Trying to Resist the Promise of Speed Enhancing Shoes

I’ve had to set the parental controls to block my own access to QVC as I have a tendency to fall prey to a hard sell. In fact, if they pick the right product range I’m a pushover for an extremely soft sell. My particular weaknesses are cleaning products and running gadgets. Cleaning products promise to clean the house for me and running gadgets make me feel as though, one day, I may finish a 5k in under 30 mins. Good money has followed bad and yet I still have dust on the shelves and an ancient 5k PB the wrong side of 33 mins.

Airia One Running ShoeI’ve spotted another experimental running shoe and I’m struggling to resist.

I can see that they would make me look like one of the shoemaker’s elves but they might also increase my running speed. I think the Swedish inventor is claiming a modest 1% improvement and although that won’t take me very much closer to the 30 minute target – every little helps as they say.

The Airia One has been 20 years in the making, which is a phenomenal length of time to spend obsessing about a pair of shoes. It is designed to mimic the motion of a wheel so the foot rolls away in the perfect Pose form. With their strange upturned toes the shoes do look a little like they’ve been carved out of a car tyre but nonetheless I would love to try them out.

The Airia One is currently available for pre-order if you are prepared to back the production.

Adidas Energy Boost Review

Adidas have created quite a stir with their latest shoe release. On launch date I walked past a substantial queue of eager runners outside the Oxford Street branch.

I may have been excited by the product but I was not tempted to camp out for running shoe even if they do promise a significant energy boost. I had to wait a couple of days for mine to be posted direct to home.

20130303-144452.jpgIf you’ve heard any of the hype you’ll know that the Adidas Energy Boost introduces the running world to a whole new kind of foam. The usual EVA foam is replaced by a substance that looks remarkably like polystyrene but is to be called “Boost”.

It’s bouncy.

Apparently dropped marbles bounce more on Boost than on EVA and it’s so technologically advanced that Haile Gebrselassie asked at the launch “is it legal?”

When I attempted to sell my rash purchase to “her indoors”, I had the comment:

“They’d have to be good to give you a boost”

and to be fair, having tried them on treadmill and trail, they just aren’t that good. I felt neither a spring nor a bounce. I suppose I was hoping for a new-fangled anti-gravity device or at least a Kangoo-jump style of rebound.

They just felt like shoes to me. Comfortable running shoes but still just shoes without any appreciable bounce or boost.

I think I may have been had by the marketeers and not for the first time.

20130303-144415.jpgThey are very comfortable in a Nike Free slipper kind of way. The sole is cushioned but with a firm after bite (perhaps the boost?) and the upper is soft and has the feel of a compression sock. I found them to be a tiny bit narrow and they came up relatively high around the heel.

I love the look of them. Running shoes have a tendency to be pretty garish at the moment and I think it’s interesting that Adidas were prepared to launch such an understated design with such fanfare.

So all in all I’m happy with the look and the comfort level but they didn’t deliver the performance boost I’d hoped for and when they compare so closely with the Nike Free on everything other than price, I wonder why I would I want to fork out another £30 over the Nike price tag.

I’m hardly Olympic standard though and maybe, if you’re a racing whippet in the market for marginal gains of even tiny proportions, you may be happy to fork out £110 for these trainers.

Hoka One One – Mafate 2 Review

20120728-213631.jpgWhen I first caught sight of these Hoka One One (Maori for “Fly Over Earth”) running shoes I thought they were a ridiculous gimmick but I shouldn’t underestimate my attraction to gimmicky items – I’ve worked my way through more than my fair share of weird shoes in 2012.

It was the day after the excruciating Great Trail Challenge and I had struggled my way up the stairs to the cafe of the premier Keswick Outdoor Specialists, George Fisher. Given the state of my quads, I wasn’t in a rush to descend again and so I was a bit of a trapped audience. I flicked a few pages of their in-store brochure and the Hoka One One’s reappeared. I was intrigued to discover they were designed and endorsed by ultra-runners and when I read about their miraculous downhill enhancing properties I was sold. It was the descent that had shredded my quads so I was quite happy for downhill assistance even if it meant I had to wear a pair of teddy boy shoes.

