Sunday, March 31, 2013

In search of Cloud Nine

Shoes that help you bounce. Maximum energy return, minimal impact.. We've all heard (or seen) them before.

Some or all the above seriously deserve to be laughed at. Yet shoe companies will keep on producing such "innovations," as long as runners continue searching for their Cloud Nine (defined by Webster's dictionary as 'a feeling of elation') running experience.

Enter Spira, a relatively new shoe company, which has purportedly sold over 1 million pairs of footwear with their patented WaveSpring technology.

The subject of this initial review is the Spira Stinger 2, which comes with 3 WaveSprings embedded in the midsole.

Compared to the five "springy" shoes in the first photo of this post, the Spira Stinger 2 is the first such footwear that had prompted me to make a purchase decision. That is, after the On Clouds (pictured below), which also promise bouncy action through a different 'technology,' i.e. their patented nubs on the outsole.

FIT, BUILD, and APPEARANCE: Ordering shoes online is always a risky bet, particularly from an unknown brand such as Spira. Would they fit right? Will the build quality be commensurate with the price? Et cetera etc. Fortunately, Spira's professional website, and excellent customer service (thanks Judy Egger), helps make the purchasing process a smooth experience.

When the shoes finally arrived, I immediately tried them on, finding that the Stinger 2 (in size 11) fit great on my wide feet. I normally wear a 10,5 (US size) in 2E, and for normal (D) width shoes, I usually do well in size 11 (with a few brands, size 11,5 fits me better).

In terms of appearance, the Stinger 2 looks quite handsome to me. Spira seems to have invested quite a bit in the design department, with many colorways available in this particular model.

The upper is made of breathable material.

The insole provided is quite thin.

I did notice excess glue on the outsole, which detracts from an otherwise good-looking pair of shoes.

In terms of build quality, the Spira scores a passing grade.

The summary:

  • FIT = 9 / 10 
  • BUILD QUALITY = 7.5 / 10
  • APPEARANCE = 9 / 10

TOEBOX: I like to feel my toes having the freedom to "splash and splay" within the confines of the shoes. I truly believe an adequate toebox helps allow a more natural running motion, especially when one runs sockless, or use 5-finger socks (I always wear the latter for running). The Spira does okay in this department, with a better than average toebox space.

RIDE and COMFORT: I like running shoes that are light (nothing over 400 grams / 14 oz, the lighter the better), and preferably with heel-to-toe differential of 6 mm or less.

The heel to toe on the Stinger 2 is 10 mm, which puts them on a par with the Adidas Boost.

In terms of weight, the Spira Stinger 2 comes in at a relatively light 280 grams (9,8 oz) for my size US 11, putting it in the same weight class as the Altra Torin.

The one hundred ten dollar question (the shoe's retail price) is, what do 3 WaveSprings give you, in terms of ride?

When I first stood in the Stinger 2, I could feel the gap area between the heel and forefoot (there is no outsole in the middle). I was concerned this would be a potential problem area during actual running.

I've been having rather severe flu this week, but I just couldn't stand the sight of an unused pair of new shoes. Yesterday I finally took the Stinger 2 for a 6 km run, and I am happy to report that I finished the run with my feet feeling fresh.

In terms of ride, the Spira actually delivers on the springy promise. I could feel the WaveSprings helping me bounce off each landing. The sensation is what I had expected when I first ran in the Boost (but didn't get from Adidas' marble-bouncing midsole material). 

The sole of the Stinger is flexible, aided by the aforementioned gap in the middle of the outsole.

The Stinger 2's flexibility made the ride feel much better, helping to offset the 10mm drop of the shoe. When I consciously tried to heel strike, I could feel the WaveSprings in the heel, and likewise, when I forefoot striked, I could feel the front springs bouncing back. Road feedback is just slightly above average on the Spiras, perhaps muted by the springy feeling. It all sums up to a new kind of ride, one which is light and bouncy.

The zero drop GoBionic and the 10mm drop Spira Stinger 2

In terms of comfort, these shoes felt bare-bones (a positive point), but that gap area of "missing outsole" made its presence (or absence) known throughout the run. The latter was not a problem for this initial run, but I'm not sure how much it would affect the shoe's comfort factor in, and for, the long run.

Overall, these Spiras provide a "light and springy" ride, and I'd give them a temporary score of 8 out of 10 in terms of Ride and Comfort.

CONCLUSION: With its 'light on the feet' action, attractive design, and WaveSprings technology that I could actually feel, the Spira Stinger 2 adds up to one interesting pair of shoes.

