Solar Boost. I'm back and forth on the midsole, one session it felt just okay, on the second session it felt amazing. Way too early to draw any conclusions, but we'll see once I start getting some miles on them, very soon.

Thanks again, and Happy New Year,

Serge said...

Jeff, couldn't agree more with your comments about foot shaped shoes. Very strange to me that Altra markets their shoes as such, as far as I can tell they feel like wide, slightly flared boards with mesh bags sewn on top. IMO, the WH 4 is the best executed foot shaped shoe out there. The midfoot wrap completely locks down without choking the foot or constraining the toes in the least. This is the only shoe that I would recommend for everyone. Unfortunately, the wet grip on these is scary. Still good enough for me to use on long mountain runs and alpine backpacking though. If only nike would use decent rubber, they'd be near perfect. I will say the sportiva akashas have a similar feel, albeit not as smooth a ride or nice toebox. I think the kiger 3's have that same foot hugging goodness as the WH, only a little closer fit and better grip.

Rocketman said...

When I read the reviews, I'm always thinking, hmmm so how would these shoes work for a heavier, slower runner like me? I'll make sure to keep an eye out for your parts especially!

Jeff said...


Right on! Glad there's more folks out there spreading the WH4 love. I didn't try the Kiger 3, only the 4, but I'm told they are similar/identical underfoot and that's my big issue with the shoe - not enough protection. I've been really intrigued by the Akasha (and a few other La Sportivas to be honest) but that toe box is worrying, and a shoe limited to 5-7 miles before toe blisters isn't my cup of tea. I know Nike is overhauling the upper for the Wildhorse 5, but below the foot looks very much the same hopefully they do end up using a different rubber compound so the wet grip gets better.


Thanks a bunch man, I appreciate it, and I'm glad to provide more of a middle-of-the-pack viewpoint on shoes. Interestingly enough, on most of the larger multi-review shoes, I've had a similar opinion as my much faster colleagues, just sometimes with different applications. What passes for a marathon shoe for Michael has a 2-3 mile at a time expiration date, but a great shoe is a great shoe regardless. Keep an eye out, there's going to be a BUNCH of reviews coming in the next few months.

Happy New Years to both of you!

Chris said...

Have you noticed and difference/improvement in the flex or ride if the Caldera 3 from the 2?

Jeff said...

Hi Chris,

For my first few runs I would've sworn in a court of law that the 3 was firmer than the 2, but then I got my 2s back out, put one on each foot, and they are incredibly similar. The rubber change on the 3 is a subtle, but nice change, but I really think they ride identically. The better traction and very slight more toe box in the 3 were game changers though. There will be a big multi-user (I think five or six of us in total) review coming soon, so there's going to be a lot of opinions there.


Chris said...

Jeff thanks as always for being great with your responses! Maybe you’re right and the 2 felt firmer because the midsole has just flattened out some from the miles? Does sizing seem to run true to you? I’m a 10-10.5 in Altra and Nike trail shoes, but on V2, went 9.5, because the 10 seemed slightly big, but the 9.5 ended up being too cramped.

Jeff said...

Hi Chris,

You are very welcome, I really enjoy geeking out about running shoes so I love doing this. FWIW, the toe box of the 2 put me off of it pretty quickly into light casual wear (family hikes with a 5-year-old, that kind of thing) so my 3 and 2 have very similar mileage. I didn't remember the 2 being so stout under foot. The 3 doesn't have a rock plate (and doesn't need one), and realistically the 2 is the same way. I ran in the Topo UltraVenture which is very similar, but the UV cushioning is much softer and you can feel some rocks through the midsole, not so in the Caldera.

I'm true to size in the Caldera. I'm a 10.5 in almost everything (usually 11 in Nike though), and the Caldera 3 is perfect for my foot in 10.5. I went 10.5 in Caldera 2, but the toe bumper, especially around the big toe, was intrusive enough to make it feel a little cramped. I don't think they've changed the last any, but the upper just works so much better in the 3 than the 2.

I hope that helps,

Chris said...

Thanks again! RWarehouse claims the V3 “runs large” and to go a 1/2 size down so I was curious.

Willis said...


Anonymous said...

I thought that eventually I'm gonna make a career in blogging if I put a car comparison to each running shoe until I found Jeff's :D Very nice and clever work sir! I think from now on I'm gonna base my running shoe purchase decision only after reading Jeff's. I can relate since Jeff is not your typical "elite" runner who's trying to break records after records, a bit big guy/top heavy but still very sporty akin to SUVs. Just by looking at the car comparison at the end I think I know what I'm gonna get. lol! More powers!

Jeff said...

