Nike, the brand that pretty much created the concept of the running shoe, finally came around to saying that maybe it’s better barefoot. But to up and rubbish the idea of running shoes in its entirely wouldn’t have worked; it would amount to saying that all that you have believed in so far was wrong.
But before anybody thinks I am out to get Nike, I am not. For one, I have barely had this shoe for a while and have found a lot to love about it. That settled, let me get back to where I was.
So, for long, running shoes have come with cushions and gels, foams and rubber pads, multiple densities, various zones depending on impact and recoil, and more such technical malarkey. Some of it was relevant, some pure marketing. And this isn’t just Nike, everyone had been quick to jump on to the bandwagon.
But then this book happened, ‘Born to Run’ where the author, Christopher McDouggall spoke about how he went from being a sluggish runner with aches and pains to this ultra-running machine, all by going barefoot. But more than just a one-man narrative he backed it up with data and quotes, not to mention the astonishing feats of the Tarahumara tribe of Mexico who not only run barefoot but can also run endless. Their average race could last over a day and cover over 200 miles!
Now that sounds convincing enough. And it did manage to convince more than a few people in recent years to chuck the running shoe and go barefoot. So far so good. Nike saw potential and instead of dissing the whole idea went back to the R&D table and launched the Free series.
Free is constantly being upgraded and this year they have versions 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0 – the cushioning increases with the numbers as also the drop (i.e. difference between heel and toe height). If you have no idea what barefoot running entails, go for 5.0, if you have been clocking miles on grass and dirt with nothing but your soles, you will enjoy 3.0. That said ,if you are curious about barefoot-ing it but have never tried it before, go for the 4.0, that way you get an idea without hurting yourself. The 5.0 are too close to standard running shoes. The ones reviewed here are the 3.0 the closest to barefoot running you will ever get, without well umm, being barefoot.
That said, I am admittedly not a dedicated barefoot-er so my gait and stance were never meant for such shoes. And yet, without feeling much of a change to my stance I was able to shave off a good few seconds from my runs. So either I don’t have a specific stance or else I am adaptably amphibian like that.
But if you are not used to the feeling, then you might injure yourself with a heel-first strike; won’t happen instantly but the chances with each step would be higher. So don’t just get these out of the box and go on a long run as normal. Test the waters with shorter distances, and try them slower than your usual pace.
The uppers on this shoe are basically a sock, a lightweight Flyknit sock. I loved it, for not only does it manage to be firm and pliable at the same time, they are a cinch to pull on and in a recent triathlon event, they helped shave a good few precious seconds off the transition clock. You don’t necessarily need socks with these but keep running like that and the shoe may soon smell like a dirty old one!
The sole is a hexagonal interlocking pattern with deep grooves that allow each arc of the cells to move independently and in multiple directions. Mathematically speaking that is a lot of possible permutations for lateral movement but what it really translates to while running is that the sole relays the landing sensations to the body by mimicking the way a bare foot would have landed on the same surface. So big up for responsiveness even if it means heightened susceptibility to sprains and jerks. But gradually, one finds, that, as you learn to land with these, muscles and intuition take over and you start landing softer and in more measured a manner.
Clearly this is not a shoe for the first-timer or weekend leisure runner. None of the benefits to be had from this pair are short-term. Keep going and go slow and you shall soon unbox their potential. Go fast and it’s a one way ticket to the physiotherapy clinic.
PROs: super-light, comfortable, responsive
CONs: stance-specific, low on support, uppers get dirty easily
The king of the mid-strike sole was launched by Skechers in India quite sometime back and yet it remains one of my favourite launches of the time. Super-light, easy-to-pack, simplistic top design with a drastically different sole, the shoe was definitely something curious to look at. Coming from the brand that made those bum-enhancing shoes some years earlier (I must re-check this before Skechers sues me…nah!), no surprises that they would be the ones to deploy a new approach to an old sport.
