adidas Ultra Boost review: are they really that good?

When adidas launch a shoe, they really launch a shoe. When they first announced their new midsole material – Boost – they took a group of people (me included) to New York where we joined journalists and blogger from all around the world at a stunning event at the Javits Centre – the home of the New York Marathon.

SS15_Boost_PR_FW1_LED_3x2So it was no surprise that when the brand with the three stripes (and the nobbly midsole material) announced the launch of the Ultra Boost – which they claim is the greatest running shoe ever – it was going to be a big deal. This time I was NFI for the trip to New York, but I was sent the PR material and I talked about the shoe coming out in an earlier post.

A few weeks later, a pair landed and I had the chance to try them out for myself. Here are my thoughts.

A shoe is just a shoe

The first thing that I have to say is that I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to the claims that shoe manufacturers make. Whether they are mega-minimalist sandles made from recycled tyres and hemp rope or huge, six-inch-deep platform shoes, I tend to think that running shoes are only as good as the person they are attached to. And they will never be a substitute for proper training and hard racing.

Nevertheless, good shoes can make a difference as much as bad shoes can and, as runners, I believe they are our only essential bit of kit, so they are not to be ignored.

Fundamentally though the adidas Ultra Boost is just a running shoe. I have tested them properly and I can confirm that they do not make me faster, less lazy, better looking or richer. No shoe can do those things (although some might claim they can!)

Ultraboost_FW_Exp_FunctionalA running shoe with benefits

There are differences however. And they are arguably significant.

Some time ago I expressed the opinion that the ultimate racing shoe for me would be a hybrid of the Nike Flyknit Races upper and the adidas adios Boost sole. The adizero Prime Boost comes close to being that shoe.

With the Ultra Boost, adidas have taken the same elements – the Prime Knit upper and the boost sole – and made a more usable shoe. They have made a shoe that could be used for lots of runs – easy, tempo, threshold, long runs and even races. The Prime Knit upper is great – flexible, breathable and it wraps around the foot meaning that my foot remained at the perfect temperature, there is absolutely no rubbing and the shoe feels really well held in place.

Underneath the combination of Boost midsole and Continental rubber outsole means that there is plenty of cushioning without the shoe being doughy and there are no problems at all with durability or grip.

The shoe is light, comfortable and for those who like a bit of heel-to-toe differential, it has that too (be warned if you are part of the zero-heel-drop-brigade, this is probably not the shoe for you)

Overall thoughts…

I think that the adidas Ultra Boost is a great shoe. I am sure it will sell well. As usual, adidas have put a lot of technology into the shoe in both the upper and the sole. The shoe will confirm to the shape of all but the weirdest trotters and there are no signs that the shoe has durability issues. It also – in my opinion – looks fantastic.

I am not going to race in the Ultra Boost – I prefer a lighter and less bulky shoe. But for everyday use and the odd session, this is a great option. Possibly not the greatest running shoe ever, but then I don’t think there ever has been or ever will be a greatest running shoe ever – it is all a matter of personal preference. I would say, however, that these are worth buying if you want a go-to shoe that performs well and looks great – they might just be the greatest for you.

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Click to open the infographic: ADIDAS_BOOST_INFOGRAPHIC

adidas Boost – the next chapter

SS15_Boost_PR_FW_Neon_3x2When adidas announced Boost as their latest technology, I honestly thought that they were on to something in terms of changing the paradigm. They had created a material that would challenge the ubiquity of EVA as the stuff that was on the bottom of every pair of running shoes (excluding the most minimalist of minimal shoes which have no cushioning at all). But as with all technology, the proof is in the pudding. How would Boost stand up to millions of miles of running? What would runners think of it? Would it become the default cushioning material for running shoes everywhere in the way that EVA had in the past?

My personal Boost experience

Personally I think that Boost is brilliant. It is firmer that a lot of the EVA that is found in trainers. And what I really liked is that now it has found its way in to the adios adiZero – my marathon racing shoe of choice – there is what I think is the perfect balance of weight, cushioning and firmness.

In fact in all the adidas shoes that I have had the chance to run in, that have Boost in them, I have found the material to be just about right.

SS15_Boost_PR_FW1_3x2As an aside, I think that when the adizero Prime Boost came out, adidas had come pretty close to the perfect racing shoe for me: low-profile Boost cushioning with around 9mm drop, durable rubber outsole and a flexible breathable upper. Only problem is the price at the time of the launch – £185!

