My Profeet Experience

There are certain rights of passage that any runner will go through. Chief among them, which also include joys like nipple-chafing, race t-shirts that don’t fit anyone, and the warm glow when you suddenly realise that you’ve just run further than you first thought anyone in your condition would ever be able to, is the running Gait Analysis.

Many runners begin their new found hobby by dusting off the trainers found at the back of a cupboard, discarded since the previous health kick, and just start running. Others go to a discount sports outlet of their choosing and pick up something cheap and colourful. However, if a new runner talks to an old-hand, they’ll probably hear the words “gait analysis” and be pointed to a running-specific shop to move on a treadmill and then be provided with shoes that corrected the weird and wonderful things their feet were doing, and thereby making their running so much more pleasurable.

This was the route I took, indeed I still recall my parents taking me to the Sweatshop store at Bluewater shopping center, where I dutifully ran along on the treadmill. This was many moons ago now, and things have probably changed since then, but I am not sure by how much. Much of my personal reservation of this type of service stem from the fact that so often the camera is simply placed behind the runner and focuses on the knee downward. There are two buzzwords to focus on here.

Pronation:
Rotation of the medial bones in the midtarsal region of the foot inward and downward so that in walking the foot tends to come down on its inner margin

Supination:
A corresponding movement of the foot and leg in which the foot rolls outward with an elevated arch

So basically, these services are most concerned with “how much does you foot move?” The most difficult thing with this as an idea is that although we can see the foot collapsing in a shoe, what is often ignored is what is actually going on inside the shoe, or indeed why it matters. Ultimately, what this gait analysis system was aiming for was a straight line through your ankle and minimal rolling around.

As a result I was given a shoe recommendation, and I ran without giving any thought as to the type (stability, neutral, cushioned) , or indeed my running style.

Now, many years later, with many, many, different shoes under my belt I became aware of the services on offer at Profeet for runners, adventurers, and skiers alike as my previous coach, Robbie Britton, is an ambassador for  them, as are a few other people I know from the twittersphere, and international sports stars regularly visit too.

 

The front of the ProFeet Store

However, I had also managed to stumble upon a shoe model that just works for me! The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante just seem to fit my feet; I can run fast, I can run long, I can go to the track, or on a lunch run. I have never, ever, gotten a blister from these shoes (and I had spent a long time thinking that blisters were just a way of life for runners.) So with the perfect shoe, I had no need to fit anything extra to them.

That all changed once I started to struggle with my left foot, and whilst this may in part be due to long-term issues following knee surgery, I suspect a bigger part is played by the toe injury I sustained in moving house which I tried so hard to train on so that I could finish the marathon; in hindsight I probably could have taken the entire time off and then turned up on race day and just reset my time goals to simply enjoy myself. Anyway, however it was I came to find myself there, there is exactly where I found myself: On Fulham Road, on a cool, crisp, December afternoon, ready to see what the fancy new technology at Profeet could tell me about my running.

After filling in a quick couple of questions about my activity history and my sedentary desk life at work I met Emma who would be looking after me for the afternoon.

First up was the new bit of kit, supposedly the only one in the UK, which involves 3D mapping of the body in motion without the need for markers stuck to the body like you see on TV. Before I hopped on, Emma had a chat about my running history, discussed the knee surgery briefly, alerted her to the formation of a bunion, and I told her about my poorly toe. She felt my feet and wiggled them about in all kinds of directions to get a sense of how free (or otherwise, in the case of my left big toe) my foot joints were.

On the treadmill, barefoot first, we agreed upon a “steady” pace of about 13km/h (this was the most taxing part of the afternoon for me – trying to convert my pace per mile mindset, to a speed in kilometers goal.) So for thirty seconds or so I ran at this pace to warm up, and then Emma started the recording. Another 30 seconds or so, and I was done. I hopped off the treadmill, put my trainers back on, and then basically did the same thing again.

Then stuff got really interesting.

