adidas Ultra Boost: After 65K

I’ve put more miles following my first review [read it here] of the Ultra Boost (UB), specifically clocking a total of 65K in them. Therefore it’s time to put my thoughts into a follow-up take on the shoe. For the most part, things are pretty much the way there wer per my initial take.

The ride experience of the UB sees no change. 65K isn’t plenty of miles for a pair of running shoes after all. Furthermore, the Boost midsole is widely regarded as being one of the most stable (in terms of characteristics) and durable in the market today. I believe you’ll get the smooth, protective and enjoyable feel throughout the lifespan of the shoe. In fact, I reckon the midsole to outlast the outsole, which show a little wear on the nubs. The thing is this – outsole design in the form of nubs or nipples will wear off quicker than conventional threads. Less surface are in contact with the ground and therefore whatever wear and tear would be more apparent. This does not necessarily mean that the rubber isn’t durable, however. It’s just because of the design.

Other than the smooth silky ride, the Ultra Boost did pretty well in terms of breathability. This isn’t so much of a concern for runners in temperate countries but in hot and muggy Malaysia, how well the shoe “breathes” is a huge factor. In the photo below, you can see the green of my socks peeping through the knitting – air just passes right through. Needless to say, I very much prefer this knitted upper to the TechFit one on my retired Energy Boost (EB).

Peek-a-boo!

There are a few areas where the UB could do better. Firstly, the weight. The UB would surely be one of the shoes I’d reach out for if I’m attempting a road ultra due to its fit, cushioning and impact protection but the thought of carrying that much weight over 60K or more is quite daunting. The PrimeKnit yarn, the plastic lacing system, the substantial heel counter and midsole shank all conspire to weigh the shoe down. Perhaps adidas sees the market differently but I’m all for using less material in production.

The Stretch Web outsole could definitely be improved. It doesn’t do well on wet surfaces at all due to the minimal ground contact by the nubs. They seem to be susceptible to quick wear-off especially on the feet of runners who scrape the bottom of their shoes with each step.

The joined plastic strips used to secure the lacing are rather thick.

Last but not least, the premium pricing of the UB presents a hurdle to most runners. For the masses, there are thankfully many options available. The EB (now version 2) which rides firmer in the forefoot is a popular alternative. The Glide Boost would also be a viable option if providing a more stable platform. These are the more substantial shoes if you’re so inclined. The lighter ones would be the Tempo Boost, Boston Boost and Adios Boost. More models are being updated to the Boost midsole, so the choices available can only become more bewildering.

However, if you intend to invest in the Ultra Boost, I’d suggest that you upsize by half from your usual adidas sizing. I wear a 10 but opted for a 10.5 for the UB which gives me more room in the toe box.

Disclaimer: The adidas Ultra Boost is a media sample provided courtesy of Adidas (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. The Ultra Boost is already available at Adidas boutiques in the country, retailing for RM650.

Originally published: Mar 28, 2015

adidas Ultra Boost: First Impressions

Hot on the heels of a shoe review, comes… another shoe review! This time it’s the premium-priced (let’s not beat around the bush) latest Boosted model from the German sporting giant. The Ultra Boost (UB) is a new addition to the expanding range of shoes from adidas featuring the midsole which debuted in the Energy Boost back in 2013.

Since I’ve clued you in on the UB’s premium positioning, let’s get that part out of the way, shall we? It retails for RM650, which means it shares the upper echelon pricing as the adios Boost, adistar Boost and Springblade Drive 2.0. I view shoes in this price bucket as niche. Sometimes companies do turn POC (Proof of Concept) projects into production runs although this may not have been the intention of the UB creators. According to adidas, the goal was to “create a shoe that unleashes the full potential of the amazing BOOST foam while at the same time ensuring an unsurpassed adaptable fit in the upper.” ARAMIS system (same tech used by NASA, Boeing and leading aerospace and automotive industries) was used to measure and map out zones of higher and lower deformation which can be as much as 10mm in the forefoot area just before push off. The upper wasn’t only the area to be scrutinized since the outsole is one large high-stress part of a shoe. You can read the interesting story that went behind the conception of the Ultra Boost here.

