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

Accidentally Running a Possible PR; First Look at the Kinvara 6 on Feet

This year marked my third running of the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, the annual “rite of spring” about which I regularly kvetch. Too crowded. Too many big-butt ladies lined up at the front of the faster corrals and walking out of the gate (Please tell me, seriously, what good does it do you to LIE LIKE A RUG on the entry form about your expected finish time???). No sign of the supposed stars of the event, the cherry blossoms.

Well I’m not kvetching this year. Yes, I did see someone cheat and not run all of the way to a turnaround point. Yes, the course was altered due to investigation into a traffic accident. Yes, there were still big-butt ladies where they didn’t belong. But this year, we got the cherry blossoms and that changed everything for the better. I was completely seduced by the delicate, sunlight dappled blooms surrounding the Washington Monument. Look at the picture and tell me that isn’t serene. I would gladly run five lousy Cherry Blossoms to get one as nice as the 2015 race. The loveliness of the day put me in a stellar mood and that too made all the difference.

After running the Hashawha Hills 50k at the end of February and two marathons in March, my legs were kind of dead, so I haven’t been running much. Thus, my expectations for my Cherry Blossom performance were low — I just wanted to beat my boss (otherwise life would cease to be worth living — his heckling isn’t good-natured) and keep my time under 90 minutes. I started out fast, hoping to avoid having to do too much weaving through the crowd (I never thought I would say this about a race, but Cherry Blossom really does need more corrals since the pace disparity within each wave is too much) and when I did one of my regular, “how are you feeling” checks around the two-mile point I realized that I was feeling great and could keep pushing the pace. When I wasn’t hemmed in by too much human traffic, I was practically bounding over the course with big, bouncy, joyful strides. When I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it! I’d promised myself to not check my watch during the race so I’d focus on enjoying it rather than hitting a time goal, so I stuck to that and just ran by feel. I was surprised at the finish that I managed 1:17:50 — slightly better than my previous 10-miler PR, which I ran at Cherry Blossom in 2014. I basically accomplished my new record by accident.

With one caveat: the course may have been short. My GPS watch didn’t read short; I think it even came up long since I had to weave and pass people for the duration of the race. However, the traffic accident I referenced earlier caused a last-minute course change (We may have skipped an entire bridge? I never look at course maps very carefully; one of my friends noted that change to me, saying that the course was likely 0.25-0.5 miles off.) and the time between the mile six and mile seven signs seemed suspiciously short. I’ll wait until I hear something official about the change. Either way, I wasn’t looking to run a PR so I’m not going to get my knickers in a twist if the course was in fact short. I had fun and I’m pleased with my performance and that’s what matters. Also, I think I look pretty majestic in this picture. PROOF shot with scrolling text all over it or it didn’t happen, amirite?

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After the race I went out for Mexican food with a friend and some of her friends. Feast your eyes on the beauty of the breakfast burrito I basically inhaled. It was good as it looked!

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One of the women I was with is local-elite level — she recently ran a marathon in 3:18 and was disappointed by her time. She was so jazzed about running that I found myself getting motivated too. I might look for some summer races or more races for this fall since I’ve only got two left on my entire 2015 calendar.

The husband of another woman who came to breakfast with the group came with his fancy DSLR camera and made the mistake of dressing in a neon yellow jacket…just like the Marathonfoto photogs! Runners were coming up to him and posing, so of course rather than explaining that he wasn’t shooting the race in any official capacity, he just took their pictures. Naturally we gave him blue hell about it. He took a couple pictures with me in them after the finish, so I may be able to post one when they get passed around.

Also of note: I’d pre-ordered the Saucony Kinvara 6 and my pair arrived yesterday.

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Initial impressions without having run in them:

They look sick. Big win for me on the blue/slime green men’s colorway. This is a shallow observation, but I know myself well enough to acknowledge that I won’t run in a shoe if I hate how it looks, even if it’s a great fit for my feet and gait.
Fit is hugely improved over the Kinvara 5 — actually felt lockdown. Hallelujah!
The heel isn’t sloppy. Quick visual comparison revealed that the heel is much narrower in the Kinvara 6 than the Kinvara 5 so heel slippage should be less of an issue.

I missed the fast feel of the Kinvara 3 and 4 in the 5. The construction of the 6’s upper is still more like a regular trainer than a hybrid trainer-racer/light trainer, but it seems to be going back more to its roots. I feel like the Kinvara crowd isn’t hoping to get a tradtional, plush trainer-like upper with the shoe so the move to the beefier tongue and collar between versions 4 and 5 still puzzles me, but 6 seems to have struck a better balance. Once I get some runs in the shoe I’ll have a more informed opinion. I’m keen to do a comparison review of the Kinvara 3, 4, and 5 since I still have each, but that would require a lot of refresher runs in the older iterations. We’ll see!

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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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.

Saucony Trail Run

Today is easily the coldest day so far this fall. I’d signed up for a fun run hosted by Saucony (the regional Saucony rep brought shoes to take for a test run) and Potomac River Running held at Lake Fairfax Park. I started the run with the 90-minute group, but I lost them at the turnaround. Everybody else turned around where they were and instead I decided to run the 50-ish uphill yards to the point where the front of the group turned around. Big mistake, as I went from the front half of the pack to second-to-last in the group. I quickly lost sight of the people in front of me and when I got to a road crossing near the parking lot which was a 4-6-way intersection, I had no idea which way they’d gone. So I made my own way. I chose a path that took me back to where my group started. After a few minutes I linked up with the 60-minute group and ran back to the parking lot with them. My legs felt pretty tired, but I tacked on a few more minutes to push my total mileage for the outing above six — the mileage I’d prescribed myself in my training plan.

I’m glad that I didn’t go for the full 90-minutes. Targeting that group was really a matter of pride. When I’m running a shorter event at a race that offers multiple distances, I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough, not trying as hard as I can. Part of the discipline of training is sticking with the mileage/workout that’s right for me at the right time, not just hacking through something because I’m physically capable of surviving it.

My trail running club has a casual 25+ mile run on its calendar for Black Friday. It seems like all of the club runs are for ultrarunners. Since I’m just a wannabe right now, it’s a little intimidating and is keeping me from being as involved as I’d like to be. I’ve been thinking about doing the Black Friday run in order to meet some other members, but a 25-mile trek doesn’t fit with my training schedule for next week. The smartest thing for my training would probably be to not participate in the run. I suffer from a pretty debilitating case of runner’s FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) — witness my eight race weekends in a row from earlier this fall — so saying no to something that interests me is a big step in the direction of running discipline.