The data that the system can throw out is mesmerising as it analyses the forces I place on the ground at different points in my body, how much I move up and down with each step, my step rate, my ‘shank angle’ (whatever that is), etcetera, etcetera. What you might be able to notice though, particularly in the barefoot video as it is slightly remedied by shoes, is that my torso is leaning backwards; I am practically attempting to sit down with every step I take. Having seen the videos from Frankfurt Marathon in 2015, I was aware this might be the case, especially when tired, but I was shocked to see how much it was happening, and indeed how much it was affecting so many of the other factors that go into efficient running.

After a long time analysing the many fields of data taken from this information Emma moved on to show me an additional video she had taken, much like the gait analysis of yesteryear, which looked dead-on from the back of the treadmill at how my feet were moving. It was interesting to see that my left foot tracked very smoothly until almost the last second as it came off the ground and all the muscles around the hips just kind of give up and swing the ball of my foot out to the side to plonk it back in front of me again. Even more scary though, was the amount of collapsing that my right ankle seemed to be doing. Emma was keen though not to do too much work on this because it clearly wasn’t currently causing me any issues, and that “fixing” or fiddling with a problem that maybe wasn’t a problem could cause more harm than good.

The final part of the analysis section was back in barefeet running a short distance which included a pressure plate to track how my foot was functioning as I ran. Cue more shocked gasps.

Dynamic analysis of barefoot strike

I think there are a few obvious highlights there. It looks like my left foot pretty much slaps down on the ball and then bounces back up, if anything, the big toe seems to get in the way in this process and doesn’t act in any way like a lever. Additionally, the toes have been consigned to playing a role of shoe-filler on the left hand side – they appear to do absolutely nothing – probably because I am subconsciously trying to save the poorly toe. Also of note are the squiggly lines that show how weight tracks through the foot. The important thing is that on both feet the line tracks backwards on landing before heading forwards again, as would be expected, except, it seems to stutter and stall briefly rocking back onto my heels again before ultimately shifting off in the direction of my run. Mind boggling to think that my feet could do so much in such a short period of time.

At this point Emma and I sat down for a chat. She had provided print outs of what we had seen, and gave me a list of exercises to perform which will ultimately fix a large number of the problems I had witnessed. Contrary to some comments I subsequently received on twitter, I was not pressured into purchasing any additional add-ons to the service and I felt free to leave with all this information in hand (or on email).

Except, I am aware that benefits can be offered by the use of insoles – my wife would barely be able to perform daily tasks without her podiatrist-created offerings in her shoes. So I threw caution to the wind and decided to give the thumbs up to a set of custom crafted insoles, fitted to my shoe of choice.

The process is a simple one really – stand on a bed of silicon and sink into it allowing weight to settle in the right places. In my case, get that bit wrong with one foot so repeat the process. Emma then placed heated insoles into the molds before I stood on them again. At this point she left me for five minutes whilst the insoles cooled. From here Emma took them, with my shoes, to the workshop in the back whist I availed myself of free coffee and water and looked around the shop. When she came back, Emma had re-laced my shoes to remove some of the pressure I was getting over my arch and had some newly created insoles situated for me to try. I could feel the pressure where they had been built up a little too much under my big toe, so away they went for a little more jiggery-pokery. This time, I tried them on, laced up the shoes, and felt fantastic. The support was like nothing I had ever encountered before.

As the folks at Profeet say, these insoles aren’t designed to correct the problems with my foot – instead they should simply encourage better engagement with the floor and, in collaboration with the recommended stretches and strengthening exercises, work in tandem to create faster and more comfortable running.

Disclaimer: I feel like I need to make it clear exactly what got paid for in the process of this blog post. I chose to undertake the top level of analysis and measuring that Profeet offer – the 3D Pro Assessment. On top off that, after discussion, I also chose to purchase custom molded insoles. For the assessment I had cashed in some of my points on Running Heroes (you should really think about joining if you haven’t already) which rewarded me with 50% off of the price of this service.

