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.
 

Hoka One One Hupana Review

temporaryTL; DR: Not your mama’s marshmallow-y HOKAs. Light, fast, and responsive enough for fast efforts, the Hupana is a model I find myself reaching for over and over. Love it. (Click here to jump to the overall rating if you aren’t down for the full 1,200-ish word review.)

After some major missteps with the Clifton (making a near-perfect lightweight do-anything model heavier, more structured, and decidedly un-Clifton-like) HOKA One One gets its act together with the Hupana. This shoe has a sleek knit upper plus sole geometry and stack height comparable to a “regular” running shoe. A firmed up version of HOKA’s RMAT foam does double duty as both midsole and outsole, lending the Hupana a quiet, smooth ride. I put over 75 road and treadmill miles on these before I knew it — despite having loads of shoes in my collection (a truly unhealthy number of pairs), these were the ones I consistently wanted on my feet. It’s not all sunshine and roses with these, but it mostly is. Read on for my review of the Hupana in ten key areas, ultimately arriving at an overall numerical score out of a possible 100 points.

Disclosure: I bought these shoes myself and my opinions are entirely my own.

Weight
In the same way that I failed with my Saucony Freedom ISO review, I did not weigh the Hupana before I ran in them, and weighing them now after a fair amount of use is not only a gross way to use my food scale, but doesn’t give the model a fair shake. As much as it pains me to do it, I have to rely on the stated catalog weight. I have some reviews in the pipeline with at-home weigh-ins, so I won’t always make excuses! Running Warehouse has the exact same women’s model weight below listed for a size 8, not the size 7 specified by HOKA One One, so I’m leaving their specs out this time because I suspect that’s a mistake, not some different size, same weight sorcery cooked up by HOKA.

Per Hoka One One: 8.2 oz (men’s size 9)/6.3 oz (women’s size 7)

For about half an ounce more than the Saucony Kinvara 7 (Kinvara 8 review coming soon), you get a densely woven upper (will run warm in the summer, for sure), a semi-plush inner lining, and a thick, protective midsole. While the Hupana isn’t as lean as the Kinvara 7, it’s easily as spry and willing to pick up the pace. Its 8.2 oz weight matches that of the Nike Zoom Elite 9 (review coming soon) and is a couple tenths of an ounce lighter than the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v3 (review also coming soon). The Hupana is in good — FAST — company with these similarly lightweight models. 8/10

Ride
You already know what I’m going to say since I’m barely holding myself back from gushing on this point. Smooth heel to to transitions. Quiet footfalls (noisy shoes are a pet peeve of mine as they make headphones-free running less than serene). Good groundfeel and feedback without being bone-jarringly firm or harsh on my legs. In short, the ride is superb. 10/10

Fit
No-fuss fit with excellent lockdown thanks to the stiff knit upper. The heel is adequately plush without being skate shoe-like, allowing for secure foot hold at minimal weight.  Logos printed on both insoles are completely intact, so I know my feet aren’t sliding around. Pull the laces and these are good to go with no fine tuning needed. 10/10

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Comfort
The Hupana is another shoe that disappears on my feet so my thoughts don’t run to “ahh, so comfy!” as I’m running, but it’s also plenty cozy enough that it’s a delight to slip into after a long day in high heels. No complaints, but the comfort isn’t something to write home about. The Hupana is performance-oriented, so I don’t think that’s a knock against it at all. 8/10

Traction
The grip is surprisingly excellent. I felt as surefooted as a billy goat on wet roads and sidewalks in these. I was pleasantly surprised that midsole foam could grab the ground so well. Even wit some areas of moderate wear in the toe and lateral heel, the traction is undiminished. However, one thing to note about the Hupana’s midsole-outsole: it builds up static like crazy. Shuffle across a carpeted floor in these and you’ll turn yourself into a weapon. Worse, run on a treadmill and you’ll shock yourself over and over if you reach for a water bottle or incidentally touch the machine with your hands. I released a shock so powerful on my home treadmill that it actually turned the machine off. You’ve been warned! That said, I’m still very impressed with the traction and I can live with the perils of using the Hupana on a treadmill. 10/10

