Hitting the streets to get fit by spring? We review four new specialty sneakers for runners.
Adidas Adizero Feather 2.0 Running
Adidas' Adizero Feather 2.0 runners are so light (barely 7 ounces) and so responsive, running in them feels more like bouncing on fluffy clouds than pounding on pavement. OK, I'm exaggerating, but I was really blown away by the light weight when I took them out on long-distance runs. So effective was the feather-weight design on a 5-mile outing, I could actually notice the reduced effort in my legs.
The shoe is topped with a barely-there breathable mesh that runs from the toes all the way back to the heel. Ventilation is therefore excellent, with a constant flow of cool air delivered directly to your piggies. And, unlike most shoes that make use of fancy, lightweight materials, they're actually quite sturdy.
These sneaks are compatible with Adidas' miCoach data reporting system and its companion apps. So if you already have a miCoach Speed_Cell sensor, just lift up the shoe's insert and pop it in (You can also attach the sensor to your laces). The sensor can be synced with your iPhone to track your speed, acceleration, distance, and pace during runs.
The only problem is that the miCoach system needs some work, including the inconsistent syncing and the iPhone app's interface. If you're used to the Nike+ app, you'll be struggling to work your way through using Adidas' lesser creation. That said, it's an add-on to the shoe and not a primary feature, so miCoach's shortcomings don't detract from the sneaker's quality.
WIRED Obscenely light at only 7 ounces. Flexible mesh upper keeps your tootsies cool and dry. Durable, despite the lightweight design. miCoach-compatible for tracking your runs. Great styling. Affordable at $115. Men's and women's versions.
TIRED If you're not into light shoes, these aren't for you. The miCoach system needs a lot of work -- it's adequate, but could be so much better.
(See more: Stylish workout clothes)
Under Armour UA Spine RPM
As the name would imply, the design of Under Armour's sneaker is modeled after the human spine. Flip over the UA Spine RPM ($80, men and women) so its sole is facing up, and you can definitely see the dorsal inspiration -- the sole is a stylized vertebral column with a small channel running down the middle. This "spine" does give the shoe a very supportive feel (the primary intention of the design) while also allowing a great deal of flexibility in the toebox and midfoot.
In my tests, the shoe remained somewhat rigid while also being incredibly comfortable. A foam in the chassis provides the rebound needed to cushion those pounding steps. During runs on both the treadmill and the pavement, footfalls were cushioned, but the springiness at the start of the next step wasn't too pronounced.
The fit is superb, mostly thanks to the molded foam sockliner and collar. Your foot goes in, the Spine conforms to its shape, and it stays put. A mesh upper keeps the foot cool and allows it to breath. It's flexible, but it still feels really durable -- something I'd expect from a company that got its start making technical athletic apparel. Under Armour has clearly taken the knowledge it's collected creating comfortable clothing and applied it to its footwear.
WIRED As comfy as your favorite pair of wool-lined slippers. Molded foam insert and sockliner conform exactly to your foot. Breathable and cool. Sleek design, attractive color scheme.
TIRED Slightly heavy at 9.7 ounces. The company's claim of "explosive" rebounding performance from the spine-like design is definitely exaggerated.
Reebok ZigTech Shark
If the UA Spine RPM and the ZigTech Shark ($100, men and women) were to battle it out using only their supreme comfort as their weapons, the Spine would probably win, but the outcome would be so close that they'd both end up bloodied and beaten.
Reebok's spongy, zig-shaped sole makes an exemplary shock absorber, while also providing the necessary rebound needed to keep your legs moving. The unique sole design also allows for additional flexibility that outdoes the normal "flat" sole you'll find on typical running shoes. The secret here is the way the sole material is cut -- a 20-degree backward angle is applied to the tread along the sole, so that when it's viewed from the side, it looks like the teeth of a shark (Get it?). This helps the shoes to bend more easily for better-than-average flex.
I took my Sharks out on the pavement and on the trail, and they held up well in both situations. I definitely felt a difference in both the cushion and responsiveness of the sole when rebounding.
Like many other current running sneakers, the Shark's upper is constructed mostly of breathable mesh. My personal favorite thing about the ZigTech Shark, however, is the so-soft-I-want-to-rub-it-on-my-face upper lining that runs along the tops of the heel, collar, and tongue. I didn't even feel the need to wear socks with these bad boys.
WIRED Ridiculously comfortable. Extra-flexy sole. Nice color choices. Inner lining is soft and supple enough to earn a nod from George Costanza. You could very well wear these without socks if you don't mind a little stinkiness.
TIRED The ZigTech design is a love-it-or-hate-it gamble. Some will find the sole too spongy, soft, and flexible. Not for fans of more rigid shoes.
These road trainers from Newton (the company also makes a trail version) incorporate a little gimmick to help you improve your running form -- each shoe has four external actuator lugs that sit under your forefoot on the bottom of the sole. They provide a lever-lift motion during each step: your foot lands, you push through the step, and your foot rebounds off the surface, infusing the beginning of each new stride with a burst of energy. You're not going to be bouncing off the pavement like you're jumping on the moon or anything, but it is designed to give you a little more pep in your step.
So, do the weird little knobs on the bottom of the shoe work? Meh. You can certainly feel them there when running, and they do, in fact, help absorb the shock of landing. But I never felt that Flash-like bolt of energy coursing through my body on the rebound. The feel and action of the lugs will take a little bit of getting used to (especially if you've been running in more typical running shoes for years), so that's something to consider.
The bigger downsides: the insane price tag ($175) and the fact that, despite being lighter than some of the shoes in this roundup (just over 9 ounces), they felt heavier and clunkier than all the others because of the added bulk.
WIRED Excellent way to improve your running form. Very breathable. Great flexibility. Once you adapt, the "Land-Lever-Lift" system is barely noticeable. Beginners can use them to develop good running form, while experienced runners already familiar with the Newton system will benefit, too.
TIRED That $175 price tag...phew! Adds a slight spring to your stride that takes some getting used to. Extra hardware in the sole makes them feel heavier than their 9 ounces. Heel is on the hard side.
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