The Outside Blog

Adventure : Running

Smaller Runners Have the Advantage at Badwater

Until December 2013, California’s 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon, which started in Death Valley and ended at the Mount Whitney Portal, was considered the ultimate endurance test in an extreme heat environment.

That’s when a temporary moratorium was placed on all sporting events in Death Valley. Obviously, the announcement threw a wrench in this summer’s 37th edition of Badwater, scheduled to take place July 21 through 23. But you can’t just axe the world’s toughest footrace, so race organizers revised the route, which now incorporates more than 17,000 feet of elevation gain between Lone Pine and Whitney Portal. Although temperatures might not reach 125 degrees, the 97 brave souls who toe the line will likely still be treated to triple-digit temps.

And although some runners will incorporate special clothing and aid-station ice baths into ther races, other runners will have a more natural advantage: their body size.

While running in hot weather, an athlete’s primary goal—besides winning—should be to maintain a constant core temperature by balancing heat production and heat loss. Exercise itself creates internal heat. In fact, 80 percent of energy produced by exercising skeletal muscle becomes heat (the other 20 percent generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to power the muscle. Extremely hot environments can also cause athletes to take in heat, just as cold environments cause us to lose heat.  

Runners also battle heat externally via hot weather and humidity, both of which make running more difficult. Hot temperatures cause heat to transfer from the environment to the body, while humidity makes evaporative heat loss more difficult. In comfortable environments, to get rid of excess heat, blood is shunted to the skin, where warmed blood can lose heat through evaporation (sweating) or convection (if skin temperature is greater than the environmental temperature). Both evaporation and convection depend on the skin's surface area—the larger surface area, the better the heat loss.  

So, bigger runners should be better at cooling off, right?

Wrong.

Surface area and body mass (that is, muscle mass) are not at a one-to-one relationship—for every unit of body mass you increase, you don't get an equivalent relative increase in surface area. Smaller runners actually have more surface area relative to body mass, which gives them greater heat-loss ability for their relative mass.

According to a study in the European Journal of Physiology, this “distinct thermal advantage” corresponds with speed. Because lighter runners produce and store less heat than heavier runners at the same pace, they can run faster or farther. This difference was most striking in hot, humid conditions (95 degrees, greater than 60 percent humidity) and essentially absent in cool conditions (59 degrees).

Indeed, in 2004, exercise physiologist Tim Noakes published a related study in the Journal of Applied Physiology finding that African runners ran faster in the heat than their Caucasian peers. “Larger Caucasians reduce their running speed to ensure an optimal rate of heat storage without developing dangerous hyperthermia [heatstroke],” the study reports. “According to this model, the superior running performance in the heat of these African runners can be partly attributed to their smaller size and hence their capacity to run faster in the heat while storing heat at the same rate as heavier Caucasian runners.” 

In this study, the heavier Caucasian runners (169 pounds) ran approximately 10 percent slower during 30 minutes of exercise in hot conditions (95 degrees, 60 percent humidity) compared to the lighter Africans (131 pounds). The difference is dramatic when considering both groups ran the same time in the exercise test conducted in cool conditions (59 degrees).  

In other words, a slower but smaller runner has a substantially better shot at beating a faster but larger runner if the temperature is high enough.

Although many other factors can help regulate core temperature (clothing, heat adaptation, genetics, age, etc.), the bottom line is that the smaller you are, the better you should be able to handle the heat. So although the Badwater 135 might not reach 130 degrees this year, the soaring temps should be sufficient to give an advantage to the slight of frame.

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The 4 Most Influential Fitness Trends

Every year, data and news service Thomson Reuters compiles an index of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.” Scientists earn a place atop the list by publishing several articles that rank among the top one percent most cited by fellow researchers.

“Citations offer a direct testament to work that scientists themselves judge to be the most important to ongoing research,” said Gordon Macomber, managing director of Thomson Reuters Scientific and Scholarly Research, in a press release.