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante & Vazee Pace Review

That’s right, this is a two-for-the-price-of-one dealio; Fresh Foam Zante & Vazee Pace!!

A little while back (not long before I ran the Frankfurt Marathon) I wrote a running shoe review for the New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay. I was totally won over by the shoe, despite my hesitations regarding the lifespan of the outsole, and was going to run the marathon in it. In the end, I actually decided to treat myself to some Fresh Foam Zante trainers not long before race day. Don’t worry, I wasn’t that guy, you know the one who wears new shoes on race day; I did put a handful of miles in the shoes in the few weeks before the race and decided there and then that I was going to go with the new ones!

First up I’ll be looking at the Zante, if you want to skip to the Vazee Pace review then you can click here.

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante

 

Here is what New Balance have to say about the shoe:

Personal bests are meant to be broken. Break yours with the all-new Fresh Foam Zante. Featuring an impossibly smooth heel-to-toe transition and an explosive toe spring for an overall faster ride, giving you the opportunity to turn personal bests into personal betters.

Designed from data gathered from fast runners, Fresh Foam Zante has an aggressive toe spring that delivers a quick, incredibly smooth heel to toe transition. Nothing is on the shoe that doesn’t need to be, making it feel like an extension of your foot.

COMPETITOR MAGAZINE’S “2015 Road Shoe of the Year”
TRIATHLETE MAGAZINE’S “Best in Class” award winner
RUNNING NETWORK’S “Best Performance Shoe” Award Winner
  • 6 mm drop
  • Molded sockliner
  • No-sew material application

Here are my thoughts about the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante:

Straight from the box, these shoes feel light, responsive and kind of exciting. The fit is not all that dissimilar to the Boracay, but despite having less of the Fresh Foam cushioning in the midsole it has a slightly higher drop (compared to the 4mm that was on the Boracay.) They feel remarkably similar in many ways actually, but the Zante was simply slicker and felt faster; the Boracay felt more like a distance shoe.

However, the Zante is just as much a shoe for distance, as I discovered at the Frankfurt Marathon as I used it on race day and after having a wash I immediately put it back on and walked back to the airport. No hotspots, no blisters, no pain.

I suppose if I have a negative, it may be that the shoe would feel too narrow for a few runners. I feel quite well supported by it, and I was grateful that New Balance had done away with the overlay that sat over my toe on the Boracay and there is nothing like this that bothers the foot on the Zante.

The outsole of the shoe is identical to the Boracay in terms of its styling, but that appears to be where the similarity ends as the Boracay reached the end of its life at about the 300 mile mark tearing through the front of the outsole. The outsole on the Zante is far more robust; I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted another 150 miles on top of the 350+ that I have completed so far.

The upper on the Fresh Foam Zante is made from a light fabric which is highly breathable, but seems pretty tough as there are no obvious signs of wear and tear. The shoes dry out pretty quickly and fit really nicely.

New Balance have just announced v2 of the the Fresh Foam Zante, and it looks really good! I am not sure I’ll be trying it for a while though as I still have an untouched pair of Zantes in the cupboard waiting to replace the model I am currently wearing; I saw them on offer and snapped up a pair in advance knowing how well they treated my feet.

 


 

New Balance Vazee Pace

 

At Christmas, aware that one day I would need something to replace the Zante, I chanced upon an excellent deal on a pair of New Balance Vazee Pace shoes. I had seen and heard a lot about the shoe as a potential successor to the Zante, so I threw some cash at the website and took receipt a little while later of some shiny new shoes. Since then I have interspersed them with my use of the Zante, generally using them on shorter runs but for no real reason other than I don’t feel like I need to wear them out before the Zante.

