First Impression: New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4

The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v1 is one of my hall of fame shoes. Light, smooth, and so good looking that my first pair survived Mardi Gras 2015 in New Orleans and still drew compliments when I wore them with jeans. I have two pairs stocked, but I love them so much I can’t bear to waste them on unworthy runs. Unworthy runs? I’m glad that I can pass off being weird as “just a runner thing.”

I have run in every version of the Zante. The v2 just didn’t connect with me — it felt surprisingly heavy and the upper seemed like a huge step back from the sleek, race-ready fit of the v1. Fortunately, the Zante got back on track with the v3. The upper was still beefed up over v1, but the snappy ride felt more lively and directed than the ponderous v2. Not only that, but the looks of the v3 rivaled the classy style of the v1. I fell in love all over again. But the model lifecycle kept rolling on and the Zante v4 came out before I had a chance to pre-order it. How will it stack up against its predecessors?

I have exactly one run in the Zante v4 and I have some thoughts.

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4 First Impressions

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Weight: Just under 8 oz for each shoe (16 oz for the pair — why does nobody ever express it like that? It doesn’t sound nearly as appealing to haul a pound of footwear with you on your run.) They feel supportive enough to give me confidence, but they still disappeared on the run. I’m happy so far.

Fresh Foam Zante v4 weight

Ride: Buttery smooth through the gait cycle, as is typical of the Zante for me. The high toe spring keeps me light on my feet and turning my legs over quickly.

Fit: Dialed in. The secure midfoot hold and somewhat roomy (albeit pointy) toebox suits my foot perfectly. I’m not swimming in this shoe like the disappointingly slipper-like Saucony Kinvara v5 — this is a precision fit that’s still forgiving and comfortable.

Comfort: I don’t have enough miles in these to know how beat up my legs will feel after a long run. So far they feel great. Not pillowy soft, but not harsh. I expect they’ll work well for me for up to the half marathon distance, but won’t be quite enough shoe to go 26.2 for me.

Traction: Damp roads (not all the way wet — damp roads are way more slippery in my experience) will be the true test. No complaints on dry sidewalks after the first run.

Flexibility: I didn’t feel the shoe fighting me at any point. Must be good!

Durability: Questionable! I have a long history of chewing up soft blown rubber on many Brooks models. The cushioning properties of this kind or rubber comes at a cost, and the soles of my shoes look alarmingly well-worn after a single 4-mile outing. No issues with the upper, which seems far more solid.

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Looks: Simply gorgeous. The scarlet colorway will readily pair with casual clothes. I fly frequently for work, and being able to pack just one pair of casual sneakers is a huge plus.

Price: These retail for $89.95 at Running Warehouse. I used a discount code from a bigger, cooler blog for 10% off. Many shoes constructed with premium materials are priced well above $100, so durability concerns aside, these do seem like a good value. They don’t feel like a budget model.

Overall: I expect the Zante v4 to be a fun shoe for uptempo efforts and low double-digit outings. I’ll write an update once I’ve logged more miles in them.
 

New Balance 870v3 Review

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I’ve officially run 65.66 miles in my New Balance 870v3s (note: I purchased these shoes myself) and I feel ready to render my verdict on them. I’ll start with a one-sentence review, gloss over a couple of specs, and then dive deeper (much deeper, seriously, grab an oxygen tank) into how I arrived at my opinion. This is, after all, merely my opinion. Your mileage may vary. I subscribe to the belief that there are no bad shoes, just shoes that aren’t necessarily right for you.

One Sentence Review: The New Balance 870v3 is an excellent lightweight mild stability shoe that disappears on my feet.

Specs: Weight

Per the New Balance website, the 870v3 weighs in at a svelte 9.8 ounces. Generally, the weights provided by manufacturers are for a men’s size 9. Naturally, the weight varies across the sizes, and sometimes due to manufacturing differences. My version of the 870v3 is a men’s size 8D in the creatively named “Silver with Yellow & Red” color scheme (I often opt for men’s models in order to steer clear of pink overload), and I imagine that it’s less than 9.8 ounces. I don’t have a postage scale and I don’t obsess over shoe weight (I raced my PR 5k in the Brooks Glycerin, which is by no means a lightweight shoe), so I’m not going to check this. In my mind, a shoe with stability features that is under 10 ounces is a light shoe for the category.

