Best winter run shoes 2014
The sun sets on your 2014 race season. It’s time to pack away those lightweight racers and choose the shoe that’ll rack up off-season miles without causing injury or inhibiting progress. But with so many on the market, where do you start?
There are neutral runners, overpronators, supinators… but since the first two cover the majority of runners and triathletes in this country, the nine here are predominantly geared towards them. All weigh between 238g and 350g per shoe, highlighting the common ground we’re now treading.
Cushioning once ruled, followed by a rise in the barefoot running movement. Now the market’s seemingly reached a midpoint where athletes demand a reasonable amount of cushioning, but not so much that it feels like they’re striding around with a clubbed foot.
Of course, the barefoot counter-movement – heavy-duty foam – has experienced a surge of interest thanks to models like the Hoka One One Conquest. The major players have caught on too. Cue the Brooks Transcend and New Balance Fresh Foam. But here we’ve focused on neither voluminous beasts nor skimpy minimalists.
As for trends, we’ve noticed the upper’s become an increasing focus for many manufacturers, with lightweight mesh purportedly increasing flexibility.
But the most explicit trend is style over substance. Where white once ruled, road shoes are now dressed in similar colourways to their off-road brethren. Which isn’t a bad thing, as with a long, grey winter ahead, they provide a splash of colour.
Commercial pressures mean your local run shop won’t stock all of the brands here, so if you see a pair that piques your interest, you may have to shop around or buy online. With each brand’s last shaped differently, we suggest trying before you buy. Now onto the test…
How we tested
Long, slow runs should be a staple of your off-season diet. They boost aerobic capacity to then build speed in 2015. For this test, runs of 50–75mins were the norm, though we threw in a few accelerations to see how they responded to speed. Comfort ratings were based on both initial fit and how they felt on the fly.
Stability was key too. There’s no point in having a cosy shoe if when you stride out, your foot’s meandering all over the shop. With the rains coming, we assessed tread and the oft-neglected element – the outsole. Finally, we weighed each on a set of Salter scales.
Pearl Izumi N2 EM Project
Price: £89 from www.madison.co.uk
Possibly the most inclusive shoe around, Pearl Izumi’s offering (307g) is appealing to all but committed minimalists. Strip away the bright yellow branding and you’ll uncover a sock-like upper that fits like a glove. There are no thrills, no elaborate stitching, just a flowing blend of materials that breathe well and flex nicely through toe-off.
PI’s ‘Shock Absorption’ foam in the heel complements the forefoot’s ‘Energy’ foam for a near-luxurious ride and also explains why the drop from heel to toe comes in at a gargantuan 11mm. The downside is a limitation on speed, but that’s not a significant concern in the primarily aerobic winter. Transition throughout feels stable. The only negative is a roomy toebox, which may be too voluminous for thinner-feet runners.
Verdict: Impressive shoe that’ll appeal to many a runner, 85%
Price: £120 from www.newtonrunning.co.uk
The last shoe we tested from the ‘natural’ running brand Newton – the Gravity III – featured a fifth lug, the width of which destabilised the ride for this relatively thin-footed reviewer. That criticism doesn’t stretch to the Fate (294g) and that’s down to the depth of lug, which is barely noticeable.
The nod to a more traditional run shoe continues with a drop of 4.5mm, which is less than the majority on test here but 1.5mm greater than the Gravity. That extra cushioning certainly creates a comfortable beast. They’re also highly breathable, though the mesh holes are too large for a rainy British winter. All in all it’s a nice ride. But does reducing the lug see Newton blend in with the competition and threaten their ‘natural’ roots? And if they lose that USP, what’s left?
Verdict: Proficient ride, but where are Newton heading? 78%
Brooks Ghost 7
Price: £110 from brooksrunning.co.uk
One thing that stands out from this test is the spectrum of vibrant/garish colourways on show. So it came as optical relief to stride out in a traditional-looking effort (albeit the Ghosts – 330g – also come in a black that looks as if you’ve dipped the front half in a pot of red paint). That conventional theme continues in use, thanks to a wholly understated but competent ride.
Brooks employs a one-piece BioMoGo midsole instead of former efforts that were a mix of MoGo and ‘DNA’ inserts. This evolution’s supposed to harmonise landing and toe-off but, in all honesty, it’s not noticeable… not a bad thing, because the Ghost range has historically been a quality performer. A lugged blown rubber outsole offers reliable enough tread, so, all in all, this is a solid, though not exhilarating, ride.
Verdict: Capable shoe that lacks a certain joie de vivre, 82%
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 31
Price: £85 from store.nike.com
Congratulations to Nike for creating the running shoe with the most generations! The 2015 model is up to 31 – not surprising when you realise this range has been around since before Mr and Mrs Brownlee got that glint in their eye. Visually it’s similar to the Nike Free, though its 332g weight underlines the increased cushioning and stability compared to its lightweight sibling.
Cushioning highlights come in the form of Nike’s Zoom Air unit that sits beneath the heel, with stability issues countered by Nike’s ‘Crash Rail’, which runs down the edge of the outsole. All feels stable at medium speed with occasional bursts thrown in. As with the Newtons, we’d question the size of the holes on the mesh upper, though it does provide flexibility for a smooth and proficient landing and toe-off.
Verdict: Decent shoe; could do with a less ‘holey’ upper! 83%
Continue reading our round-up of 2014's best winter run shoes