Did the Spira Stinger 2 end the search for my "Cloud Nine" running shoe?  Unfortunately (or fortunately) not, since my "Cloud Nine" shoes need to have the following features:

  • lighter than 320 grams (11,2 oz)
  • give great road feedback at all time
  • has the ability to turn from minimalist feel to confidence-inducing cushioned at my whim (yes, I am reaching)
  • doing all of the above while not letting me know they're on my feet (yes, I am dreaming)

I guess the more important question is = how important are shoes in trying to reach 'the Cloud Nine' feeling of elation through running?

To sum it up, if you like their looks and you are looking for light shoes that give bouncy action, the Spira Stinger 2 is worth a try.  Considering everything, the overall (temporary) grade I would give is 8 out of 10, with the Stinger 2 at $110 being a relatively good buy.

DISCLAIMER: I am not affiliated with Spira and the shoes were purchased at normal price. A few of the photos are from the Spira's website or Google. Please contact me if they need to be removed.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Flat White, and make mine Tall please!

The Flat White coffee has been growing in popularity as an alternative to café latte, the former having more coffee than the very milky latte. Wikipedia describes the Flat White as a beverage which is "more velvety in consistency."

"Consistently Velvety," just the two words I was looking for, to describe my initial impression of the Altra Torin.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, here's the brief review:

The Altra Torin caught my eye, as the first "towering" stack-height (28 mm) zero drop shoes. The HOKA Stinson Evo Tarmac (SET), at 35 mm stack height, puts the Torin to shame, BUT the Torin has the honor of being the first tall zero-drop shoes (how about that for an oxymoron?).

Who's taller, you or me? (Altra Torin left; Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmac right)

It took some doing to get the Torins to Indonesia, and I would like to especially thank a family friend, and +John Shepard of Take It On The Run, for making it happen.

This review will focus mainly on the Altra Torin, with brief (and inevitable) comparison to another shoe in its "category," the Hoka SET.

FIT, BUILD, and APPEARANCE: Ordering shoes online is always a risky bet, particularly from a relatively unknown brand such as Altra. Would they fit right? Will the build quality be commensurate with the price? Et cetera etc.

When I first put them on, I was ecstatic that the Torins fit well (there's no return shipment from Indonesia to USA), both in terms of width (I have wide feet) and length (I was offered to go 1/2 size up on the Torins, which I opted not to). 

The shoe's shape is rather "odd," as its generous forefoot area directly translates to an almost "boat-like" (similar to Crocs shoe-sandals) appearance. 

I also notice the seventh eyelet (which I believe is a recent modification, due to complaints about its absence in early production batches) to secure the heel if necessary. I did not use the seventh eyelet in my first run, but did try them on my second outing in the Torins (and yes, they do help secure my feet better). Big kudos to Altra for responding to consumers, and reacting swiftly.

The "boat look" and colorways of this Torin variant translate to a rather unique-yet-pedestrian appearance.

In terms of build quality, the Altra scores a passing grade. The shoes neither ooze high-quality nor feel cheap.

The summary (first number is the Altra Torin, the number in brackets is the Hoka SET):
  • FIT = 9 / 10  vs. (9 / 10)
  • BUILD QUALITY = 7.5 / 10  vs. (9 / 10)
  • APPEARANCE = 7,5 / 10  vs. (8,5 / 10)

The Torin with my (wide) foot in it. 
Great fit and generous toebox. Notice the 7th eyelet (recent addition)!

Comparing the Torin to the Hoka SET, the latter has the better build quality, with both being great in terms of fit. Each of the two looks "unique" in their own way (feel free to translate, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder). It's worth noting that the Hoka is about 45% more in terms of price.

Same size (!) Very different appearance, yet both fit great.

TOEBOX: I like to feel my toes having the freedom to "splash and splay" within the confines of the shoes. I truly believe an adequate toebox helps allow a more natural running motion, especially when one runs sockless, or use 5-finger socks (I always wear the latter for running). The TORIN is simply excellent in this department (the Hoka is just a tad less generous in terms of toebox, but it's still a winner for sure).

RIDE and COMFORT: I like running shoes that are light (nothing over 400 grams / 14 oz, the lighter the better), and preferably with heel-to-toe differential of 6 mm or less.

In both weight and (zero) drop, the Torin is top notch. Considering the amount of ample cushioning, I was pleasantly surprised to see it weighs in at a paltry 270 gr / 9,5 oz, for my size US 11 (!)

Altra provides two insoles for the Torin (as pictured below), one contoured and the other flat. My review is based on using the contoured insole.

The hundred dollar question is, what does 28 mm stack height front-to-back give you, in terms of ride?

Altra names its midsole compound "Abound," comprising of dual-layer EVA to enhance effective cushioning. The outsole is "mapped" like the metatarsal bone-structure of the human foot (in reality, it ends up looking a bit like a ping pong paddle).

