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Triathlete’s Summer 2012 Running Shoe Review

Our test team logged serious miles in the latest running shoe offerings from the major brands.

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Our test team logged serious miles in the latest running shoe offerings from the major brands. Check out what they had to say about the newest stability, minimalist, racing and trail shoes.

Adidas AdiZero Rush M
Adidas.com | 7.5 oz | $100

Fit | Our testers thought these were sublimely snug: They have a secure fit in the heel and the arch but adequate room for the toes to splay upon impact. It fits like a racing flat rather than a minimalist shoe. One tester said, “This is the exact fit you need to run fast.”

Feel | The Rush was born to blaze. “It feels plush the moment you slip your foot in it, but it’s not mushy or overly cushy,” one tester said. Several testers said they thought the shoe enabled great foot proprioception. “You could really feel the ground in this shoe,” said a wear tester.

Ride | Some testers found it to be a great shoe for distances from 5K to the half-marathon, although a few thought it was a tad too firm to run slow. Many testers recommended it for mid-foot and forefoot running styles and higher speeds.

RELATED – Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Running Shoes

Saucony ProGrid Kinvara 3
Saucony.com | 7.3 oz | $90

Fit | Our testers found the fit to be consistent throughout, with a secure hold in the heel, a snug fit in the middle and a toe box that is just wide enough. “You feel like you’re lacing up a racing flat when you put your feet into these,” said one tester, referring to the upper that was derived from track spikes. It can snug down on the foot as much as you need.

Feel | With a makeup that’s part racing flat, part long-distance trainer, the Kinvara 3 feels like a blend of several shoe styles. It’s a super-light shoe equally suited to long, slow miles, tempo runs or all-out speed blasts.

Ride | The ride is inescapably soft, no matter what kind of running you’re doing. Over-pronators in the test group felt it was a bit unstable and mushy, but the testers who were a good match for the Kinvara 3 raved about it. “I love this shoe and use it for everything,” said one tester. “I can’t believe there’s a shoe I can do everything in.”

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Mizuno Wave Elixir 7
Mizunousa.com | 9.3 oz | $120

Fit | Snug from the heel through the arch/mid-foot area, the Elixir 7 has a fairly roomy toe box, at least compared to most traditionally designed road shoes. This updated Elixir has slightly less interior volume, and the lacing system cinches the extra-wide tongue.

Feel | For a high-mileage trainer, this shoe is exquisitely light, something our testers marveled about in unison. Most thought it created a great foot-to-shoe connection, which was aided in part by the integrated lightweight upper and lacing system, and the deep, secure heel cup. The step-in feel is supple and comfortable, but not mushy or overly plush.

Ride | One tester summed up the shoe’s ride: “The lightweight feeling of this shoe makes it feel as if I’m running faster.” It can be run with a mid-foot gait for fast-paced runs, but it can also be a slow cruiser when your stride relies on easy heel-toe mechanics. One tester said, “I would highly recommend this shoe as an everyday trainer.”

Nike Zoom Elite+ 5
Nikerunning.com | 9.9 oz | $105

Fit | Even after a complete overhaul, the Zoom Elite’s fit is still true. It’s “on the low-volume side and I think it’s ideal for those with thinner feet,” said one tester. The heel and arch are snug, but the forefoot is looser. The Elite+ 5 is much more built-up than previous versions, and it now falls into the everyday trainer category instead of the performance trainer group.

Feel | Despite the added girth to this incarnation, it’s still a light shoe—considerably lighter, in fact, than it’s ever been. “This is a totally different shoe than I would expect it to be, and it felt and ran a lot lighter than it looked,” one tester remarked. It has a greatly reduced heel-toe ramp and seems to offer up decent agility and responsiveness for such a stout shoe.

Ride | It doesn’t take many miles to realize that the minimized heel doesn’t get in the way of mid-foot running like its predecessors. Many testers thought it served up a bouncy, somewhat energetic ride, but most preferred it for longer and slower runs. “This shoe went through a complete 180-degree change. It’s a quality everyday trainer,” said one tester.