The run quality is great, smooth easy ride, once (once) you get used to the idea of a mid-foot strike. This basically means that instead of hitting the ground with your heel (or with the ball of your toe when you run barefoot), this one is somewhat between the two. It does make for a slightly more jerky landing (for me) but the cushion in middle of the sole is thick was good enough to absorb the impact. However, in a half marathon, the impact over the long distance did give me some lower backache. But for anything upto 10kms, or a leisurely weekend run, this is pretty much the perfect shoe. One thing I would love to see in the newer versions, more colour options. The international site had a lot more exciting variety whereas what we got in India were a few rather boring combinations that made the shoes look a generation old even on being launched.
PROs: slick, low profile, lightweight, lovely mid-foot strike, grippy laces, fast!
CONs: not for long distances, less ankle support, jerky landing with heel strike, dull colours
This is a collection of my running columns that have appeared in MW magazine, India’s leading men’s lifestyle publication. All reviews were based on first-hand trials (10kms for swimming, 200kms for cycling, and 100kms for running) and nothing is paid publicity. That said, if I have enjoyed a certain product more than average, it will certainly reflect in the stories.
Choosing a Running Shoe (Apr 2015) – Some advice on how to pick your first pair. Don’t worry if you hate it almost immediately; most of us do.
Importance of Patience (Feb 2015) – How training requires strength, stamina, dedication, and oodles of patience!
Getting Started (Jan 2015) – Tips on how to go from couch to coached!
The folks at Reebok have clearly been busy. When they went and redesigned their logo I was pretty sure that it was the beginning of the end, like when a girl breaks up with her beau and gets a new haircut in the hope that it will obliterate the agony of her loss.
But some girls get lucky and manage to upgrade. Reebok was then one such fortunate lass. The new Delta logo, the three sides of which embody the essence of social, mental and physical health (or well-being), has a deep philosophical undertone. But I don’t base my running gear decisions on “philosophical undertones”; instead I don it and take them for a good spin, a few many times, and by the end of it, I know whether it works for me or not.
So without missing a beat, this new power shoe definitely works for me. It revives
something that Reebok now calls retro (the pump mechanism) but which was all the latest rage when I was in school. So clearly there was nostalgia. Then, it is based on the skeleton of the Z-series (that of the Z-tyre groove fame which made for slick fast running shoes) which has been a thoroughly enjoyable pair. And lastly, although it was loose and left too much room when put on, once you had the air in, they were as snug as a mouse in a shot glass.
Yes, please take a minute for that visual to settle.
Moving on, the run is soft and controlled; it looks sleek and performs so. The sole has carefully appointed cushioning so that it’s soft and rigid in parts, as required. Good for mid-foot strikers but also heel runners. I managed some awesome road running – given the “Z” skeleton, that was expected – but it handled surprising well even when I went off-piste. The shoe rides high around the back of the foot therefore the ankle support envelops closely and protects against sprains.
The laces aren’t my favourite bit and I will look for a suitable replacement. Also, the high-walled tongue-less snug and sock-like design means that getting into the shoe in the morning will burn a good few calories even before you hit the road!
But the only real fear is that if the Zpump stops working or starts leaking, you are basically going to feel like a duck in a marathon, or a scuba diver with his flippers on! But so far am assured it won’t happen. Mine are holding well in spite of a good few kilometres on them.
All said and done, it is a refreshing release from what many perceive to be NOT a core running brand. Price is a concern, especially if you wear out your trainers every few months. But the good bit is that in spite of all the doohickey they look pleasantly social enough for a night about town without needing you to change into urban sneakers. So maybe, that versatility could be viewed as a potential saving…
But why Zpump? Sounds like a Frenchman saying “The Pump”… ze pump eez goood, as ewe will zee… n’est-ce pas? I am almost embarrassed to even say it in public. “The Pump” is way cooler.
PROS: customisable snug fit, good ankle and mid-foot support, medium-intensity cushion for zippy races and long workouts, lovely colour combos.
CONS: putting them on is a wrestle, laces not grippy and kept coming undone, the pump sometimes doesn’t inflate with a squeeze so you have to feel for the air cushion expanding, price(!)