With that in mind, we combed through the most influential sports science journals to find their top-cited articles over the past five years. Presenting what all that research has to say about our health:

We’re Obsessed With Shortcuts

The Source: Journal of Applied Physiology

We want to go fast. But we don't want to do the hard work. Nitrate and protein supplement research dominates the literature. Nitrates, found in beetroot juice, were found to make exercise more efficient and help endurance athletes go stronger longer—if they drank 17 ounces of the stuff every day for at least three days before go-time.

And in muscle-building news, the journal’s top-cited study concluded that whey hydrolysate beats out soy protein and casein for post-workout muscle recovery. Athletes who downed a drink with 10 grams of whey hydrosylate after performing resistance exercise had a 93 percent greater muscle protein synthesis response than they did after consuming a drink that contained the same amount of casein.

The takeaway? Everyone's looking for a fitness shortcut. In reality, diet tweaks and supplements might help you eke out that final percent of performance gain. But for most athletes, sticking to the fundamentals will yield more immediate results.

We Want to Embrance Bionic Technology

The Source: The American Journal of Sports Medicine

Platelet-rich-plasma injections (aka PRP) were the hot topic in this journal. As the top-cited article explains, PRP injections are prepared from one’s own blood, and contain “growth factors and bioactive proteins that influence the healing of tendon, ligament, muscle, and bone.” More and more pro athletes are turning to both stem cell and PRP injections to try to avoid the uncertainty and down time associated with surgery.

Using one’s own blood as a body boost is nothing new. Tour de France cyclists have been extracting their own blood—sometimes centrifuging it down to just the red blood cells, then re-injecting it—for years. As Bike Pure explains, autologous blood transfusion “is not detectable and is perhaps not technically “doping”, but remains a banned technique affording a massive boost to an athlete over fatigued competition” by delivering extra oxygen to working muscles, and “increasing the capacity of the muscles to use oxygen by up to five percent.”

Unlike blood doping, PRP injections are not illegal. In 2011, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed PRP from its list of banned substances after noting a lack of evidence that the procedure enhances performance. PRP is for healing.

We're Terrified Of Concussions

The Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine

For athletes in contact sports like football, researchers are particularly concerned about concussions: their long-term effects, how to spot one, and how to decide when an athlete is ready to play again after suffering one.

Since top researchers released a popular consensus statement on concussion in sport in late 2008, research on the condition has exploded. We know now, for example, that men take more than twice as long as women to recover from a concussion. (An average of 66.9 days vs. 26.3 days for women, likely because the female hormone progesterone may play a protective role.) And that 10 to 20 minutes of low-intensity aerobic activity can alleviate symptoms and expedite recovery.

Helmet technology is getting smarter, too. In football, the new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet is “designed to disperse energy, reducing the risk of trauma,” SB Nation reports.  A built-in response system “is intended to alert coaches when a player suffers a significant hit to the head, or multiple hits that combine to pose a risk. And in the endurance sports world, Swedish company POC introduced helmets with MIPS, a technology designed to reduce oblique impact forces on the brain by allowing the helmet’s shell and liner to move separately.

We Think Sitting Is Killing Us

The Source: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews

In perhaps one of the most talked-about studies from this journal, scientists linked time spent sitting to mortality and found that the longer people sit every day, the higher their mortality rate. The revelation brought on a wave of stand-up desk articles and an urge to at least get up every 15 minutes to take a lap around the office.

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High Society, Higher Trails

The Leadville Race Series is right around the corner, and if you've scored one of the two suites at the Governor's Mansion, consider yourselves lucky. The historic building on Eighth Street is not only blocks from the race start but also among the few accommodations in town that offer full kitchens complete with cook tops, refrigerators, microwaves, toasters, and coffee makers (runners, you can cook your oatmeal or cream of wheat exactly to your liking on race morning).

