Thursday, December 26, 2019

Michael Ellenberger’s 2019 Shoes & Gear of the Year

By Michael Ellenberger 
2019! What a year - especially for running gear! None of these choices are easy - and none of the runner-up lists should be viewed as complete and final - but looking across the RoadTrailRun review crew, we had a lot of similar ideas this year, and for good reason. While Nike continues to crank out compelling shoes - just look at the OTQ-hopefuls from CIM to see that - new offerings from Skechers Performance, New Balance, and Hoka One One promise to upset the balance of the running world in 2020 and beyond. 

Shoes (Road): 
Despite all the exceptional advances in racing shoes over the past 12-24 months, my choice for trainer of the year was the hardest I had to make. Was it the reliable, refined Nike Pegasus 36? The innovative (if oft’ forgotten) ASICS Glide Ride? The fun-and-squishy New Balance FuelCell Propel? The technologically advanced Skechers Performance GORun 7 Hyper? (Okay, I’ll stop). 

No, my 2019 Trainer of the Year was the Nike Pegasus Turbo 2 (RTR Review), and it actually wasn’t that close.
Not only was the Turbo 2 a significant refinement over its predecessor, it was a downright compelling shoe in a number of areas, checking class-leading boxes in upper construction, midsole composition, durability, and overall comfort. I ran my pair (fortunately or unfortunately) into the ground, and if I didn’t have a backlog of shoes needing test runs, I’d have another pair on the way today. 

Shoes (Race): 

I think there must be some recency bias here, but the Skechers Performance GOMeb Speed 6 Hyper (RTR Review) is my choice - as the choice of many others - for racer of the year (in the age of carbon fiber, can we still call them flats?). The Skechers Performance GORun 7 Hyper (RTR Review) was one of my favorites of 2019, even with a so-so upper, and that same smooth performance was amplified greatly in the Speed 6. The upcoming Skechers Performance Speed Elite Hyper will undoubtedly be on my to-try list in the new year, but there’s no denying the results of the Speed 6 right now. It’s light, it’s responsive, it propels you forward with every stride even without the technological onslaught of something like the Nike Vaporfly (the Next% can’t even receive an honorable mention from me - I’m one of 7 runners on Earth who hasn’t tried it!). 

Shoes (Trail): 
Another of my 2020 goals is to run on more soft stuff (unfortunately, that may end up meaning more treadmills, but here’s hoping!) but for 2019, my trail shoe of the year was easily the Skechers Performance GoRun Speed TRL Hyper (RTR Review). 

Rarely has a trail shoe felt so road-y, but the Speed TRL Hyper isn’t a road shoe with a rugged paint job - the entire shoe is oriented towards speed on uneven terrain, with an innovative locked-down upper and plastic-based plate that provides not only sturdy footing, but strong propulsion. Seriously, this shoe is so good that I’ll take any excuse - hey, this paved road looks pretty bumpy! - to take these out for a spin.

This year’s gear of the year is the Garmin Forerunner 245 (RTR Review)

Surprised? Garmin has consistently kicked out good GPS running watches - any look at the start line of a race will tell you the Garmin Forerunner 235 is a legendary piece of running gear. But Garmin wasn’t just competing against themselves, and their already solid FR645 and FR935 offerings, not to mention the Fenix line. Indeed, in 2019, Garmin had to go against new competitive offerings from Suunto, Polar, Coros, and yes, even Apple. 

While the Coros Apex and Apple Watch Series 5 are two of my favorite running-tech items of recent past, they can’t quite match the Forerunner 245 in all-around robustness. The Apex has better battery, the Apple Watch more flash, but no piece of running technology has nailed the finish quite like the 245. The size is perfect and the screen readily visible in all lights, the battery lasts a solid week with everyday running, there are robust music capabilities, and the technology onboard - from GPS, GALILEO, and GLONASS satellite compatibility, to FirstBeat health-tracking features, to an onboard coaching platform - just sets this watch apart. You can find other competitive watches in this space, no doubt, but 2019’s best is the Forerunner 245.

Michael Ellenberger
Michael is a 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, with an interest in patent and intellectual property law. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). He recently secured a 2:31 marathon PR at the Austin Marathon. Michael is a gadget and running nerd, and has pipe dreams of running the Olympics Trials marathon standard. His pre-race breakfast is, and will always be, Pop-Tarts.

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The products reviewed were mostly provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the author's.
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Will said...

Just asked this on Sam's post, but have you heard about Garmin's software/firmware issues? I want to buy the 245 but there are so many I know that have had massive issues with their software lately...

Michael said...

Hey @Will - sorry for missing this. No issues on the 245. Can’t say the same about the 645 - that would lock up after runs in the cold and require a hard reset. The 245 has been flawless for me thus far.