Yes, unfortunately it is now February and a best of 2016 post is old news, but better late than never. While things were a little lighter on the blogging front for me, I still had a full year of running, racing, and got to try out tons of new shoes and gear in the process. I ran the Carlsbad Road Marathon in January, Gorge Waterfalls 100k in April, Quad Rock 50 mile in May, Bighorn 100 mile in June, Fat Dog 120 (DNF at mile 80, 25 hrs in) in August, and the North Face 50 mile in San Francisco in December. All in all, it was a good year of improvement and continuing to learn more about my self as a person and runner. Some big goals on tap for this year and hoping to start things off well at the LA Marathon in March (despite a recent injury setback last week, my first in 3 years).
I’ve done a “Best of the Year” post every year and thought I’d put together another one with the addition of some great gear that I’ve used a ton as well. Hopefully this won’t be too long and some will find it useful!
Best Shoes of 2016
- Skechers GORun Forza – The Forza didn’t blow me away when I first tried it in February last year, but it has really hung on in my line-up and is on the short list of road shoes I turn to for most road runs other than really fast days. The shoe holds up super well, fits and feels like a lighter shoe and offers great structure without ever getting in the way. Such a great shoe from Skechers and foreshadowing of some big improvements that are just now coming with their 2017 lineup (See GORun 5, GOMeb Razor and GOMeb Speed 4 all of which are fantastic!).
- adidas adizero Boston 6 – It took me a long time to get around to trying the Boston 6 despite my affinity for v5 on dry trails. While the Boston 6 is still great on trails, adidas really improved it’s feel on the road with a softer feeling forefoot due to a new outsole which is softer and yet still very durable; great stuff from Continental. The new seam-free toebox is a great change as well. The Boston 6 is one of the best all around shoes out there that will literally almost do anything well.
- Salming Miles – Salming was a big surprise for me last year and ended up with my road shoe of the year in the Distance 3. They didn’t really revamp their mainline models much in 2016 other than some new midsole material on them, but did launch a new road shoe in the Miles. All of my complaints about durability in the Distance and Speed have been completely abolished with the Miles. It is probably one of the more durable shoes I’ve ever used and feels completely natural riding in Salming’s usual style and feel. Great high mileage (likely a 750+ Mile shoe) trainer particularly if you don’t want a higher drop training shoe.
Honorable mentions: adidas adios 1 Haile (great re-issue of the adios 1 and super versatile shoe…can’t find it anymore so hopefully they re-issue the re-issue ), adidas adios 3 (incremental update, but still a great shoe) and Nike Pegasus 33 (light and versatile; great on trails),
- Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3 – Yes, I know this shoe was out in 2015 even (hard to believe) but I really didn’t begin to use it till this last year and actually ended up using it in most of my races this year at some point or another. The biggest reason it took me so long was that it took modifying the midsole profile to narrow the shoe up, which transformed the shoe and quickly made it much more nimble and it made a world of difference in the overall feel. The upper on the Wildhorse 3 is also second to none on the market it my view. It is light, breathes well and dries out quickly while allowing me to run very long in them sock less with zero issues. One of the best, well rounded trails shoes ever made. Version 4 is on the way in April and very much looking forward to that update as well as the Kiger 4. Take a look here from a preview pic of both of them from Kaci Lickteig’s twitter.
- Skechers GOTrail Ultra 3 – The Ultra 3 was a real surprise for me and after logging quite a few miles in it (in a couple different versions: standard, Climate All-Weather and a custom version with the GOTrail rock plate in it which is amazing). It has become a very nice tool to reach for in my rotation and the just released GOTrail Ultra 4 is even better with an improved upper in nearly every aspect as well as a bit firmer midsole which is also nice. If you haven’t tried the Ultra 3 or 4 grab a pair, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed and it offers a very unique ride that isn’t really similar to much else in the market.
- New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi – I waited till November to try the Gobi and that was too bad. After feeling that the Zante was loosing some of its initial luster for me due to some subpar (in my view) foam that breaks down way too early. The Zante also had an upper that isn’t quite as supportive as I’d like to see. Well the good news for me was the Gobi has a great upper with much more support in addition to the added lugs to the outsole which really improve the feel of the ride in my view. The foam still breaks down too soon, but really at the price they go for (under $100) there isn’t much to fault in them.
Honorable Mentions: Hoka One One Speed Instinct (best Hoka to date for me; well cushioned yet still enough pop to run fast and the best fit by far in any Hoka for my foot…like a Nike Kiger with more plush feel), Topo MT-2/Hyrdroventure (great light minimal-esque shoes and fantastic update to original MT…there is a new version of the MT-2 with an updated upper material that just came out) , Skechers GOTrail (good new entry for Skechers that runs well in a variety of conditions with a faster/lighter feel than the Ultra 3, but similar fit and finish), Montrail Caldorado (solid all-around new shoe from Montrail…really looking forward to the Caldorado 2 upper update which could address biggest issues with first version), Montrail Trans Alps (super burly, durable and surprisingly runnable beast of a shoe; also looking forward to upper update)
- Scarpa Atom – Scarpa really nailed their 2016 launches and overall came out with the best technical mountain footwear of the year in my view. Other than some overly wide heel profiles which, while not a deal breaker, could be narrower in my view, the shoes are remarkably well made with sticky Vibram Megagrip, low drops and secure uppers. The Atom, being the most minimal of the lineup fits snug but comfortable and creates a mountain slipper like feel in both the upper and ride. Such a fun shoe to run technical terrain in. I do think it could be improved with a forefoot rock plate to help with the occasional sharp rock and extend the length of outings it could handle, but even so it is still very good and one of my top 3 mountain shoes of all time….I rarely buy 2nd pairs of shoes these days and I’ll be buying another pair of Atoms.