Half an hour later I was walking out of the store with a pair of trail running Mafate’s on my feet.

I’ve barely taken them off since.

The first thing I noticed is that they were an amazing recovery shoe, I bounced on air and very quickly got over my shattered legs feeling. I picked up short recovery runs the very next day which is unknown for me post half marathon distance runs.

I know they look big and bulky and some may say ugly but by golly these are comfortable shoes. They are amazingly light and when they are on you don’t notice the bulk.

Ultra runners recommend them because the maximised cushioning absorbs an awful lot of the impact felt when descending. They should ideally free the non-pro runner to descend with wild abandon.

20120728-220006.jpgI took these shoes away with me for our California Road Trip adventure. I intended to run with them but in the end I lived in them. On arrival we were faced the hills of San Francisco and I’m happy to report the Hoka’s encouraged me to challenge the family in block to block sprints. I might not have won but the shoes definitely gave me wings.

I had plenty of trail running opportunities in California and the Mafate’s continued to inspire me to push harder and harder on the descents. I’d like to say they were no slouch on the uphills either but I’m afraid I never get above a slow plod when the slope turns against me. Needless to say it was me holding the shoes back and not the other way around.

Durability Issues

I have completely bought into the Hoka One One shoe design. I feel as though they’ve almost freed me from the inevitable aches and pains of an overweight runner. I don’t quite Fly on Air but I no longer feel like I’m pummelling my legs into solid concrete and that is quite a joy.

I have had some gripes with the Hoka One One Mafate 2. They are mightily expensive (£120 ish) and only 40 days after purchase I feel the need to replace them because the soles have worn down and I’ve started to rock over onto the sides of my feet.

In defence of the shoe, I have to admit that I’ve practically lived in them for all of those 40 days. While they’ve ferried me across 80k of trail runs, in that time they’ve also cushioned my way across maybe 150k of concrete sidewalks on our tour of California. They are sold as a trail shoe and I’ve used them as that and an all day, everyday, kind of a shoe.

They haven’t faired well with that level of abuse. You can hear the sole sticking as you wander across the pavement, especially hot pavements and while this probably aids grip on the trail, it leaves it’s mark on the road.

Hoka themselves have been great when I spoke to them about the problem and George Fisher have demonstrated excellent customer service. I’m hoping to get them replaced so that I can secrete them away for pure trail running and in the meantime I have ordered a pair of the Hoka Bondi B for road and treadmill runs. I’ll review those when I’ve clocked up a few miles.

Interestingly Marshall Ulrich has adopted Hoka One One’s too and he has reported increased shoe longevity despite also being an over-pronator. I’m not sure which style he runs in though but it’s probably not the trail model.

For the record, Hoka have confirmed that in terms of durability on Tarmac:

The Mafate tread is the softest, Stinson Evo Trail would be next, then the Bondi & Stinson Tarmac are the hardest.

Final Thoughts

I’ve seen a lot of comments from runners who get quite cross about these shoes which appear to go against the current trend for minimalism but I see these as a bit of a revelation. They can offer impact reduction for the larger runner but they’ve also been adopted by many high profile, long distance runners who presumably also appreciate the impact reduction over the long haul.

Here’s a video of Karl Meltzer completing a 2064 mile run after working his way through 7 pairs of Hoka One Ones, which is about 470k per shoe – not bad!

Other Reviews:

Asics GT-2170 Running Shoe Review

My very first running shoe was from the Asics GT range and ignoring the occasional dalliance with ultra minimal barefoot shoes, and condition specific trail shoes, I’ve stuck with Asics all the way. I’m afraid to say that as the years have passed my wallet has expanded and I have been persuaded to part with much more of my cash as I’ve climbed up the range in search of magic, go-faster running shoes. I do the same with cleaning products, you cant beat bicarb of soda and a bit of vinegar but you still can’t stop me wasting money on flash products and gizmos that promise to clean the house for me.

