Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review-adidas Ultra Boost: An Experiment on the Soft and "Natural" Side. A Shoe for LSD: Long Slow Distance. Comparison to Energy Boost.

The adidas Ultra Boost is a 11.4 oz (323gram) , 27mm heel 17mm forefoot 10mm drop shoe (according to Running Warehouse's description). Available now.  $180!  I am calling it a 2nd generation Boost "training" shoe for slower miles and for those seeking great cushioning, a very comfortable stretchy upper and a sort of "natural" ride on the road.  It is packed with innovative features, some that work for me, others not so much, particularly the overall softness of the ride. The Ultra Boost was a personal purchase. It fit true to size.
I first read about Ultra Boost through my friend Frederic Brossard , a mighty fine blogger over at I attempted to translate his impressions from the original French here.

The Ultra Boost features:
  • adidas Boost material, 30% more of it in the midsole and no firmer EVA layer at the toe and as stabilizing ring around the outer perimeter just above the insole as in other Boost runners such as the Adios Boost and Energy Boost,  
  • an innovative incredible comfortable single piece and stretchy PrimeKnit upper, some will be able to run without laces,
  • instead of a full heel cup, two plastic heel wings leaving the achilles supported but not pressured, 
  • a new outsole, the Stretch Web a soft conforming layer on the road,
  • The Boost stabilizing Torsion plastic is embedded in the midsole instead of placed just under the outsole under the midfoot and there is none in front to support the forefoot as in other Boost shoes such as Adios Boost, Boston Boost, and Energy Boost.
This adidas promotional video illustrates the construction of the Ultra Boost and calls it "The Greatest Running Shoe Ever". I am not so sure it is the Greatest for me but in terms of innovations it is packed with them, more a platform to show off several new technologies.

All of "it", the technology innovations, add up to one relatively heavy shoe at 11 oz plus (1.4 oz heavier than the Energy Boost). Ultra Boost is soft under foot on the run particularly the forefoot:
  • considerably more flexible than the Energy Boost without the distinctive snap flex.  
  • less responsive than Energy Boost, my go to marathon race shoe (review here)  or Adios Boost my 2014 Shoe of the Year (review here), or the well cushioned and smooth New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay (review here).

I found that due to the soft forefoot it was mostly suitable for slower, long runs. An interesting feeling ride, one can really feel the forefoot and toes sinking and splaying into the Boost and when combined with the soft and conforming Stretch Web outsole almost a sensation of running on nice soft ground and grass... on the road. Thus, sort of a "natural" very comfortable ride, but not a particularly fast or efficient one as where the rubber hits the road at push off there is not much firmer rebound(ironic with Boost) or snap. Some may find the Ultra useful for... Ultras on smoother terrain or roads.

Boost is unlike any other midsole material used for running shoes as instead of the ubiquitous EVA it made up of heat expanded TPU beads which provide a distinct and soft cushion, and then a noticeable rebound sensation. I love my Adios Boost and Energy Boost shoes, my go to shoes for  racing and much of my training. Boost is also claimed to be far less sensitive to outside temperatures, more consistent and my outdoor runs in temperatures well below freezing and on an indoor treadmill confirm that the cushion feels about the same regardless of temperature. Very different than EVA based midsoles which harden noticeably in cold.

Upper and Fit

The PrimeKnit upper is dense and very stretchy. I have not tried Nike's FlyKnit shoes but did stick my hand in one this week and PrimeKnit appears far stretchier. The upper is entirely one piece including the tongue so essentially you slip your foot into a bootie. True to size for me. Incredibly comfortable.

I lightly laced. Far more lightly than usual as the 3 support bands are thick, maybe a bit to thick, and there is no need to cinch down laces as in most shoes. 

The PrimeKnit adapted to my bunion on the right. I do fine with most uppers with this bunion unless the last lace hole and related overlays are far down the shoe and the shoe is narrow in this area. Note how far back the laces start on the Ultra Boost given the PrimeKnit doing most of the work of supporting the mid foot.  Those with bunion issues might consider the Ultra Boost. The front is a bit pointy but given the soft Boost and no Torsion or EVA upfront I believe any wider might make the shoes even softer and less stable and responsive. 

