Sunday, December 22, 2019

Jeff Beck's 2019 Running Shoes and Gear of the Year

Article by Jeff Beck

2019 was a big year in running for me. I spent the year training for a 50 mile ultra marathon in December, ultimately running more than 1,600 miles on trails and roads. In that time I ran in more than 60 shoes, either for reviews, personal interest, or breaking out last year's models for comparison testing. I continue to be baffled and impressed with how many great shoes are hitting the market from virtually every manufacturer. 

What follows is what especially stood out to me as the best gear out there - but I could have written a small book if this was simply the "Really Good Gear of the Year 2019". Even better, it looks like 2020 is firing on all cylinders and we're due for another year of amazing shoes.

Nike Vaporfly Next% (RTR Review)
This is the easiest category, the Next is really in a category of its own. Super lightweight and super cushioned shouldn’t exist, but in this case it does. I’m not sure how much I buy into the shoe making you run faster, but I have found when I run in the Next I recover much faster. 20 miles in the Next makes my legs feel like I only ran 6-8 the next morning. Pricey yes, but might be worth it.

Daily Trainer
Cop out, sure, but this is a three-way tie for me between the Saucony Triumph 17, New Balance 1080v10, and Topo Athletic Zephyr. The Triumph gets a lot more detail below, when it wins two other categories outright.

The 1080v10 (RTR Review) got lighter, softer, more fun to run in, an updated upper that no longer induces heel slip and fits the foot much better - and the v9 was a great shoe. The Zephyr got the nod for Topo merging their super soft midsole compound ZipFoam with a nylon plate. The resulting run has a pleasant cushion to roll through, but the upper is also great. Topo has made several great shoes, however they always carried a caveat that kept it from being ideal. 
The Zephyr (RTR Review) comes with zero caveats, it’s a quantum leap forward for them. Realistically I could have added the Hoka Rincon, New Balance Fuel Cell Rebel, and/or the Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 3 to this category, but at a certain point you have to draw the line - but you can consider those three honorable mentions.

Cushion/Cush/Recovery Trainer
Saucony Triumph 17 (RTR Review)
Saucony’s new TPU based midsole PWRRUN+ (not to be confused with the hybrid midsole PWRRUN) is the perfect blend of soft without mushy, and I can’t stop raving about it. The upper is comfortable (if not super boring in colorways, at least until 2020), the outsole has great traction and durability, but the midsole is the real reason this shoe is on the list. 

Biggest Smiles Road Shoe ot the Year
Nike Pegasus Turbo 2  (RTR Review) 
I know, I’m shocked too because the last one was so polarizing (and bad. There. I said it, the first one was bad), but this shoe is a blast to run in. Tons of cushioning, really lightweight, breathable and comfortable upper - it’s an outstanding shoe. 

Runner up points for ASICS GlideRide   (RTR Review). It’s a little awkward looking, but the construction and geometry of the shoe result in a unique ride that’s surprisingly fun.

Single Best Road Shoe of the Year
Saucony Triumph 17 (RTR Review)
I’ve been searching for years for “My Shoe” in the same way my wife declared the New Balance Zante “Her Shoe.” And I’ve found it in the T17. Not on my short list when the schedule calls for speedwork, but otherwise, I’d be happy if every run was in the Triumph. Hats off to Saucony for what they did with this shoe. You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention.


Skechers Performance GoRun Speed TRL Hyper (RTR Review)
The only real gripe I have with this shoe is its name. The upper is great, the midsole is amazing, the outsole is incredible. One more time Hyperburst midsole punches above its weight class. I spent most of the year training for an ultra, so very few of my trail runs were less than 10 miles, but this shoe didn’t disappoint even at that distance. Runners who can get over thinking that Skechers Performance isn’t a “real running shoe company” will find an amazing shoe hiding in plain sight.

Daily All Arounder
Hoka Speedgoat 4 (RTR Review)
Hoka made a Speedgoat with a to  ebox, and I’m all over it. Great cushioning that feels very lively, incredible outsole that sticks like glue, and the upper can do no wrong by me - it’s breathable but has really good foot lockdown. My go-to trail shoe without even thinking about it.

Saucony Peregrine ISO (RTR Review)
Not a strong category for me, but the Peregrine ISO was the shoe that had the best combination of foothold and insane lugged traction. Many folks have had issue with Saucony’s ISOFIT upper system, but my main gripe has been their EVERRUN midsole material - and yet it really works with the Peregrine. The stack height can be a little misleading because the outsole is so pronounced, but you could go decently far in this shoe, and rely on little to no slippage as you do it.

Biggest Smiles Shoe ot the Year
Nike Terra Kiger 5 (RTR Review)
I was surprised with how well Nike’s React cushioning worked out on the trail - it’s fantastic. I wouldn’t be upset if they took out the segmented rockplate in the front and added full protection at the cost of a slight weight increase, but even as it stands it works fine - just need to be nimble. And since being nimble on the trail is fun, it brings a lot of smiles.