Now Boost continues

Today adidas have announced the next chapter in the Boost story – the Ultra BOOST. adidas tell me that this trainer features 20 percent more BOOST cushioning material which they claim has the highest energy return cushioning in the running industry.

The shoe looks pretty amazing and there is a very sumptuous video to go with the launch. As soon as I can, I will run in the new Boost shoe and post a review, but for now… enjoy:

http://youtu.be/oqpTJP36okk

ADIDAS_BOOST_INFOGRAPHIC

adidas adiZero Adios Boost review – good just got better

I think that to a greater or lesser extent, all runners are creatures of habit and that is never truer than when it comes to our choice of footwear. The advice from experts and non-experts alike is often: find what works for you and then stick with it.

I have friends who find a shoe that they like and buy as many pairs as they can afford or justify – indeed at my club the demise of the ASICS Ohana resulted in panic buying the likes of which is only seen after the announcement of an impending tornado somewhere in the USA.

Other friends, including some highly regarded reviewers, wail and lament when a shoe that they like is discontinued or even just changed a little, as though the business decision about the shoe was a personal attack on them!

I have my favourites too

And I can sometimes see why. Whilst I do tend to look down on runners who put any success they achieve down to lucky pants or the fact that they have had the same vest since 1962, I do tend to get used to a pair of shoes and not really want to change.

My first Adios...
My first Adios…

When the original adidas adiZero Adios came out, all the faster runners at my club got a pair. I wanted a pair. They were too narrow for my Hobbit like plates of meat. I was gutted. Not only did they look cool but all the fastest people in the world were wearing them. Probably more importantly, the fastest people in my club and on the start lines of races I was running were wearing them.

In search of the perfect racing shoe

But I wasn’t able to join in the fun, so I kept looking for my ideal racing flat. I tried the Brooks T7 Racer and I liked them – but they were a little too flat for me. I went back to ASICS and raced in the Gel Hyperspeed but for the marathon they didn’t offer enough in the way of cushioning for me. The Mizuno Wave Ronin was a favourite for quite a while.

But then I heard a wonderful thing – there would be a range of adiZero Adios Wide… a troll-feet special! So I went to the adidas store on Oxford Street and there they were. The shoe I had been waiting for. I went crazy and bought two pairs in one go, because my man on the inside at adidas told me that the supply would be limited.

And so there I was, at the end of the Olympic year in London, training and racing in my new Adios Wides and dreaming of the London marathon in April 2013. What I would do in my new, light, responsive, comfortable movers. Then I found myself in New York, invited to the launch of the adidas Boost. Moreover I found myself sitting next to the man in charge of running at adidas for Europe. And he told me that if I liked the Boost (I did and still do) and the adiZero Adios (I did and I still do), then I would love the Adios Boost…

If Carlsberg made running shoes

The Boost midsole material
The Boost midsole material

WHAT!?!!?? All the things I love about the Adios – the perfect heel-toe offset, the light weight, the open-mesh upper – but with a Boost sole? I was really keen to get a pair on my feet.

Well now I have and I can report that unlike so many combinations that sound alright on paper but are a disaster in reality, the adidas Adios Boost is a triumph.

The shoe is everything that I loved about the adiZero Adios but with a firmer and more responsive feeling midsole. The shoe has the Continental rubber that certainly makes the shoe feel more grippy and if anything seems to have an even more open upper which keeps my feet lovely and aerated.

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 21.44.46If I have one tiny criticism, it is that if I am not very careful, the tongue, being really light, can roll at the edges and then there is a gap either side which allows the laces to rub against the top of the foot. But careful tongue placement (oh er missus) sorts that out.

In the races and sessions I have done so far in these shoes, they have felt great and that is despite there not being – as far as I know – a ‘wide’ version. I suspect that the new shoe is a little wider than the earlier adiZero Adios, which is great for me and the open mesh upper is probably also a little more forgiving. It probably also helps that these shoes are so striking looking.

Conclusion

For me, I think that adidas have done a great thing bringing their Boost technology and the design of the Adios together. I have sometimes thought that adidas has perhaps too wide a range of racing shoes and if they were to ask my opinion, I would say that they could do away with all the others and concentrate entirely on the Adios Boost. But then if they did, that would probably send me on a panic buying spree in case they sold out and I can not afford that, so adidas if you are reading this, please make sure you save a few pairs just for me… danke!

