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%
Best winter run shoes 2014
We continue our round-up of 2014’s best run shoes, starting with a smashing pair from Saucony…
Saucony Kinvara 5
Price: £105 from www.saucony.co.uk
We’ve been fans of the Kinvara since its inception back in 2010. The combination of a lightweight shoe and adequate cushioning ensured this doubled as an impressive off-season and race-season shoe. Thankfully, incarnation five continues in this positive vein. Despite being the lightest on test (238g), it’s assured enough to guide you through hundreds of miles. Not bad for a shoe whose comfort defies that minimalist 4mm drop.
Stability’s not in question either, your foot cradled throughout each stride, though we wonder about the durability of the upper. Saucony has replaced the highly breathable (but highly tearable with an uncut toenail!) mono-filament mesh with an allegedly more durable upper. It still feels a touch lightweight for a British winter, but it does result in a smooth toe-off.
Verdict: Excellent and more durable than its weight suggests, 88%
Adidas Supernova Sequence Boost
Price: £105 from www.adidas.co.uk
When we tested the Adidas Adios Boost earlier this year, we were blown away by its speed and comfort. Much of that positivity stemmed from the ‘Boost’ midsole, where blown-up thermoplastic polyurethane replaced standard EVA, cutting weight but retaining comfort. Disappointingly, the Sequence Boost 2 (304g) doesn’t deliver the same sense of freedom.
Here moulded plastic overlays begin with a heel cage and flow round to the tongue before lacing together. It’s designed for stability, but actually slows things down. It also lacks the same level of rebound force unleashed by the Boost, we suspect due to the hard plastic ‘Torsion System’ in the outsole. Overall, the ride is okay… which isn’t what you want for £120. We’d also go half-a-size bigger than norm as Adidas shoes can be a touch small.
Verdict: A solid shoe, 76%
Asics GT2000 2
Price: £105 from www.asics.co.uk
If we’d closed our eyes (dangerous on a run; please don’t try at home), we’d have hazarded a guess these were the Brooks Ghosts. We couldn’t be more wrong – that orange colourway lighting you up like a beacon on the murkiest of country lanes. But on the fly they’re very similar, offering a ride that’s middle-of-the-road competent.
The GT2000s are loaded with technologies, but we were most interested in the redesigned FluidRide midsole which aims to increase cushioning without adding weight. It’s pretty much princess–pea stuff, but we’d question its weight claims as it’s the heaviest on test (350g). Wisely carried over from the previous model is the Guidance Trusstic, which maintains stability. Traditionalists will be pleased to know the GT2000s also come in white!
Verdict: Great effort from Brooks… we mean Asics! 82%
Skechers GoRun Ultra
Price: £84 from www.skechers.co.uk
Skechers has been producing footwear for over 20 years, but it’s only recently that they’ve entered the competitive world of performance runwear. The GOrun Ultra’s billed as a ‘cushioning marathon design’ and that’s no exaggeration – in use they feel like a Hoka that’s just begun the 5:2 diet. Resalyte cushioning is purportedly 65% greater than their Ride range and it’s certainly noticeable, unleashing the springiest stride on test.
There’s some pay-off with a slight dilution of feel between foot and ground, but it’s not too bad. Flexibility’s proficient, ensuring a smooth transition between landing and toe-off, and surprisingly they’re one of the lightest on test (281g). The podular outsole grips well – on- and off-road – and these will appeal to many, particularly heavier runners.
Verdict: Comfortable shoe with more feel than you’d expect, 84%
New Balance 1080v4
Price: £105 from www.newbalance.co.uk
Historically New Balance’s 1080 range has been perfect for off-season running: fine cushioning, proficient stability and solid grip. With version four, they’ve surpassed themselves. Key to this is the upper which, like the Pearl Izumi, uses a clean, no-sew material application. Not only does this have an aesthetic benefit, it also cuts the weight and elicits a smoother toe-off.
An asymmetrical heel counter’s designed to stabilise the fit, as is the T-Beam. Both seem to do their job, with solid feedback from every stride. Cushioning comes from NB’s trademark N2 platform, which performs well but, and this is a minor criticism, the hoof-like pattern at the rear feels a touch cumbersome on very light workouts. That could also be down to its 330g weight, the joint second heaviest on test.
Verdict: An off-season race shoe that won’t let you down, 87%
Not long ago, an off-season run shoe test would have comprised footwear that resembled a brick. Now with lightweight technological improvements and a consensus that too much cushioning may actually lead to injury, we’re looking at shoes that aren’t built up significantly more than racers.
That’s seen no more clearly than with the Skechers GOrun Ultra that feel impressively cushioned – without sacrificing too much feel – but come in at a relatively lithe 281g. For a brand more synonymous with fashion over form, we were mightily impressed with their performance offering, as we were with Pearl Izumi’s rather long-winded N2 EM Project. Pearl attempts to be everything to every triathlete, producing cycling and triathlon gear in addition to their run range.
Previously we were under the impression they’d stretched themselves too thinly, with their run shoes consistently feeling like a work in progress. Not anymore. That historical and very public trial-and-error has resulted in a fine off-season shoe that’ll happily send you into 2015 with greater stamina to refine your speed come the race season.
Unlike Pearl, New Balance has been producing quality footwear since the 1960s, and that heritage shows in the fourth incarnation of the 1080. It does everything asked of an off-season shoe – comfort, stability and durability – in an unassuming manner. (That is until you come to the colourway, which can apparently be seen from the moon.) All in all, a cracking shoe.
But the winner by a toe is the Saucony Kinvara 5. Its lightweight appeal (just 238g) may upset traditionalists and heavier runners, but with this tester coming in at over 80kg and 1.89m, those reservations are unfounded. There are potential durability issues over the upper, but these are worth the risk for a fantastic running experience.
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