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-governors-mansion-kitchen_fe.jpg","caption":"With it's full kitchen and cozy leather couches, the Governor's mansion is a quaint home away from home."}%}

Athletes will also love that each suite (which can sleep up to four) has its own entrance and private bath; no waking up everyone on your floor at 3 a.m. as you're sneaking out to the race start or attempting to clear your bowels for the tenth time that morning. 

The first-floor Jesse McDonald suit, named for the former Colorado governor who built the house in 1893, opens into a formal parlor with high ceilings and a gas fireplace. In fact, the Victorian decor—lace curtains, floral wallpaper, antique furniture—makes you wonder for a moment if McDonald himself might come through the front door.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/governors-mansion-bedroom_fe.jpg","caption":"Both suites are kitted out in unque decor that will transport you to a different time."}%}

The property is now owned by Jo Ann and Jaime Stuever, who relocated to the Centennial State from Florida in 2005. "Both Jaime and I feel that if you are going to change your life, do it in a big way," Jo Ann says. "I always dreamed of living in an old Victorian house, and when I first walked in the front door, I knew the Governor's Mansion was perfect."

During the past nine years, the couple—in addition to learning to ski—has enjoyed hosting guests and sending them out on adventures in and around Leadville. In fact, they became so engrained in the community that in 2011, Jaime was elected as Leadville's mayor. If you ask him, he'll tell you all about the town's mining history and how it came to be the highest incorporated city in North America.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-mineral-belt-trail-view_fe.jpg","caption":"You'll feel like you're on top of the 10,000-foot town when you wake up at the Governor's Mansion."}%}

Surrounded by the highest peaks in Colorado, the quintessential mountain town main street boasts several sporting goods stores, antique shops, and eateries, all in a half-mile stretch. Start your day with an early morning latte and breakfast burrito at City on a Hill, a charming coffee shop that roasts its own beans and showcases local art (this summer, Precision Peaks grace the walls; you likely won't be able to leave without purchasing your favorite mountain).

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-downtown-evening_fe.jpg","caption":"Downtown Leadville is a half-mile of mile-high tradition, with old-school main street shops."}%}

If time allows, explore the area's many trails (check out the Mineral Belt Trail, which loops 11.6 miles around town, or go father afield to Turquoise Lake or Mount Elbert). Afterward, refuel at High Mountain Pies or grab a late-night beer at the Silver Dollar (what the saloon lacks in local draughts, it makes up for in atmosphere).

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-downtown-saloon_fe.jpg","caption":"The one and only saloon is the perfect place to have a cold one and bask in the glory of the Wild West."}%}

And don't forget about the second-story deck back at the Governor's Mansion. It just might be the best place in town to watch the sun set over the Rockies and prop up your tired feet.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-marathon-mosquito-pass_fe.jpg","caption":"In Leadville, you are going to find some spectacular landscapes that will take your breath away--if the altitude doesn't."}%}

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Advice from Our Fittest Real Athletes

Pros are so lucky. They get to devote their lives to the sport they love, and completely focus on training and eating well. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be so successful? Look—you can. It's not that laundry list of obligations holding you back from being an amazing athlete, and our 2014 Fittest Real Athletes are living proof. They're power players at home, in the office, and competing alongside the pros themselves. And they're nice enough to share how they do it all, so start taking notes.

Train With a Buddy

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Case Study: Ironman Clay Emge, 30

Bona Fides
Last year, Emge, an engineer at an oil and gas company in Tyler, Texas, won the 25–29 age group at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

How He Does It
Emge has always been a strong runner—he completed a one-hour 22-minute half marathon in college. After getting into triathlons in 2009, he steadily improved his multisport performance through committed training: 6 A.M. swims at the YMCA, lunchtime runs and strength training, and grueling evening bike rides. But when he missed qualifying for Kona by just ten seconds in 2012, he decided to ramp up his approach—especially on the bike, his weakest discipline. “Realizing I was that close to something most triathletes only dream of made me dedicate myself to making it the following year,” he says. Emge began riding with a friend who was also targeting Kona and was a strong cyclist but a slower runner. “He pushes me on the bike, and I push him on the run,” says Emge. “Having a partner makes it that much more bearable—and makes you faster and more competitive, too” He also does weekly group rides. “I would never have won my age group at Kona without those steps,” he says. “I’m not motivated enough to push myself to the limit.”

