Distal weight. Heard of it? Broadly, this is the pendulum weight of your lower limb. The heavier the weight hanging from your knee – in this case, your shoe – the greater force required to get it moving. Therefore, a strong argument for choosing lightweight racers over your slightly heavier training shoes. According to a study by former Nike coach Jack Daniels, adding 100g to a shoe increases the aerobic demand of running by 1%. This, he calculated, equates to around a minute over a 26.2-mile marathon.
Those of you who’ve read the brilliant Sports Gene by David Epstein will already be aware of this distal-weight concept. It’s why, argues Epstein, the Kalenjin tribe of Kenya has produced runners of the calibre of Wilson Kipsang.
The Kalenjin tribe has particularly thin ankles and calves, ergo a lower distal weight and a faster, more sustainable leg turnover.
That’s why the weight of a race-day shoe is important but it’s not everything. In our experience, you’re still after a shoe with a bit of fizz, one that delivers a healthy return on your landing force. So we’re after propulsion. And stability. A slipping foot leaches energy, as well as raising the spectre of injury. As our racing amphitheatre kickstarts with transition, we’re also after a swift and stable foot entry. Right, onto the search for
Zoot have produced quality tri gear since the 1980s and so it is again with the Ultra TT, built in collaboration with the co-founder of Newton. Tri features start with the elastic laces, which work fine but feel parochial compared to New Balance’s Boa system. Drainage holes in the outsole allow water to escape, helping to cut weight and reduce blisters, and there’s a heel loop. Fit is comfy. As is your run gait, with the 3mm heel-to-toe drop hiding a midsole that features graded cushioning and implants beneath the foot. The minimal drop doesn’t feel flat but took a few runs to bed in. Weight is a low 266g. zootsports.com
Verdict: a solid but pricey effort with spectacular patterns 77%
Buy from mytriathlon.co.uk
Newton’s promise of forefoot running, and the efficiency and injury-prevention benefits that brings, carved them a profitable niche before sales began to suffer. Now they’ve stabilised and built a solid shoe in the 253g Distance Elite. It utilises Newton’s classic four-lug platform upfront, yet it also features raised cushioning in the heel area, recognising that the heel of forefoot strikers often kisses the ground. They’re comfy but do take some acclimatising to those lugs. The main concern, though, is the upper. It’s light and breathable, but is delicate and laterally moves too much for us. newtonrunning.com
Verdict:does the job but costly and we have upper concerns 73%
Buy from www.sportsshoes.com
The Cloudflow are worn by Brit Ironman Tim Don, which shows their key ground; ticking off 70.3 or Ironman with aplomb. Mind you, at 266g, many short-course athletes will fancy them. Why? First, there’s On’s rebound force. In the case of the Cloudflow, 18 lugs on the outsole compress on landing before offloading for a forceful take-off. Historically, we grumbled this led to a flat stride. Not anymore as On’s Helion foam midsole boosts comfort. So does the breathable upper. Our concerns that the tongue is flimsy proved unfounded, but a complaint is the tepid colour scheme.
Verdict:Another impressive On shoe, especially for iron 83%
Buy from www.fruugo.co.uk
The Type A9 is an out-and-out racer. And a damn good one at that. It’s the lightest on test at 197g and one of the loudest. That’s a good thing as racing’s not a place for the meek of heart. Comfort is high for such a stripped-down shoe, yet the 4mm drop hints at a modicum of cushioning that derives from the Super Lite EVA midsole. That said, it’s not enough to have us slipping into these for 70.3 and above. Fit is excellent. We put that down to a thin fabric skeleton within the shoe that clamps to your feet when tightening your laces. It’s a simple idea but works well. The upper breathes well, too.
