Product Review: Topo Ultraventure Trail Shoe

Topo, now about four years old,  is continuing to grow their portfolio in the market of running and fitness shoes.  As they grow, they are also continuing to refine, improve, and innovate their models while staying true to their mantra of “move better naturally”.  Their latest model, the Ultraventure, pairs what is already a top of the line upper and midsole with a tried and true outsole from Vibram, the Topo founders prior company.  For me, this is a union that has been long in the making and one that is truly meant to be.  But enough about that, let’s take a look at the Ultraventure.

DISCLAIMER: These were provided to me for free as a member of the Topo Athlete team.  While I am partial to Topo, know that I don’t take the decision to commit to a single shoe brand lightly.  At the end of the day, my goal in all reviews is to lay out the facts in an unbiased way so that you can make an informed buying decision and so the company can use the feedback to make their products better.

Product Description

Topo has spent a lot of time tinkering with their trail shoes over the past couple of years with the goal of improving durability and performance.  The upper is solid and, while the previous outsole held up nicely, no one can deny the reputation that Vibram has for building the toughest outsoles on the market.  The Ultraventure is the first shoe in the line to feature a Vibram outsole and will not be the last (as I write this, the Terraventure 2 has already been released although I have not yet tested it).  If you think about it, it is a move that makes sense by allowing Topo to focus their efforts on developing other parts of the shoe.  In fact, this is a road that many other shoe manufacturers have already started the journey down.  In the end with the Ultraventure, you are going to get an extremely durable trail shoe, although it does come with a little more weight.

Specs

Here is a quick side-by-side comparison of the key specs between the Ultraventure and some of the other shoes in Topo’s trail line.

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As you can see, you are starting to notice some separation as the shoes are falling into distinct categories within the trail line.  The MT-2 still remains a faster racing shoe.  The new Terraventure 2, with its rock plate, offers a bit more protection with the added weight.  The Ultraventure offers a bit more cushion with a bit less weight, optimal for the longer distance runs.

A bit more about the shoe…

The upper and the fit are both classic to Topo form.  No one else has yet to replicate the Topo fit, with its wide open toe box and snug midfoot and heel fit.  This is still the best shoe on the market when it comes to foot shape, and the durability continues to outshine most of the competition.  In the trail line, if you don’t get AT LEAST 400 miles out of the shoes, I would be surprised.  In fact, many of my models are already over that.

The midsole offers a nice, cushioned ride.  This is partly due to the Ultraventure having the highest stack height in the Topo line of shoes.  It is called the Ultraventure for a reason…to give you a comfortable ride for the long haul.

I have already talked about the new Vibram outsole, but to reiterate, it significantly adds to the traction of the shoes.  It has deeper lugs than previous Topo shoes, which makes a huge difference on most terrains.  I actually went out for a run in a foot of snow before writing this and they performed wonderfully.

In Action

What better way to test out a pair of shoes than to go run a 25K race in them right out of the box while dealing with plantar fasciitis (I didn’t say I was smart)?  Well that is what I did, and while it was a first year race with a very small list of racers, I grabbed the win.  The plantar fasciitis did NOT feel good for the next week, but the shoe performed wonderfully.  I never felt like they were heavy and felt confident as ever under foot and had no issues with my foot the entire run (maybe I should have just kept them on).  I haven’t taken them out much further than that race, but I can say without a doubt that they may have supplanted the Terraventure as my favorite Topo trail shoe.

On the downside though, these are not going to be a shoe for the runner that puts a high premium on ground feel.  For that, I would go with the MT-2.  As I mentioned, these have the highest stack height in the trail line and when coupled with the Vibram outsole, it does take away ground feel quite a bit.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

These will get about 50-60% of all of my trail miles going forward.  I like the softer ride for long runs and love the 5mm drop (many of their other trail shoes are 0-3mm).  If this is what you look for in shoes, then definitely give them a shot.

Pro’s

  • Durability…best to date.
  • I personally love the stack height and drop on this shoe.  I wouldn’t call them Hokas or anything, but they are the softest ride in the Topo trail lineup.

Con’s

  • No rock plate, although with the stack height I can’t say it that I really missed it.
  • Lack of ground feel versus other options.

If you decide to follow my advice, you can give them (or any other Topo shoe) a try AND get 10% off at topoathletic.com with code TOPODEANJ10...with 10% off and a friendly return policy, why wouldn’t you?

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

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Product Review: Topo Athletic COR

Any runner will tell you that in order to continue doing what we all love, it is important to take care of your body.  One way to do that is by cross-training to build strength and stay healthy.  That is one of the things that I love about Topo Athletic shoes; in addition to their running models, they also have a line dedicated to cross-training and gym work.  The COR is the latest model in the gym line and the shoe that I will review for you today.

DISCLAIMER: I bought these shoes at a discount as a member of the Topo Athlete team.

Product Description

The COR is marketed as a light, minimal shoe that can be worn in the gym or around town.  My review will focus on the gym aspects of the shoe.  It has a simplistic look, but don’t let that fool you, it is a high performance shoe.

