Running Shoes & New Foams

New Balance Freshfoam Zante V4

Feb 2018: Nike will release another super-fast running shoe foam

I’m getting slightly fed up with walking past my local sports shoe store and seeing some of the window-sized ads for running shoes. It seems that every year there are new running shoe technologies that will guarantee to make me 10% faster. With the continued shoe innovation of each of the last few years, my calculations show that my 5k time should now be down to somewhere around 10 and a half minutes. It isn’t.

In fact I’ve got slower.

I would blame the shoes, but getting older and cycling a bit more probably have something to do with declining 5k times. To add insult to slowness-related injury, I kept on getting injured.

So I played around with some new shoe brands, the most successful of which (for me) were adidas adizero (ty Barrie) and New Balance’s Zante v3 (ty random shop guy). Those shoes also tended to look vaguely nice when photographed alongside STRYD or some other pod…like this:

STRYD Review Apple Watch

I just had an intrinsic worry about the soles of these shoes. Being blunt, these and other shoes just seemed to have a bit of re-branded polystyrene as the sole material which, after a couple of hundred miles, became fairly compacted and so losing the original cushioning properties.

Yet the marketing says otherwise: “super boost”; “ultra boost”, “mega boost”, “super mega boost”, “new, improved ultra mega-boost”…you get the message? I did. Repeatedly.

Putting my cynicism aside they DO seem to reduce injury as a mid-foot striker.

The History of Running Shoe Foam in 15 and a half seconds

New Balance are now on the v4 edition of the Zante running shoe. But the ‘Fresh Foam’ is found on the soles of several of its shoes and itself dates back to 2013/14.  New Balance use the EVA compound which as we all know is Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate; or you will probably best know it as (C2H4)n(C4H6O2)m.  That’s the same ‘n’ as in your ‘n+1’ bikes although I have no idea what the ‘m’ is despite doing A level Chemistry.

Unlike polystyrene ( 🙂 ), EVA is ‘springy’ and returns better to its original shape. EVA is made even springier and less dense as part of the injection moulding process used to make the sole.


Nike Epic React Flyknit

Nike now have their 2017 ‘React’ technology which was first released last year in their basketball shoes. Clearly Nike make more money from that sport than from running.

Moving on to 2018; February will see the same technology find its way on to running shoes with the Epic React Flyknit. The React foam increases energy return by 13 percent over Nike’s Lunarlon foam (Source: Ernest Kim, Nike). So, rather than the usual 10% annual increase, Nike are giving us a stunning 13%.

Of course NONE of us believe that any of this will make us 13% faster. But I suspect MANY of us HOPE that, maybe…just maybe, it could make us 1% faster.


Then, just as we in the West are currently blissfully unaware of Huamei and Huawei inroads into running tech, so we have ANTA sports in China moving forwards with their super running foam (December 2017). The A-LIVEFOAM. I’ve not yet seen any claims of how much faster they will make runners.

anta a livefoam

 

If you forefoot- or midfoot-strike then I’m not convinced that any of these technologies will make you faster. If you heel strike then you may well have a longer ‘ground contact time’ than other runners. So MAYBE these technologies might give you 10 seconds off your 5k time. But it would also have to be said that other sole technologies like Mizuno’s ‘WAVE’ or Nike’s springs and airbags would also probably work to a similar degree.

 

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6 Comments on "Running Shoes & New Foams"

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Jeff
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You’re right that Freshfoam is mostly marketing. It’s basically the same EVA that’s been in running shoes for decades. Boost is very different, and it isn’t just marketing hype. It’s the biggest change in running shoe technology in my lifetime. It’s a TPU foam that–contra your suggestion above–doesn’t really wear out at all. You will rip your upper to shreds and wear away the rubber outsole before you can kill a TPU midsole. Saucony uses the same technology, branded as Everun. It does have slightly more energy return (which has actually been shown to improve economy), but the durability is the main benefit. I don’t know about Nike’s new foam, but their 4% shoes use a blown pebax that has also been shown to improve economy, though it probably has less to do with the energy return and more to do with how much that foam compresses (meaning that the shoe is providing passive cushioning to replace would otherwise would have been active cushioning in the form of eccentric muscle contractions). In my anecdotal experience, and those of people I know who have trained and raced in the 4%, the shoes do indeed help, though nobody is sure quite how… Read more »
Justin
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TPU isn’t new, it’s actually been used and around since the 80’s. What WAS different was in HOW adidas implemented it (steam-pressed balls). PU is heavy, which was one of the reasons while the industry moved away from it in the first place. Currently Adidas has stated they are working on a TPU process that will reduce the weight in their ultraboost by a third. Both “Everun” and “Levitate” foam are made by the same company that makes the boost foam for Adidas. The only difference here are the claims the companies make and the recipe (Both are more firm under foot than Boost). Both are TPU and the good things are TPU are: They don’t stiffen in cold weather (like EVA) They last longer than EVA The Energy loss is gimmick as whatever gain you get in “Return” is lost in either poor form (through added heat loss) or frankly in heat loss in general (internal or external) I own a pair of the vaporfly 4% and that x-foam is super comfortable….when running. When walking I feel like i’m walking on a pair of stilts, but when on a run, to me, each footfall feels like a bunch of… Read more »
Dave Cochrane
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The only shoes I’ve ever run in that have made a clearly quantifiable difference to my times are Newtons (Fate and Fate 2 especially). I love my Asics Nimbus for long stuff, but they weigh a ton. I’m not sure the midsole material has made any difference to me over the years, but the Newton lugs definitely have.

Justin
Member

I am the literal opposite to you with the newtons. Owned a pair of Fate 2, ran with them last year, got injured because of them, will never use them again. After a few years knocking around with different models and options, anything that means I have to relearn how to run, or makes me contort my body to fit the design theory of the shoe; i’m out. Totally not discrediting that they work for you, you found the shoe that works; now run with it (pun totally intended).

I’m with you though with the nimbus. I got, as a gift a pair of the 20’s (My 18’s finally died and the 19’s were built for people with the narrowest of feet) and I love them. They are like bricks, though to be fair this year they were able to shave an entire ounce off the shoe. I treat them as my “set them and forget them shoe.” Don’t have to do much and don’t really have to think about much when wearing them; just run and be done.

Robert Black
Member

I’m really impressed by Saucony’s Everun, so much so I’ve 7 pairs of shoes in rotation with it In. 5 x kinvara 7’s, 1 x freedom and 1 x zealot 2. Also have Clifton 4 and zoot Diego’s on the go. The latter is no match to the Saucony’s.