Here is what New Balance have to say about the shoe:

REVlite foam in the midsole cushioning helps energize each step while the sleek, bootie-like design wraps your foot like a second skin. Everything you need for speed is here and nothing you don’t, removing every obstacle in your way to your next personal best.
  • 6 mm drop
  • Bootie construction
  • Deconstructed heel counter
  • No-sew material application
  • Podular outsole
  • REVlite midsole foam

 

Here are my thoughts about the New Balance Vazee Pace:

The Boracay were my first foray into the New Balance shoe line, and the Zante came next. I hadn’t run in a New Balance shoe that wasn’t based on the Fresh Foam chassis, so I was interested to see what differences the REVlite midsole offers.

An innovative foam compound providing the same responsiveness and durability of New Balance foams 30% heavier. REVlite offers a lightweight ride without minimizing construction or sacrificing underfoot cushioning or stability.

In all honesty, to my highly-uneducated mind, there was little difference at all, and though maybe the REVlite doesn’t feel quite so springy or responsive as the Fresh Foam, it certainly feels well cushioned.

There are a few similarities between the Vazee Pace and the Zante; the drop is the same, and the shoes are manufactured with the use of overlays rather than any extraneous stitching that might cause rubbing.

The differences include the obvious midsole materials, but also the structure of the midsole and outsole. On the Vazee Pace you can see the ridges to allow the shoe to flex to a greater degree and the different patterns on the pods.

For me, the biggest difference comes in the width of the toebox. As I mentioned above, the toebox on the Zante might feel a little restrictive to some runners, but on the Vazee Pace I find perhaps a little too much room for movement. Shuffling the laces has helped a little, but when I get tired and my form changes a little, or when I wear them to run purely in anticlockwise loops around the track again and again, I can feel the slightest hint of hotspots forming on the ball of my foot as it slips around a bit.

This is a minor niggle though. On the whole, I thoroughly enjoy the Vazee Pace and I look forward to adding many more miles to these shoes. Whether or not I choose to run any of my marathons in them this year remains to be seen, especially with the fresh pair of Zantes hiding in my cupboard and the announcement of v2, but I would certainly recommend them as a viable option for any marathon runner.The deconstructed heel counter is an interesting touch – it has been created in such a way that there is an element of support on offer from the heel counter, but it is far more minimal than in many other shoes on the market and there is a sense that once you have tied the laces it kind of disappears.

You can pick up a pair of the New Balance Vazee Pace shoes via the website here. Don’t forget that if you sign up to their mailing list you can also get 15% off.  *

For both shoes, I wear a UK 9.5, as I would in any running shoe, and I find that these New Balance trainers fit perfectly to size.

*Correct at the time of writing

Have you run in either the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante, or the Vazee Pace? What did you think of them?

New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay – A Review

In June, I was honoured to receive the accolade of being the parkrunner of the month at Cranleigh parkrun and that I was to become the proud owner of some shiny new shoes courtesy of Sweatshop.

I popped into the shop to pick up some new kicks and was instantly drawn to the Brooks offerings because that is generally what I have always worn. I never really looked at the Adidas options and having not been particularly enthused by the Asics’ I had tried, I steered clear of those too. I tried on a pair of Nike Pegasus, but in the end I decided to go with something a little out of left field, for me at least, a pair of New Balance. I had never even put a pair on my feet so I decided I couldn’t really pass up this opportunity.

FreshFoam Boracay
the New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay

NB FreshFoam Boracay 1

NB FreshFoam Boracay 2

Having put 300 miles into the shoes now, I feel I can offer up a pretty accurate portrayal of how I have found them. In a simple one word review: brilliant.

But now for a little more detail.

Here is what they say about the shoe:

Be relentless. Never stop pursuing in Fresh Foam Boracay. Designed to bring a smoother and more stable ride to your route, this shoe gets that there is always something to chase. With soft and consistent cushioning, it delivers plush comfort from mile 1 to whenever you decide to stop.

  • 4mm drop
  • 257g
  • Neoprene stretch tongue
  • no-sew material application
  • Ortholite® Premium insole

But what do I think about it?

