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including a long run of 16 miles
#1
The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 seems to be a shoe experiencing a slight identity crisis – it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as I like shoes that are innovative and buck the traditional mold for a running shoe, but I think the marketing of this shoe has contributed to some of the confusion.
The tagline that New Balance has chosen in marketing the Fresh Foam is “Experience the Science of Soft.” This suggests that the shoe is going to offer a cushy ride, and it has resulted in some people (probably me included) thinking that the shoe is New Balance’s answer to maximalist running. In You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login to view. fairness, New Balance would probably not agree with this positioning, and on their You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login to view. product page for the Fresh Foam they do say “With a lower midsole for a more natural underfoot feel, the Fresh Foam is incredibly soft yet stable…” So is it soft and cushy? Maximal? Natural?Going solely on specs, the Fresh Foam 980 is clearly not a “maximal” shoe. With a stack height of 25mm heel, 21mm forefoot and a weight of 9.1 oz it’s actually pretty similar to shoes like the Saucony Kinvara, Brooks Pureflow, and Asics Gel Lyte33, all of which could be considered lightweight trainers. And perhaps most perplexingly to me is the fact that the Fresh Foam doesn’t really feel all that soft. To me, the Kinvara 5 is a much softer shoe. This isn’t a bad thing, I just think the Fresh Foam has been poorly marketedSo what does the Fresh Foam feel like? To You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login to view. me it actually feels like a semi-firm, responsive lightweight trainer. I’ve put You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login to view. about 55 miles on my pair (these were a personal purchase at my local running store), including a long run of 16 miles, and have come away quite impressed with nearly everything except for the fit up front (which I’ve managed to make work via an insole swap – see below).
The only time I get any real sensation of softness running in the Fresh Foam is when I force a hard heel strike. The back of the heel does compress nicely, and feels somewhat like a cushy shoe like the Nike Pegasus. But with my mild heel strike the shoe actually feels pretty firm – it runs very smooth and is very stable under the forefoot. I’d almost compare the ride to something like the Pearl Izumi N1, which You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login to view. is an extremely firm shoe.The upper of the Fresh Foam is composed of a You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login to view. breathable mesh, and it has plush cushioning around the ankle collar and tongue. There is You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login to view. a plastic heel counter. Nothing really fancy about the upper. Seems durable and well made.
The smooth ride that the shoe provides is likely a combination of the full contact outsole and the geometry of the forefoot. There’s almost a slight rocker sensation under the toe. I think the contour is necessary since the Fresh Foam isn’t very flexible – it still allows for a smooth transition.As I mentioned in a previous post, my biggest complaint (only major complaint really) about the Fresh Foam is the shape of the tip of the toebox. It’s too pointy, and it forces my big toe inward (compare the Fresh Foam toebox shape to the Salomon Sense Pro below; I even went a half size up You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login to view.  in the Fresh Foam to try and improve fit). This led to some abrasion between You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login to view. my toes and significant blistering on a long run. It’s the only shoe that has caused me You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login to view. to experience toe blisters in a few years.
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#2
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