Put A Spring In Your Step
by Adam W. Chase
It’s Spring: time to shake off that winter lethargy and put some speed back in your legs – some spring in your step, so to speak. To help with that, our 2009 road shoe review catalogs a number of new lightweight training and racing models that are ripe for speed.
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adiZero Boston $90
There’s a long history between adidas and Boston, both with the marathon and the shoe. Each is serious and requires a certain level of ability and determination to race or wear, respectively. This shoe is designed as a lightweight trainer that can help you keep pace over long distances – think marathon – thanks to adiPRENE impact resistance and plenty of forefoot flex grooves. The women’s model features a different medial platform in the forefoot because women tend to land more centered, resulting in greater pronation. Both models feature a thinner torsion bar and a softer midsole compound to add more flexibility to the shoe, which our testers found to be the real deal when it came to no-nonsense training, especially for tempo workouts and faster workouts when you want to be up on your toes.
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If runners vote with their feet, then the most often re-elected shoe is Asics’ GT-2000 series, which has now reached the level of the 2140. Without getting into politics, Asics has maintained its top-dog status by keeping it simple; a simplicity they’ve brought to a new level by modifying the 2130 with greater midsole resiliency and midfoot support and structure. For noticeable comfort, the 2140’s sockliner is made of memory foam and the upper is an all-new design, but with the same specs as prior models of this well-cushioned, supportive yet straightforward and faithful high-mileage and lightweight shoe. The 2140 felt snug for one of our testers with a high-volume foot, but he said he soon broke them in and appreciated the uniform comfort, arch support, solid-feeling heel and gel cushioning, which was “noticeable and welcome.”
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Avi-Lite II $100
This shoe got approval from both the American Podiatric Medical Association and our test team, who gave it rave reviews thanks to the combination of great features. In particular, it was the upper construction and out-of-the-box comfort, due to a remarkably airy mesh upper with V-Fit eyestays for a fit customized to a wide variety of foot shapes. The close-to-foot comfort of the antibacterial Ortholite sockliner also pleased our testers. The Avi-Lite’s cantilever system combines a decoupled lateral crash zone and a hollowed heel for mechanical cushioning to help with the foot’s natural landing. The heel cup got mixed reviews, with some testers liking the feel and others finding it hard on impact. Also, runners with relatively flat feet should try these on in the store to see if the arch hits them in the right place.
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Glycerin 7 $125
A favorite among testers, this was a lucky seven for the Glycerin and all of its luxurious comfort. Brooks was very generous when it came to the Glycerin’s midsole, giving the shoe a double helping of its environmentally-friendly BioMoGo with rear and forefoot shock-absorbing viscous fluid units, a rearfoot compound for energy dampening on heel impact, and a plastic shank for midfoot torsion. The fit of the mesh uppers, along with the moisture-management liners and Othrolite sockliner, combined to give our test team the impression that the shoes were trusted friends, even fresh out of the box. Said one tester, “The Glycerin is a dependable workhorse of a shoe.”
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BIOM A $220
Representing the sharper end of Ecco’s BIOM Project, an engineering feat for feet, the BIOM A is all about allowing the foot to flow naturally, without intrusive guidance or excessive protection or cushioning. This biomechanical accomplishment is carried out with the help of modern technologies and an unexpected material: yak leather. The yak, given its tolerance for cold climates, has a thick, dense yet breathable hide, and that translates to an ideal upper material, especially with the space age Ion-Masks treatment for water repellency. Models are also available in mesh for $195. The BIOM’s rounded heel, injected polyurethane midsole that wraps up the shoe and anatomical shank system combine with a flexible forefoot for unobstructed heel-to-toe motion, provided you are moving fast. The BIOM A is dialed in to run at a fast clip, when runners are up on their toes, and our testers noticed that they felt encouraged to pick it up when using the shoes. Like a racehorse, the A is made to gallop and isn’t happy trotting.