The result? Foot-conforming PrimeKnit upper and Stretch Web outsole as well as other complementary components you see below. The video that follows shows the assembly process.

Photo source: adidas blog

When I picked up the Ultra Boost the first time, it felt like a substantial shoe. I’d opted for a US10.5, up from my regular US10 because of my past experience with the Energy Boost (EB) and Boston Boost 5 (BB5) which both ran a little tight in the toe box. It’s bulkier than my recently blooded shoes and accentuated by exaggerated upward spring on both ends. The UB also has a very prominent heel tab.

At 11.35oz for the US10.5, the Ultra Boost won’t find itself in the lightweight category.

 

The high toe-spring and low toe-box can be clearly seen in this photo. In reality I didn’t substantially feel the effects of both the attributes. In fact, toe-springs are very obvious in shoes with knitted upper, just have a look at the Nike Free Flyknit.

The PrimeKnit upper is just as impressive. Not only you can see that the high stress areas are reinforced by close weaving but the whole upper fits like a bootie negating the need to lace up tight as you would a traditional shoe. If there’s a purpose for the long heel tab, it’s to allow you to grab and pull when putting the shoe on. The fit is very snug, very sock-like and almost immediately you’ll feel as if there’s a slight midfoot bump reminiscent of the out of production Skechers GOrun 3. The upper stretches in every direction and thus is more accommodating than say, the Boston Boost upper. Due to a low toe box, the upper could be felt rubbing on my big toe – I’ll cover this in a moment. The step-in feel is plush and walking around in the UB is extremely smooth, unlike the Energy Boost and the performance oriented Boston Boost.

The hard external split heel counter is very substantial. It goes without saying that the bulk contributed to the weight of the shoe.
The removable insoles which are thinner than the Energy Boost’s. You can quite clearly see my footprint on the bottom unit. It may appear that I’ve too much room up front but due to the shoe construction, the fit was actually just nice.
There’s a thin layer of felt-like material under the removable insole.

In evaluating it, I was determined from the very first run to really put the shoe through the wringer. I would be a bit more lenient if it is a sub-RM450 but well, it’s not. My first run was a 6K, which covered a wide variety of surfaces on straights and twisty paths between Jalan Binjai-KLCC Park-Mandarin Oriental Hotel driveway-Pinang-Kia Peng-Stonor. Surfaces covered were tarmac, concrete, tiles, bricked pavements, synthetic track, grass and packed earth sections. Conditions were warm and humid, with no rain that evening. The plan was to have a slow and easy recovery run what with 2 quality back-to-back sessions over the weekend. The Ultra Boost blew those plans away. Once the body warmed up after 1.5K, the pace just kicked in. I was conscious at the back of my mind to reel back the pace yet at the same time I wanted to put the shoe through the challenge.

The upper which fits like a bootie. The 2 large pieces of plastic on either side holding the laces and providing some structural integrity are the other reasons why the UB goes above 11oz.

Anyone would’ve had no problems believing me had I reported that this bulky (and heavy) shoe stood no chance on the twisty and congested (it was packed with tourists and I had to slalomed my way through) route I took that day. But the UB was anything but that. It had to be the snug upper which totally locked down the foot despite the frequent directional changes. The low toe-box turned out to be a non-issue due to its highly stretchable properties. The designers well and truly got that part right. Because it was unbelievable, I went a second round. At a faster pace. Same eye opening experience. I had to remind myself that it was my easy day and stop at the end of the second loop.

It was still too early to form any judgment. The next day, I pulled on the UBs again. The menu was an easy 10K and again I failed to keep to the plan of going slow. This time, I took another newly mapped route that’s turning into a personal favorite: Binjai-Tun Razak-U-Thant-Ampang Hilir-Raintree Club-back to the KLCC Park. It had poured like crazy but slowed to a light drizzle as I started off. This second run would reveal much more about the shoes, both good and bad.