Specs: Drop

The New Balance 870v3 has a ~8 mm drop.

The minimalist/natural running craze of a couple of years ago (I think we can partially attribute this to Born to Run) brought about a focus on the heel-to-toe midsole stack height differential, also known as drop. Traditional running shoes have a heel that’s significantly higher than the forefoot (as much as 16 mm higher in some examples), which promotes heel striking because there is so much heel to the shoe, it hits the ground first during the gait cycle. Conversely, low drop and zero drop shoes promote a midfoot or forefoot strike. Minimalist runners maintain that a midfoot or forefoot strike is more natural and more efficient than a heel strike. There are forefoot- and midfoot-strikers can run with a forefoot or midfoot strike, respectively, in both low- and high-drop shoes, just as there are inveterate heel-strikers that will heel strike no matter what type of shoes they wear. Shoes don’t always make a difference in gait, but they can have an effect.

About Me

Knowing a bit about me will help you evaluate my opinion of these shoes, and how it may line up with (or not line up with) your own.

I’m 5’4″ and 127 pounds. As far as I can tell, I’m a mild pronator, which means that my feet roll outwards during my gait cycle than slightly inward as I make contact with the ground, with most of the motion happening in my left foot. Rather than toeing off directly at the front tip of my shoe, my left foot will often toe off on the left (outside) edge of the sole. Likewise, the right foot will sometimes toe off on the right (outside) edge of the sole. The pronation is relatively mild and causes me no discomfort, so I generally wear neutral shoes, or shoes with minimal motion control features.

Perhaps due to the pronation, I’m hard on the soles of shoes — the rubber gets chewed up very quickly.

I prefer long distances and I am currently training for my first ultramarathon, which will be a 50k race. This fall I completed too many races for me to remember offhand, including eight weekends in a row with races of at least ten miles, including a four week stretch in which I ran two marathons, a half marathon, then another (and fastest of all!) marathon.

Because of my penchant for high mileage, I tend to prefer cushioned shoes, and I like to have as much material protecting me underfoot as is feasible.
However, my tastes run the gamut. My running shoe geekery is really just beginning. When I first started running in 2008, I wore innumerable pairs of the Mizuno Wave Rider 12, 13, 14, and I think maybe even the 15 — and while I believe in not fixing what ain’t broke, how boring is that?! I’ve since come to appreciate different styles of shoes, and I now employ a [large] rotation of different models that meet my varying day-to-day needs.

Runs I Logged in the New Balance 870v3

In order to accurately represent how extensively/not extensively I wear tested the New Balance 870v3, below are the eight runs I completed in my pair:

  • December 3, 2013: 4.12 miles, 37:33.57 (9:07/mile average pace) on mostly hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 4, 2013: 6.27 miles, 56:00.70 (8:56/mile average pace) on mostly hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 10, 2013: 9.05 miles, 1:25:57 (9:30/mile average pace) on some hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 13, 2013: 4.12 miles, 41:22.55 (10:02/mile average pace) on mostly hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 14, 2013: 10.30 miles, 1:31:54 (8:55/mile average pace) on mostly steep, hilly sidewalks
  • December 18, 2013: 3.30 miles, 27:02 (8:11/mile average pace) on a treadmill
  • December 21, 2013: 18.44 miles, 2:58:39 (9:41/mile average pace) on a paved trail, a hardback/gravel trail, and some hilly sidewalks
  • December 22, 2013: 10:06 miles, 1:37:01 (9:39/mile average pace) on hilly sidewalks and a paved trail

I didn’t do any speed work and I didn’t run on any technical trails, so those are two gaps in my testing (and really, in my training as I would probably benefit from both).

Comfort: 9/10
The 870v3 has a medium-cushioned heel collar and a lightly padded tongue. It’s not plush, and it’s not spartan either. It’s just right, and it’s comfortable. It’s comfortable to the point of being difficult to review because after the first run, I didn’t notice the shoe during my runs; it melded so seamlessly with my feet that I simply didn’t think about it.