Follow His Lead
Endurance coach Jesse Kropelnicki, who has guided several Ironman champions, strongly endorses working out with partners, particularly as a way to address weaknesses. But he cautions that doing so can result in overtraining. “If you’re working on improving one aspect of your sport, you need to decrease volume in others,” he says. “A triathlete who adds two hours a week of swimming needs to cut back on biking and running. Your body can only handle so much stress.”

Be More Efficient

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/blake-benke-fittest-real-athletes.jpg","size":"large"}%}

Case Study: Endurance Runner Blake Benke, 37

Bona Fides
In 2009, Benke, who lives in Connecticut and works in financial services on Wall Street, finished tenth place at the notorious Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile race through California’s Death Valley. Last September, he completed the 153-mile Spartathlon in Greece in 28 hours and 29 minutes, earning him 13th place—the top American finish.

How He Does It
Benke has a 90-minute commute and two small children. Finding the time to train takes discipline, which he developed at the U.S. Naval Academy and later as a Marine in the Iraq war. It also demands creativity. “I think part of the fun is making it all fit,” Benke says. He uses the seams in his schedule to train. He works from 
8 a.m. to 6 p.m., “with no breaks,” but will often run eight miles from his lower Manhattan office to Harlem to catch a commuter train home. Usually, he does his longer runs on weekends. “Then, as soon as I get home, I’m taking my kids to birthday parties, giving them baths, and doing everything I can to pull my weight,” says Benke, who is currently training for November’s JFK 50 Mile race. “It helps that I really only need about six hours of sleep.”

Follow His Lead
“If something is important to you, you’ll find time to do it,” says David Allen, author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life. “And often it will benefit the other things in your life.” Pack your day, as Benke does, and you can’t afford to waste a single moment, which helps you focus. “If you’re with your kids all the time but looking at your phone constantly, that’s no different than not being there at all,” says Allen. It’s all about balance. “If one part of your life starts to suffer, it’s important to reevaluate and figure out what needs to change.”

Set Goals—and Stick to Them

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/andrew-palmer-fittest-real-athletes.jpg","size":"large"}%}

Case Study: Climber Andrew Palmer, 27

Bona Fides
In October 2013, Palmer, a Boston-based data analyst at creative agency Digitas, climbed Jaws II, 
a 70-foot Class 5.15a route at 
New Hampshire’s famed Waimea crags. He was the fourth person 
to scale Jaws and one of a small number of Americans to send 
a 5.15a climb.

How He Does It
Palmer relies heavily on detailed goal setting, a habit he picked up 
in Richmond, Virginia, where he began climbing at 13, and honed as a student at Dartmouth College. These days he spends three nights 
a week at the climbing gym, training evenings from 8 to 10:30, always with a specific objective in mind. “I keep track of every workout,” he says. “If I’m not improving, I analyze variables like diet, sleep, and stress. If none of those things are to blame, I’ll take a different approach.” Almost every weekend, Palmer travels to Waimea—with a plan. “I’ll set a big goal, but start with smaller goals. When I was working on Jaws, I’d have a goal 
to make it a quarter of the way 
up, then halfway, then to just stay 
on the wall for a minute longer.”

Follow His Lead
“He’s doing everything correctly,” says Edwin Locke, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland business school and author of New Developments in Goal Setting and Task Performance. “He has a distant goal, some proximate goals, a plan to reach his goals, and a way to evaluate his goals.” Locke especially likes that Palmer tracks his progress on paper. If you do that and still can’t figure out what’s hampering your headway, he suggests reach-ing out to an expert like a coach or boss for help. “And make sure that the goal is for you,” he says. “If it’s 
to impress somebody else, you’ll fail 
or get hurt, or when you reach the goal it will feel empty.”

