Brad’s Corner – What’s under the Christmas Tree? (running in neutral)

This is the time of the year when many of you will be treating yourself to an (early) Christmas present. Or if you are lucky enough to have a family member or significant other who is also a runner you might be looking to place a surprise under the Tree. Lucky for you there are literally hundreds of choices for your hard earned dollars. And there are dozens of styles of shoes from trail to road to racing flats, from zero drop to modified drop to full drop, from maximal to neutral to motion control. The choices and combinations can seem endless at times and that’s before you take into account if you like the color, the color combination or choice of colors for an individual product.

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This article won’t be all inclusive but rather what has and has not worked for me over this last year. Since it is my personal experience with some generalizations let me just start by saying  that there are a number of shoe companies I haven’t even tried yet or just don’t use much. Probably the largest company I don’t ever buy is Asics. That being said I think they make a great shoe and millions are sold; they have just not been for me. Contrarily I did test run their new DynaFlyte shoe, a maximally cushioned neutral shoe which felt great and I may find them on my shelf in the future (though a bit pricey at $140). I also have not tried any Altra products but I see more and more people wearing them and loving them so I guess there will be a test run or two in them for for me in the future as well.

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To further understand where I am coming from you must be aware of my stats and eccentricities. I am a male, 62 years old, short (5’7”) and stocky (165lbs). I have been running off and on for 47 years and consistently for the past 25 years. I average around 40+ miles per week. I have trained to race for the last 10 years which means: tempo, track and hill repeats, long runs, pickups, drills and fartlek. I train alone and with multiple groups. In short I have put in a lot of running miles.  I also played ball sports until I was 45 (softball, basketball). I have had a number of foot, ankle, knee and hip injuries that have made me miss running time. The bottom line of all of this is after making many slow changes I now tend to choose neutral, low drop(~4mm, not zero drop), cushioned and light shoes(<10oz, size 9).

This last year I have had 7-8 shoes move in and out of my stable. If you have read previous reviews you may remember my love of Hoka shoes especially for the over 50 set (50 years or 50 mi/wk). Well I just retired my last pair of Clifton 1’s (yes I shed a tear or two).

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But my smile has returned as I am 60 miles into the Clifton 3 and what a remake; nearly perfect (the tongue is, shall I say it, Voluptuous?!) Both the tongue and insert are almost too plush and in a perfect shoe could be minimized to shave of a bit of weight but they feel great out of the box (10 miles on day 1, perfectly settled in by day 3). I tried the Clifton 2 and hated it ( 1 snap). Hoka narrowed up the shoe box to the point of foot pain for me (and a lot of others hence the rapid update time for the ‘3’). Just be careful if you are getting the Clifton 2 on a great deal.

Hoka Clifton 3 – 8.5oz, 5mm drop, maximal cushioned, neutral, road sole but I use them all over the mountain/trails.

If you like these see also: Challenger 3(9.5oz, Clifton with trail sole)

Instinct(8.4oz, 3mm, trail sole)

I put 30 miles on the Hoka Claytons (7.5oz, road sole) and didn’t fall in love with these as I thought I would and also had some foot pain issues with these as well. Thought to be more of a performance shoe, I didn’t get that at all. If that was the goal consider the Tracer.

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I just retired the Kinvara 5’s from Saucony and have used all of the models from the original to the 5 over the last 5 years. I have loved the feel of every pair I have owned. The Kinvara 6 felt weird in the store so I haven’t ever owned a pair. Now that I am out of Kinvaras I will check out the model 7. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Also most of the new Saucony models have a new cushion technology-Everrun. I am looking forward to try new models with this tech.

Saucony Kinvara- 7.8 oz, 4mm drop, cushioned, neutral performance shoe.

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A new model for me this year is the Saucony Zealot which I have absolutely loved each and everytime I have put them on. They are a heavier more cushioned version of the Kinvara and are a perfect easy-day shoe. They run very smooth with efficient turnover and are well cushioned for long easy miles. I have run in a couple of pairs of Rides and find the Zealots far superior(as a side, I liked the Rides as well)

Saucony Zealot – 9.6oz, 4mm drop, cushioned, neutral, smooth

From another large company that I haven’t run in for 10 years, I tried the Adidas Boost Boston. I have been very happy with these except for the foot box is a bit narrow, but they work very well as a speed day shoe especially along flat trails(SR Creek) and up to say the 2nd bridge on canyon trail and smooth hill repeats. The Boost foam is pretty amazing stuff both responsive and cushioned. The Boston uses a thin layer in the forefoot which limits the use for me.

Adidas Boost Boston – 8.8oz, 10mm drop, neutral, performance.

Also picked up a pair of Supernovas for work. A more cushioned shoe, I haven’t run in them but they are a plush choice for long walks with your honey.

Through the years I have raced in many New Balance road and cross country flats and spikes; the 1400’s and 1600’s. After about a year of hearin about Freshfoam tech from NB I ventured to try the Fresh Foam Zante. The FF Zante is another neutral, cushioned, performance oriented shoe for fast training and the occasional road race. They feel lighter than their stated weight and have a glovelike fit. I have enjoyed every run with them with my only complaint bein that they wear a bit fast (maybe 250mi max) and you feel the pebbles underfoot.

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NB Zante – 8.6oz, 6mm drop, neutral, cushioned, performance.

I am still looking for the perfect trail specific shoe (any help out there?). I have tried the NB Hierro. I don’t love them but am still trying. Will update when I have made a final decision. In looking for a lightweight, trail specific shoe which could be light enough to race on (my feet cant handle XC flats any longer and road flats often don’t have enough traction). With that in mind I ventured toward the NB Vazee Summit TR, a trail specific shoe with a rock plate. First of all they are on the Vazee last which for me is a bit narrow through the instep; so much that I had to go for the wide version. This fixed the fit issue and they feel light and responsive on first try and feel good on dirt but with the rock plate a bit harsh on roads. I have used them on trail/hill runs of less than 8 miles and a 6.5mi trail race at Folsom Lake. They worked well at the race on a rainy Saturday. I get into a little trouble if the downhills exceed Lake Ilsanjo to Spring Lake. For me the cushioning is not adequate for a run down from South Burma to Spring Lake.

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NB Vazee Summit TR- 8.8oz, rock plate, neutral, varied trail running.

Well I have my eyes on other models from Hoka, NB and Brooks. Maybe its time stretch my horizons to the Altra Lone Pine. Zero drop(all Altras) may be a deal breaker though. Well Christmas is just around the corner so don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a slick new pair of running shoes.

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