February 11, 2014

Shoe Review: New Balance Fresh Foam 980s

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a sneak preview of a shoe that hasn’t even been released to the general public yet – the New Balance Fresh Foam 980s! These babies don’t come out officially until Friday, so I was really thrilled to give them an early test run today.

NB Fresh Foam 980s In Box
Surprise! Gorgeous colors.

The second I opened the box, I loved the look. Mine came in blue aster with hot pink & white accents, which I just thought looked great. (And made me realize that I have a ton of workout clothes in both electric blue and hot pink, so I could easily match the shoes to my outfit.) Perhaps I am coming around to the neon-with-white-accents style vs white-with-neon-accents that I haven’t loved in the past? Particularly with the Olympics going on right now, I really loved the Team USA-feel of the colors, since the hot pink seemed to me to be a slightly more feminine twist on red, white, and blue. So cute!

NB Fresh Foam 980s Stacked
Red, white, and PINK!

This year has been declared the year of the fat running shoe, and for me, the Fresh Foam 980s were my first forays into the genre. Basically, the “fat running shoe” concept is one that was popularized by Hoka – shoes feature a higher volume, softer density, and greater rebounding foam than the norm. However, Hokas are incredibly pricey, ringing up around $150 vs the normal $90-110, and I hadn’t yet tried them as a result. The Fresh 980s, on the other hand, are a much more reasonable $110 – in line with traditional sneakers. Plus with any luck, you can scavenge for sneaker sales like I always do 🙂

So how do you make the Fresh Foams differently than other shoes? I found this to be one of the coolest things of all: rather than uppers that are sewn together or heat-bonded, the shoe is constructed using 3D printing technology! That is so freaking cool, and also makes me excited about the future of sneakers, where perhaps shoes could even be 3D printed specifically to fit your feet. But what the 3D printing means now is that there isn’t any sewing, and therefore, no annoying seams on the uppers. I am so glad that shoe technology is getting away from that! The new 3D printing technology also leads to a pretty cool geometric sole, which New Balance has highlighted with a fun accent color. Overall, these shoes look pretty darn awesome.

NB Fresh Foam 980s Sole
I really like the cool geometric pattern!

But now let’s talk about what these actually do on my feet. When I put them on, I immediately noticed that they have a very low heel drop – 4mm, compared to the 10mm or so of traditional non-minimal running shoes. This is really, really flat compared to what I’m used to wearing for most marathons! However, unlike a lot of low/zero-drop shoes, they still had a lot of cushioning and support, and I felt like they were molding to my feet rather than making me feel like I wasn’t wearing any shoes at all. The insole felt curved and like it was cradling my feet, but outside of the shape, it didn’t feel super squishy/puffy. It’s a very strange balance to try to describe – they weren’t as buoyant as heavily cushioned shoes, but they also felt a lot more structured than non-cushioned minimalist sneakers. As a result, my feet felt very firm when I hit the ground, but still supported.

Unfortunately, for me, I didn’t feel like there was enough support to correct for my overpronation. I have had really flat feet ever since I was a little kid, and even wore orthotics in elementary school to try to correct them. (Today, I believe that probably wasn’t the best approach.) However, as much as I think it’s great for feet to be allowed to naturally do their thing, the pounding stress of running is not when I want to let my feet go free, and I’ve been fortunate to stay mostly injury-free during 100 marathons in stability shoes. The Fresh Foam 980s at first gave me the illusion of stability, but as I ran, I actually felt like my feet were rolling inward even more than in either minimal or traditional stability shoes. I would guess this is from a combo of the insole’s cradling nature and my own tendency to overpronate, and therefore, I’d probably wouldn’t recommend these to my flat footed friends. Runners’ World recommends these as “best for lightweight runners with average arches,” and I have to concur – the combo of medium cushioning/lightweight material would be awesome if your feet are already stable.

The New Balance Fresh Foam website is already taking pre-orders for the 980s, but for those Dallas readers who want to get a sneak peek a bit sooner, Luke’s Locker on Mockingbird is hosting a 3-mile fun run, followed by food, cocktails, giveaways and an exclusive Twitter Q&A with the New Balance Fresh Foam designers and project managers tomorrow night at 6pm. For those of you who aren’t in the Dallas area, you can also follow along and ask questions on Twitter with @nbrunning by following the #FreshFoamDallas hashtag.

Fresh Foam Party
Luke’s Locker always does some pretty fun runs, and it’s a great crowd if you’re looking to meet new runner friends in the Dallas area.

Disclaimer: New Balance provided me with shoes to review, but I was not pressured to write a positive review and all opinions expressed in today’s post are mine alone.


6 thoughts on “Shoe Review: New Balance Fresh Foam 980s”

  1. I just got a pair of these today also! I liked the cushion & upper as well, but I felt like there was some sort of “drop-off” in the very, very front, like it encouraged you to push off your midfoot versus higher up on your forefoot. However, I haven’t done a significant run in them yet. I work at a running store, so I’m interested to see what it looks like on an overpronator like yourself when I video record customers (or compliant co-workers…ha) on the treadmill. (P.S. I like your color 980s better than mine!)

    1. Definitely agree with that – I felt like I was heel/midfoot striking a bit more than usual, but since I was only able to test for a short time, I thought that might have been just something strange I had going on that day. Keep me posted on how your videos look – I’d love that capability for testing!

  2. Question for you – I have low arches but don’t overpronate (my stride is very even, considering how low my arches are). Back in November I bought a pair of Glycerins that I had to return after just a couple of runs because they gave me pretty awful arch pain because the inner plate cut into my arch (which at first felt good, but once I ran in them about a half mile, not so much). So, i traded them in for Nike Frees.

    So, these sound really intriguing to me, as I would like something with a little more cushioning for longer runs (the Nikes are great, but I do find my legs fatiguing more quickly, probably because they are working harder!). The only thing that worries me is if the arch plate is high. Of course, I could just go try them on and see. 🙂

    1. As long as you don’t overpronate, I would think these would be great. They definitely seem more supportive than something like the Frees, but they just don’t correct all that much for pronation.

    1. WOW I didn’t even realize there was a previous model – I thought this was the first! Which model did you try and how did they compare?

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