The adidas Boost – first impressions

EVA  – the material used to make the sole of over 90% of all cushioned sports shoes, has been around for getting on for 20 years now. There is no doubt that when it was launched, this material represented a quantum leap forward in footwear technology and whilst many advocates of barefoot running, blame the introduction of cushioned footwear and EVA in particular for what appears to be a change in the way people run, to a heel-strike gait, for many runners, cushioning under the foot allows them to run and makes tackling marathons possible.

This is not the place to debate whether or not cushioning is good. I am going to say that for many runners, it is desirable and I am one of them. On that basis, I was really intrigued to see what adidas had come up with when they announced, a few months ago, that they had a product that would revolutionise running.

That product is Boost – a propriatory mid-sole material that adidas have been developing for almost two years and which promises to be a massive improvement on EVA.

World, meet Boost

On Wednesday 13 February 2013 at 10:30am, Boost was launched in front of a group of journalists, writers, bloggers and others at an event in New York, USA. By 3pm I was running around Central Park in a pair. And I was very pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Boost mid-sole material

The first thing I noticed when I pulled on the Energy Boost shoes we had been given, was the material under my feet. Standing on the concrete floor in the conference centre where the presentation has taken place, the sole of the shoe felt springy and light, but not hugely different from EVA.

Boost is made up of thousands of beads of energy-returning material
Boost is made up of thousands of beads of energy-returning material

On the run, however, Boost really surprised me. It was much firmer than I expected and there was no loss of feeling or proprioception, which I thought there might be.

I think I felt that Boost would be a development of EVA – a softer, plusher material. But it is in fact, much firmer than many of the EVA-soled shoes I have run in recently. Certainly much firmer than Nike’s Lunarlon material. During my hour-long run with Stuart Miles from Pocket-Lint (a fine navigator of Central Park, it should be said!) I think I worked out why Boost is not a soft material by delving back into basic science at school.

The advantage that Boost offers, over EVA, is that it does not absorb force (or energy). Instead it rebounds and return energy from the footstrike. That is why it feels firm. At the presentation there were bins full of the little pearls of material that are fused together to make the mid-sole material and Stuart said that when he tried to compress the beads, they were resistant. So (and here is my basic and unverified scientific analysis) the force that the runner exerts on the mid-sole as his or her foot hits the ground, is returned as there is an equal and opposite reaction to the action of compression. Soft EVA simply absorbs energy. I likened the sensation of running in a shoes with an EVA mid-sole to riding a bike with suspension – it smoothes out the bumps, but at the same time absorbs the energy from pedaling, making the rider work harder. Boost is the equivalent of a stiff carbon frame and solid forks – possibly a rougher ride, but no loss of energy through absorbtion (in fact the opposite is true, so the analogy is not perfect).

The shoe

The shoe that we were given is more then just the mid-sole material. It would be, in fact, a very interesting shoe even if it only had an EVA sole.

Energy Boost shoe, complete with Central Park mud!
Energy Boost shoe, complete with Central Park mud!

The upper is made of a fine mesh material that has very few seams and a nice snug, but not restrictive fit. adidas shoes tend to come up smaller than other brands anyway, but the pliable upper is very forgiving and also doesn’t threaten much in the way of blister-causing seams.

Overlayed onto the upper are some bands of what feels like PVC material that run from the sole up around the mid-foot and form the lacing eyelets. These seem to have the effect of pulling the mid-foot nice and snug, whilst leaving plenty of space in the toe-box. At the back of the shoe is an external heel-counter made of plastic, which gives the shoe a familiar feel for anyone used to running in adidas and holds the foot nicely in place. It is also interesting to note that the opening above the tongue is wider than usual then on the adidas shoes I wear – the AdiZero Adios and the Feather – and whilst this didn’t make any difference to me, I did wonder whether the pressure of the laces across the top of the foot might cause problems if the shoe is laced very tight.

Did I get a Boost?

Overall, I think that the adidas Boost is a very, very interesting development. I was really pleased with how firm the material felt and there was no doubt, even on the gentle run that I took with Stuart, that there is a noticable rebound to the material. I am interested to see how that feels on both a longer run and a shorter faster session.

