David’s Year in Review: Best Shoes of 2015 and Looking Ahead to 2016
Posted on January 13 2016
Although I had some bumps along the way in my running in 2015, I consider it a good year, and one in which I learned a lot and grew as a runner and person even though my race results don’t show too much.
I started the year off with a 50k in January at the Wilson Creek 50k. I ran a good race, then transitioned to marathon training for the remainder of January and February in prep for the Richland Runfest in Richland, WA. I ended up with a 3:03:17, which was a 12 min PR for me (previous PR was from the Spokane Marathon just 4 months earlier; my only other marathon was a 3:38 in 2010 at the Portland marathon, which was 3 weeks after my first 50k and I ran it in Vibram FiveFinger KSOs :)).
I then ran 30 miles in 4:12 at the Pickled feet 6 hr in my first timed (rather than distance based) event (I ran it as a training run and stopped at 30 miles). Two weeks after that I ran the Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 miler in 5:36. I was happy overall with that race as I had not tapered much for it, and felt pretty decent most of the way. I chose the flatter terrain of these races to build up to what I though was a flatter and more runnable 100 miler at Western States.
If you’ve followed the blog, then you know that Western States didn’t turn out exactly as planned, and I had a DNF at mile 78 mostly because I was mentally unprepared to walk it in if need be (I indeed would have had to walk it in). Needless to say that was a great learning experience, and I feel like I’m in a good place for tackling a few more 100s this year. Because of some life circumstances and job changes I didn’t race again the rest of the year, and have had to find a new groove and routine.
The good news is that I think I’ve got my mojo back, and should be close to an 80 mile week this week, which will be a first since my peak week for Western States in June. So far for 2016, I’ve signed up for the Carlsbad Marathon on January 17th, the Richland Runfest Marathon again on February 27th (hoping to get a sub 3hr run at Richland since my 3:03:17 wasn’t good enough to get me into Boston this year; they cut it at 3:02:32 this year), then the Gorge Waterfalls 100k on April 2nd, and I’m going back to the Bighorn 100 on June 17th. I’m undecided after that, but eyeing the Fat Dog 120 mile or Cascade Crest 100, both in August. I’d also love to put together a decent training block and run the North Face 50 mile in San Francisco in December, but I have typically struggled to be super fit come that time of year. I’ll probably throw in a few training races both on road and trail but also hope to do some bigger mountain adventures close to home as I train for the 100s.
Early on in the Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 Mile. Photo Paul Nelson.
2015 was also a great year for me in the shoe department, and as I look back to the variety and breadth of shoes that I had a chance to try, I feel very fortunate, and also have more shoes I enjoy running in than ever before. The big story for me this year was breaking out of the low drop arena to discover that I could tolerate shoes of a larger drop if other features like fit, flexibility, and stack height were still good. This lead me to adidas early on in the year and Montrail later in the year, both brands that typically offer most of their shoes in 10mm drop, and that I’d avoided solely for that that reason.
A few shoes at my disposal. Still a little more room on the shelf :).
Below are the top 3 Road, Trail, and Mountain running shoes that I tried in 2015:
- Salming Distance – A surprise and last minute addition to the road shoe category since I bought them in the middle of December. The main reason they are on the top is the sheer versatility of the shoe. It weighs in the mid 8 oz range, has enough protection and cushion to run long in, yet is poppy and fast enough to run workouts in, and I’ll probably run it at the Carlsbad Marathon which is about 10 days away as I write this. The ride is very smooth and natural feeling, yet it’s fast like a racing shoe. Great shoe from a brand that I’m beginning to pay more attention to.
- adidas Takumi Ren 3 – While this shoe didn’t release in the US, that didn’t stop me from importing it from the UK :). I initially wasn’t super keen on it (I had run in both the Takumi Sen 2 and 3 and Ren 2 before), but after a few great workouts, and even a long run in them, I ended up super impressed at the amount of shoe adidas was able to offer in a scant 6.5 oz . If they could only flesh out the Takumi range a bit with a few models that have some actual rubber on them for more durability, and bring the price down just a hair, I think they’d be nearly impossible to compete with in the pure racing/performance scene. As it is, the Takumi offers nearly all the protection and structure of the adios in a 6.5 oz shoe (granted not the softer ride of the full boost outsole in the adios, but its nearly 2 oz lighter!)
- Skechers GOrun Ride 5 – Technically this shoe didn’t release till 1/1/16, but I’ve had a pair since November, and it is a really nice shoe that also is capable of a wide range of roles. The upper is super comfortable and fits just right for an all around road shoe, and the midsole is cushioned yet responsive thanks to Skechers’ new 5-Gen resalyte material that really shines in their whole 2016 lineup.