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Although the Stable is Karhu’s most built up of the line, it’s still low-profile and rather Spartan for those unfamiliar with Karhu’s no-nonsense approach to footwear. That said, the Stable was given high marks from our lighter-weight, higher-mileage testers who liked it for everyday training and lightweight comfort. They found it delivered on its name with cushioning, too, using a stabilizing plate and Karhu’s patented Fulcrum technology to guide the foot to a neutral stride with torsional stability. The Stable also features Karhu’s package of a breathable, stylish upper, internal lacing for a secure fit, comfortable Ortholite insoles and durable carbon rubber outsole.
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CT Marquis $100
The Stamina was one of Merrell’s first serious forays on roads. Built on a gender-specific last with several layers of upper synthetic material and recycled mesh, it is somewhat bombproof, in an environmental sort of way. One tester who was coming back from an injury said that the stability worked wonders and allowed her to increase her mileage in comfort. Our testers found that the only noticeable difference between the Stamina and the Marquis was greater motion control, observing that the latter was like the former “on ‘roids.” When Merrell classifies something as “maximum stability,” it doesn’t mess around. The Marquis is rigid and best reserved for those who need a straight-jacket, foot-directing, low-volume shoe.
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Wave Musha $120
Hold onto your hats. The Musha (Japanese for “warrior”) is one hell of a supported racing flat/dance hall hit. Weighing less than eight ounces, you’d think that the Musha would have that raw, naked feel to it. Fortunately, as our testers affirmed with fast smiles, it doesn’t. Mizuno managed to pack in relative comfort and support through its minimalist Wave technology, making a racer that can easily go a full 42K without brutalizing your paws. And if the fast feel doesn’t do it for you, the popping colors and emblazoned flames will do the trick.
- New Balance
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Going with the industry trend of using lighter midsole materials to reduce the aggregate weight of their shoes, New Balance’s 904 uses a compound that is about a quarter lighter than the standard foams of the past. That, teamed with the shoe’s low profile and the associated stability, make the 904 a solid choice as a lightweight trainer or racing shoe for those who don’t want to go minimalist with a racing flat, given the 904’s supportive qualities. Our testers enjoyed the dependable NB fit and security of the N-Lock integrated lacing system, and said the shoe was a good choice for longer road races.
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Zoom Skylon+ 11 $90
Nike could have named these shoes the “Blast Off” because the newest round of the beloved Skylons prompts you to get up on the fore of your foot and pick up the pace. Although not touted as racers, the Skylon 11 would serve that purpose for longer races or for heavier-footed runners who need more cushioning on a racing flat but without the cost of extra weight. Using responsive midsole materials and Zoom units in the heel and forefoot, the Skylon is able to remain a low-profile performance shoe that moves naturally with the foot for a smooth heel-to-toe transition that kept our testers feeling fast and fluid. And for those using Nike’s SportBand or iPod Sport Kit, the Skylon+ is equipped to be chip compatible for those systems.
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Concinnity III $95
As a flexible, lightweight, high-mileage trainer, the Concinnity III was totally rebuilt with foot-friendly features. Our testers were impressed by the shoe’s comfort, which wasn’t bad out of the box but only got better, thanks to memory foam in the collar, a full-length padded tongue, blown rubber in the lateral forefoot for a plush landing and Puma’s strategic placement of IdCELL cushioning compound in the heel and fore of the shoe. This was a shoe that makes you want to keep running, thanks to its luxurious, lightweight, supportive and smooth ride. The beveled heel, combined with an arch shank and a non-invasive medial post created a seamless heel-to-toe transition, and the sandwich mesh upper was notably sock-like and got high marks.
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Premier Ultra KFS VI $120
Our testers were downright wowed by the Ultra KFS’ newest update. “What’s not to like?” one remarked, noting that even its slight heft didn’t come across when on foot. Reebok spared nothing, decking the Ultra out with custom-fit features like a midfoot stretch upper and toe, moisture-managing lining and a polyurethane Ortholite sockliner. New for the VI is a more cushioned midsole that adds to the returning qualities of noticeably plush “DMX Shear” horizontal and vertical rear cushioning and responsive forefoot cushioning that added to the full-length 2mm of cushioning foam next to the foot. The midfoot transition bridge provides an element of stability, but not so much as to break apart the flow of what our testers felt was one of the smoothest heel-to-toe transitions of the lot.