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Flexibility
It’s not reasonable to expect much flexibility out of a sole that’s just a thick slab of foam. Even with a number of flex grooves carved out, the Hupana is hard to bend, with a flexion point just in front of the first row of lace eyelets. I don’t think this negatively impacts the ride character, but it’s not an asset either.  7/10

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Durability
This version of RMAT foam is way more resilient than the easily shredded RMAT found in the Clifton 1. My pair of Hupanas is showing a bit of wear in the toe (light wear), forefoot (light wear) and lateral heel (moderate wear), but otherwise looks great. Much of the shallow texturing on the “outsole” is still intact. No creases in the midsole and no fraying in the upper or laces. The upper is stiff enough that it holds a sharp crease at the flexion point just in front of the first row of eyelets, so that may be a failure point in the future. 9/10

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Looks
The two-tone blue knit upper on my pair is accented with orange at the toe, heel, and eyelets. It’s more sophisticated for a HOKA (who has produced a veritable glut of garish models, like the Speed Goat), but it’s not quite there for me. You could slap a Skechers logo on the side and I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. A truly monochrome knit might have been more sleek. I don’t totally hate the looks of these, but they don’t excite me either. 7/10

Price
I’m pretty accustomed to spending between $120-$140 for running shoes. The Hupana’s MSRP is $115, which is pretty great. It’s not the cheapest performance model out there (that title probably belongs to the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v3), but it’s reasonable and given its durability and excellent ride, it’s a great value. 9/10

Suitability for Intended Purpose
HOKA bills the Hupana as an all-day shoe that can carry you from the grocery store and daily chores right through to your run. It’s meant to be as performance-oriented with its RMAT outsole as it is stylish with its knit upper. I agree with the performance side of this, but am disinclined to wear the Hupana with anything other than running clothes. However, it gets the uptempo running part of the equation so right that I can’t fault it too much for getting the lifestyle shoe part wrong. 9/10

Overall
To recap for you TL;DR folks:
Weight: 8/10
Ride: 10/10
Fit: 10/10
Comfort: 8/10
Traction: 10/10
Flexibility: 7/10
Durability: 9/10
Looks: 7/10
Price: 9/10
Suitability for Intended Purpose: 9/10
TOTAL: 87/100

I’m a tough grader, but in my defense, there are a lot of excellent shoes to choose from, so it’s important to know where a particular model shines and where it stinks. Overall, the Hupana is great and will likely be on my feet for a marathon this spring.

Until next time, happy trails!

-Ultrarunner Hope

Saucony Freedom ISO Review

img_2413TL;DR: If New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v1 and Adidas UltraBOOST had a baby, it would be the Saucony Freedom ISO. This shoe carries on the legacy of the smooth, quiet, Zante v1 as well as the marshmallowy midsole and high price tag of the UltraBOOST. Well worth adding to your quiver of shoes if it’s in your budget. (Click here to jump to the overall rating if you aren’t down for the full 1,500-ish word review.)

In prepping for this review I put over 70 miles on the Freedom ISO on a mix of roads and treadmill belts, with no runs over 10 miles. Having experienced some burnout from training (as much as I love it, it can start to seem like work at times if I’m not in the right headspace), I’ve taken a very conservative approach to ramping up my mileage in preparation for marathon and ultra-length efforts planned for this spring and my Freedom ISO use happened to fall at a time when I was focusing on shorter, intense workouts (read: FUN!) over long miles. I found it a bit difficult to collect coherent thoughts about this shoe because it simply disappears on my feet during a run. If I’m not thinking about it, I’m certainly not making intelligent and useful observations about it! However, not noticing a shoe is a great testament to that shoe: it feels natural, like an extension of your foot; it’s there for you and will do what you ask of it without complaint. That’s the Freedom ISO. If you’re looking for a more distinctive ride character from a shoe with an MSRP of $160, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re happy with a workhorse shoe with a smooth ride, a bit of squish, and that is lightweight enough to not slow you down on the long haul (I imagine), the Freedom ISO might be for you. Read on as I assess this model’s strengths and weaknesses over ten key traits, ultimately arriving of a score out of a possible 100 points.