Specs

The COR is built on the same platform as Topo’s minimalist road shoe, the ST-2.  This translates well into the gym for a number of reasons.  First, it is a zero-drop shoe with a low to the ground feel, providing you with a firm, stable base perfect for lifting weights or high-intensity cardio workouts.  Second, it has a light feel so that it doesn’t feel clunky or impede quick movements.

Weight: 6.8 oz (Size M9)
Heel Drop: 0mm
Stack Height: 16mm

Outside the Shoe

The upper is an elastic-fit mesh with a velcro strap.  The primary driver of the fit is the elastic upper where the strap allows you to fine tune how snug it feels.  The mesh is completely breathable and provides a comfortable fit.  The mesh is a bit thicker than I expected, but results in an overall softer feel without sacrificing much in terms of weight.  While I experienced no issues, the elastic fit might make the shoe difficult to get on if you have a large foot, but I have heard from others that the elastic loosens up a bit after a few wears.  The velcro strap across the top allows you to apply just the right amount of added pressure to keep the shoe snug in place without feeling too restrictive.

Inside the Shoe/Fit

The fit of this shoe is great.  It is light, airy, and comfortable.  The mesh material of the upper is soft enough that you don’t really feel like you are wearing anything.  The natural, low-to-the ground footbed and wide toe box also allow your foot to do what it is meant to do.

In Action

One of the concerns I had before trying the shoe in action was that the upper wouldn’t provide enough stability on quick side movements (as typically found in HIIT-type workouts) and that my foot would roll over the side of the shoe.  So far, this hasn’t been the case.  The upper is flexible, but the strap provides just enough stability to prevent this from happening without inhibiting freedom of movement.  Another thing that look out for in gym shoes is that sometimes, in workouts with explosive side-to-side movements, I have gotten foot cramps because the shoe fit is too tight and restrictive.  Throughout my use of the COR, I have yet to experience such cramping.  The shoe provides stability and confidence to do such workouts without worrying about traction injury.  Lastly, being a low-to-the-ground zero-drop shoe, it provided an excellent platform for strength workouts.  It helped with my form during squats while also providing safe footing while doing weight work.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

From the gym aspect, it’s a very solid shoe.  Whether you work out at home or the gym, it is a shoe that will get the job done for every workout.  If you are ok with the look, it would even be a comfortable everyday shoe.  And since it is built on the same platform as the ST-2, I would feel confident going for a run in these too.  It is a great multi-purpose shoe.

Pro’s

  • Platform is perfect for just about every type of workout.
  • Upper is definitely more breathable than I expected.  It feels great around the foot.
  • At only $90, this is the best price you will get for a high performance shoe that can be used in so many different ways.

Con’s

  • Stability strap is only mildly helpful in my opinion.  Could probably be improved to provide even more stability support.

If you decide to give them a try and can’t find them locally, you can order them (or any other Topo shoe) at topoathletic.com AND get 10% off with code TOPOJDEAN10.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

Race Report: Kat’cina Mosa 100K (2017)

Man, it has been a a long time since I have made a blog post! Between the new job this year and various injuries, I have had little time or cause to write much of anything. In hopes of trying to get back into the swing of things, a race report is the perfect remedy.

Kat'cina Mosa 100K is a local Utah race for put on by John Bozung also the RD of the Squaw Peak 50 Mile in June) every year during the first week of August. It takes place in and around Provo Canyon, just East of Springville, Utah. John's races are known for being some of the hardest of their respective distances in the West, if not the entire U.S.

Kat'cina Mosa is used by many local ultra runners in Utah because it is the perfect long run leading up to the Wasatch 100. While it may not be the steepest in terms of overall elevation gain (~12K feet), its three major climbs offer a bit of everything. The first climb is steady, but never ending, the second climb is steep AF, and the third climb is a little bit of both. Combine that with a largely exposed course in the middle of Utah's hot summer and you have a recipe for a grueling suck fest that is the PERFECT setup for any mountain 100M.

As I am signed up for Wasatch 100 this year, I signed up for my first Kat'cina Mosa to make sure I got a nice long run in ahead of Wasatch. I planned on using the race for that purpose, so I wasn't really intent on racing it. Instead, I wanted to enjoy a nice day in the mountains and work on fine tuning my Wasatch strategy. As I mentioned, a new job and a slew of minor injuries early in the season has consumed a lot of my time. My training this year has been unorthodox, but with a series of really strong weeks for the four weeks leading up to the race, I was actually feeling quite good and a bit more like myself.

The race has a rather unorthodox 3am start (with an early 1am start option for those worried about the cutoffs). This is my one complaint with the race. 3am is difficult to plan for. As someone that struggles to get to sleep before nightfall, this didn't really set me up for starting the race in a well rested state. I decided that, to buy myself an extra hour, I would sleep in my truck at the Start/Finish area. Surprisingly, this worked out well and I woke up feeling much more rested than I expected. As 3am rolled around, I started with about 40 other runners.

