Last week I received an email from one of my local running shops about a chance to preview a shoe from Adidas featuring an “amazing new technology”. Generally I tend to ignore this stuff, the only technology I’m interested from my shoes is usually the ability to not tear my skin apart while being light weight and mostly staying out of my way. However, Peter Larson over at Runblogger had an interesting article on his issues with the marketing related to the “Boost” technology. It intrigued me enough to take a look.
In short, Adidas is claiming that their midsole has extremely high “energy return”. What does that mean? Well, they’d love for you to think it means you can bounce around like a bunny in them, but in reality the thought is that you can manage to get a little bit more of a propulsive thrust from them if your form is correct for their type of running.
Here’s the issue: joints. In general, when you run you put a whole lot of stress, strain and force into your joints. Ideally, you run with a form that allows you to softly, gently absorb the shifting of your weight as you churn forward. All that, however, goes to hell if you are wearing the equivalent of coked up kangaroos on your feet.
That’s where the “forefoot/midfoot strike” running style comes in. If you watch video of someone like Scott Jurek (ultra running legend, overall pretty cool cat) run, you will see that he uses the same upright, high turnover, gentle stepping form of most bare-footers. He just happens to do it on a pair of traditional running shoes. How? Well, he’s Scott Jurek, duh. So it can be done. The question follows, can it be done by me, in these shoes? Perhaps…
Still, I gave some thought to the basic physics and realized that Adidas had a problem here. They claimed “high energy return” and also “great cushioning”. Those two things are diametrically opposed. You know what has great energy return? A GOLF BALL. Would you like to run on a golf ball? Actually I might…
So I arrived at Fleet Feet Davis (thanks for hosting and for putting up with my stream of consciousness blabbering you guys!) at 7:15am with a lot of questions and, to be honest, pretty low expectations. The last time I ran more than a mile in this style of shoe I ended up hurt and sad. Still life is nothing without danger and challenge, so target that explosion and fire!
I met the rep and immediately liked him. We started chatting about what I usually run in and he admitted he was a forefoot striker himself and actually really enjoyed the new material. What else was he going to say, right? In any case, he tossed me a pair of size tens to try on.
“How far can I run in them”, I asked.
“I’m here till close”, he answered with a smile.
Well OK then.
The shoes were very comfortable, a flexible upper made out of a breathable neoprene-type material, though thinner, strengthened with what looked like a bonded pvc or rubber laid across in a supportive pattern. The lacing area was comfortable, with a very light, soft tongue. The heel was high (usually not something I like, but this one was ok) but soft, without the hard heel counter of something like my Altras. The forefoot area was narrower than I’m used to, but because the material is so flexible, I was able to get a fairly decent toe splay. If they make a low-drop version I’d love for them to give the front end just a bit more of a blunt shape to give the piggies room.
I stood up and immediately went WHOA. The shoes had a fairly high stack height, and a monster drop of 11mm. Yipes. However when I took a few steps I couldn’t help but smile. They WERE kinda bouncy. The rep saw me smile and chuckled to himself, continuing to set up his display. I put a few things away in my car and took off onto the Davis Arboretum.
(At this point, let me just say, I ADORE running in Davis, especially along the Arboretum. This early in the morning there was almost nobody there, it was cool and quiet. A perfect spot for a test drive.)
I took off at a lopping gait, getting used to the feel of being in a pair of high heels. I immediately fell into a heel-strike pattern of running and my knee complained. It was startling how quickly the pain came on, but I instantly shifted to running midfoot and the ache abated. With an 11mm drop it was difficult to strike forefoot, and a “torsion bar” under the midsole tended to twist my foot when I fell into my standard strike pattern, so I adjusted a bit to the shoe and opened up.
A mile in I found myself smiling. The shoe was quite comfortable and I was, for the most part, enjoying the springy nature. Had the shoe been 1/2 the stack height and 0 to 4mm drop I probably would have put in an order, the upper was being very nice to my feet. The bottom of the shoe also provided fantastic protection from irregularities in the road. While this shoe was definitely designed as a road-specific vehicle, I took the sucker over rocks, roots and very nasty off-camber situations and it felt great. A slight alteration of the tread pattern and you’d have yourself a fairly nice trail shoe Adidas! (You’re welcome, feel free to call it The Adidas Fat Panther, I’ll take a 1% cut off every sale lol).
However, unfortunately there were a few issues that, for me, made the shoe not work. The first was, of course, the traditional stack height/drop. 11mm is a big drop for me and it just made the shoe difficult to run in. There was also that thermoplastic torsionbar underneath the shoe which caused it to twist my foot when striking in my normal pattern, which has some pronation to it. Nothing I can do, my right ankle is a wreck. If Adidas decoupled the torsionbar, separating it so that multiple parts of it just sat separately underneath each of the strike pods, that would make the shoe significantly better for someone like me. It goes without saying that I would personally prefer, at minimum, less of a drop and probably less stack height as well. I’m unsure of what that might do to the shoe’s bouncy nature, but I’m open to testing a few models. Adidas reps feel free to add me on Facebook at facebook.com/thefatpanther and leave a message. *grin* (I won’t hold my breath)
The other very odd thing about the shoe’s design was a “rudder” or “spoiler” sticking out the back of the heel. I’m sure that some designer somewhere thought this was a good idea (and Altra had something similar on one of their trail shoes, so Adidas isn’t alone) but for me it made downhills painful as I had a lot of trouble not catching the damn thing as I descended. Perhaps they expect people to heel roll down hills, though how a knee is supposed to survive that is beyond me. That being said, some quick exacto work would rid yourself of this oddity in no time flat. Seeing as I don’t plan on the heel getting much action, removing rubber there would be no tragedy.
Overall I was very pleased with this new shoe from Adidas, and I came into the test ride thinking something quite the opposite. The “bounce” you get from the boost material, when combined with a soft, mid-foot strike pattern, gives a lovely solid feel underfoot. (Note: a very fit woman who was also testing the shoe noted that she felt the forefoot was under-cushioned though she liked the bouncy heel, which was exactly the opposite of my opinion. Her standard running shoes were a pair of Nike Free minimalist shoes. So your mileage may very. Pun definitely intended.) The uppers were fantastic, very comfortable right out of the box. I ran over 4 miles on them the first time out and didn’t have a single hot spot, blister point or discomfort. I’d lounge around in the house in these, seriously.
If you’re a heel striker you’re going to seriously have a crush on this shoe. While I hate to fall headlong into cliche, it is a game-changer. Not because it is going to “reduce oxygen consumption by 1%” or whatever nonsense Adidas is touting. No, it changes the game because it is a shoe that somehow manages to cushion well while not feeling like you’re running on sand or a mattress. I will go on record here as saying if Adidas takes this material and drops it into a 6mm stack, 4mm drop shoe with the same comfortable upper, it is going to KILL in the stores. In the current traditional format, I think people are still going to very much enjoy this shoe. Not because of the marketing or the neat displays or the name, but because when you try them on and jog around, they’re going to feel pretty damn swell on your feet (as long as you’re a neutral heel/mid striker, that is).
Score: 8/10 RAWRS (Recommended for certain runners, I’d probably buy it, some room for improvement)
High: Comfortable, bouncy traditional high-drop running shoe. Upper is super nice.
Low: Torsion bar can cause twisting for pronators, weird rudder, egad that price!