Honorable Mentions worth looking at: adidas Takumi Sen 3 (super light and snappy), New Balance Zante (smooth, fast, widish toebox, trail worthy), adidas Supernova Glide 7
(not flashy, but does everything from road to trail and super durable), Skechers GOrun Ultra Road (great cushion yet still responsive with a fantastic knit upper), and Salming Race
(smooth and efficient Salming ride on a light platform and roomy/comfy upper for a racing shoe).
- adidas adizero XT Boost (review) – You can read my review for more detail, but in the end the XT Boost comes away as my top trail shoe from 2015. It offered a road shoe like ride (similar to the Takumi Ren) in a full featured trail package with a unique upper and fantastic outsole. Not perfect, but very close to everything I’m looking for in a trail shoe.
- adidas Response Trail Boost (review) – The Response Trail Boost was by far the biggest surprise for me in the sense that before I ran in them I thought they’d be horrible, and after I ran in them, they were easily one of the best shoes I’ve ever run in. They looked like everything I don’t usually go for in that they were relatively heavy (11 oz), had deep lugs on a cushioned platform (usually not a good combo), and a funky upper. In the end they end up running super smooth, feel well cushioned yet nimble and stable, handle a wide variety of terrain, and have a very comfortable fit for long runs. After running in some other shoes (Montrails with Fluid Guide, adidas Terrex Boost) that similarly offer a stiffer, structured midfoot with softer heel and flexible forefoot, I’m convinced this is a helpful design feature to give a more stable and precise ride for shoes with higher protection or stack height.
- Salming T1 (review) – Salming was surely the best new brand for me this year. They really understand how to produce a natural feeling midsole that runs very smooth yet fast like your favorite road racing shoe. This translates really well to a trail shoe that handles literally everything from pavement to off-trail. If I was going into a trail race with no idea of the course, this would probably be the shoe on my feet since it runs super-well on almost any surface. The shoe has even grown on me more since my review, and especially since running in the Distance which runs very similar in a lighter, road specific package.
Honorable Mentions worth looking at: Montrail Fluid Flex ST (so much better than Fluid Flex with great ride, and the upcoming Fluid Flex FKT could perfect it with a better looking upper on the same platform) and Altra Superior 2.0 (first Altra shoe I’ve enjoyed the ride on and fit wasn’t too wide in midfoot/heel).
- inov-8 Mudclaw 300 – The best all-around mountain shoe to date, and I’ve nearly tried them all. The upper is near mountain shoe perfection, and the outsole is sticky, aggressive, yet still runs ok on harder terrain (and much better than inov-8’s x-talon and Terraclaw outsoles). The Mudclaw will have some stiff competition next year, but as it stands it is the most precise running, and best fitting, mountain shoe out there.
- Dynafit Feline SL (review) – Dynafit was the best newcomer for me in the mountain shoe category, and their forthcoming Feline Vertical has loads of potential. The Feline SL has a great fit, better midsole than most mountain shoes, and a more versatile outsole than most as well. It feels light, precise, and has just enough protection for most mountain outings. Only improvements I’d add are a rockplate and a better, seamless upper. The upcoming Feline Vertical appears to address both of these and add Vibram Megagrip rubber, so you can understand my excitement!
- The North Face Ultra MT – I wasn’t originally as taken with these shoes on the first run, but after a few good mountain outings in them, I really started to dig the mix of cushion, protection, precision and grip that they offered. The ride is firm and precise, but has just enough give to handle fast downhills on hard terrain. The rockplate is much welcomed (something not as common in mountain shoes as in trail shoes), and the Vibram Megagrip rubber is outstanding (the MT is still the only shoe I’ve used with Megagrip, but many new models coming in 2016 with it).
Honorable Mentions worth looking at: adidas Terrex Boost (absolutely awesome midsole/outsole platform, just the upper is not very forgiving; upcoming Agravic could put it all together) and La Sportiva Mutant (great, unique upper and fantastic outsole, but lack of rock plate is noticeable on rocky terrain, and general ride not very inspired).
All in all 2015 was a great year for running shoes, with increasingly better upper materials and construction, better midsole materials (the year of Boost where it was in most adidas models including the first time in their trail shoes), and better outsole materials (Continental trail outsoles and Vibram Megagrip in particular). 2016 looks to continue all of these trends and I see them starting to converge more in single shoes, where in the past great features tended to exist more in isolation with certain parts of the shoe having sometimes glaring issues in tandem with innovative new features. Take a look at the 2016 preview posts up on the blog (road racing, road, trail and mountain) and be sure to stay tuned for future reviews of those shoes and others!
Late race at Peterson Ridge. Hope to keep on running strong in 2016! Photo David Mitchell.