Disclosure: I bought these myself and my opinions are entirely my own.
Further Disclosure: I may have eaten far more than one serving of Tagalong Girl Scout cookies in the course of writing this blog post.

Weight
I didn’t weigh these before running in them and I think it’s both unfair to weigh them now when who knows how much rubber has worn away, dirt has become embedded in the upper, etc. and gross to do so since I use the same little scale for food prep. So I have to place my faith in what I can find online.

Per Saucony: 9.0 oz (men’s size 9)/8.1 oz (women’s size 8)
Per Running Warehouse: 9.1 oz (men’s size 9)/8.0 oz (women’s size 8)

While the weight is totally outclassed by the dreamy, feather-light Hoka One One Clifton v1, those extra ounces get you a more structured, supportive upper and an almost-full-coverage outsole (the EVERUN is visible through a window under the arch) that is showing virtually no wear for me. As someone who routinely chews up outsole rubber (Brooks shoes with their soft blown rubber look abused after a single run on my feet.), this is a welcome feature. 7/10

Ride
The almost-full-coverage sole makes for smooth, quiet transitions, yet is flexible enough to feel nimble. When I’m dodging pedestrians in Washington, DC, I want to feel light on my feet and the Freedom ISO delivers. It’s not slappy on the treadmill either — this shoe readily picked up the pace for whisper-quiet footfalls on the ol’ human hamster wheel. The toe spring is adequate to encourage fluid motion without fatiguing the foot. A bit squishy like the Adidas UltraBOOST, but that protection will likely be welcome for longer efforts. Reminds me of everything that made the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v1 so great and such a game-changer. 10/10

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Fit
Saucony’s ISOFIT technology beats all comers in my book: knit uppers, engineered mesh uppers, plastic heel clips, Flywire, all of it. This is a shoe with no heel counter that offers such a secure heel lockdown (without using a lock-lacing technique) that the graphic on the footbed didn’t wear off for me on either shoe. My feet stayed where they belonged. Both the interior bootie mesh and exterior mesh feel plush and premium. They hug the foot gently, not in the way that many shoes which tout a “sock-like feel” really feel like squeezing your foot into a too-small tube top with a sole on it. The laces are stretchy without being bungee-like and it’s easy to dial in the fit before each run. 10/10

Comfort
There are probably shoes out there with better step-in comfort (Non-racer Asics spring to mind as ludicrously comfy, though they’re not really my cup of tea.), but these are fantastic. They feel cozy walking around and they feel just as nice on the run. You’ll sacrifice some snap in the ride in exchange for the soft midsole feel, and while these aren’t a great choice for serious 5k racing, they can still pick up the pace gamely. 10/10

Traction
Pretty crappy, honestly. In case you thought this was going to be a total love fest, it’s not. This shoe felt downright dangerous running in straight lines on damp roads, let alone cornering on smooth granite near the White House. Not a winter shoe, probably not a Belgium or Seattle shoe unless you’ll be using it exclusively indoors. I don’t know what it is about Crystal rubber, but it just doesn’t bite the ground very well in any application that I’ve seen. I don’t think this can be rectified with a different lug pattern; the shoe needs a different rubber compound entirely. 3/10

Flexibility
What the Crystal rubber lacks in traction, it makes up for in flexibility. No complaints here as the shoe bends in half easily (albeit in the very middle of the arch, which doesn’t seem completely useful) and doesn’t feel clunky on-foot. 7/10

Durability
With a careful wash, these shoes would probably look brand new still. No fraying on the upper or laces and barely any wear is visible on the outsole. No midsole creasing either. If I didn’t have such a serious running shoe addiction, I could probably put 500 miles on these without issue. 10/10

