As a running neophyte, I really have no gear to speak of, but in July purchased my first pair of running shoes [that I would actually use for running]. I knew going in that a moderately higher-end, well put together running shoe would treat my feet and body to a better overall experience, but saddled with a limited budget and buoyed by a buy one–get one 50% off sale, I headed to Famous Footwear.
The goal was to replace my two-year-old black and silver Nike Air with a shoe that I could train and compete seriously with [specifically, compete in the Chicago Urbanathlon].
Nike Torch 4
By default, shopping [anywhere] can’t begin until I first take a cursory look at a clearance rack. My Indy Car warm-up lap of any shopping mall. Sure enough, the size 12 and 13 racks teamed with gray and orange Nike Torch 4. This could go either way on the really awesome or totally sucks spectrum.
In the store these felt like down pillows swaddling my feet. Lots of cushion with a slight spring in my step. Where my old shoes were flat, lifeless, and unfit for much outside of mowing the lawn, these were bouncy, nurturing, and begging for roadwork.
Once home and laced up they were still airy and springy, but on my first run I really plodded along with loud, heavy strides [which may be due more to my unorthodox gallop than my shoes]. I talked myself into the idea of properly breaking them in over the course of a few runs. I ran with them consistently and sure enough, they loosened up and that bouncy, nurturing feel that I appreciated in the store returned.
These are now my go-to shoes for day-to-day runs, and I wore them during my first 10K in early October and at the Urbanathlon in mid-October, feeling good during both races [I did get a small blister on one of my toes during the Urbanathlon, which I chalked up to the distance + obstacles combo platter]. Considering the amount of running during the Urbanathlon, the Torch 4 was a good call. I’ll continue to use these during winter [outdoor] training and then jettison them to ‘yard work’ garb in the spring.
Overall grade: B- [A reliable, game-tested, comfortable first shoe for me]
Reebok Real Flex
With my Nike Torch 4 in hand, looking for a second pair of running shoes was kind of like playing with house money. But being notoriously frugal, even house money is a little rich for my blood, so I kept my sights on something basic.
I liked the concept of the Reebok Real Flex and thought the shoe ideal for the road-grass-obstacle Urbanathlon mix. A jack-of-all-trades shoe that was light and ready for anything. The mesh upper provided minimalist comfort to complement the bulgy, jagged bottom. Sold.
The actual performance was a little disappointing. Do I wear a sock or not wear a sock [I’ve done it both ways and I’m still on the fence about this]? The little heal tab on the right shoe rubbed and bothered my Achilles, forcing my hand at not only wearing socks, but yanking them up high on my ankles for max protection. The bottoms of the shoe felt thinner [less wide] than expected so I obsessed about turning my ankles inward and having to be airlifted home from my crumpled mass on the curb. It required a few outings to get a true feel for this shoe, and it wasn’t until well after the Urbanthlon that I started training with them more regularly [though I did happen to wear these shoes while driving from Saint Paul to Chicago for the Urbanathlon].
To be fair, since October I’ve taken these shoes out more regularly on shorter runs [with socks, and now that we’re in winter it’s a moot point]. 2-4 miles seems a great range, so while not ideal for something ambitious like the Urbanathlon, I’ll definitely give these a whirl on a 5K late winter/early spring. Speaking of winter, I recently wore these on a 2.5-mile run in about 15-degree weather [and partially in snow] and half expected to come back with frostbite, but my dogs were toasty all the way. Like my feet on that cold run, I’m warming to the Reebok Real Flex.
As an added bonus, the green and black pallet finally gave me a shoe that set off my black with green piping Adidas sweat pants from Christmas 2010, as well as my green Adidas shirt, also from Christmas 2010.
Overall grade: C+ [A versatile shoe that performs well on multiple surfaces, and reaps added style points for color coordinating with my hard-to-match gear.]