Single Best Trail Shoe of the Year
Hoka Speedgoat 4 (RTR Review)
Now I get what so many narrow-footed runners have been shouting for years - the Speedgoat is amazing. Earlier in the year I was enjoying the Evo Mafate 2, and after 50ish mile I figured it was locked in as my trail shoe of the year, but everything the EM2 can do, the SG4 can do better - which is quite the compliment.


Nathan VaporKrar 2.0 12L
Once summer started here in Arizona, virtually all of my runs were with this pack, making it easily my most used item after my Garmin. I had the first generation VaporKrar, and didn’t have many complaints, but the 2.0 added a number of nice little touches. The dedicated zipper phone pocket (that is big enough to accomodate the biggest iPhones or Android) was great, leaving both major front pockets open for nutrition or whatever else you want. My favorite aspect was having just enough room to fit a 3.0 liter bladder in the back, and yet I still ran out of water or four or five runs this summer. Only after I picked up the Salomon Advanced Skin 12 did I realize that I took a number of Nathan design features for granted. The fit and construction of the Salomon is slightly better, but the usability of the Nathan is off the charts over the Salomon pack.

HyperIce HyperVolt
Yup, still using this thing all the time. We bought ours last year, but it’s still out there (along with its bigger brother that has a slightly more powerful motor), and I use ours at least every 48 hours if not every day of the week. With 18 months of solid use, it’s still going strong, though the battery no longer lasts the 3+ hours they claimed, but not a big deal because after 20-30 minutes my legs are usually begging me to stop anyway. I know everyone and their brother has brought a lawsuit pending knockoff, but I can’t speak to their durability/reliability, while the HyperVolt has been a rock star.

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (RTR Review)
I upgraded to the Fenix 5 Plus from the Instinct I had been using, and while none of the added features are life changing, a number of them are really nice. I spent the first two months with the watch changing the face every few days, but ultimately settled in to a pretty plain one that didn’t eat the battery prematurely. While it doesn’t have Coros-level battery life, the Fenix 5 Plus got more than 14 hours of GPS tracking on its normal setting before giving up the ghost about a mile from the finish line of a 50 mile race, and that’s not nothing. Also, the durable construction is noticeable, even coming from the nearly indestructible Instinct.

LuluLemon Surge 5” short & Pacebreaker 7” short
My wife has been a Lulu fan for years, and for Christmas last year she got me several pairs of their shorts. I’ve been wearing very little else (at least on runs) ever since. Both shorts hit that right point of modesty without getting in the way, and they both have a boxer-brief style liner that’s very comfortable. Also, the liner has a phone pocket sewn into the outside of the thigh which works better than anticipated. The biggest difference between the two (besides length) is the Pacebreaker’s standard two pockets to the Surge just having a small zip and a waistband pocket. I tend to use the Pacebreakers on long trail runs, where I can store empty Gu wrappers in one without making my hydration vest extra sticky.

Gu Roctane Gel
 I’ve been a Gu guy for a few years, but earlier this year explored more options as my running distance ramped up. After trying various Spring Energy and Muir Energy gels (both use more standard food ingredients and offer flavors that give protein and fat along with carbs), I realized I’m just a Gu guy. During a few particularly gruelling 18-23 mile trail runs in the summer heat, I was dreading every ~45 minutes when it was time to take one of those gels. Gu’s Roctane line is billed for endurance lengths events, and while they aren’t all the best tasting (Cold Brew Coffee is probably my favorite, Kiwi Strawberry is another good one) having a rotation for four to five that you pick through helps keep them from getting gross.

Tasc Performance Carrollton t-shirt
Made from bamboo and cotton, Tasc shirts are fit well, breathe nicely, and most importantly - never chafe. Nearly every mile this year was covered wearing a Tasc shirt, and while I’ve heard great things from other brands, I’ve yet to have any complaints whatsoever with a Tasc. They don’t hold stink either, a few of my shirts are more than five years old - and they’re only slightly threadbare in a few places. And with more than 30 colors to pick from, whatever your style, they have it.

T-Pin! Vector muscle roller (RTR Review)
This thing is a medeval torture device even compared to it’s competitors who cause some serious pain. It has individual ridges that truly dig into different muscles in a way that hurts like no tomorrow, but will have you feeling better. For years we’ve used a Trigger Point roller, but it really feels tame by comparison.

Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 40 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39 both he is working to demolish with help from his coach Dave Ames and recently raced and finished his first 50 mile race.

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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Mark said...

I got the Saucony Triumph 17 when it first came out and by far it’s the best Triumph I’ve had and perhaps the best running shoe I’ve ever had. Kudos to Saucony for dumping EVERUN and the ISO fit system, as both were failures in my opinion.

Jeff said...

Hi Mark,

Absolutely - granted I never had an issue with ISOfit, but I've known so many folks who have had issues I realize it's a real problem. PWRRUN+ is the real deal, any shoe that has it is immediately in my "hmmm, maybe?" from here on out. I hope more folks give the Triumph 17 a chance, it is such a great shoe.

subway surfers said...

Extremely wonderful and useful running shoes for your feet!