Multitask

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/amelia-boone-fittest-real-athletes.jpg","size":"large"}%}

Case Study: Obstacle Racer Amelia Boone, 30

Bona Fides
Bankruptcy attorney Boone was 
the top woman and second-place overall finisher in the 2012 World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour event that had competitors completing 
300 obstacles over 90 miles. Last year, Boone won the Spartan World Championship, a 14-mile course 
with some 40 obstacles.

How She Does It
During her interview for this story, Boone was rolling around on a lacrosse ball to smooth out some knots in her back. So goes training for a Chicago lawyer who occasionally puts in 80-hour workweeks at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, one of the country’s largest firms. Boone has become a master at getting fit while cranking out billable hours. “I’ll do phone calls as I walk home,” she says. “And I always tell people that a conference call is the best time to get in a ten-minute squat test.” Of course, she also has to find time for dedicated training sessions. She often wakes up at 4 A.M. to go for a run or work out at her local CrossFit gym. If her ever changing work schedule allows, she plans to tackle at least 
20 obstacle races across the country this year—up from 12 in 2013. “I always make sure my travel bookings are refundable,” she says.

Follow Her Lead
Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says you can get away with Boone’s brand of aggressive multitasking if the exercises you’re doing feel habitual. “You can easily complete a task that you don’t need to think about, like walking or brushing your teeth, while also having a conversation,” Markman says. Plus, “exercise is really good cognitively,” he says. “It releases dopamine, which is associated with focused attention.” But things get tricky when you try to accomplish multiple tasks that tax your brain, like shopping online while talking to someone. “Your brain will shift back and forth between the two tasks,” he cautions, “and you’ll become inefficient at both.”

Eat Smarter

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/sami-inkinen-fittest-real-athletes.jpg","size":"large"}%}

Case Study: Triathlete Sami Inkinen, 38

Bona Fides
Since launching the real estate website Trulia in 2005, Silicon Valley resident Inkinen has climbed to the top of the amateur triathlon ranks. He’s a two-time overall amateur champion at the highly competitive Wildflower Triathlon, near Paso Robles, California, and was the 2011 world cham-pion in the 70.3 distance for 
the 30–39 age group. In June, Inkinen and his wife began their attempt to row a 5-by-20-foot boat from San Francisco to Hawaii.

How He Does It
Though his company is now well established, Finland native Inkinen still keeps a startup schedule, regularly putting in 70-hour weeks. So how does he maintain elite-level endurance fitness? “Really intense hour-long workouts,” he says. Inkinen will bust out ten intervals of minute-long sprints on a treadmill or stationary bike followed by a minute of jogging or spinning, then jump in the pool and swim 100-yard sprints. “It’s all the time I can afford,” he says. But the most dramatic improvement in his racing came when he rebooted his nutrition plan. Disillusioned with a low-fat, high-carb diet that left him constantly hungry and caused his weight to fluctuate dramatically, Inkinen experimented with different foods, ultimately adopting a high-fat diet made up of ingredients like olive oil, macadamia nuts, and avocados. “After a few months, I started becoming healthier and performing better,” he says.

Follow His Lead
According to Dina Griffin, a sports dietitian at Fuel4mance, which counsels elite athletes on nutrition, there are four key signs that you might be ingesting too many carbs: you frequently bonk, you’re hungry all the time, your stomach hurts, and you’re not recovering well from workouts. “We’re seeing that most athletes—from weekend amateurs to serious professionals—perform better with moderate carbohydrate intake,” she says. “If you eat pasta every night, cut back to once or twice a week and see if you notice a difference.”

