Latest Running Shoe, Gear, and Apparel

By clicking on the "Latest Running Shoe, Gear, and Apparel..." here you can see a list of my recent reviews and articles organized by category.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Review: Saucony Triumph ISO-Firm Under Cushion. Outstanding Any Foot Upper

The Saucony ISOFIT Series Triumph is a 10 oz M, 8.7 oz W very well cushioned yet quite firm at road contact trainer.  Fit me true to size.  Saucony lists the stack height as 29 mm heel/ 21 mm forefoot so this is at the edge of what one might call a maximalist shoe as generally I like to say anything over 22mm of forefoot stack height is maximalist so shoes such as Hokas and Altra Paradigm. 

My first runs in the Triumph have been outstanding. "Whoa" as Saucony marketing claims!  Quite a contrast to the "softer" shoes such as Hoka Clifton and Altra Paradigm I have been running in lately. It has a very firm podded and segmented outsole  yet with plenty of cushioning, decent flex and no harsh stiff feeling. Not a seamlessly smooth feeling as say Pearl Izumi but a kind of purposeful forward motion,  with  a sense of getting off the heel fast towards a somewhat less firm yet cushioned toe off. ISOFIT Triumph
Saucony IOSFIT Triumph

The Triumph features Saucony's new ISOFIT upper, a sock like very soft upper with the mid foot supported by foam bands generally only attached to the lower portion of the upper. This innovative approach provides a very easy to dial in fit for a wide variety of foot shapes and allows the foot to flex and swell without the usual constraints of sewn or welded overlays. Love the upper but worry a bit that the very front of the toe box is a bit too soft and that on steep downhills the toes might slide forward. This said I have had no issues to date.

Midsole and Outsole
The cutaway below illustrates the construction.

Saucony ISO Seires Construction
Saucony says its PWRGRID+ has 20% more cushioning than standard foams. Not sure exactly what that means as many manufacturers tweak their foams, for example Hoka and their RMAT.  My somewhat accurate durometer measures the firmness of the midsole in the low to mid 40's, similar to Altra Paradigm, New Balance Fresh Foam 980 and Zante yet even with its very firm outsole the Triumph feels well cushioned. There is more to the "cushion" feel than just materials. Also in the mix: stack heights, midsole geometry, as well as outsole firmness and geometry.

The outsole material is very firm and very thick. You will get many many miles out of the Triumph outsoles. The outsole is beautifully segmented so that the firmness does not translate to stiffness, although the Triumph is fairly stiff but not noticeably so,  or a harsh ride. Quite an engineering feat!

Comparison to  Hoka Clifton and Huaka, Kinvara, Pearl Izumi N2 Road, and New Balance Fresh Foam 980.
In contrast to Hoka and its popular Clifton with soft midsoles meeting soft outsole materials, Saucony has engineered a road feel that on contact is firm,  gets progressively somewhat softer under heel as midsole is compressed and then quite rapidly moves the gait forward, no bottoming out or mushy heel feeling as in Clifton given the Triumph's very firm outsole and relatively firm midsole. The Huaka has a firmer midsole and lower heel at 26mm than the Clifton and I prefer it to Clifton for this reason. See my Clifton Huaka comparison here.  

I have not run in Saucony Kinvara for a couple of years but for sure the forefoot contact in the Triumph is more stable and better cushioned. I always found the Kinvara lugs soft and mushy upfront.

The Pearl Izumi EM Road N2 v2 recently reviewed here or New Balance Fresh Foam 980 reviewed here  is closest in materials firmness to the Triumph as best as I can measure with my durometer but the rides are very different.  The more segmented outsole of the Triumph, while firmer material than either of the others,  when combined with a touch more stack height in the heel and its PowerGrid+ midsole,  makes for a somewhat less firm overall ride than either the Fresh Foam 980 or Pearl Izumi N2, yet with a very firm initial ground contact.  Interestingly the Pearl Izumi is a smoother overall  ride but the somewhat lower forefoot and heel height and less segmented outsole makes them firmer and a bit stiffer feeling than the Triumph. The 980's unsegmented outsole and firm midsole make them harsh and stiff for me. The new Fresh Foam Zante is a far smoother and more cushioned ride than the 980 for me due to its more segmented outsole and one might say smoother than the Triumph as the firmness of outsole and midsole materials in the Zante are far closer than Triumph's mix.   

Saucony Triumph compared to Saucony Zealot
The ISOFIT upper is also featured on the Saucony Zealot (available February 2015)  which I reviewed here, a somewhat firmer shoe, too firm in the heel for me.  I see the Zealot as a touch more of a stability shoe as well as a shoe for midfoot forefoot landing runners. The stats on the Zealot tell the tale with 25mm heel/ 21 forefoot and also with a more substantial mid foot midsole platform. The 29mm of heel stack in the Triumph and less substantial mid foot support  make all the difference for me between a somewhat harsh overly firm landing on the Zealot with my foot struggling to roll forward over the mid foot contrasting with the firm and directed heel transitioning to the forefoot of the Triumph. Interestingly the forefoot seems to have not only the same stacks on both but also the same road feel. 