These running shoes were recently launched by Reebok and I received a pair to try a good few weeks before the launch. Yes. Privileged. But i had to run a lot in them. Which i did. And eut, in spite of that early chance, it has taken me this long to write about them here. But, it also gave me considerable miles in them (including a 25km endurance white dessert run which turned out to be closer to 30kms really) and thus I believe I know this shoe fairly well.
So what you have here is a lovely modernistic shoe, fabric uppers reinforced with some hard rubber mesh
(Nanoweb, it is called) that also gives it an attractive design. It shows better in certain (contrasted) shades than others so you might want to choose the right one for yourself. The mesh is definitely lateral support-giving else the fabric top alone would be too soft and scary. And then, the sole. So the press release says this about the Zquik sole pattern.
“This unique, natural motion product is inspired by the design of high-performance ZRated tyres used in exotic high-end sports cars that travel at speeds in excess of 240 km/h. Similar to ZRated tyres, the Reebok ZQUICK shoes are engineered to provide ultimate ground contact allowing users to deliver high speed performance by rapidly moving in and out of turns.”
Now that sounds like a tall claim; it also sounds like too much of a good thing. I mean, when was the last time a runner burnt rubber? When did we go screeching around corners or, for that matter, drift? But the quirk has its value for what it does do it take a lot of stress off the sides of your feet when you are going around bends. I know it’s rare that we have to take sharp turns or side step someone in a park but when you are 10-15kms down, your legs aren’t as always nimble and any turning assist is largely appreciated by the joints. Also the mid-sole is very flexible which meant that the foot felt snug yet free. The overall combination of these features was really reassuring on my regular runs when I mix track and soft-trail.
The TV advert I saw sort of indicates urban running – like parkour perhaps – with people running in and out of metros and around the city, but I am so not your regular parkour-ist; my build with age has become less cat-like agile and more Harley-cruiser-bulky. But I still loved the shoe, especially the elasticised sock feature which turned out to be really useful in the desert, keeping all sorts of debris out of my shoes and saving me time from having to stop and empty out my shoes. Other runners, even those with gators (shoe covers that keep sand out) didn’t fare as well as I did with these shoes. To conclude, in spite of being a minimalist shoe this new release from Reebok doesn’t compromise support or snugness and it did knock off a few seconds from my fast kilometre sprints.
So, I must confess that I have owned various Nike models on earlier occasions (Free 3.0, Lunarknit, Pegasus 28) and barring the Pegasus, I have never enjoyed the running experience in them. For one, their full sizes never fit me well and on most runs over 15k, I ended up with blackened toenails. So when the PR team sent over this pair and told me this was pretty much the last word in distance running, I knew I had to try these on, even if just to reassert that Nike is not all that it is made out to be.
The shoe, out of the box, was the lightest thing I had ever held, definitely the lightest I had ever come across. The top is a stiff fabric mesh that runs along the contours of the foot making for a sleek silhouette. The top on this pair was a mix of white, black and fluorescent green and it looked really good. Looked rather professional too. It was the kind of look that you wouldn’t want to be in this shoe and then run a 2-hour plus half marathon; it would show you up for someone who doesn’t deserve it. And that’s just going by looks!
The sole is a light layers of foam-like substance and although semi-hard to touch, is pretty flexible. What surprised me was that the shoe in spite of being one of the pricier options as far as running gear goes, did not accommodate for the Nike+ chip. This may have been because the chip would make the mid-sole a tad stiff but I know that the Free range is compatible with this technology. I don’t know if I liked it or not for the Nike iPhone app had been a primary influencer in my previous purchases. Inasmuch as I was impressed by the look and feel, I was still a tad disappointed, for, apart from the weight, the shoe seemed to be rather ‘simple’.
Finally, the run. Being light, it feels like next to nothing. You almost forget they are there. A caveat though, don’t lace them too tight for what feels snug in the beginning can turn constricting and painful later. They don’t come off and hold the foot well in place even when not tightened excessively.