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ProGrid Triumph 6 $125
Building on its award-winning predecessor, the Triumph 6 boasts a more responsive and cushioned EVA midsole and a cushioned, wicking antimicrobial sockliner. It’s the performance shoe of choice for runners who want a neutral, flexible, comfortable trainer. For performance, the Triumph still offers favorite midsole features of full-length ProGrid, EVA and impact-transitioning technologies. The combination of blown and more durable rubbers in the outsole will withstand miles of easy running on these thumbs-up shoes, that our testers enjoyed because they “just didn’t notice it,” allowing them to “focus on more important things, like running.”
- Under Armour
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Normally when a company goes from apparel to footwear their entry into the shoe market is shaky, at best. Under Armour has, for the most part, beat that with its impressive launch this spring. One ebullient tester glowed, “I love this shoe. I love the material, which is light and breathable, and the colors they use. As soon as I put them on, I knew I would like this shoe for running.” The Illusion had a fluid transition from heel to toe that was most impressive, although the snug upper fit also got good grades. The midsole cushioning of this neutral, flexible shoe erred on the sparse side, but our lighter testers found there was enough underfoot to go for a comfortable two-hour run. Our testers recommended that those with higher-volume feet try the shoes on before they buy because the fit took a little getting used to and might not work for everyone, especially those with sensitive insteps.
Meet the Testers
The Fearless Leader
Adam W. Chase has more shoes than Carrie Bradshaw and Imelda Marcos put together. Mind you, his Manolo Blahniks come in the shape and flare of Pumas, Newtons, Mizunos or Karhus. A tax lawyer by day, Adam has an odd proclivity for running non-stop for hours at a time and even competes in weeklong adventure, running and snowshoe races. He serves as the president of the American Trail Running Association (www.trailrunner.com), is the co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Trial Running and is the trail editor for Running Times. He owns Boulder Field Testing, LLC, a gear testing, consulting and focus group company that operates out of Boulder, Colorado. Most importantly, he is the proud father of his two sons, Noah and David.
Charlotte Bouscaren is from Seattle, and maybe that’s why she does a lot of her running on a treadmill, stair climber or elliptical. She does, however, like to venture outside when the sun is shining and loves the chance to test some new kicks both indoors and out.
Stephanie Byrd started running because “it makes me forget the world for a little while.”
Mike Dibbens classifies himself as a casual runner who runs to stay fit and healthy. He doesn’t tend to focus on his running times, although he would like to be able to keep up with his wife, Xterra World Champion Julie Dibbens.
Fiona Docherty recently made the transition from Ironman triathlon to long-distance running in her quest for selection on the New Zealand squad for the Commonwealth Games for 2010. Her ultimate goal is the 2012 London Olympics.
Clark Edwards is 62 years old and has been running on a regular basis for the past 33 years. He rarely competes, but has completed the Pikes Peak Marathon round-trip five times.
Maureen Eldredge says that when she’s not testing out running shoes, her shoes of choice are cowboy boots. Her current favorite is a pair of stingray boots painted in a tiger print.
Connie Eyster started running in middle school to stay in shape for team sports. Years later, after she’s stopped playing team sports, she keeps running “because it was the most fun way for me to explore the beautiful Colorado outdoors.”
Sarah Goe says that running and hiking keeps her sane and healthy, gets her outside and makes her shins hurt.
Lisa Mason has been running for about 10 years and has always been challenged finding shoes that work for her.
Heather North is a Doctor of Physical Therapy in Boulder, Colorado, and works primarily with active individuals at In Motion Rehabilitation. She has been running since she was 5, currently coaches for BOLDRunning, and regularly competes in road and trail races including the renowned Pikes Peak Marathon.
Doug Ray uses the same shoes for treadmills, running outdoors, walking, weight lifting and being a gym rat because, as he says, “I have limited closet space!”