The heel counter is split with 2 plastic wings. The only seam in the upper is centered at the back. Heel counter is supportive and comfortable. Those with achilles tendon pressure issues might try on the Ultra Boost to see if it works to relieve pressure there.

Midsole and Outsole

The midsole is all Boost, 30% more Boost. What is eliminated is the firmer EVA  (orange) of the Energy Boost, a stabilizing ring that surrounds the insole around the outer perimeter as well as the solid piece of EVA upfront at the toe. This firmer layer provided a bit more stability and response in the Energy Boost and also when combined with the Torsion strips make the Energy stiffer snappier in the forefoot.  I find the Energy Boost a touch too stiff, the Ultra Boost quite mushy and soft upfront. The happy medium between the two would be ideal. Thankfully the Ultra Boost keeps the stabilizing gray TPU piece on the medial side to tame the foot a bit and move it forward on landing. The Boston Boost (review here) eliminated this piece to my regret, to soft a heel for me. For those familiar with Hoka One One Clifton (review here) I find the heel a touch firmer and certainly better supported in the Ultra Boost and the forefoot yet softer than Clifton and less responsive.

The Torsion system (the gray TPU strips below) is completely different and less of it. In the Ultra Boost the Torion is far more minimal and embedded in the midsole. There are no Torsion strips in the mid and forefoot as the Energy Boost had with the strips extending all the way forward on the medial and lateral sides. Under the midfoot one can clearly see the Torsion centered in the Ultra Boost and not spanning the mid foot. Despite this, the midfoot felt fine in the UltraBoost but I had a sense of a slower motion transition to toe off.
Add caption
The outsole of the Ultra Boost is the new Stretch Web. It has raised nubs which are already wearing faster than the Energy Boost Adiwear rubber which wears like iron.  Traction on snow is not great but snow and I except any mud clears easily. Traction is fine on wet and dry roads.  I would have kept the more continuous contact and segmented rubber heel and forefoot outsole of the Energy Boost. Not sure Stretch Web does it for it contributes to the overall softness and lack of snap of the shoe.
Testing Notes
Given the very cold conditions in New England this winter I tested the Ultra Boost and all shoes I have reviewed this winter as follows: runs outside and on a treadmill. I also ran at least a mile with a comparative shoe, here the Energy Boost, on one foot with the review shoe on the other.  In the case of the Ultra Boost, unlike all EVA based midsoles,  I could feel no difference in ride between temperatures in the teens Fahrenheit and when indoors in the 60's

Ride and Recommendations
The adidas Ultra Boost is a shoe for what we used to call "LSD:  long, slow distance. Soft in the forefoot with a very comfortable stretchy PrimeKnit upper it is on the heavy side of current road trainers at over 11oz. The softness and flexibility of the forefoot gives it a sort of "natural" ride, somewhat like running on soft ground as the stretch upper, Boost midsole and StretchWeb outsole without Torsion plastic upfront conform and move with the foot as it sinks into the Boost and toes splay.
The Ultra Boost, given its very stretchy PrimeKnit upper, may fit those with bunion issues and a relatively narrow foot. The upper, when stretched by the foot should adapt to different width feet and swelling, with the very front of the shoe  a bit pointy. The PrimeKnit bootie allows a variety of adjustments for different types of feet with the laces largely relegated to holding the plastic 3 bands in place. The overall cushioning is outstanding, if soft.
The heel and mid foot ride is soft but well supported by the upper as well as the plastic 3 bands and some Torsion system embedded in the midsole. While I find them very comfortable they will not be a daily trainer for me, not enough pop. A recovery and LSD shoe when pace is not on the agenda for the day's run. Some may find the Ultra a good shoe for...ultras on smoother terrain. An overall pleasant comfortable feeling but not a fast responsive one, not nearly the pop of the adidas Energy Boost. While highly innovative it is not "The Greatest Running Shoe Ever." but more a platform which will hopefully tuned over time.