I was recently sent a pair of Asics GT-2170 running shoes to review and I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to place the GT-2000 series against the Gel-Kayano range and see if I can find an excuse to continue paying the extra £30-£40.

Both the GT-2170 and Gel Kayano are classed as stability shoes and are recommended for the moderate over-pronator. They are also both well cushioned running shoes which make them a good option for the overweight or heavy runner.

If you were in any doubt, I should inform you that the lovely clean pair of running shoes are the Asics GT-2170 and the rather muddy pair in the photos are my well worn Asics Kayano-17’s. The GT-2170’s have been restricted to fair weather and treadmill running duties for the duration of the testing.

I feel like I’m playing spot the difference with these images but they are remarkably similar shoes on a number of levels.

Both models incorporate the new guidance line feature in the sole. This is the longitudinal groove carved into the midsole that guides the foot through the most efficient stride and apparently helps reduce the weight of the shoe. On examination of the upper I was expecting to find that the Kayano was plusher and more comfortable but my suspicion is that they are actually identical – both are equally padded around the tongue and foot inlet (I’m sure it has a proper name but hopefully you’ll know the area I mean).

I’ve worked quite hard to find the differences in feel and performance between the GT-2170 and the Asics Kayano but I’m afraid I haven’t come up with anything concrete. The midsole is noticeably different between the models and I would suggest that this gives rise to a slightly more luxurious and cushioned feel to the Kayano but it is not a huge difference.

Admittedly I’ve been comparing a brand new pair of GT-2170’s to a pair of Kayano’s with 180 km on the clock. My impression is that the “new shoe feel” is more pronounced for the Kayano’s, you come out of the store feeling as though you are bouncing on air. That doesn’t seem to last very long though and after a couple of weeks I’d say the two shoes were pretty much on a par.

I think my next purchase could well be for a pair of Asics GT-2170 running shoes. So what to spend my extra £30 on?



Transitioning to Minimalist Running

I’ve happily adopted the concept of minimalist running, sending a few of my traditional Asics shoes to the charity shop in order to make room for the Vibram Five Fingers and a pair of eagerly awaited RunAmoc minimal running shoes.

I’m having to force myself not to throw caution to the wind and make every run an experiment in barefoot or minimalist running. Sensibly I’m following guidance and running 2-3 shortish runs a week in the VFFs and have been taking my long run in my standard shoes which are currently Asics Kayano 15s.

I’ve started to wonder what my end goal is though. I’ve got the Great North Run in two months time – am I hoping to run the half marathon in a pair of minimal shoes?

I think that would probably be a little unwise for me. For one thing it’s only 2 months away and my feet have been accustomed to wearing supportive shoes for decades. I’m also seriously overweight, I’d happily shed 7 stone and probably still qualify as obese which suggests that it might be a bit cruel to my feet to pound out 13 miles without any cushioning at all. Which is not to say that there isn’t a place for minimalist running shoes in my training schedule. I am very happy with the changes my new shoes have made to my running. I am more aware and run with lighter steps and I’m hopefully strengthening the infrastructure of my foot and preparing for a future with less pain.

So that leads me to wonder about the sense in switching between shoes at opposite ends of the structured continuum. Asics Kayanos are big shoes, I used to describe them as feet sized orthopaedic mattresses, I don’t think you can find very much more cushioning in a mainstream running shoe. Perhaps what I need instead is a mildly cushioned shoe for use in transitioning towards more minimalist running.

That of course leads me to wonder what that shoe would look like. I’m toying with the Nike free 3.0 which RunBlogger has admirably reviewed and described as a transitional shoe. My other option is to try the Newton Running Guidance shoe. A shoe designed with pose or chi running methods in mind and structurally designed to encourage forefoot striking.

I’m in two minds but think that perhaps the Newtons may be a step too far, introducing yet another style may not be ideal at this stage in my half marathon training, and besides the Nike Free is much cheaper.

Reviews will follow.