Asics Gel Cumulus 9 v Gel Cumulus 10. The big semi-scientific shootout.

cumulus-10Since posting about the Gel Cumulus 10 a few weeks ago, I’ve seen quite a lot of Internet debate about the relative merits of Cumulus 9s versus 10s. Naturally, this made me revisit my own thoughts on the Cumulus 10, to see if I’d actually added anything of value to the debate.

Well, you can imagine my shock and horror, when I realised that I’d actually been ‘slightly stupid’ in the way I approached my previous review. You see, as a fairly high mileage runner, I thought that racking up 250 miles or so in the Cumulus 10s before writing about them would lend the weight of empirical experience to my words.

Yet I now realise that comparing the next evolution of my favourite shoes without regard to my 9s and 10s having the same mileage on them, is like writing about a fine Camembert and the relative merits of a stick of chalk.

And so, at the risk of losing my amateur status and being banned from blogging at the next Olympics, I have taken the unprecedented step (for me anyway) of comparing the two shoes under strictly controlled laboratory conditions, the results of which you will find below.

Methodology.

9sv10sFirst, I went onto ebay, and sourced the cheapest possible BNIB Cumulus 9s and 10s I could find, in a UK size 13, normal fitting. Sadly, I couldn’t get them in the same colour, but let’s assume, for the sake of science, that that doesn’t really matter. The 9s had the tags removed too…but hey, let’s not get too nerdy about this.

I then placed, around my feet, a brand new pair of Thorlos Running Lite socks, (the Crews, if you’re interested. Not very manly, but my ankles prefer them) and headed out to face the mean streets of Southport, using the 1 mile block around my house as a test track. I went on to test the 9s, followed by the 10s. And so that even mild fatigue couldn’t skew the results, I repeated the test the next day, in identical weather conditions, but testing the 10s before the 9s. I then, on consecutive nights, ran 6 miles in each pair of shoes, first the 9s, then the 10s.

The 1 mile test.

First up were the Cumulus 9s, with their rather fetching Orange trim. Straight out of the box, they felt like a perfect fit, with acres of cushioning underfoot, and a ride that felt smooth and totally neutral. After wearing the 10s for the last few months, they were an absolute revelation, and, at the risk of infringing Nike’s marketing spiel, really made me feel like I was running on air as I made my way around the block.

Stepping into the 10s, the fit felt less satisfactory, as they do seem to have room for broader feet than mine. And even though the cushioning was just as lush as in the 9s, there felt to be more stiffness to the insoles, particularly to the outside of the foot. Once I was running, the stiffness was less evident, but the ride still put me much more in mind of the Asics Gel GT-2120 motion control shoes that I run in on rare occasions.

The next day, I repeated the exercise, but reversed the order I wore the shoes in, and still felt that the 9s felt so much more ‘neutral’ than the 10s.

The 6 Mile Test

Conditions were cold and slightly icy underfoot on both nights of the 6 mile test. The 9s went first, as I’m a sucker for chronology, and also, as it turns out, a sucker for comfort. Just as in the 1 mile test, the Cumulus 9s felt like carpet slippers, and almost as if they were part of my feet rather than a separate entity that was getting in the way of my natural running gait.

The next night, I went out in the 10s, and while they didn’t feel too different for the first 3-4 miles, I really felt the extra stiffness and support they offer over the last mile or two. Crucially though, while this didn’t cause me any muscle or joint pain, I felt that my legs were somehow more tense, thanks to the reduced flexibility of the Cumulus 10s.

The Not Really Very Scientific Findings

OK, so if you’re of a remotely scientific bent, you’re already laughing at my pseudo-nerdy methodology. Of course, I brought preconceptions to this exercise, and have merely reinforced them during the course of my ‘experiments’. On the upside though, this is a comparison between two brand new shoes, from a die-hard wearer of the Cumulus, so it should have some merit.

And my inescapable finding is that compared to the Gel Cumulus 9, the Cumulus 10 is more spacious, less flexible in the forefoot, and slightly stiffer to the outside of the foot – a quality that I anyway would associate with motion control shoes. The 10s also feel stiffer if you grab them in both hands and twist them.

None of which is to say that the Cumulus 10 is a bad shoe. I’ve covered hundreds of miles in them without any problem. Nevertheless, I may well try to source another couple of pairs of Cumulus 9s while they’re still available on ebay, merely because I like the softer, more yielding ride they offer.

Of course, I may also have to write a snotty letter to the chaps at Asics, asking them not to make the Cumulus 11s any stiffer than the 10s, as to my mind, they’re now far less neutral than previous incarnations of the Cumulus.

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My feet are killing me. But only financially…

While the less sensitive of my mates, which is pretty much all of them, are wont to describe me as the most hard-bitten, cynical old ad man on planet earth, there is one area in which they are gleefully united in regarding me as a dupe, a rube, a sucker to the marketing spiel of corporate America. Or if you want to be strictly accurate about this, corporate Japan.

And that is when I am forced to admit, arm up my back, naturally, exactly how much of my hard-earned wonga is spent annually on running shoes.

I won’t trouble you with the sum itself, just in case my good lady wife should happen across this post: but suffice it to say that the sum is not inconsiderable.

The reason being that even though I have swapped intensity for endless mileage these days, I am still a firm believer in retiring my running shoes once they’ve done about 400 miles or so. Which, when you consider that my favoured Asics Gel Cumulus shoes cost about £89 in a running store, or £55 if I find my size in one of the sports ‘sheds’, can start to run into serious money fairly quickly.

My non-running, couch potato friends find it hard to credit that a pair of running shoes costing £90 can be all out of ideas after just a couple of months training, but that, I’m afraid, is how it is. And I can prove it too.

Now, as I’m constantly in training for one race or another, I’ve generally got about 5 pairs of running shoes on the go. That’s two pairs of trail shoes, one fairly new, and one that I’m prepared to destroy in an hour and a half during Hellrunner; plus a new pair of Cumulus, a pair with about 1-200 miles on, and a pair with about 350 miles on them. They all get miles logged in a diary, so I don’t risk injury by running in them when they’re too broken down, but to be honest, the diary is pretty much redundant these days.

That’s because if I put my three current pairs of road shoes next to each other, the difference is immediately obvious. The newest pair aren’t just shiny and new, with a whiteness that would have invited massed stamping were I still at school, but the soles have a good half inch of springy, bouncy foam that makes me feel like I’m running on air.

Pair 2, with 150 miles on the clock are still pretty bouncy, and bear the indentations of my feet, making them the perfect shoes for any marathons or half marathons that might appear on my schedule. And pair 3, if I’m honest, are squashed nearly flat, and are virtually ready to be consigned to gardening leave, lest they be the cause of my next major injury.

Now, I know people who can get a lot more mileage out of shoes than me. But the mileage they achieve is in direct proportion to their body weight. So the 9-stone whippets are managing 6-700 miles between shoes, while, as previously noted, 14-stone biffers like me really have to resign themselves to forking out for new shoes on a more regular basis.

It isn’t hype. It isn’t marketing nonsense. You really do need to change your shoes when you’ve run them flat.

And having bared my sole on this most sensitive of subjects, I would also like the record to show that if Asics wish to relieve the pain on my poor, long-suffering bank account, I for one am not to proud to accept a new pair of Gel Cumuluses (Cumulii?) on the house. Size 13, if you’re asking…