The run quality was great; the shoe gave me both control and speed – I went faster and felt nimble on my feet even after a good few 2km-laps. I was trying the shoe on my usual track+trail mix and the shoe handled bother fairly well. While on the road the stiffness helped give a lovely bounce back, quite literally putting a spring in my stride, on the tracks the shoe remained stable enough to avoid any ankle stress. It did get dirty very easily in the dirt though. A few runs on, the shoe looks old and nothing like the shiny new beauty I had extracted from the pack.
The size remains a concern and I wish I could have had a half size bigger but with a lighter pair of socks I can just about get it right. But I would think twice before attempting an endurance run in these. But, mind you, the shoe does say the words “Road” and “Racing” in rather bold lettering on the inside so, in case I missed that…
All in all, a great shoe, in fact a landmark shoe for me, considering how it took Nike from being an avoidable brand to a seriously enjoyable one.
Everyone knows that when it comes to sunglasses Oakleys are quite the definitive brand. They are big on the sports and performance scene, provide all sorts of frames, lenses and coatings, and other gear to keep you visually at an advantage. Mind you they are not the only brand on the international scene (Rudy Project, Smith Optics, Tifosi, Julbo, Ryder, Bliz, Kaenon, and so on) but they do manage a good balance between performance and commercially popular. Also, they are the only ones you will find in India and their range is not at all lacking so you’d be fine with these.
But, like performance sunglasses, they aren’t cheap. What else would you expect from a sunglass brand that delivers you functionality and practicality as also all the technical capabilities that you didn’t even know you can or should expect from sunglasses?!
Here are a few features (the ones I remember that is, for am too lazy to pull out the press kit, or even google it for that matter):
1. They are incredibly light and the rubber grips help keep them in place without any pinch even as you bob up and down. I have worn mine for a good few hours and never experienced any pain. A small dent on the nose (as also on the sides of your head) however is inevitable. And the marks on the sides of my head were only noticed in my case on account of my bald head.
2. The water-repellent lenses keep sweat at bay and even when you a few drops do splatter on them, they disperse quickly without smudging. I do hope this coating doesn’t come off easily.
3. Small vents on the sides help with
air-flow so as to prevent fogging. The general aerodynamic design as it helps in this regard and although you won’t feel any special draft hitting you through the tiny slits on the lenses, just know that they are doing their job.
4. The polarised lenses are great and came in extremely handy when running in white deserts which stretched on for miles in every direction. With no mirages to distract, and cutting out all the glare off the surface, they helped in the, pun intended, long run.
5. Oh, the best part, the lens is one contiguous piece of plastic (I know, that didn’t sound very complementary but praise and prose aside…) and it can be removed very easily with a simple Switchlock® pull, click, and lock mechanism. You can replace this with another lens which comfortably snaps into place. Why would you need to do that? Well maybe not in the middle of a race but say if conditions were to turn, on the same run or on two separate occasions, all it would take is a simple manoeuvre to switch from a dark shade to a light tint lens, something that is more suited for the time of day and lighting conditions.
6. The half-rim design supposedly provides an unobstructed view on the lower half but I don’t know how pertinent or useful that might be. So far I have used normal glares and glasses and any stumbles that I have had are nowhere more frequent that one may attribute to my general clumsiness.
7. The advantage of the half rim that I can easily acknowledge is that you can have shape options for the bottom half. So you have Path® and Pitch® where the former is a slightly leaner cut whereas the latter provides more umbrage.
8. HDO® or High Density Optics is how Oakley defines their line of lenses which provide the best of their engineering prowess (clarity, impact resistance, et al) in one transparent (OK, translucent) piece of plastic.
I would love to get my hands on the photochromic lens which would be a great addition to the pair I already have. But choice is always consuming so for now, I think I will manage just fine with the set I already have.
Going ahead, it would be fun to see if they can create more frame shapes that can take these lenses or, alternatively, do something that can make this rather sporty pair convert into something more conducive for urban wear. Now that would be straddling it all. It also goes to show that no matter how intense and serious a brand gets with its product, we the lazy consumers will still expect more.
PS. I really enjoyed putting in all the ® throughout this piece. To use current parlance; it was definitely “trending” on my mind.