Slipping the Boracay on to the feet is a little like a luxurious foot-hug. The fit is a little more narrow than anything I have tried before, but I think that is more telling of the fact that I have been wearing trainers a little too wide for my slim feet. At no point have I felt my feet restricted in this manner, but the only drawback I have felt is that the overlay seemed to run right across the top of my big toe. This was never a problem when running and it has caused no issue regarding rubbing or blistering, but when putting the shoe on or simply standing around it is mildly distracting.

The biggest problem with putting the shoe on, and in fact one of my biggest gripes with the whole shoe is the neoprene stretch tongue that they seem to be lauding on the website. Whilst I am not offended by the choice of material or indeed its padding properties the problem with it exists in the fact that one cannot simply slip the shoe on; once the foot is in place you need to slip a finger down the inside to unfurl the tongue which has doubled back on itself and caused uncomfortable lumps and bumps across the top of the foot – every single time!

The selling point for this shoe (so much so they even put it in the title of the shoe) is the Fresh Foam midsole of the shoe. Rather than relying on plastic bits, funny shaping, or pockets of air, the midsole on the Boracay is one lump of ‘Fresh Foam’ from heel to toe with no obvious break for the arch or grooves for flexibility that you might normally see on a running shoe. The science behind this can be seen in the subtle differences in the hexagonal pattern along the lateral and medial sides of the shoe. In order to change the level of cushioning and responsiveness New Balance make these sections either concave or convex. At the rear of the shoe, for example, the outer edge is firm so that the foot does not roll outwards and this is controlled by the concave shaping of the foam. On the inside, to allow for a nice smooth ride, the opposite is true and a convex pattern allows for a little more squish. What this means in practical terms is a shoe which offers so much more fluidity in it’s ride than that offered by a shoe with more prescriptive plastic bits included. For me, this has basically resulted in a shoe with near perfect levels of cushioning – it is comfortable on the long run (and I’ve had plenty of those in my marathon training schedule), but also responsive whilst doing 400m reps on the track.

Finally, the outsole is a full covering of blown rubber with a similar pattern of hexagonal lugs to those on the side of the midsole. The grip offered here has been absolutely satisfactory on the roads in both wet and dry, but I suspect it would not cope overly well in wet grass or any real muddy areas – though I haven’t tried in either situation. With 300 miles on the clock I can see the wear and tear starting to take place as the sole thins along my strike pattern, and the very toe edge is basically through to the midsole – but aside from that there seems to be plenty of life left along the rest of it.

wpid-20151012_201040.jpg

The outsole wearing thin
The outsole wearing thin

On the road
300 miles later, I have a few reservations about the shoe – largely down to durability. One lace cracked and frayed within a matter of runs; this is not a problem per se but not a great advert. On the same shoe the lining of the heel counter seemed to fail and collapse pretty swiftly; again, not a huge problem but hardly a glowing endorsement either.

Frayed lace
Frayed lace
Lose and fraying heel counter lining
Lose and fraying heel counter lining

The main feature of the shoe is the plush comfort on offer from the Fresh Foam, but as a mid-to-toe striker I am generally using the area of the shoe with the least cushioning. As a result I think I am probably approaching the end of its lifespan as my run this weekend seemed to be lacking some of the earlier cushiness.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. The upper continues to hug my feet like a glove and I have not found a single hot-spot or point of discomfort from any run I have done between four miles and 21. In fact, there are few traces of evidence to suggest I have even run half as many miles; the shoes are in great condition still. Every one of these runs has been a pleasure, and I am so pleased to have discovered New Balance as a manufacturer of fine shoes.

Would I recommend it?
Absolutely!! This shoe is brilliant. The minor durability issues are as much down to bad luck on my part I suspect and actually do little to detract from the shoe. Whilst I might have hoped to get a few more miles under the belt in them, I reckon anyone who heel strikes will get at least 500 miles of service from them.

I award it a strong 8/10. If you’re in the market for a new shoe, then try this one – I reckon you’ll be happy!

stock images from New Balance, own images taken 12/10 with 302 miles recorded in the shoes