Note above that the only noticeable differences between the underfoot areas of the Triumph (left) and Zealot(right) is the more substantial blue medial support of the Zealot and somewhat larger forefoot pods of the Triumph.

Ride and Recommendations
Really enjoying the Triumph. No mush in the heel here, yet plenty of cushioning. Feedback and purposeful forward motion and feedback from the firm at road contact outsole, then the well cushioned midsole below  You will get many miles out of the outsole.  Quite a nice contrast to smooth, soft running shoes such as Hokas. The Triumph is more a VW GTI than a Lexus. The upper is outstanding and should fit many foot types. The Triumph is a great choice for runners seeking an everyday trainer or marathon racing shoe that is very well cushioned yet not mushy, while at the same time responsive. It has great road feedback through its firm, thick, well segmented outsole. An outstanding combination!

MSRP $150. On sale now including via the links to City Sports below. Fits me true to size. 
(The Triumph was provided to me by Saucony at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely my own.)

Fellow Running Shoe Geek Derek Oxley's review of the ISO Triumph here
See Saucony's Triumph overview here

Purchase your Triumph ISO at the links below and you will also support my blog. Thanks!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

New Castle NH Run in Pictures: History and Water

Some days on the run when the weather is crisp and clear and the legs sore you just want to sight see. So I did that on the New Castle "loop" Usually you can loop this run, about 6.8 miles but as a bridge is being rebuilt I did an out and back with variations.  
South End of Portsmouth

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review:Pearl Izumi EM Road N2 v2: Effective Update, Softer, Roomier Toe Box, Even Smoother

The Pearl Izumi EM Road N2 version 2 is a $120 9.6 oz (M9) trainer. Running Warehouse says they have a  27mm/16mm toe stack. There is more to the absolute stack heights given Pearl Izumi's Dynamic Offset which I will try to explain below. The N2 Road is one of the smoothest transitioning shoes I have run in this year. 
Pearl Izumi EM Road N2

The version 2  Road N2  solves the key deficiency for me of the original Road N2, an overly firm, even harsh ride.  This is still a firmer riding shoe, firmer than Hokas, Boost, or Altra, more akin to New Balance Fresh Foam for example.  Strangely, the original  lighter Trail N2 was smoother and less firm and harsh on the road. My N1 Trail review here.

The potential why's and how Pearl Izumi solved these issues is, as they say, the devil in the details, and the art and science of putting together different firmnesses of materials and geometries. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Patagonia Nano-Air Jackets Review: Versatile, Super Light, Breathable. Great Fall, Winter Run Option

I tend to run very warm. So when I heard about the new Patagonia Nano Air Insulated jackets I figured they would be a great option for those super cold days, nordic skiing, hiking, and after runs. I should have been listening more carefully as it is rare that Patagonia touts a single product as strongly as they have the new Nano-Air jackets for men and women. And Patagonia makes outstanding run clothing including the cleverly pocketed Strider Pro Shorts I reviewed here. Outside Magazine liked it too, giving it a 2015 Gear of the Year Award.  I bought the jacket version,  $249. A  hoodie $299 is also available. Men's and Women's models are available in multiple colors. Men's Nano-Air Jacket.

Patagonia describes Nano Air as follows:
"An insulation breakthrough: the new Nano-Air™ Jacket featuring FullRange™ Insulation is warm, stretchy and so breathable, you can wear it for the entirety of any highly aerobic start-stop mission in the mountains."

The Road Test

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Initial Review: New Balance Fresh Foam Zante- 2nd Generation Fresh Foam. Smooth did just get Fast.

The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante is a 7.5 oz 6mm drop racer trainer just released in limited quantities ahead of a certain "big" running event in NYC this weekend. It represents the first shoe of the 2nd generation of New Balance's Fresh Foam concept. It will go into  wider release in March 2015along with a new version of the Fresh Foam 980 now called the Fresh Foam Boracay (Feb.2015). See my preview from this summer's Outdoor Retailer here.
Fresh Foam Zante

I reviewed the previous generation trainer the Fresh Foam 980 here as well as the Fresh Foam Trail here. The Trail was a home run for me, the 980 overly stiff and firm for my taste. The Trail did a better job of leveraging the geometry of the concave ( for cushion) and convex (for firmness and support)  hexagons which are along the midsole to soften and smooth the ride on roads yet provide excellent stability and performance on most trails. The Trail was outstanding on all surfaces.. This computer generated patterning of materials based on stride forces and their effect on the shoe's mid and outsole is the key innovation of the Fresh Foam line. At OR I discussed the shortcomings and strengths of the then current models and saw where they were heading with Fresh Foam Zante and Boracay. I was optimistic.