The sole of the Torin is neither stiff nor flexible. I usually prefer flexible outsole to facilitate a more natural ride, and I was worried about the Torin's sole.

What, then, does "all of the above" do?

After taking the Torins out for a couple of runs (5km and 10km), I am happy to report that "all of the above" results in a wonderful ride.

IMHO the litmus test of any shoe is how comfortable you are running in them, how you feel "they are not there," yet they are able to provide confidence through effective cushioning (note I'm not using the term 'ample cushioning'), for moments where you want to pick up a bit of pace, or go up and downhill. 

The Torin gives you a "consistently velvety" ride, which is neither soft nor harsh. And the combination of its 'abound' midsole and the metatarsal-mapped outsole gives great rebound, similar if not better than Adidas' boost marble-bouncing midsole.

Adidas Boost (22mm heel to 12mm toe drop),
compared to the Torin's zero drop (28mm front to back).

These two zero-droppers (Pure Drift on the left) look similar in profile, 
yet the Torin has much more cushion.

Two different zero-droppers (GoBionic on the left), 
with the Torin looking much more "beefy."

With the Hokas, you almost feel like your foot is "sitting" IN a plush sofa set, where all shocks are absorbed and their primary purpose is to ensure your comfort. There are certainly days when you want to pamper your feet like this. 

Going back to the coffee analogy, I would prefer more beans in my beverage, i.e. the Torin's Tall Flat White "consistently velvety" characteristic. I also enjoy the Grande Cafe Latte (a.k.a. the Hoka SET) for its "milkiness," but can't help wonder if too much dairy may have unintended consequences in the long run.

If I have to choose between the Hoka and the Altra (in terms of effective ride comfort) for the long haul, it would be the Torin.

Having said the above, I must note that road feedback is not so good with the Torin (likewise the Hokas), which is perhaps as expected (with 28 mm of material between your feet and the ground).

The Hoka SET weighs in at a relatively heavy 380 gr (13,5 oz), yet it somehow compensate for this by its more luxurious ride. I haven't done any long runs in the Torins, but I believe their more consistent (less soft, and effectively bouncy) ride would serve my feet and legs better for the long haul.

In summary, I'd give the Altra Torin a score of 9 out of 10 in terms of Ride and Comfort. The Hoka SET is not far behind at 8,5 / 10.

CONCLUSION: I believe this relatively new category of TLD (Tall-Low-Drop) shoes will only grow, as many runners want to get that "natural" feeling (via minimal heel lift), but still want to feel protected (via maximum cushioning material).

Before we conclude, a couple of (perhaps) important questions to consider:
  • Is the TLD shoe good for runners in general? 
  • Would their tall stack height, and subsequently inferior road/impact feedback, cause improper form in the long run (as opposed to running in thin-soled minimalist shoes, where one has to keep some semblance of proper form to remain injury-free)? 

Time will tell (if there are studies related to these questions, I would be very interested to know more).

In the meantime, I like to keep running in my Hokas, with the Torin certainly getting LOTS of playtime in my shoe rotation.

As mentioned somewhere in this post, I would pick the Torin if I can only choose either the Altra or the Hoka (mostly attributed to its "consistently velvety" ride).

In terms of VALUE, here is a list of five shoes that have made some splash in the running community, and how much I think each shoe's "Good Value" price-point (in US$) should be (purely my subjective opinion):

..and last but certainly not least..

    • The Altra Torin, good value at $ 105 (retail $ 115. You can get it at $ 105 with diligent searching)

    Thoughts and/or Comments?

    NOTE: I receive neither compensation nor free shoe samples for this post. Just sharing my thoughts as a shoe-addict.

    Monday, March 11, 2013

    Run # 1 in Go Run # 2

    Virgil, the late (17-90 BC) Roman Poet, said "GO Forth a Conqueror and Win Many Victories." In terms of starting off on the right foot, Skechers, more specifically, their Performance Division, certainly picked the right athlete, Meb Keflezighi, the fastest American at the 2011 New York Marathon, who then reconfirmed that status by being the Champion of the US Olympic Trials a few months later (full marathon in 2:09:08); both deeds having been accomplished in an iteration of the GO Runs.

    Before I continue, this is NOT a promotional piece on Skechers GO line of shoes, and I receive neither compensation nor free samples from the company.

    Like many people, I was not too keen on the Skechers brand. When I first came across the GO Run in Christmas 2011 though, I was amazed at these shoes which were so feather-light AND soft AND flexible. Plus the purported "Midfoot Strike Sensors" on the outsole, and I was sold!

    I started running regularly in January 2012 and the original GO Run just happened to be my first regular running shoes. 14 months and 1,100 miles later, I have racked up 60% of my mileage in different variants of the GO shoes:
    From Top to Bottom: Go Run Ride, Go Run 2, Go Run, Go Bionic.