Well Anonymous, you officially made my day. I'm elated that you enjoy my portion, but I'd still give the other guys and gals a shot. Even if your (and my) running abilities don't line up, you can still learn quite a bit. My first "fast" shoe I used when I joined the LRS track team was the Adios Boost 2 - which is what the top elite runners were using a marathon shoe. Their marathon shoe was my interval shoe, and it worked out well. Also gave me a nice ego check whenever I was feeling any form of fast. :D

I read advice on movie reviewers years ago, and apply it to all reviews I read today. Find one or two folks who's opinions coincide with your own, and give them the most weight. That said, if you know a couple reviewers who's opinions are the complete opposite of yours that is incredibly helpful. Everything they hate, you'll probably enjoy.

I've learned that Sam and I have very similar opinions on shoes, but his foot is far narrower than my own (or he just likes his toes to be squeezed together) so when he says a toe box is too roomy I'll probably love it. But really the entire staff has surprised me. When we reviewed the Triumph ISO 5 I was sure I was going to be the only one who liked it simply because it was so heavy. That was a big review, with ~4 other folks, and every single of them sang the Triumph's praises.

Thanks again for the compliment, and thanks for reading our reviews. We really appreciate it, and hope that we are helping out.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,
Do you consider the 1080 v9 to be more on the firm or soft and plush side. Is it also good for heel strikers as I read its good for mid foot strikers. Sam said its a little blocky in the heel, did you find that, what does that mean? Do you run tempo pace in this shoe as well, or do you find its better for slower/recovery runs/ Any breathability issues with it this far, thanks Jeff
Also Jeff I put the heel insert into the skechers go run ride 7 and it seem to help with stability and make it a faster transitioning shoe (more like a 10 mm drop instead of 6mm),

Jeff said...

Hi Steve,

I'd put the 1080v9 as a firm plush shoe. More plush than Mizuno, more firm than Brooks, it's a thin margin that works really well. I didn't find the heel blocky at all, but I'm usually a midfoot striker, so I can't speak to that. I haven't run any dedicated tempo runs in the shoe, but I have picked up the pace midrun a handful of times, and one run was a quick out and back mile at a massive group run that I showed up late to, and the 1080v9 is probably the best feeling daily trainer at a faster pace. I did one really easy/recovery run in it, and it was fine, but this shoe (for me) is best at my normal daily up to 10K pace. Perhaps even 5K pace, but I haven't given that a shot yet. No breathability issues either, they've got the upper dialed in.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Jeff, much appreciated - happy running :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff, It's Fritz the anonymous commenter last 1/13 :) hehe.. I currently have the Vomero 14 and GRR7. I got the Vomero14 since it's highly recommended by Sam and it's a great shoe, love the pop and responsiveness except I'm suffering forefoot pain anything above 8km run and if i use it daily so I bought the GRR7 to be my cushioned trainer but in my case only after 20km it lost it's springiness and it feels dull and now is too soft for me. If I remove the insole the fit is sloppy and i can't tolerate. I'm 190lbs 5'10". Would like to ask what shoe would give the same pop and responsiveness like the Vomero but with better forefoot cushion thickness, I'm thinking between 1080v9 or beacon? Thanks!

Jeff said...

Hi Fritz,

Unfortunately I've yet to try the Vomero 14 myself, but as you pointed out Sam raves about it, and it sounds like a fantastic shoe. I'm with you on not loving the GRR7, I keep wanting to, but I'm constantly let down. I try not to bang that drum too hard since so many other runners love it - I feel like a part of that group of folks who dislikes the Beatles ;)

If you are limiting your search to only the 1080v9 and the Beacon, they are both great but very different. Weight wise they feel closer than the scale would intimate, and for me the Beacon is very much an uptempo runner vs the 1080v9 as a daily trainer. Where the 1080v9 still holds up well when you pick up the pace (solid shoe for a tempo run), personally I wouldn't use the Beacon as a regular daily trainer. Partially for the exposed midsole/outsole, and just in the quality of the cushioning. The 1080v9 Fresh Foam is far more substantial under the foot than the Beacon, even if stack heights are similar (Beacon 20/26 1080 22/30). My wife would disagree, she's all over the Beacon as a regular daily trainer - but she's also 5'7" and 130 pounds, so her running needs are far different than mine at 210 lbs.

That's a long way of saying try the 1080v9. I can't say enough good things about that shoe. However, if you are willing to look at others, I'd strongly recommend at least trying on the adidas Solar Glide vs the 1080v9. I just reviewed the Solar Glide, and if I'd run in it last year it absolutely would have been on this list, maybe even at the top. It's a well-cushioned shoe that fits well, has plenty of cushioning up front, and I really like how much pop it has when you pick up the pace.

I hope that helps,

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Jeff! Appreciate all the input. I'm kind of looking at a shoe equivalent of a Q7/Cayenne. lol! More powers to RTR crew!