I am always wary of promises that a development – whether that is in kit or footwear or technology like GPS – will change the way we run. But I do really think that Boost has the possibility to provide a little extra, a small advantage – a boost! – which, when it comes to trying to be the best runner you can be, will be welcome. I am already really looking forward to trying out the Adios AdiZero version later this year and, if the rumours I have heard are true, will be watching the elite adidas athletes who will be wearing that iconic racing flat with the new mid-sole material, tackle the London marathon in April. Who knows, maybe this will be the development which will boost them to achieve new levels of performance and bring the sub-2 hour marathon a step or two closer.

The adidas Energy Boost will be released on 27 February and will cost £120 in the UK. Check local specialist running shops for details of whether they will have them in stock or the adidas website at www.adidas.co.uk

The launch of the adidas Boost – New York, Feb. 2013.

How do you announce and celebrate a game-changing piece of technology in the running market? It must be difficult for the marketing and brand heads of running companies to answer that question sometimes. After all, there are so many times that a new product or a new piece of technology is touted as a game-changer, that if you believe that yours IS a genuine epoch defining change, it is a challenge to do something big enough.

Well, adidas really stepped up to the mark for the launch of their Boost technology: they hired the Javits Centre (home of the New York Marathon expo) for the event. Flew in dozens of journalists, influencers, bloggers and others from around the world. Gave out iPads and shoes to the people invited to the launch event. Invited Yohan Blake and Haile Gebrselassie to the launch event.

And I think that all the huzzar might well be justified. The technology behind the Boost sounds valid – intstead of using a uniform slab of EVA, the Boost sole is made up of thousands of little balls of springy material all bonded together. This means that the spring is huge – based on the test that they have where a metal ball is dropped from a height on to sheets of Boost and EVA (you can see the test here) and the viability of the material doesn’t deteriorate in the same way that EVA does. If this proves to be true, then the Boost might well challenge the ubiquity of EVA, which at the moment is in 98% of all sports shoes produced with cushioning in them. That is game-changing.

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 14.38.29 Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 14.38.09 Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 14.37.48 Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 14.37.18

The proof will be in the pudding but I did have the chance to ask Johan Blake and Haile Gebrselassie what they think of the shoe. Johan told me that training is hard and that he actually does quite a large amount of his training in cushioned shoes rather than spikes. For him, anything that reduces fatigue and enhances recovery is good because it allows him to train harder and longer. That was what the Boost meant to him.

For Haile, the shoe represents a benefit for all levels of runners. He thinks that the shoe will allow elite athletes to gain a marginal advantage and when it comes to winning international and championship marathons, marginal gains are all there is. A few milimeters per stride, over the marathon distance, translates into big margins at the finish line. When I asked Halie what he thoghut the Boost would have allowed him to dio when he set the world record in Berlin, he was unhestitating:

It would have saved me a minute

And Haile also believes that the Boost will be a benefit to non-elite runners. For those who are heavier, the enhanced cushioning will reduce impact and therefore the likelihood of injury. That, by itself, will allow more training which will result in faster times, whether you are looking at breaking three hours, or finishing a debut marathon in five.

I am going to run as much as I can in the Boost I have been given to see what I think. There will be an initial review in the next day or two. And I have been told that there will be many versions of the Boost including an Adios racing flat, which is the shoe I am really looking forward to trying. In the mean time, here are some images so you can see the shoe…

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adidas Energy Boost sneak peek

As I have mentioned on this ‘ere blog before, when it comes to footwear – and especially racing footwear – I am a big fan of adidas products and I have really enjoyed wearing the Adios AdiZero and the AdiZero Feather 2 for many of my races. The Adios AdiZeros were on my feet when I PB’d in London in April last year.

And now I have been told about a new technology that adidas are releasing – the Energy Boost system. Now I can’t tell you too much about it… mainly because I don’t know all that much about it. But I have been told that there is a new shoe that offers the runner three significant-sounding benefits:

  • Improved cushioning thanks to ‘energy capsules’, which make up the footwear’s distinctive midsole and which claim to store and release energy more efficiently on every footstrike
  • Performance in all conditions: adidas tell me that the new Boost material “holds its performance in almost any condition at unparalleled levels; tests revealed that, when taken from +40  to -20 degrees Celsius, BOOST™ foam is three times more temperature-resistant than standard EVA material”
  • And better comfort with an upper on the Energy Boost shoe which incorporates adidas Techfit technology

This all sounds pretty good and I am very keen to try the shoe out – something I will get to do on 13 February at the global product launch. Until then, there is a video which offers a glimpse of the new Boost technology – which you can see here – and a rather cool, if enigmatic, photo to whet your appetite…