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.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Savings!

Black Friday and CyberMonday Sales! Use the links below and you also support my blog.  Lots of great running shoes and gear at these retailers. Thanks!

Some great deals on adidas Energy Boost 2, Boston Boost $96, and Climachill at City Sports.

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

The white house dates to 1647.

New Castle Beach

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. 

The upper is outstanding. Foot is well held but never constrained. Plenty of room up front for me with no slop at speed or pointy toe feeling.  Pearl Izumi was the first shoe company to start to do away with stitching about 10 years ago and they continue to lead in very simple elegant uppers, and  comfort. While I never run barefoot I was immediately tempted and I took the N2 out for my first short run barefoot. The N2 fit me true to size whereas the version 1 I sized up half a size . Pearl Izumi wrote me they "widened/improved  the forefoot fit across the ball of the foot and big toe area and increased the stick length inside the shoe by 1/4 to 1/2 size."  The difference is clearly seen in the photo below. The heel collar is less plush and all that extra stuff is not missed. 
Pearl Izumi EM Road N2: Version 2 Left, Version 1 Right

Pearl Izumi EM Road N2: Version 1 Left Version 1 Right

Dynamic Offset
The Pearl Izumi Dynamic Offset of the midsole geometry,  moving the traditional take off point at the first met head back 25mm  really shines in the new N2. Super smooth transition from heel to mid foot and then toe. Dynamic Offset was described to me by Pearl Izumi as follows: 
"The “dynamic” in dynamic offset is due to the unique shape. In the simplest terms we moved   the take-off point which is traditionally under the 1st met head or ball of your foot, approx 25mm rearward. By doing this we effectively created empty airspace under the balls of your feet when you are at stance. As your ankle and knee come over the top of the shoe moving forward, your forefoot falls into this dead airspace in a smoother fashion with the effect of a smoother transition and less slap."
Outsole Changes from Version 1 
While still firm the new Road N2 has such a less harsh firm and inflexible ride for me. I asked Pearl Izumi what changed. They replied the firmness of the rubber hasn't changed but  the outsole geometry has changed from smooth continuous bars to more segmented bars with cuts to increase flexibility in all directions and for a softer feel on the road. I think  this is why the Trail N1 felt so much better on the road than the Road N2 of version 1 as the lugs increased both perceived softness and increased flexibility in all directions. . Also I think this is a similar reason the Fresh Foam Trail felt better on the road than the Fresh Foam 980 See review here.

The picture below (V2 left V1 right)  illustrates the difference in outsole geometries and materials. "3" being the firmest material, "1" intermediate firmness, and "2" exposed midsole material. If i was to improve this shoe I would soften the heel "3" material a bit.

Pearl Izumi EM Road N2: Version 2 Left, Version 1 Right
Midsole Changes from Version 1
I certainly sensed  a softer ride in the Version 2.  Here are the details of what Pearl Izumi did to improve the ride. Lower Shure numbers mean softer foam:  
The overall goal of the new Road N2 and M2 for S15 was to soften up the overall under foot experience for the end user. We did this in a few ways that added up to a really nice improvement from the 1st version.
  • The EVA midsole durometer spec did not change from the 1st version in S13 to the new update in S15 – our EVA spec is 55 Shure C 
  • The 1:1 Energy Foam we use in the heel cavity is new and is now a larger cavity size and softer, more resilient compound we have been working on. The S13 compound was 52 Shure C and we are now using a 45 Shure C material that has more resiliency (resists taking a compression set – good thing) and has a 10% higher energy return
  • We increased the forefoot flexibility of the new Road N2 by 10% with more segmentation in the forefoot, resulting in a softer and smoother feeling sensation
  • We reconfigured the outsole lug shapes for better traction and creating a more responsive and softer feeling under foot.

I agree. Pearl Izumi did soften up the overall under foot experience of the Road N2 leading to a very smooth running every day trainer with none of the harshness of the first version. Mind you this is still a firm ride. With the exception of the  1:1  Energy Foam in the heel cavity being softer the rest of the midsole remains as before.  Relatively speaking when compared to many shoes I currently run in ( Boost, Altra Paradigm, Hoka, and and even Fresh Foam Zante)  the N2 is relatively firm.  The segmentation of the forefoot and new lug shapes is a welcome improvement. The upper is outstanding ,one of the best fitting and most comfortable  I have run in this year. Foot is well held yet never constrained. The forefoot is especially well executed: plenty of room yet not sloppy or pinched for me. An outstanding update. Available now. 

(The N2 were provided to me at no charge for review purposes. The opinions herein are entirely my own.)

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
Before launching into the specs of this amazing jacket, the road test run in truly foul conditions. Yesterday we had temps in the mid 30's with 20-30 mph winds, rain and snow. I said why not, let's see how it performs in "ideal" conditions. Off I went for a 9 mile run along the coast with my brother. I layered a Craft snug fitting thermal t shirt underneath. The performance was outstanding. Never too warm, never chilled, didn't get heavy, core perfectly warm enough. The sleeves did soak through and were a bit clammy in strong wind gusts as I did not wear long sleeves but to be expected given the quite heavy precipitation. Delighted!
Post Run Still Smiling in the Snow.

The Specs and Details
The Nano Air has a 4 way mechanical stretch, is super breathable with a soft,  and an almost shirt like exterior and interior fabric. Not a slick ripstop nylon. So for hiking and skiing in wind a shell over would be in order. It does repel light precipitation but I will take the breathability any day.  The proprietary 60 gram FullRange insulation actually stretches with rest of the jacket. The overall breathability, insulation included  is touted by Patagonia to be superior to any of their uninsulated soft shells.It is super light overall at 12.5 oz and packs downto  next to nothing. Standing around it insulates brilliantly but as its purpose is all day comfort, in motion, in the mountains one cannot say it is stand around in super cold weather type "puffy". It fit me true to size and is decently long to cover the lower back.

Highly Recommended for Running in cool to cold temperatures, Hiking, Nordic Skiing, and going to the store.

Outside Magazine reviews the Nano-Air and calls it the "only mid layer you'll ever need" and the "world's best mid layer."

Get the Patagonia Nano-Air at the links to below and you will be warm on the run, and also support my blog! Thanks!

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!

( 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.