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Tested: Maximalist Shoes of 2014

There are few debates more polarized in the running world than the one between maximalists and minimalists. It seems everyone either subscribes to the super-cushioned cult or the minimal movement, and there’s not much common ground in between.

After the minimalist craze of the past few years, more top shoe brands are entering the maximalist fray. So we reviewed the latest beefed-up options to get to the bottom of the dispute. Or at least add more fuel to the flame.

Hoka One One Conquest ($170)

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/hoka-one-one-conquest_fe.jpg","caption":" "}%}

Intended for: Road

This is the Cadillac of road runners. The Conquest—the latest edition from the brand known for its trademark giant foam—is Hoka’s first attempt at a road shoe. Perched on a 29mm stack, the Conquest has twice the cushion of most normal road trainers. This makes it a great option for runners who log a lot of miles and want some extra cush or for those returning from injury.

Noticeably narrower and slightly less cumbersome than Hoka’s trail-shoe options, the Conquest still has a boxy, stilt-like effect. With that said, it’s also astonishingly stable thanks to a new Rmat® midsole-suspended cradle system that cups your foot. This shoe is laterally stiff and so cushioned that there's very little ground-feel, which might turn off some runners.

I found the shoe to be quite comfortable thanks to a seamless upper. Take note: the collar and tongue are uncushioned, and although I didn't have any problems with this, it could chafe some runners. All the more reason to try before you buy. The Conquest's Race-Lace system (similar to Salomon's Speedlaces) did cut into the top of my foot, but this was easily fixed by swapping in a pair of normal laces (included with every pair of shoes).  

The Conquest’s 4mm drop and rockered forefoot accelerate your transition from ground-strike to push-off, delivering on the promised feeling of “weightlessness.” Hoka devotees will notice the new foam is less plush than that in other Hokas, but this shoe is still a great combination of cushion and responsiveness for the road. Alberto Salazar told us, ”The more you run, the more support your foot needs.” This is a big-mileage shoe for any road runner looking to extend their long run in search of racing glory.

Important note: Hokas run at least a half size larger than the number on the box, so be sure to try these on for sizing before you buy.

Weight: 11.8 oz.; Drop: 4mm; Geometry: 25/29mm

Brooks Transcend ($160)

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/brooks-transcend-maximal-running_fe.jpg","caption":" "}%}

Intended for: Road

The Brooks Transcend, the company’s first foray into the maximalist market, looks a bit like it arrived on a spaceship from the future. The Brooks Super DNA midsole is 25 percent more cushioned than any of Brooks’ other offerings. Its rounded heel and 8mm drop helps you roll through your gait cycle and allows the shoe to maintain Brooks’ quick-footed lightweight feel. It’s a traditional road shoe that doesn’t compromise its midsole responsiveness for unnecessary cushion. 

For this shoe Brooks departed from a traditional shoe post—designed to keep you in proper biomechanical alignment—in favor of a new technology it calls “Guide Rails” to protect against pronation and supination. These rails are specialized plates along the upper on the outside of the shoe. The rails act like bumpers, so if your foot doesn't roll in or out, you won't notice them. If it does, they'll keep you from over-pronating or over-supinating.

The shoe’s plush upper feels downright luxurious, but I found the shoe could use a little more room in the toe-box. Runners with narrow feet shouldn't have any problem with the fit, but if you have wide feet, definitely try before you buy. The Transcend is a wonderful option for a focused road runner who wants a bit more cushion, but who isn't ready to make the jump to a Hoka One One.

Weight: 12.2 oz.; Drop: 8mm; Geometry: 22/30mm

Altra Olympus ($130)

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/altra-olympus-maximal-running_fe.jpg","caption":" "}%}

Intended for: Trail

Named after a peak on the edge of the Salt Lake valley, the Altra Olympus is the first maximally cushioned, zero-drop shoe. The heel is at the same height as your forefoot, as it would be if you were running barefoot. Altra believes this promotes proper biomechanics.