The outsole lip of the Energy Boost makes a return on the Ultra Boost.
The Stretch Web outsole. As your foot strikes the ground, the outsole stretches along with the midsole compression. resulting in a buttery smooth ride. This photo also shows the midsole cutout with the small embedded torsion bar that pops out a little on the medial side.
Medial shot showing the little medial post. As with most Boosted models, the midsole “jut-out” in the heel is quite substantial.

First, the good. The shoe pretty much retained all the positive attributes I experienced the day before, from the smooth and quick transition, fit and the upper breathability. The bad? The almost non-existent traction on the wet surfaces especially on the tiled and brick pavements. The little rounded nubs which are also spaced quite apart are simply not for such running conditions. I walked around corners and up the pedestrian bridges to avoid face-planting on my run. The Ultra Boost’s outsole feels nowhere near as assured as the BB5’s Continental rubber. The other thing worth mentioning is that while the PrimeKnit upper is very breathable, it’s also susceptible in letting in rainwater. It’s not a unique attribute of the UB but a trade-off of ultra breathable uppers.

The two most recent runs were both slower, one a 6K and the other a 16K on the hard pavements and sidewalks of Putrajaya. The Boost midsole offer the necessary protection for my legs and I appreciated the bouncy feel in all my strides. In all my runs in the Ultra Boost, there had been no chafing, hotspots or any rubbing, even by the extended heel pull tab. Because the tongue is integrated to the upper, there’s no slipping and sliding.

Reviewing the Ultra Boost has really been more about the wear experience than looking its inherently unflattering specs in terms of weight and pricing. I admit that I had some apprehension going in to the review but am glad to have some doubts struck off for the most part. I’ll put more miles into them before returning with a wrap-up take on the shoe.

Disclosure: The adidas Ultra Boost is a media sample provided courtesy of Adidas (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. Initial review is based after running and walking in them for close to 42K. The Ultra Boost is already available at Adidas boutiques in the country, retailing for RM650.

Originally published: Mar 21, 2015

adidas adiZero Boston 5 Boost


I’ve sat on this review for the longest time. Somehow just didn’t get to it. Now that I’ve logged over 123km in these, I’d better get this dusted!
The uninitiated will often mistake the Boston 5 (B5) for the Adios Boost 2 (AB2), and they can be forgiven for that. The Adios, along with Nike Zoom Streak, was of course the racing flat of choice amongst world-class elites. Both the B5 and AB2 share similar colorway – red and black. Additionally, both shoes’ upper have strips of Tirrenina Suede for overlays. The material feels luxurious to the touch. Look closer, however, and you’ll see that the AB2 is a lower profiled shoe. Flip them over and you’ll also see the vast difference in outsole design.
So what of the B5 then?

Other than the fiery colorway, the B5 is quite an unassuming shoe, design-wise. Simple in construction, not overly engineered, and doesn’t have overlay overkill. It’s also extremely breathable – you can see through the open mesh. Water gets into the shoe as quickly as it drains out. No pebbles have found their way into the shoes thus far 🙂 . There’s not a single reflective element either. You can say that the B5 is purpose-built to get the non-elite runner (elites would probably have opted for the Adios) from point A to B as quickly as possible, nothing fancy, no blings.

Where necessary, such as around the collar and tongue (non-gusseted), there’s sufficient padding to be had. Although it doesn’t slip, I’d have preferred a slightly longer tongue. If you peek under the tongue on the left shoe, you’ll notice the “Boston Runs As One” print, a nod to the Boston One Fund. Interestingly, the shoe comes with a little note warning of potential color transfer. I’ve yet to experience any of that sort. And since I don’t run without socks, the exposed seams are non-issues to me.

The “Boston Runs As One” print is a little worn 🙂
Extremely breathable see-through mesh.
No reflective accents here.
Sweet spot for most runners looking for a fast ride.
Tapered forefoot, typical of adidas.

Typical of adidas shoes, the B5 has a tapered forefoot. While I fit OK in a US10, upsizing by half would’ve given my toes a more relaxed fit. A snug midfoot gives the shoe a decidedly performance feel. Per the Running Warehouse site, the B5 has a stack height of 26mm/16mm for a 10mm drop. The 10mm certainly doesn’t feel as pronounced as that of the Flyknit Lunar 2’s.