- Scarpa Neutron – The Neutron is a burlier and more luggy option from Scarpa and despite needing just a bit narrower midsole profile in the heel, it is a really sweet mountain option with tons of protection, a decent ride, secure upper and great traction. Check Scarpa out if you frequent some technical or mountain terrain and keep a look out for the forthcoming Scarpa Spin that aims to strike a balance between the Atom and the Neutron and has tons of potential.
- Salming Elements – Salming’s first entry into the mountain running scene and they got a lot of things right. The upper needs just a bit of work in cleaning it up from stitchingand making it a touch more secure and the shoe could use a forefoot rockplate with its relatively low forefoot stack height, but the grip is quite nice in mud and loose terrain and it is one of the best non-UK designed (i.e. inov-8 or Walsh) fell running shoes I’ve come across. Hopefully, Salming doesn’t give up on the shoe and makes a few tweaks in the direction they appear to be going with their forthcoming Trail 5 and Snowrace with improved uppers and Vibram outsoles.
Best Gear of 2016
- Ultimate Direction Mono and Stereo waistbelts – I would have never thought waist belts would make a post of any sorts let alone top my list of hydration products but UD blew me away and totally revived the waist belt as a useful running tool. I used the Stereo which holds two 500 ml soft flasks (the Mono holds 1 500 ml flask) at the Bighorn 100 in the heat and it was incredible to have my torso clear to vent heat and yet still carry enough water comfortably. The Mono is something I use multiple times a week in training and literally you can’t even feel it on. I can carry a phone and multiple gels (with Hi-Fi front pouch, which comes with Stereo…they are interchangeable) in the front and 500 ml of fluid in the back without even noticing (used this setup at the North Face 50 and it was flawless).
- Salomon Sense Set and Ultra Set – What UD did for waist belts Salomon did for hydration vests…I’d almost not call these vests but hydration shirts or apparel they fit so close to the body. Great versatility and can carry a fair bit without any encumbrance. When I needed more gear than the UD belts could carry I used one of the Sense vests (i.e. nighttime at Bighorn or other races or training outings where jackets and lights were necessary). Salomon is revamping the line this year with new bottles with wider caps/opening (yes!) that should go back into the vest easier and upping the capacity from 1 and 3 to 2 and 5 for these vests in addition to adding a new 8 L model (see new line here).
- Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0 – The AK vest moved from the most minimal of UD’s vests to a more robust 10L capacity and includes extra pockets and features like ice axe loops for more ambitious outings. I used the vest at the Fat Dog 120 mile in Canada which had a pretty large mandatory gear list and it was great for that heavier load which would have been too much for the Sense Ultra. Great for adventures and more involved races and offers a nice blend of capacity and streamlined design.
-Other things I Liked this last Year
- Altra Casual Shoes – Altra released the Tokala and Desert boot and they really hit a nice balance of lightweight design and comfort, while still looking like a normal shoe and feeling like a running shoe. They’ve been great especially going to work after runs where they have plenty of room for feet to spread, relax and recover.
- Light running caps from Buff and Dynafit – the Buff Cap Pro and Dynafit React Cap have been awesome this last year. They are super light, very packable and both allow the bill to be flipped up when you are climbing steeper trails or otherwise want more visibility. Great design, particularly in more mountain environments.
- GU Energy – I used to not be that picky about energy and hydration products in the past and felt that sugar was sugar, but after making some effort to dial in my nutrition for 100 milers (after some issues with hydration at Western States in 2015), I needed to deal with sodium levels better as well as have a wide variety of gels and chews to keep things interesting for calories. The GU Hydration (formerly GU Brew) product had become a go to for electrolyte replacement for long outings and it also contains 70 cals per serving so there is some added sugar there too. The big difference for me is that the GU Hydration doesn’t have a super sweet taste or aftertaste that many others do for me and this is huge when going through lots of volume of liquid. GU Roctane drinks are also great for workouts in training where I want to simplify my calories and hydration into one drink. GU gels, which are now offered in bulk with a GU designed soft flask (yes!) have a wide variety of flavors with many being very palatable for me (some favorited are Salted Chocolate Roctane, Cucumber Mint, Root Beer, Salted Watermelon and Salted Caramel but many other good flavors). I still will use Clif Shot Bloks, Clif gels and Honey Stinger Gels to mix up the type of sugars here and there, but I’ll use GU the most and their drink is by far the best in my view (Clif’s Hydration drink mix is also decent).
Hope you all found something of interest with this post and hang in there with the site as we try to figure out how to balance everything out with our busy family lives and careers. Doesn’t mean we aren’t getting out running and trying new things still! I’d love to read any comments you may have on any of the shoes or gear I mentioned and always on the lookout for new things that work well for folks. I like good design of all sorts and always curious for new innovations and ideas that work well. Happy running in 2017!