Verdict: Speed and comfort for Olympic distance and below 89%
We’ve gone into the making of Hoka’s Carbon X on in issue 374, but one thing’s clear: these aren’t as fast as Nike’s Vaporfly 4%. But it’s a damn good effort. Similar to the Vaporfly, its carbon plate stores and releases tension, exaggerating the company’s Meta-Rocker motion and, in turn, engineering impressive forward thrust. Despite that, we’d argue its 270g weight – around 50g greater than the Vaporfly – makes it more an all-rounder than an out-and-out racer. A heel loop, a stitched-in and stretchy tongue, and comfy inner lend a nod to swift transitions and barefoot running. hokaoneone.eu
Verdict:Impressive but lighter athletes may prefer Hoka’s rehi 81%
Buy from www.hokaoneone.eu
The Chaser 2 from 361° weighs a moderate 268g and looks like a training shoe, yet actually performs swiftly and is a much firmer ride than a cushioned number. But the shape of the last and its inner comfort harks to its preferred home of longer sojourns. Like Hoka’s Carbon X, the Chaser 2 features a carbon strip in the midsole, though it’s more for stability purposes than propulsion. The upper’s a reasonably snug fit – more so than the original Chaser – and your feet are clamped in nicely thanks to a tensioning of wire technology. That said, the overall size comes up a touch small.
Verdict: A solid offering but watch out for that sizing 78%
Buy from www.fruugo.co.uk
A run shoe under £100? Be still my beating heart. Logic says race shoes should be cheaper than cushioning-loaded training shoes, but are these worth the outlay? Possibly. It’s a 100% racer, hitting the scales at 204g, and resembling a track shoe without the spikes. Instead the outsole comprises ‘Propulsion Pods’ that aim to return rebound force. It’s princess-and-pea stuff if there’s reality behind the rhetoric, but they feel fast. And as per pure racers, that often results in beaten legs, and our limbs were in shreds after swift fartleks. Comfort is fine thanks to the stretch-woven upper. brooksrunning.com
Verdict: one for fast workouts and sprint to Olympic distance 79%
Buy from www.brooksrunning.com
The DS are now at chapter 24. But are they improving with age? They’re the comfiest here, with a solid heel counter stabilising your feet that’s then cradled by an EVA sockliner. This is a midsole forged from two different densities of material that dampens the impact of landing and also smooths out pronation issues. Transition from landing to toe-off is proficient, and maximised via a band beneath the midsole that prevents twisting and torsion. You do feel fast in the DS, though not up there with the Saucony, which comes down to weight. At 282g, these are over 90g heavier than the Type A9. asics.com
Verdict: a comfy and swift shoe for the heavier triathlete 81%
Buy from www.asics.com
The 1500T2 is a brash beast – its colourway and Boa closure system screaming tri race day. Yet there’s substance behind the shouting as this is one fine shoe. NB has come to terms with Boa. Gone are hotspots; instead, your foot comfortably clamps into place, all at transition speed. And all without weight as, despite the added circular mechanism, it’s only 232g. Despite a minimal build, there’s comfort thanks to a REVlite midsole that’s said to be 30% lighter than other foams but without losing stability. The knit uppers add breathability, while a heel loop adds more tri appeal.
Verdict: Transitions– and your final leg – just got brighter 92%
Buy from www.newbalance.co.uk
Topo pride themselves on a light weight, roomy toe box and low drop. And they’ve achieved all three with the Fli-Lyte 3, which comes in at 277g. Similar to Lyte 2, the toe box – designed so that your toes can splay as nature intended – again concerned this slim-footed tester. Again, that apprehension proved unfounded as they comfortably shrouded our feet without blister-rubbing slippage. As for lightness, 277g’s not light for a race shoe, and these felt more high-milers than speedsters. The 3mm drop encouraged swiftness, however, though we’d argue they look rather ugly.
Verdict:Speed substance behindthe lack of style, 83%
Buy from www.topoathletic.com
The overall verdict
Thankfully, the flash exteriors seen here aren’t compensating for inferior technologies below. In all honesty, there isn’t a bad shoe here, although some clearly tick the race-speed box with more elan than others.
The Saucony Type A9 has pure thoroughbred stamped all over it. It’s a racer in the best tradition, coming in as the only shoe that dips beneath the 200g mark. Impressively, there’s enough cushioning not to leave your legs in tatters for days afterwards. We’d still only recommend them for short-course racing, though. Special mentions to On’s Cloudflow, which continues the Swiss manufacturer’s mastering of energy-rebound lugs, and Topo Athletic’s Fli-Lyte 3 that’s much more than its moderate looks.
But the title of best lightweight racer on test goes to New Balance’s 1500T2 BOA. Yes, it’s the most triathlon-friendly shoe here, that impressive closure system and heel loop begging you to transition fast. But it’s so much more than that, delivering a fast, comfortable stride at an impressively low weight. This is one shoe that’ll light up the triathlon circuit in 2020.