    Bear in mind that I am no Meb. Far from it (the distance from earth to moon would probably illustrate the gap, and that's putting it mildly)! In fact, I am a Clydesdale (heavy) runner, and wearing thin-soled shoes like the GO Run did give me the jeebies early on.

    This review will focus mainly on the GO Run 2, with comparison to other iterations of the GO shoes. I've been waiting for the GO Run 2 to arrive in Indonesia, and this past weekend I saw them at the mall. After leaving the store empty-handed .....I went back the day after (yes, this shoe-fetish is an illness, a chronic one!); and here they are at home:

    Skechers GO Run 2, fresh out of the box, with 2 sets of laces included.

    Today (March 12th) is the Hindu's Nyepi holiday here, and I had a chance to take them out for a 5K run and write this initial review.

    FIT: Being used to the GoRun, stepping into the "2" version has a "coming home" feeling to it, added with an extra touch of comfort. With the original GoRuns, you can feel the middle bump, which was not a problem for me but others have found to be a big negative. The GoRun 2 does not have this rocker feeling. 

    Skechers GO Run with the rocker outsole (left), and the non-rocking Go Run 2 (right).
    I have wide feet, and other reviews of the GR 2 indicate they are narrower than the original. I was worried about this, but when I put them on, I feel my feet "enveloped" without being constricted. My previous shoe purchase was the Adidas Boost, which has the excellent Techfit upper. The Boost hugs my feet like a polyester compression suit, whereas the GoRun2 feel like a cotton-blend-poly compression outfit (IMHO more comfortable). In two words, the GoRun 2 is "comfortably snug."

    TOEBOX: I like to feel my toes having the freedom to "splash and splay" within the confines of the shoes. I truly believe an adequate toebox helps allow a more natural running motion, especially when one runs sockless, or use 5-finger socks (I always wear the latter for running). The GoRun 2, with its flexible uppers and (still) generous forefoot area, is excellent in this regard.

    RIDE and COMFORT: at 215 grams (7,6 oz, for size US 11) per shoe (only 10 grams heavier than the first GoRuns!), the GR 2 is FEATHER light, and, utterly comfortable. I have always found the Resalyte midsole in the original GoRun to be the perfect mix of flexible and cushioned. With this iteration, the GoRun 2 has turned from thinly-cushioned to confidence-inducing comfortable, as in no trepidation to pick up speed, or go uphill or downhill when the occasion calls for it. There is none of that rocking motion, and the extra cushion, coupled with the 4mm heel-to-toe drop, gives you that extra confidence in your strides. 

    The feel is somewhat similar to the GoRun Ride's. This was my big concern when purchasing the GoRun 2. Would it be exactly like the GoRun Ride? After the initial test run, I am happy to report that the GoRun 2 gives more road-feel compared to the Ride variant. You can see the difference in the outsole's shape and thickness, in the four iterations of the GO shoes in the following photo:

    Difference in outsole's shape, from Top to Bottom: Go Run Ride, GR 2, GR 1, and Go Bionic.

    TECHNOLOGY: I am always wary about shoe-related "technology," as I believe that the primary "technician," i.e. the runner, is the most important part of the endeavor. The GoRun 2 again promotes "the Mid-foot Strike Sensors," which presumably help your feet land on the middle part of the shoes. Has it worked for me? Based on the wear pattern from the photo below (taken with the original GoRun having approximately 200 miles on it), my strides are landing in the middle-outer area of the outsole. I don't know yet if the GoRun 2 will help me continue striding midfoot.

    CONCLUSION: With the taller stack height, the GoRun 2, based on an initial 5K run, fills the gap perfectly between the original GoRun and the GoRun Ride (which has more cushion than both). The Ride version is missing that close-to-the-ground feeling of the original GoRun, with the zero-drop GoBionic being the best in terms of road-feel. 

    There are times when we want to run with a feeling of protection, and for such days, the GoRun 2 fills that niche of minimalist-yet-cushioned category, without resorting to the mega stack-height of shoes such as the HOKAS. The GoRun 2 gives you just enough road-feel, and add an extra dose of comfort for good measure.

    In terms of VALUE, at US$ 80 (Rp.799.000 after discount here) the GoRun 2 is IMHO great value, especially compared to shoes such as the Adidas Boost, which at US$ 150, is almost twice as expensive, and, 80 grams (2,8 oz) heavier. The GoRun 2's reasonable pricetag, feather-like weight, sleek good looks, and proven Resalyte midsole, may translate to improved running economy, literally and figuratively. Now, if only Skechers Performance Division can escape the colorfully bling-bling stigma of the company's other offerings.