New Balance 890 v2
Newbalance.com | 9.0 oz | $110

Fit | Cross a pair of racing flats with a pair of cushy trainers and you get these comfort cruisers with a super-snug heel and arch, and a moderately snug forefoot. Said one tester: “Whoa, this shoe has a reassuringly close fit but it’s also soft and comfortable inside.” There’s a bit of wiggle room in the forefoot thanks to the elastic mesh upper.

Feel | New Balance retooled this shoe to have a lower heel-toe drop (8mm) than last year’s version. “It looks the same as a lot of my older shoes, but it definitely helps me run better than a lot of the clunkers I’ve been in,” said one tester. The change created a platform that helps runners easily attain better form without the rigors of adapting to bare-bones minimalism.

Ride | Its lightweight makeup and springy demeanor offer plenty of pop, making it ideal for long tempo runs and fartleks as it is for long, slow distance efforts. “At first I thought this was another cushy neutral trainer, but it’s got some surprising zip to it. In fact, it’s got a lot of zip to it,” said one tester.

K-Swiss California R
Kswiss.com | 11.5 oz | $130

Fit | Even though this shoe is a supportive stability trainer, the forefoot fit incorporates one of the lessons introduced by the minimalist running movement. The toe box is broad and “spacious.” Testers said it allows enough room for the foot to “flex and expand” without inhibition. The mid-foot and heel are both shaped for mid-volume feet.

Feel | A superior connection at the heel and arch help pull the foot in line with the California’s supportive sole. Combined with the broad forefoot, it finds the “perfect blend between security and roominess” by combining a firm mid-foot and forgiving toe box.

Ride | “Firm” and “solid” are two of the words testers used to describe the California. Its rigid, pronation-busting sole doesn’t mush beneath the runner. Unwavering support comes at the expense of flexibility and responsiveness, however. This heel-striker’s shoe doesn’t spring off the pavement, but the California R creates a stable platform that can help guide you through a long run.

Newton Distance Trainer
Newtonrunning.com | 7.8 oz | $155

Fit | The flagship model of this upstart brand continues to evolve with a new mesh upper configuration. Built to be a high-mileage everyday trainer, it has a secure fit in the heel and mid-foot, and a slightly wider toe box than most road shoes so the toes can properly splay out.

Feel | There is a superior foot/shoe connection in this shoe, both because of a low-volume cavity and because of the forefoot lugs that press into a hollow chamber, which can result in an absorbent or springy sensation depending on your foot strike style. “I’m not sure I was always running in them with a mid-foot gait, but I definitely thought it was lighter than most trainers I’ve tried,” said one tester.

Ride | Once you get the hang of Newton’s four external lugs underneath your forefoot, the ride feels firm and fast. “I used to be skeptical, but now I’m a believer,” said one tester. And with a flat, mid-foot strike pattern, it’s versatile enough to handle long distance quite well, too. “It’s definitely different than every shoe out there,” said one tester.

Zoot Ultra TT 5.0
Zootsports.com | 8.6 oz | $140

Fit | The elastic upper snugs right up against the foot, from heel to toe. “It constantly pressed against my mid-foot but never created a single pressure point,” said a tester. The forefoot is fairly narrow and the heel cup creates a reliable yet forgiving bond with the foot.

Feel | The elastic upper is lined with a smooth, truly seamless piece of fabric that dries and softly cradles the foot. The price for the quick-closure upper is a little added tightness on the foot. “I felt surprisingly well-connected to the sole, but the squeeze on my foot was noticeable,” described one tester.

Ride | Combining the snappy feel of a race flat with an unwavering foundation beneath an exhausted runner is difficult, but the Ultra TT 5.0 reaches that goal. A tester raved, “The hard sole drives through each stride and forcefully skips off the ground,” yet the shoe still provides a stable platform for legs that are wobbly after a hard ride.

Asics Gel-Noosa Tri 7
Asics.com | 10.6 oz | $120

Fit | Snug and reassuring, it has a secure fit in the heel and arch; there is no slippage whatsoever. The toe box is the size and shape of most traditional training shoes, but the flexible open mesh isn’t bound by any restrictive overlays. It allows the toes to naturally splay more than a lot of shoes.

