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.

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Tough Love for Running Injuries? It’s the only kind there is…

With the Edinburgh Marathon on May 27th in my sights, I’ve been gradually upping my mileage for some time now, in order to get it up from my usual 20 or so to around 35 miles per week.

As I’m now pushing 50, this has involved a great deal of pain in just about every joint, not to mention every tendon I’ve ever torn and every rib I’ve ever cracked.

Naturally, there’s nothing else for it but to carry on regardless, and hope that my chocolate ankle, marzipan knee and peanut-brittle lower back will eventually get with the programme; particularly as help and sympathy have been in pretty short supply from those around me. And not just from my long-suffering Good Lady Wife either: even my sainted physio has told me, and I quote, to  “man up and take some painkillers.”

And there you have it. Many years and many injuries later, the received wisdom of the ages is that biggish guys who are pushing 50 shouldn’t expect to train pain-free for marathons, and should instead turn to their only real friends in the world: Ibuprofen and Advil.

So as the sun sets over the beach, I’m about to lumber off into the night again, doped to the eyeballs and with that great BB King classic blasting in my ears. Nope, it isn’t ‘Into The Night’; it’s my other favourite BB track: ‘Nobody Loves Me But My Mother (And She Could Be Jiving Me Too).’

On the upside, however, my physio assures me that nothing major has gone wrong with the chocolate ankle, and she expects me to reach both the start and finish line in Edinburgh, God willing. So if there’s anyone out there who can spare a couple of quid for the wonderful Help The Hospices charity, I’d be eternally grateful if you could do so at my JustGiving page, where I’m hoping to raise at least £1,000.

And if you were minded to share this link with any generous corporate sponsors/suppliers of highly cushioned running shoes, that would also be great…