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Looks
Not as sexy as the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v1 or v3 (I have to watch my girlfriend around the v3 — she wants to steal it — that’s the measure of a beautiful performance running shoe with real crossover appeal), but very striking and pairs well with the loud outfits popular with road runners like myself. Not a great choice for casual wear for me personally, but if I want to let on that I’m a runner, I wouldn’t mind wearing it with street clothes. You can read “EVERUN” through the translucent Crystal rubber outsole, in case you forgot you had a teched-out, premium shoe, or missed the branding on the lateral heel. I’m being a bit snarky since I’d prefer grippy rubber over rubber you can see through, but I do think it’s a cool touch. 7/10

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Price
Oof. $160 is a lot for a running shoe, especially with great models from New Balance, Hoka One One, and even Nike (just to name a few) coming in at less than $120. You do get premium tech for this premium price, but you can get as good of an experience for far less coin elsewhere. EVERUN mimics BOOST in brand name capitalization, bounce, and price, and I think it does it better. 5/10

Suitability for Intended Purpose
Saucony hasn’t limited the Freedom ISO to the “uptempo performance trainer” category or anything like that, but instead has billed it as a shoe that “starts amazing [and] stays amazing.” It was indeed ready to roll out of the box with no break-in required and has remained consistent from day one. Its weight and form factor do put it in that “uptempo performance trainer” bucket, and I think it excels there, but doesn’t lead the pack. The Saucony Kinvara line with its simpler uppers and lighter weight is more of the ideal racer-trainer for me.The fit of the Freedom ISO isn’t race-ready for short distances, but for distances from the half marathon to the marathon it should be quite capable. It can go fast without feeling mushy and it can go slow without feeling ponderous. Without a real stated mission for this shoe from Saucony (at least that I’m aware of), it’s hard to measure its success, but it’s nicer to have an even ten attributes to rate, so I won’t let that stop me. 8/10

Overall
To recap for you TL;DR folks:
Weight: 7/10
Ride: 10/10
Fit: 10/10
Comfort: 10/10
Traction: 3/10
Flexibility: 7/10
Durability: 10/10
Looks: 7/10
Price: 5/10
Suitability for Intended Purpose: 8/10
TOTAL: 77/100

Pretty good score for an otherwise great shoe that’s held back by a steep price and sketchy traction. I’m not promising even a date for my next post since I’ve already proved myself to be a liar on that front, but I’m aiming to post more consistently while still keeping the “quality” (don’t roll your eyes!) high. Until next time, happy trails!