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During that first run in which I somewhat noticed the shoes, what I noticed most was the marshmallowy softness of the heel foam. It wasn’t that the midsole foam was too soft, or lacked responsiveness — it was just cushier than I was accustomed to.
The tightly woven exterior mesh has managed to keep my feet comfortable through chilly winter mornings. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that if I’m dressed appropriately for a run in the cold, I’ll be uncomfortable for the first mile or so and then warm up to the approximate temperature that I’ll be at for the duration of the run. I can accept a cold face, and to some degree, cold legs, but I just can’t countenance overly drafty shoes. The 870v3 hasn’t let in a single gust and my feet haven’t sweat any more than usual in them. I may not be so appreciative of this warm construction during blazing summer runs, but I’m thrilled with it for winter comfort.
Until recently, I didn’t wear running shoes casually. I now exclusively wear running shoes as my casual sneakers. I like the look of retro runners and I like the supportive comfort they offer. Since I don’t like putting unnecessary wear on my gear, I stick with a pair of Nike Pegasus 83/30s that I bought for a song (between My Coke Rewards points turned into a Nike gift card and a warranty voucher for a product I’d originally bought using a Nike gift card obtained with My Coke Rewards points, these sweet retro mashup Pegs cost me $12 and were shipped free — running gear isn’t cheap, so I save where I can).
However, when traveling light a couple of weeks ago, I wore my New Balance 870v3s in order to save space in my overnight bag. They have a very different feel as a walking shoe — the two tread pods under the lateral side of the arch are somewhat noticeable. I consider the feeling more reassuring and supportive rather than irritating, but I found myself stopping to check my soles for pebbles until I figured out what was creating the nagging sensation of something under the arch.
After spending too long in a pair of boots, I stepped into a pair of ultra-cushioned running shoes and literally sighed, “Ahhhhhh” in relief. That feeling is my benchmark for a perfect comfort score (10/10). The 870v3 hits the Goldilocks sweet spot of unobtrusive comfort, but isn’t quite enough shoe to be my go-to choice for a recovery run, so I give it a 9/10 — very high marks for comfort.
Responsiveness: 8/10
The flexible forefoot of the 870v3 has plenty of zip for me. You know that joyful, light-footed, bouncy feeling you get during the best part of your run? For me, that’s usually at least eight miles into a run; I suffer through my first three or four miles so I can get to that joyful place. These shoes are good for that: when you’re feeling it, they can fly high and, to steal a phrase from the marketing folks at Brooks, they can run happy.
I like feeling the road, and feeling connected to it. The 870v3 has plenty of midsole and outsole material to protect feet from harsh rocks and cracks, but still allows for ground-feel.
Matched up with the shoe’s overall light weight, the soft (but spring, not mushy) midsole material lends this shoe a very nimble feel. I had no trouble dodging thick crowds of pedestrians, even late into my longest run in the shoes.
These aren’t the lightest or pop-iest shoes around; I tend to think of firmer shoes as being zippier. When I first stepped into a pair of Mizuno Wave Elixir 7s, I thought, “Now this is my running shoe!” I immediately fell in love with the Elixir 7’s mostly-firm feel underfoot and the bank vault-like heel lockdown. For me, the New Balance 870v3 isn’t quite that much of a lean, mean performance machine, but it is my current favorite high mileage option for its adequately responsive, bouncy midsole. I give it 8/10 for responsiveness.
Durability: 6/10
I can’t fault New Balance for the construction of the 870v3. No seams are ripping and no parts of the sole are delaminating — it’s put together well, but the materials themselves aren’t particularly durable.
However, the outsole is far more chewed up than I’d expected it to be at this point. I know I’m hard on outsole rubber, but I’ve never gone through the forefoot of a shoe as quickly as I have in the 870v3. When I blow out a shoe, it’s usually in the lateral heel first.

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The rubber is soft — grippy and sticky, rather than hard and tire-like. If the wear decelerates throughout the life of the shoe, I may get more miles out of it, but at this point, it looks like a 250-mile shoe, maybe 300 miles if I’m lucky.

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Another negative surprise with the 870v3: the upper over the lateral forefoot, just below the pinky toe is starting to fray slightly. I’ve never busted through an upper in a shoe ever, so this is completely unexpected, and completely disappointing if it turns into a hole.