If you think the adidas Ultra Boost will work for you they are available from Running Warehouse here. All your purchases at Running Warehouse via this link support my blog. It is also available from City Sports at the links below. Your purchases at Running Warehouse and City Sports help support my blog. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Salomon S-Lab Sense X-Series- Salomon Hits the Road without Forgetting the Trail

The Salomon S-Lab Sense X-Series is a 7.7 oz, 218 gram, 19mm heel/11mm forefoot $160 racing shoe that adapts the Sense mountain/trail racing platform towards a mix of roads and smoother trails. Salomon calls the X-Series, a shoe for "urban" racing, for varied terrain including trails and pavement. I think many will run and race these in the mountains  as well as the road. They are that versatile.

An incredible amount of versatility is provided at a very light weight. Think about it this is a very capable trail and road shoe that weighs about the same as the Kinvara 5 or Fresh Foam Zante (review)  and almost half an ounce less than the Adios Boost 1 (review)

The craftsmanship and care put into the design and construction,as with all the Sense shoes, gear, and apparel is outstanding, a work of shoe art! Salomon's S-Lab Sense line was my 2014 Innovation, Gear, and Apparel of the year (article). I have not run much in conventional Salomon shoes for years as the narrowness under the arch made them a non starter for me. No such issues with the X-Series understanding it is still snug under the arch and all over as a race and trail shoe should be in my opinion.

The  Sense X-Series is a trail road hybrid. My running in them to date, road and treadmill due to our 6 feet of snow on the ground, tells me that their "ideal" use will be for fast running on a mix of smooth trails and pavement where the lugs of the other Sense models: Sense, Ultra, and Ultra Softground are not required but a snug supportive upper, stable platform, and a bit of forefoot rock protection is called for.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Review: New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay-2nd Generation Fresh Foam "Excellent Ride"

The New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay is a 9.1 oz 261gram M US9, 7.7 oz 216 gram W US 9 trainer. 4mm heel toe drop. Retail $120. Available now.
Fresh Foam Boracay represents the second generation of New Balance Fresh Foam line and is the training cousin of the excellent Fresh Foam Zante racer/trainer reviewed here.
New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay

The Fresh Foam Boracay has fundamentally the same midsole construction, foam firmness and last as the earlier Fresh Foam 980 I reviewed last year. I was told by NB that the midsole platform is a bit wider up front and I could feel the extra and welcome width. I found the original  980 to be quite stiff and firm not really matching the marketing message at the time of a plush cushioned ride.

The Fresh Foam Boracay,due to a number of subtle changes,  rides for me like a completely different shoe than the 980. Very smooth and quite responsive, no longer somewhat stiff and firm with a cramped feeling upfront. It has a a somewhat softer ride than the similar riding Pearl Izumi E:Motion line.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Review: Skechers GORun Ride 4- Solid Update. Improving the Ride in the Right Direction

The Skechers GoRun Ride 4 is a 8.4oz light weight trainer. It has an 8 mm drop (heel/toe) with the included insole but can be run without the insole on a finished footbed for a 4mm drop. Conveniently, it is also supplied with 2 types of laces: flat non stretch and a round lace.
Skechers GORun Ride 4

The GoRun Ride 4 has a number of significant yet subtle improvements over the Ride 3, I reviewed last year. These include:

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Outdoor Retailer Winter 15: Nathan Sports Run Safety: Zephyr Fire 100 & 300 Hand Torches, Orion Belt Blinker and Light, Fire Run Specific Headlamps

Nathan Sports wooed me with superbly designed run safety lighting at Outdoor Retailer. While reflective and bright colors are a must for those dark times run having very visible lighting to see the way and also warn traffic is essential. Nathan was kind enough to give me both the Zephyr 300 and 100 hand torches and the very nifty Orion waist blinker and flashlight combo. Both available now, to help get us through this rough winter safely.