The B5 weighs in at 8.85oz for my US10 which hits the sweet spot for a performance trainer/racer. Lacing up a pair will make you want to take off. Ride characteristics is without a doubt on the firm end of the scale, especially in the forefoot. Not as firm as the Adios’ tiny Quickstrike bits but it’s still a snappy ride that you’ll get. Heel cushioning is more than enough in my opinion. I found myself landing in the midfoot a lot in these babies, so much so the heel cushioning is rather wasted. The midfoot Torsion shank adds some measure of structure and stiffness in that region. Much has been written on the Boost midsole – something which adidas is gradually converting their legacy shoes to. My personal experience with Boost has been positive. While not the lightest midsole material (it’s actually quite dense), I’ve found it to be very stable insofar as the retention of cushioning properties in various weather conditions down to low 10s Celcius. It’s also durable. Other than the Takumi Sen, Takumi Ren, Adios and the Boston 5, the other “Boosted” models aren’t that lightweight.

Hardly any wear-and-tear.

Traction accorded by the Continental rubber outsole was excellent. Not once did I slip during the course of a drizzly morning spent on hill repeats. I’ve logged over 123km in the B5 with minimal signs of wear and tear. It’s an excellent shoe for faster paced workouts such as tempo and long intervals. I’ve raced several good Half Marathons in them and could probably take them up to 30K distances with no issues. For the Marathon, my preference still leans towards something that offers a more forgiving ride like the Kinvara 5 (K5).

With all the rave reviews reported by nearly every wearer out there, there are still a few areas I wish of the shoe:

  • Firstly, shift a bit of the Boost foam from the heel to the forefoot. The result will be a lowered drop shoe with a little bit more cushioning up front.
  • Secondly, have a few reflective accents. Always useful for folks training early in the morning or late in the evening.
  • Tweak the collar for a more secure fit.
  • Finally, widen the forefoot just a little.

There are certainly no shortages of excellent marathon shoes out there in the local market today. For one who desires a lightweight sub 9oz ride with a blend of responsive cushioning, the choices are mind-boggling. Other than the B5, K5, Lunaracer 3, and DS Racer 10, you now have the GR4. In a couple of months’ time, there’s the Saucony Breakthru. It all comes down to fitting requirements and personal preference.

The adidas adizero Boston 5 Boost retails for RM420 and can be found at selected adidas boutiques in the country.

Originally published: Feb 11, 2015

Adidas adizero Ace 6

I was on the lookout for possible footwear in the weeks leading to Starlight (race report here). because, believe it or not, I didn’t have a pair that met my criteria for a road ultra: lightweight (under 10oz), breathable, not over-engineered, perfect blend of responsiveness and cushioning (meaning, not ultra soft), medium-stacked, with just a hint of structure/support to carry me as I straggle like a zombie towards the finish. Oh boy, was I in for a surprise. Little did I realize that I am that hard to please when it comes to shoes!

The original plan for Starlight was to go with 2 pairs – the GRU Nite Owl for the first half before swapping it for the Kinvara 5 Runshield for the second leg – but I finally decided to keep things simple by going with a single-pair approach. The GRU wasn’t an option as in the lead up towards the race, it caused some blistering on the top of my 4th toe. I even contemplated cutting out a hole where that problematic overlay ran over. The last time this happened was when I wore a overly small GR3. I was puzzled that this cropped up in a correctly sized GRU. The crucial question was then, “Which pair should I go with?”. The Strada and the regular version of the Kinvara 5 weren’t available as well.

With a few days to D-Day and in desperation, I’d tried on the asics Excel 33, Electro 33, adidas Revenergy Boost (photo). I found the silky smooth Revenergy too heavy (felt like over 10oz for my size 10) to be carrying over 84K, while the 2 asics just didn’t feel quite right and a little too thin on the forefoot midsole. I also checked out the several Nikes but they also felt off.