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Given the chewed up upper and chewed up outsole, I had to dock this shoe several points: 6/10.

Looks: 8/10

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I like loud, flashy running shoes. The 870v3 is fairly conservative, relative to some of the other shoes in my collection. The yellow midsole of my pair gives this colorway some interest, but isn’t a real wow factor. However, the clean lines and silvery mesh make this shoe look sharp, so it earns its 8/10.

Overall: 9/10
Comfort and responsiveness push this score into the excellent range. So far the New Balance 870v3 is proving to be a stellar lightweight, supportive distance trainer for me. I’m hoping that it continues to hold up…in the long run.

Running in the Snow and Other Musings

Since my office follows the lead of the federal government’s OPM, today is a snow day for me. Woohoo!

I checked the OPM guidance before heading out on my run. When I stepped outside, I laughed inwardly a little about the government’s temerity: it wasn’t that cold and the wet patches on the roads and sidewalks weren’t icy. My run was going great for the first 7.5 miles, until the sky opened up and started pelting me with sharp needles of snow. I squinted through bombarded eyelids and managed to run the 1.5 miles back to my house as the sidewalks and streets quickly acquired a crusty layer of snow. My hoped for 14-mile run was curtailed into a 9-mile run. Oh what might have been!

In the same “oh what might have been!” vein, I realize that I missed out on a chance to do some interesting reviews based on the OG versions of two popular models and updated versions. I had the OG New Balance 890 and the OG Brooks PureFlow. It’s been too long since I last ran in either pair for me to make any meaningful comparisons to the 890v4 or the PureFlow 2, both of which I recently picked up.

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OG New Balance 890

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OG Brooks PureFlow

And it’s not just a matter of dusting off my old shoes and taking them out for a few runs. It’s been so long since I wore those shoes that my feet have changed shape. They went from a women’s 9.5 to a women’s 8.5 and back to a women’s 9.5/men’s 8 (if the men’s colors are better; read: not pink) and these shoes were from my size 8.5 days. Consequently, I donated them to a shoe drive for Soles4Souls held by Jenny’s Crossfit gym so someone who needs them can enjoy them since they’re still in good condition. So really, this musing about a missed opportunity has a happy ending! And besides, there’s plenty of shoe review goodness coming down the pipe for your reading pleasure: New Balance 890v4, Saucony Kinvara 4, New Balance 870v3, New Balance 1400v2, Brooks PureFlow 2, Brooks PureCadence 2, the resurrected Brooks Launch, and maybe a few others.

First Impressions of the New Balance 870v3

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Today I took my New Balance 870v3s for a test drive — probably my first-ever pair of American-made running shoes. My first impression was very favorable.

This past Saturday I went to a Crossfit BFit class (not even actual Crossfit) which kicked my butt pretty soundly. Later that day I went for my 12-mile run. Sunday morning I hurt. I complained to Jenny that I might be “grievously injured.” But I still went for my 8-mile run.

(Turns out I wasn’t grievously injured.)

I rolled my legs out with a lacrosse ball during my Monday rest day, which helped a lot, so I was at about 70% for my run this morning. Still some nagging tightness in my legs. I preface my impressions with these comments because I think it’s important to note that I wasn’t trying these shoes on my best day. Not every running day is going to be my best running day, so I think that’s reasonable.

Bottom line up front: I liked these shoes.

When I first laced them up, I really noticed that the interior wasn’t very roomy. I don’t have tall or high-volume feet, but I felt that the 870v3s short height-wise: sole up to laces (not short toe to heel, the length was good). The low interior volume disappeared during the run into snug comfort. I expect more roominess as the shoe breaks in. These shoes aren’t as plush as my Brooks Glycerin 11s, and I didn’t expect them to be, but they do boast a cozy and supportive upper.

Best of all: no pain, even with a creaky body and a probably messed up stride. I enjoyed smooth transitions and a soft heel. The Abzorb foam in the heel is mushy to the touch and that softness is felt underfoot. Nice and soft, not sloppy. The heel isn’t exactly a push-off zone in my stride, so I’m not worried about responsiveness there.

First shoe impressions often hold, but my opinion of the 870v3 may change when I put more miles on it. Check back later for a full review.