The first climb starts out on a road out of the campground for about 2 miles before hitting dirt. The first climb gains about 3500 feet over 10 miles. A pretty runnable grade for the most part. I was able to run most of it, taking only a few walking breaks here and there to keep my heart rate in check. The morning was not all that cold, which felt good at the time, but meant we were in for it once the sun came up. Here is a picture of me that the RD took from his truck as he drove by on his way to the first aid station:

As a side note, this is the first time I wore one of those desert-style hats with the neck protector and I have to say, I liked it. It kept my neck protected the entire run. I probably have to say, the section from the Horse Mountain Aid Station to Rock Canyon may have been my favorite section of the course, not in terms of scenery, but in terms of course progress. I am not a strong technical single track downhill runner, but put me on a fire road and I can keep up with the best of them. I didn't open it up all of the way as to make sure I didn't kill myself early in the race, but I was able to cover a lot of ground fairly quickly. Probably a good approach because the next section was the steepest of the course, the climb up to Lightning Ridge Pass. This climb is about 2500 ft in 2.5-3 miles and can only be described as a grind. The key to this section was to maintain a strong and consistent speed hike. Climbing is my strength luckily, so I managed to pass a number of people on this section, including some of the 1am early start runners. I only stopped a few times to take some pictures, because, how could I not!?

The next downhill section off of Lightning Ridge Pass was slow. This is another deceptive part of this course. This section is technical and extremely overgrown, making running difficult. I took it cautious, worrying about rolled ankles on obstacles that I could not see through the overgrowth, and made it through with no issues.

The next section, starting at mile 24 with the last major climb on the course up to Windy Pass followed by a downhill to Little Valley at mile 39, is what makes or breaks most runners on this course. With only one aid station in a stretch that is 90% fully exposed, the heat can break you in this 15 miles, and break me it did. I was pretty good to go on much of the climb to mile 30, but started to feel a bit worn out from the heat at about a mile through the aid station. I made a point to eat, take in salt, and a lot of water throughout the morning in preparation for this time of the day, but it turns out it wasn't enough. Mile 32 – 39, despite being downhill, ended up being a death march for me. Despite my legs still feeling strong, I was getting dehydration cramps in my sides that hurt to run through. From mile 30-39, I drank 70 oz of water and electrolyte and it still wasn't enough. When I got to the Little Valley Aid Station, I decided to stop for a bit and get my hydration in check before moving on. I stayed in the aid station for nearly an hour digging out of a hole before moving on. As it so happens, it was a good thing I stayed because a runner came in that was having a really bad asthma attack. I happened to be the only one with an inhaler on me, so I am glad I was able to help. I heard he ended up going on and finishing the race (though not sure I would have done the same). Staying as long as I did ended up being the right move because I felt recharged and was able to run, including some of the small, final climb to the next aid station. This was where things turned to suck though…

The aid station at mile 46 is essentially at the top of the last climbing, with only a few hundred feet left in the last 15 miles. The remainder of the race is essentially downhill as Kat'cina Mosa's climbing is primarily front loaded. Upon leaving the aid station, I started running, head down, to the next aid station…head down being the key phrase. I continued down the fire road, unbeknownst that I missed the turn that was almost immediately out of the aid station. After seeing them later, I will say that the flags were set back a bit, but were visible for people that were looking up. I would have liked better signage here as the RD did say afterward that this is the section that most people take a wrong turn, but they were visible and I take responsibility for missing them. I should also note that fire roads are not marked frequently on the course as there really is only one way to go. Add to that the fact that they had issues with people stealing flags on the course and you have a recipe for disaster. I continued down the fire road all the way to where the aid station was supposed to be (6.7 miles) before I realized my mistake when I saw no one around. Unbelievable! I had to trek all the way back uphill to find where I missed a turn. This destroyed me mentally., essentially taking me 3 hours off course. Combined with my long break at the prior aid station and my overall conservative pace approach, I knew that I would not make the cut off at the last aid station (not to mention that I still hadn't figured out where my missed turn was. Luckily, some folks on an ORV came by because I was essentially lost and out of water. After 60 miles, I ended up hitching a ride back with them, calling an official end to my day.

This was the first time I have ever been lost on a course. I have taken wrong turns, but have always caught them fairly quickly. I did try to take a positive outlook though. I still got 60 miles in AND ended up with more elevation than the other racers due to having to backtrack uphill after my mistake. On top of that, heat was a problem, but my body, and my legs in particular, felt strong the entire race. So in terms of Wasatch prep, it lanned out. That being said, I hate not finishing…this may be one that I have to go back to again someday as I now have unfinished business.

In wraps, I always have to thank those that enable me to do this crazy stuff. My wife and kids provide unconditional support. They were at the finish line and were surprised at the manner in which I arrived this time. :-). Thanks to all of the aid station volunteers that help take care of us and keep us moving forward. Lastly, thanks to my wonderful sponsors. Topo Athletic, Injinji, Headsweats, and Orange Mud have been taking care of me for years. I have dialed in my kit to perfection thanks to them. And while they get me through the race, the folks at OOFOS and RAD Roller take care of me afterward, with the best recovery gear on the market. Thanks to all!