Just when I was this close *holding up my thumb and index finger* to giving up, I chanced upon the adiZero Ace 6 (aZA6). The aZA6 weighs under 9oz for my US10, which makes it lighter than the GRU, DS Trainer 19, Revenergy Boost, Zoom Fly, Zoom Elite 7, Pegasus 31 and Launch. More importantly it felt just right in the store – not too snug in the midfoot, sports a roomy forefoot (a shocker since adidas typically runs narrow) and has a little toe spring. It also didn’t feel like one with a high offset, more like between 6-8mm.

Forefoot is wide with a medium to high toebox. Atypical of Adidas.
The removable sockliner is as thin as that found on the GOrun 3 but is overall slightly stiffer and contoured around the arch. And not as hard as Nike’s FitSole.

The upper of the aZA6 shares the same design philosophy as GR3 and GRR3 – simple, minimal overlays over just the necessary areas. Interestingly, there’s an area just behind the forefoot flexpoint that is a little stretchy allowing the foot to splay further. This small area is reminiscent of the Biomorphic Fit found on the DS Trainer 9. The entire upper of the aZA6 down to the laces, tongue, padding, heel counter, is likewise kept simple. In all the miles that I’ve covered in the shoe, I’ve found the ventilation to be excellent.

Midsole is typical adidas with the firmer adiPRENE®+ employed in the forefoot and regular adiPRENE in the heel for cushioning duties. Where the Boost midsole accords a smooth and cushy ride, the adiPRENE setup creates a more responsive ride. It has that snappy feel to it, though not to the extent of the GOspeed.

adiWEAR compound is known for its durability.
Darker colored material used are “sticky rubber”. Note the inscription on the outer edge of the forefoot.

adiWEAR material can be found in the high-wear areas while the lighter Quickstrike in the other areas of the outsole. Sticky rubber is well deployed on sections of the outsole and I’ve found the forefoot grip to be astonishingly good. I certainly felt very assured wherever I ran, even on wet surfaces. Exposed midsole foam are evident throughout the outsole too. There’s a tiny strip of TPU which I don’t think serves any purpose due to its size. If I had a say in the design, the strip wouldn’t have found its way into the shoe. Flexibility is, however, just average.

The Torsion strip is so small, why have it in the first place?

The ride? The aZA6 is somewhat similar to the Wave Rider 17 but definitely firmer than the Kinvara 5 and Boston Boost. While I wore them over 84K, alternating between running and walking, it’s definitely a shoe that’s more suited to faster-paced running. I’ve also found that I needed to lace up tighter in order for the shoe to lock down better. Although there were no blisters post-Starlight, my feet slid back and forth a fair bit especially on the descents.Lacing up tightly wasn’t an option at that time due to foot swelling encountered over the course of an ultra. The aZA6 would definitely be more comfortable tackling quicker-paced runs and marathons than slow burns.

All things considered, the Ace 6 would find itself in the company of traditional performance trainers such as the Kinvara 5, DS Trainer 19, Zoom Elite 9, Zoom Fly, 890 v4, Launch, Wave Rider 17, Wave Sayonara 2. At 9oz for the US10, the aZA6 is the lightest of those I mentioned above. However, if you prefer an even lighter, softer and way more flexible option, you won’t go wrong with the GOrun Ride 3 (8.7oz).

It needs to be mentioned here that I’ve never taken to adidas shoes, even as a shoe geek for 15 years. I’ve found their training shoes to be too narrow, too clunky and heavy while their racing shoes too hardcore (read: ultra minimalist, firm). Lately the company seemed to have made some good moves addressing the middle ground. I’m impressed with the Boost midsole material. Its durability (my Energy Boost has logged over 300K with the outsole showing hardly any wear and tear) and that of the adiWEAR outsole is excellent. Of course, durability without a ride that fits the wearer is pointless. The Ace 6 thankfully has that. It won’t make waves in the running circle because it’s an understated shoe. Added to that, it’s not easily available.

I’ve logged over 110K in the adiZero Ace 6 and the shoe is available from the adidas boutiques in 1Utama and Sunway Pyramid for RM360. Information is scant on the Ace 6 unfortunately, but head on to the brand’s UK site and you’ll be able to see it there.

Originally published: Aug 31, 2014