Feel | “It’s definitely a shoe that offers stability and a solid feeling,” one tester said. Although there’s plenty of step-in softness and a very cushy heel, it feels firm in the first few steps, thanks to the harder durometer midsole foam and plastic shank under the mid-foot.

Ride | Despite the firm feeling, most testers thought this shoe ran smoothly. It didn’t feel unusually fast, but it was reliable on long training runs and versatile enough to run fartlek and tempo pace on occasion. “It’s a workhorse—a shoe you can put a lot of miles in,” said one tester. “It’s one I’d use for recovery runs and long-distance days,” said another.

Altra Provision
Altrazerodrop.com | 9.5 oz | $105

Fit | The Provision has a bulbous forefoot to match the shape of a foot when the toes are splayed out in their most effective position for propelling and stabilizing the body while running. You’ll notice the difference the moment you slip these on and wonder why so many other shoes have crammed your toes together. The rest of the shoe fits traditionally with a slightly narrow heel.

Feel | The sole, made with 10mm of foam and rubber, enables your foot to feel the ground but is definitely firm. Extending from heel to toe within the foam is a 4-degree varus wedge (tilted from inside to outside), which helps keep the foot from over-pronating in a more efficient and effective way than the hard block of ultra-dense foam in traditionally built stability shoes.

Ride | The Provision is firm underfoot, though not uncomfortably hard. It puts a good amount of zip in every step and engages best with up-tempo running. “I actually felt like that alone made me run with better form,” one tester said. “The firmness and the fit take some getting used to, but once I did I really liked this shoe,” another tester said.

Brooks PureFlow
Brooksrunning.com | 9.0 oz | $90

Fit | Cozy and comfortable, the PureFlow is most secure at the arch area, and it’s generally quite snug in the heel, too. A few testers, however, thought there was a little bit of a swimmy feeling in what was perceived to be a slightly wider and deeper heel cup. The forefoot is roomy yet comfortably secure, thanks to a stretchy upper and unrestrictive support bands.

Feel | While this shoe isn’t overly squishy, the interior certainly is comfortable. “It’s like one of those slippers you get at the spa,” one tester said. The stretchy, padded heel counter, wide tongue and seamless toe box are just some of the reasons this shoe scored high marks for comfort. “It’s just downright comfortable throughout, but it’s still a performance-oriented shoe,” observed another.

Ride | It’s not a minimalist masochist, but the PureFlow takes plenty of design cues from the natural running movement. Its lightweight composition and low 5mm heel-toe drop encourages good running form, but it also offers some stability from the slightly wider footprint. It feels soft and comfortable, but also produces an energetic and responsive ride.  “It quickly became my go-to recovery shoe,” said a member of our test team.

Under Armour Charge RC Storm
Underarmour.com | 9.3 oz | $120

Fit | The two-part upper design of this shoe is completely novel, and the unique design results in sock-like snugness. “I loved the glove-like fit of the shoes,” praised one tester. Another said, “The extremely tight and narrow mid-foot was great at the beginning of runs but once my foot began to swell it left me with arch soreness.” A few testers felt the shoe left extra space in the forefoot.

Feel | The wrap-like fit creates an undeniable connection with the shoe. Most testers felt the sole offers superior proprioceptive “feel” for the trail and enough agility for quick maneuvering. Several testers, however, wanted more protection against trail hazards. “Cushioning is sufficient, stability is reasonable, yet the upper is not particularly supportive or protective, most notably lacking a toe bumper,” said one.

Ride | Testers describe the Charge RC Storm as a very flexible neutral cushioned shoe with a fairly smooth ride. Testers said, “The rubber composition and tread pattern are good for most trails,” but it struggled on rock. The sole has a noticeable “snap” that most found ideal for short-distance races or faster workouts like hill repeats and tempo runs. Open areas in the midsole and outsole of the shoe leave small parts of the foot unprotected.

