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

temporary

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

temporary

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

temporary

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

Brooks PureCadence 2 Review

Truly excellent running shoes never go out of style. Color palettes may change and trends may slide up and down the minimalist/maximalist spectrum, but the shoe that works for you will still work for you. Buying last year’s models is a great way to snag premium shoes for cheap. So what if they aren’t the latest and greatest of what’s available?
With this in mind, I offer up the Brooks PureCadence 2 for your consideration. Brooks introduced the PureCadence 3 at the start of 2014, so the PureCadence 2 is on its way out, although it may still be on the wall at your favorite specialty running store, and it’s still widely available online.
Brooks exhorts runners to try the Pure line with the tagline, “Feel more with less.” Somewhat ironically, I consider these shoes to be feature-rich despite the minimalist/reduced running shoe hype.
Features:
-Lightweight: 9.3 oz for men’s size 9
-Low drop: 4 mm drop
-Ideal Heel: undercut heel discourages heel striking
-Nav Band: elasticized band creates a personalized fit
-Stay-tied laces: lumpy lace ends reminiscent of sausages help secure knots — I always double knot my shoes in order to avoid having to stop to re-tie my shoes, so I’m not really in a position to notice any benefit from this feature, but it’s worth identifying
-Split toe: Supposedly this small split at the front of the toe box allows the big toe to flex independently from the other toes. I call bologna here. All I noticed the split toe doing was kicking up rainwater and getting my feet absolutely drenched. Check out my complaints in my mid-testing update about the PureCadence 2.
-Progressive Diagonal Rollbar: a tri-density midsole which controls mild-moderate pronation and smooths transitions. This pronation control is subtle.I can’t recall having been fit for a shoe that was perfect for my specific pronation control needs, so I don’t know what “just right” feels like, but I do know what crazy floppy and out of control feels like (I’m looking at you, Adidas Energy Boost), and this felt controlled and comfortable.
-Burrito style tongue: the tongue is only loose on one side, so it doesn’t squish down into the front shoe when you stick your foot in the shoe. I thought I would hate this, but the tongue is the right size so it doesn’t gap. In fact, it’s so gapless, that I frequently try to move the wrong side of the tongue — the side that’s attached to the rest of the upper. Surprisingly precision fit.
-One piece upper(?): It looks like the upper of the PureCadence 2 is one piece of fabric with some overlays. This gives the shoe a pretty slick look, and I imagine that it saves weight as well.
My Runs in the Brooks PureCadence 2:
-1/3/14 (morning): 4.03 miles, 31:55, 7:55.19/mile average pace, 6:00/mile max pace, Treadmill
-1/3/14 (evening): 4.03 miles, 32:05, 7:57.67/mile average pace, 6:00/mile max pace, Treadmill
-1/6/14: 1.5 miles, 11:38, 7:45.33/mile average pace, 6:53.79/mile max pace, Treadmill
-1/7/14: 4.04 miles, 32:05, 7:56/mile average pace, 6:00/mile max pace, Treadmill
-1/11/14: 10.27 miles, 1:27:30, 8:31/mile average pace, Paved trail and somewhat hilly sidewalks
-1/12/14: 3.13 miles, 26:24.40, 8:26/mile average pace, 6:35/mile max pace, Mostly hilly sidewalks
-1/20/14: 14.14 miles, 2:02:18, 8:39/mile average pace, Paved trail and somewhat hilly sidewalks
-1/21/14: 6.14 miles, 49:04, 7:59.48/mile average pace, 6:00/mile max pace, Treadmill
-1/24/14: 4.14 miles, 32:43, 7:54.14/mile average pace, 6:00/mile max pace, Treadmill
-1/27/14: 4.03 miles, 31:31, 7:49.23/mile average pace, 7:08/mile max pace, Treadmill
-1/28/14: 8.19 miles, 1:03:59, 7:48.74/mile average pace, 6:00/mile max pace, Treadmill
Total: 63.64 miles, 8:41:12.40 time running in the Brooks PureCadence 2
Free Form Thoughts About the PureCadence 2
Sometimes I run for speed, sometimes I run for distance, and sometimes I run for mood — a good run can make the crappiest day melt away. These shoes are a good choice for any of those types of runs. The light weight can go long and go fast, although the lower drop leaves my legs more tired than more traditional running shoes since muscles that aren’t used to working so hard are put through their paces in the PureCadence 2. The more miles I put in these shoes, the better they felt — I think I was beginning to adjust. I completely forgot about my shoes during the 14-mile run.
Despite the rubber pods on the sole, the ride is reasonably smooth, but those pods don’t make for ninja-like footfalls…at times I heard myself slap slap slapping along. Eventually I either got better at running in these shoes, or I figured out how to tune out the slapping noises eventually.
The medium-plush heel cup provides a touch of extra comfort which cradles my heels with a soft fabric hug. I’m excited about the maximalist trend in running shoes. You may never catch me in Hoka One Ones, but I like to feel protected and cushioned in my shoes, especially over the long haul. Other features such as pronation control are arguably more important, but the comfy shoe and the good-looking shoe win the day with me, and probably most runners if they’re being honest, when buying new running shoes. If the looks and the out of box feel don’t excite me, the shoe isn’t coming home since I won’t want to run in it.
My Non-Running Activities in the Brooks PureCadence 2
-Casual wear
-10 hours of driving to a friend’s wedding
-BFit workouts
-Regular gym workouts
The PureCadence 2 is eye-catching, especially the all-over red version that I have. I took off my high heels after my friend’s wedding and donned these bad boys to drive to the hotel and really confused the night manager when I strolled in with my loud, incongruous shoes. These will be great casual shoes when their running life is over since they look great and perform adequately in non-running applications.
By the Numbers
Looks: 10/10
Just awesome. Initially I thought that I wasn’t that into the non-traditional look of these shoes, but when I opened the box and put these on, I fell in love pretty quickly.
Durability: 7/10
The all-fabric toe ripped when I fell during a run. Rocks, crooked sidewalks, and other obstacles will occasionally and naturally get kicked during a run. It’s a shame that the upper can’t stand up to the ordinary rigors of road running. I can’t fault any of the seams or the construction, but the lack of an exterior toe cap (there is a semi-rigid plastic toe cap underneath the fabric) is a significant flaw as far as I’m concerned since tears in the toe area can affect the entire upper because it’s one piece.
Comfort: 8/10
Certainly not the most plush shoe I own, but the interior fabric is soft and cushioned all around. Good comfort, but not great.
Feel: 8/10
I can go fast in these shoes, but I don’t necessarily feel fast in these shoes, if that makes any sense. The lower drop makes me work harder, but I realize that that’s my problem, not the shoe’s problem; were I more into reduced/minimalist running shoes I would be better equipped to run in the PureCadence 2 without difficulty.
Price: 10/10
Jump on these if they sound like your cup of tea and if you can find them — expect to pay less than $70 since retailers will be looking to clear them out in order to make room for the new PureCadence 3.
Overall: 9/10
I surprised myself with how much I liked these shoes — they aren’t perfect, but they are very, very good.