Well, I am happy to report that New Balance really listened and learned from reaction to the first generation of Fresh Foam.   The Fresh Foam Zante is a fabulous shoe.  I am calling it a light trainer racer in the same category as the Adios Boost I like so much due to its Boost material rebound and snappy toe spring or  the Saucony Kinvara which weighs about the same and which for me is too soft and unstable in the forefoot.  More than decently cushioned especially in the forefoot, only 7.5 oz, and very smooth running due to its simple construction, hexagon patterning and continuous outsole the Fresh Foam Zante is one heck of a fine shoe. It is equally comfortable at speed or slow, an unusual combination as often fast responsive shoes are not particularly suited to slower running, for example the Saucony Zealot I recently reviewed here

So while the Zante and Fresh Foam 980 are  different shoes they are of the same basic design concept:  hexagons to tune the cushioning, a single density midsole, and a continuous outsole. Why could the Fresh Foam Zante a far lighter shoe at  7.5 oz feel so much better,to me : less harsh, stiff and firm, and far more responsive and smoother than the Fresh Foam 980?

Midsole Outsole: The Fresh Foam concept in practice
  • The Fresh Foam midsole material is softer or in tech speak has a softer durometer at about 40 vs. around 45 for the Fresh Foam 980 by my not totally accurate but still relatively accurate gauge. The 980 was about the firmest midsole I have measured with the exception of the way to firm Pearl Izumi E:M N2 Road version 1, Version 2 a very different story, review here. The concave hexagons which tune the cushioning on the lateral side are larger towards the heel and longer and flatter towards the forefoot. The 980 had convex firming hexagons towards the toe which I think made the shoe overly firm and stiff.
    Fresh Foam Zante- All Hexagons on the Lateral side are Convex for cushion and better flexibility
      Fresh Foam 980- Forefoot Convex hexagons added firmness and stiffness to forefoot.
    The forefoot hexagons, now on both lateral and medial sides seem to help provide the nice snappy flex and toe spring. Far more flexible and snappy than the 980, understanding the 980 had a higher forefoot stack as well as firmer outsole material upfront.  The heel through mid foot medial side retains convex hexagons to provide a touch of pronation support and guide the foot to toe off. 
  • The outsole material, unlike the 980, is made up of 2 densities of rubber. A firm decoupled heel piece, with the rest of the outsole a considerably softer rubber  not far in firmness from the midsole firmness by my measurements.  The outsole hexagons in the forefoot are elongated compared to the 980 much as they are on the 980 Trail  The majority of the Zante outsole is considerably softer than the outsole of the 980 Road.  In all likelihood the overly firm feel of the 980 came from this very firm outsole covering so much of the shoe combined with a firm midsole.  The Fresh Foam Zante's close matching of the midsole and outsole firmness contributes to the smoothness of the ride from heel forward. The heel crash pad is firm, almost too firm for me. I wish the very slight heel bevel was increased with more of an angle as on the Adios Boost.  I think that would really make the shoe even smoother from heel to toe but this a minor complaint.
So, the net results of these midsole and outsole improvements is a far smoother ride from heel to toe and a more flexible shoe than the Fresh Foam 980.

Fit and Upper
The Zante is a half size small for me and fortunately I ordered half size up. Zante is built according to New Balance on a 'different last than the 1400.  The shoe is built on the new VL-6 performance running last and has a wider forefoot for proper toe splay." They are somewhat pointy and occasionally I could feel my toes touching either the front where the top bumper is fairly thick and substantial or the top of the shoe. Not an issue for me but this shoe may not work for those with wide high volume feet.
Fresh Foam Zante-Toebox

The upper is beautifully made up of 2 grades of mesh: finer up front and slightly more robust over the mid foot saddle. There are no seams in front of the last lace hole The overlays in the toe area remind me of the pattern on the Energy Boost, strips over the top and sides of toes without a connection down to the midsole where the shoes flex. As the shoe flexes, the overlays don't impede or bunch. Some recent testing I have been doing tells me the flexibility of the upper material plays a role in how the shoe flexes or how it is perceived to flex when running.

Ride and Recommendations
While some shoes require many runs to "figure out",  the $115,  7.5 oz 6mm drop, Fresh Foam Zante spoke clearly and almost immediately. This is a very refined, smooth riding fast shoe with some toe spring and a small hint of structure and stability much as the Adios Boost has. The New Balance marketing for this shoe is "Smooth Just Got Fast." and I agree.
Size up half a size.
The drop at 6mm is a very reasonable compromise between very low drop shoes where I struggle when tired and back on my heels late in a race, and conventional 10mm plus drop models.
The tuned hexagons, when combined with the relatively simple (one midsole material and 2 densities of out sole rubber) do not introduce, let's just say any "artificial ingredients" such as plastic plates, multiple densities of midsole foam, variations in the outsole pattern or stiff to flex overlays in the toe area into my feel for the ride.
While not heavily cushioned, it certainly is cushioned enough to be a daily trainer for lighter, faster runners.  This said a Hoka Clifton at about the same weight it is not in terms of max cushioning. For many this will be a great all race distances and as a tempo shoe. Unlike many speed oriented shoes it runs very nicely slow as well as fast.

Highly Recommended!

See Pete Larson's fine review of the Fresh Foam Zante at Runblogger here

( The Fresh Foam Zante was a personal purchase at retail)

Get them while they last as the first batch is a limited release and support my blog by picking up your pair at City Sports via the links below. New Balance also has pairs available at their website.