-Ultrarunner Hope

Saucony Kinvara 4 Review

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After a fall full of races in the plush Brooks Glycerin 11, I was looking for a lighter, more minimal running shoe that still had ample cushioning. I wound up purchasing the well-regarded Kinvara, now in its fourth iteration.
The Kinvara 4 is a reduced running shoe. That means that it’s less shoe than many traditional models, but it’s not at the extremely minimal (e.g. Vibram Five Fingers) end of the spectrum.
The Minimalist Features of the Saucony Kinvara 4
-4 mm drop
-Thin upper with few overlays (check out the thin heel cup in the images)
-Limited rubber on the sole located mostly in the forefoot area
-Light weight: 7.7 oz. in a men’s size 9 (per the Saucony website)
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A Bit About Me
-127 lbs, 5’4″
-35-55 miles per week
-Slight overpronator, worst pronation happens with the left foot
-Usually a mild heel striker or midfoot striker
-Prefer long distance (marathon, half marathon, ten miler)
-Training for a 50k
Runs Completed in the Kinvara 4 at the Time of This Review
-November 8, 2013: 1.43 miles, 11:23.33, 7:57/mile average pace, 5:45/mile max pace, hilly roads
-November 19, 2013: 4.17 miles, 38:18.48, 9:11/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-November 26, 2013: 4.10 miles, 35:02.74, 8:33/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-November 27, 2013: 4.12 miles, 39:06.54, 9:29/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-December 5, 2013: 8.24 miles, 1:20:54, 9:49/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks
-December 17, 2013: 6.40 miles, 57:59.90, 9:04/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-December 25, 2013: 8.22 miles, 1:07:07, 8:09.90/mile average pace, 6:58/mile max pace, treadmill
-December 27, 2013: 6.28 miles, 52:00, 8:16.82/mile average pace, 6:44.49/mile max pace, treadmill
-December 27, 2013: 1.82 miles, 14:40, 8:03.52/mile average pace, treadmill
-December 28, 2013: 10.02 miles, 1:31:58, 9:11/mile average pace, somewhat hilly sidewalks
-January 1, 2014: 10.23 miles, 1:28:57, 8:42/mile average pace, somewhat hilly sidewalks and paved trail
Total: 11 runs, 65.03 miles
First Impressions
My first few runs in the Kinvara 4 weren’t that enjoyable. The shoe felt stiff underfoot, and very slappy; each footfall was noisy. (Bear in mind that I was accustomed to smooth transitions and a Cadillac-like ride in the Brooks Glycerin 11.) Not only that, but it made my legs tired. Curiously, the Kinvara 4 felt soft and comfy when I was walking into my house after a run — I’ve never before had a shoe feel better after a run than during the run, without even taking it off.
Current Opinion
Little did I know, the walk-around comfort was a sign of good things to come. All the Kinvara 4 needed was some break-in time. After a few runs, suddenly it ran like a dream. A noisy dream. The slapping sound at each foot strike persists, even while walking on hard surfaces, but the slappy feel and stiffness do not. Initially I was scratching my head at the popular assertion that the Kinvara 4 is a soft shoe, but I do find the cushioning to be moderately soft now. Not soft or plush enough to be my top choice for long distances or recovery runs, but it provides ample protection from the ground while still allowing for good ground feel. The ground feel contributes to a fast, nimble, in-control  feeling in these shoes.
I’ve come to expect perfection out of the box, but the Kinvara 4 took patience. I broke it in, and it broke me in. Eventually I adjusted to the lower drop which, based on the tread wear patterns, genuinely does encourage me to land on my forefoot.
The Saucony Kinvara 4 by the Numbers
Comfort: 7/10
Not at all plush, and not very comfortable for me out of the box, but the Kinvara 4 warmed up into a surprisingly comfortable shoe.
Performance: 8/10
The Kinvara 4 effectively encourages me to run on my midfoot and forefoot a bit more. However, there isn’t enough protection from the ground for me, so while I appreciate the zippy feel, I probably wouldn’t choose this shoe for anything longer than a half marathon, if that.
Construction Quality: 8/10
I had to dock Saucony a couple of points here because the Power Grid logo is upside down on my right shoe — what the heck? But otherwise everything seems to be aligned well. No glue spots or errant sewing. I’d prefer more rubber on the sole, especially in the lateral heel and forefoot areas (I think this is coming in the Kinvara 5), but I understand that the limited rubber saves weight. However, I’m hard on shoe treads and my high-wear areas aren’t all covered in rubber on this shoe.
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Materials Quality: 8/10
I can’t complain about the footbed or the moderately hard-wearing sole rubber, but I’m disappointed in the upper. It’s already ripping at the pinky toe area on both shoes. I’d been warned by other online reviewers that this would happen, but I really didn’t think that it would happen to me since I don’t typically put a lot of wear on the uppers of my shoes.
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Value: 8/10
I purchased the Kinvara 4 at full price at my local running store for about $100. I’m used to buying shoes on sale, but for a full-priced shoe, this is a decent price. However, the limited rubber on the sole and the fraying upper indicate to that the shoe won’t last much longer than 300 miles for me.
Overall: 8/10
A fun, fast shoe that’s a departure from what I usually wear. I’d even go so far as so say that I love them. With the notable exception of the durability issues and the less notable exception of their noisiness, these are great shoes, and I think that I gave them less than perfect marks because of my preference for more traditional shoes and my (unreasonable) expectation that these shoes would deliver a more traditional ride. I’m eagerly awaiting the Kinvara 5, which is slated to debut in June 2014.
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