Shoe Review: New Balance Fresh Foam 1080

New Balance Men's Fresh Foam 1080 (M1080BK6)It’s one of life’s little ironies that having spent the first 30 years of my life trying to put on weight in order to avoid having sand kicked in my face (OK, it never happened, but Charles Atlas insisted that it was only a matter of time), my big problem now is in trying to reduce the bulk of my manly physique for the benefit of my long-suffering knees and ankles.

And so, like many big chaps who won’t ever blow out 50 candles again, the search for the most perfectly cushioned shoes possible takes up an improbably large proportion of my time and money these days.

I used to spend quite unfeasible amounts of take home pay on buying a new pair of Asics Gel Cumulus every 400 miles (which translated to every 8 weeks in the days when I ran marathons for fun), before they sadly turned away from cushioned neutrality and became something more akin to a control shoe. I even flirted a little with the ‘barefoot running’ revolution once upon a time; which is fine on the beach or for a fast few miles on the road, but really didn’t suit me on long runs. And so, my quest for a properly cushioned and completely neutral shoe has continued for many years and even more over-training injuries. Until now, that is. Because now, I have discovered Fresh Foam from New Balance.

Looking Under The Bonnet Of The Fresh Foam 1080s

At first meeting, I didn’t think the Fresh Foam 1080s were all that cushioned, as my usual running shop expedient of holding the shoes in both hands while prodding the insoles with my thumbs didn’t detect the luxurious level of ‘give’ I was hoping for.

Fresh Foam midsole

The one-piece Fresh Foam midsole

And then it was explained to me that while the insole wasn’t quite as plush as I might have expected, there was a lot of technology and, well, foam actually, going on under the bonnet, in the form of the neatly structured and incredibly spongy midsole you see here.

According to the manufacturer, this: ‘gives runners a continuously smooth ride without interference, while an intelligent emboss on the top bed of the midsole – in conjunction with data driven flex groove placement – combines to complement flexibility in this tremendously cushioned underfoot shoe.’

Well, colour me impressed with the tekkers. But does it deliver out on the road?

More Neutral Than Switzerland. More Lushly Upholstered Than Kim Kardashian.

Despite the promised technology – and the reassuring words: ‘Excellent Ride’ being printed on the top of one insole – my first few steps out of the front door were fairly tentative, as the Fresh Foam 1080s just don’t give off the same ‘bouncy castle’ vibe as most highly cushioned shoes the first time you wear them. And this was actually my first run since destroying a cartilage on the Rat Race Scotland Coast to Coast six months ago.

However, I only had to run a few hundred metres to realise that these things were quite capable of taking my much-abused knees and ankles to their happy place, as they feel just as neutral as any ‘natural running’ shoe, while plainly delivering all the cushioning you could ever ask for. Or as New Balance put it on their website, the Fresh Foam 1080 delivers: ‘…a supremely cushioned underfoot feel that respects and maintains a runner’s need to engage with the ride itself.’

To put it another way, running in the 1080s feels a lot like wearing a ‘natural running’ shoe, but on one of those springy foam tarmac surfaces they put in the adventure playgrounds of the very young.

Just as importantly, the bootie construction promises a highly adjustable fit that can even provide a neat and comfortable fit for my ludicrously high arches and finger-length toes. So much so that I have now completed several 10k training runs in these things, and while my long-neglected running muscles are none too happy with a return to 18 miles a week, I can honesty say that all of the joints that would normally be complaining at this point are still feeling pretty good about my long overdue conversion to Fresh Foam.

wholedamnbagSo while it’s early days in my return to anything resembling a decent road mileage, I have to say that if you need proper cushioning and a totally neutral ride, the Fresh Foam 1080s are just about the only game in town, and fully deserving of not just a prestigious Five Jelly Baby rating, but, indeed, the rare accolade of the Whole Damn Bag.

These days I run just like Red Rum…

Red-Rum-on-Southport-BeachNo, not gallloping very quickly with a tiny Irishman on my back. Instead, I have decided to take a leaf out of the late, great Ginger McCain’s book by using the golden(ish) sands and azure(ish) shallows  that run alongside my adoptive, one horse home town of Southport to make my long runs a little more effective and enjoyable, while endeavouring to avoid more injuries.

After all, this is the training regime that enabled Red Rum to win a record three Grand Nationals. So if it was good enough for him, I’m bound to say that it’s good enough for me; especially as I generally look like an old nag that’s been ridden hard and put away wet after a training session anyway.

You see, having reached the age where it’s nigh on impossible to train hard and still make it uninjured to the start line of a few races every year, it’s definitely time to start training smarter; especially as this year’s big date with destiny is the Rat Race Scotland Coast to Coast. Naturally, that means spending more time making use of the sand dunes to reduce strike impact. But current thinking is that soft ground can be just as problematic as pavements, as it can allow the heel to fall below the level of the front of the foot, thus overstretching the Achilles, not to mention putting additional stresses on ankle ligaments.

My new and revolutionary (for those of a non-equine persuasion) method enables me to run on hard-packed sand that has a little bit of give, while providing my feet and lower legs with a constant cool dousing of salty water, not to mention some useful additional resistance.

Naturally, it’s too early to say whether this rare splash of horse sense is going to help keep me injury-free in the future, but while I’m obviously not going to be troubling the bookies at Aintree, I can at least report that my new Red Rum Regime (which may well be the title of my best-selling exercise book if this all works out), has at least managed to reverse the terrifying decline in pace that’s been afflicting me for the last 18 months.

If the truth be told, that still means I’m running at more of a trot than a canter, but at least it proves, contrary to popular opinion, that I’m not ready for the knacker’s yard just yet…