The wide toe box allows your toes to naturally splay, good for anyone with wide feet or runners who battle neuromas. The foot feel is soft and slipper-like, even without socks (if you choose to go that route). 

The Olympus forefoot rocker—like a early-rise ski tip—helps initiate your stride. And the Olympus’ wide platform makes it a very stable ride despite its relatively high stack height. If you charge downhill, or hope to, the Olympus will gobble up terrain like no other. The price for that, however, is less return of energy from the midsole. At times this shoe feels like riding uphill on your big travel freeride bike: the shock absorption is great until you have to climb. That means it can have a wet-shoe feel on the flats.

Our major gripe? The Olympus' tread looks more like what you'd expect on a road shoe. It wasn’t tacky enough for rock, and it wasn’t toothy enough for steep dirt trails. Finally, I found its tongue needed to be a bit longer and wider, or it needed an offset loop, to keep debris out. On long runs, I inevitably got rocks in the shoe.

Weight: 11 oz.; Drop: 0mm; Geometry: 32mm

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 ($110)

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/new-balance-cushion-980_fe.jpg","caption":" "}%}

Intended for: Road

Of all the new maximal shoes this year, the Fresh Foam 980 doesn’t feel like it belongs in the super-cush category. It has the slimmest profile of the crop and really doesn’t comply with it’s marketing copy of “soft, pillowy, and cloudlike.” What this shoe lacks in “pillowy” however, it makes up for in proprioception. That means it provides superior ground-feel than its competitors. Combine that with how light this shoe is, and you have a fast, lightly cushioned racer. 

Fresh Foam 980’s 4mm drop encourages a mid-foot strike and a quick cadence. A comfortable fit with a thick cushioned tongue, it features an elegant single-piece midsole and outsole that provide long-term durability (a technique made possible by new 3D-printing technology). The breathable upper uses welded overlays to eliminate seams and possible hot spots for blisters. It has a narrow forefoot, and sizes a little small—you should probably size up at least a half size when you buy.

The Fresh Foam 980 is the fleetest maximal shoe on the market today. It’s super responsive, light, cushioned, and wonderfully flexible for a maximal shoe with a lot of midsole. When your training volume increases and your long runs get really long, this is the high-mileage workhorse you’ll be happy to own. 

Weight: 8.8 oz.; Drop: 4mm; Geometry: 22/26mm

Vasque Ultra ShapeShifter ($170)

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/vasque-ultra-sst-cushion_fe.jpg","caption":" "}%}

Intended for: Trail

The “Ultra” in the name denotes who this shoe was made for—ultrarunners. The super-cushioned ShapeShifter subverts the traditional construction methods (and associated construction waste) by attaching the shoe’s upper directly to a one-piece injection-molded EVA outsole. This method eliminates the midsole and the insole entirely. Take note: that also means this shoe won't work for those who run with orthotics.

The Ultra ShapeShifter features a roomy stretch mesh sock upper and the Boa L5 lacing system. The latter is brilliant for on-the-run customization, and anyone who prefers their shoes loose for uphills and tight for downhills. Simply bend down and twist the mechanism to tighten your shoe to your preferred snugness. Because the laces are thin (about the size of fishing wire), they can cut into the top of your foot if they're too tight. 

The one-piece sole is malleable and conforms to the trail, and I found it gave me great traction even on loose kitty litter. It’s also a fantastic buffer between you and the hard ground, which increased my downhill running speed. Eliminating the layering comes with the added benefit of giving the ShapeShifter good trail feel for a shoe that lifts you 28mm off the ground. 

The biggest downside: I found the fit to be quite odd. The front of the arch/midfoot was much narrower than any other shoe I've worn. I couldn't run more than a few miles in this shoe, and if you have wide feet, either consider another option or definitely try before you buy. 

Weight: 10.6 oz.; Drop: 6mm; Geometry: 22/28mm

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