Montrail Rogue Fly
Montrail.com | 7.6 oz | $105

Fit | Testers raved about the connection between their feet and the shoe. “This is like a track spike for the trails,” said one tester. “You want to run fast as soon as you put them on.” Snug from heel to toe like a racing shoe should be, the low-volume mesh upper is sufficiently stretchy and pliable to give the toes some room to move.

Feel | It has the flexibility and quick-cadence demeanor of a road racing shoe, but the feisty attitude of a trail racer. The thin forefoot sole and low-profile lug pattern allow for great interaction with the ground, especially at higher speeds. “Your feet can really sense the ground,” said one tester.

Ride | Despite the significant heel slopes, a trait that can promote heel striking, the Rogue Fly doesn’t suffer from slower heel-first jogging. Instead, it begs to be run at faster speeds with a forefoot or mid-foot gait. It’s a smooth operator on dirt roads and smooth dirt trails. It has enough moxie and agility to survive mildly technical routes, although it’s not great on craggy mountain trails because of the spartan toe box and forefoot construction.

The North Face Single-Track Hayasa
Thenorthface.com | 8.9 oz | $110

Fit | The Single-Track Hayasa is a versatile shoe suited to a wide variety of surfaces, from pavement to gravel roads, dirt trails and rocky mountain routes. Part of what allows it to succeed is the fit. Our testers found it to be snug in the heel, moderately tight in the arch and roomy in the forefoot.

Feel | The upper allows the foot to move dynamically, which felt sloppy. Our testers found it to be light enough, but not featherweight like some of the more minimalist trail outliers available. “I really liked the weight of the shoe. I often find trail shoes to be a bit heavy and cumbersome,” commented one tester. “However, the one thing I would like more of is a little more cushioning under the forefoot.”

Ride | The foam cushioning is just enough to shield the blow on hard surfaces, but it doesn’t numb the foot to the trail. Its above-average stability comes more from the wide, flat outsole. “This shoe helps create a stable platform,” said one tester. Our testers considered the ride to be smooth and suggested that it could run at moderately fast speeds without too much effort.

Brooks PureGrit
Brooksrunning.com | 8.7 oz | $100

Fit | Brooks created a nimble trail shoe with a minimalist-style sole that’s  low enough to feel the ground. Fit in the rear-foot and mid-foot is the key to making a shoe with this much agility. Testers categorized the fit as being reliably snug, allowing the runner to bounce along the trail without losing his connection to the sole. There’s a little extra room in the toe box, and some testers found the forefoot to be a little loose, but the design isn’t overly generous.

Feel | Allowing the runner to sense the ground without subjecting the foot to abuse from sharp roots, rocks and other debris on technical trails is a difficult task, but the PureGrit pulls it off. It feels like a minimal shoe, but it has sufficient cushioning and a durable rubber outsole to keep most of the pointy things away. It is light, nimble and decidedly soft on all terrain.

Ride | The ride is cushy on most surfaces. “It definitely felt a lot ‘foamier’ that most trail shoes I’ve run in, and a lot more flexible, for that matter,” one tester said. That softness was mostly appreciated, especially for long training runs, but a few testers said they didn’t feel as zippy as they’d like for faster workouts and short-distance races.

New Balance Trail Minimus MT 00
Newbalance.com | 4.4 oz | $110

Fit | The fit of this slipper-like shoe is not as snug as you might expect. None of our testers complained, but a few remarked that it was a bit loose under the arch. “I’ll admit that I was a bit apprehensive at first but was pleasantly surprised by the comfort and freedom that this shoe offers,” said a tester. Most welcomed the smidge of extra room in the toe box and appreciated the uninhibited flexibility.

Feel | This is the pinnacle of minimalism for the trails. “It feels like an extension of your foot, almost like a sock with a little bit of protection underneath,” one tester said. While there is great foot-to-shoe connection, “you hardly know you’re wearing anything if you’re on smooth, soft terrain,” said one tester.

Ride | On smooth dirt, you can run confidently with a quick leg turnover. “I really felt the connection to the ground, and running on groomed trails was great because of the weight and feel,” one tester raved. Gait becomes choppy over rugged and rocky surfaces, however, as you try to avoid obstacles because every pebble and stick makes an impression in the sole, which provides almost no protection.