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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Brooks Launch: We Have Liftoff

20131216-224823.jpgI really need to get a shoe caddy to hang over my door. As it is now, I’ve got a huge pile of colorful running shoes in the corner of my room (“There, that’s clean! It’s clean now!”).

Running nutrition arguably makes a bigger difference in my running performance, but no other running gear item excites me quite like running shoes do — each model is a design and engineering marvel. There’s only so much apparel companies can do with tights and shirts, but there are limitless possibilities when it comes to shoe innovation.

When I see that pile of running shoes, I get motivated to run. Running, even in the bitter cold, feels like a ‘get to’ rather than a ‘have to’ — I get to wake up at 4:00 am and play outside while everyone else is sleeping!

The Brooks Launch, the shoe so beloved by runners that they convinced Brooks to un-discontinue it, has been sitting in my pile for about a week. The just-short-of-rioting-in-the-streets furor surrounding the planned demise of the Launch piqued my interest. There’s inevitably grumbling when a company updates models in its line, but this was beyond grumbling, and it was loud enough, and passionate enough, that the company capitulated. I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.

There are other shoes in my pile that I need to run in, so I can write informed reviews of them sometime this…decade. (I’m getting close with the New Balance 870v3 and I’m thinking about doing a video review. Chew on that crumb of teaser!) But the Launch has been calling to me, insofar as a shoe can call to a not-insane person. With a bright teal and salmon colorway straight out of Miami, the Launch not only has the mystique of a shoe brought back from the dead, it looks like fun.

So I gave in: against my better judgment, I took my brand spanking new Launches out for a ten-mile run without even walking around in them first.

The running gods didn’t strike me dead. Even better: I get it now; I get why people lost their freaking minds when this shoe was pulled. The Brooks Launch is an awesome shoe. One run, and a mere ten miles in, I’m calling it. Awesome.

Some thoughts:

-Firm ride with good road feel, but enough material underfoot to protect my feet and joints during the punishing downhills on my running route.

-Lightweight upper with few overlays — the lightness of the Launch was most noticeable, and appreciated, during the turnover part of my stride.

-Cushy heel cup — I’m a sucker for a plush heel cup. This isn’t the most cushioned heel cup I’ve encountered in a shoe, but it manages to be plenty soft, supportive, and cozy without being huge or overstuffed.

We’ll see if/how my feelings evolve as I get to know this shoe, but as with all launch countdowns, the Brooks Launch started with a ten.