Product Review: Topo Athletic Ultrafly

It has been a while since I have posted a product review.  With my peak training in full swing and the constant grind of everyday life, I have been left with little spare time.  Fear not though!  I have been out testing a few things and finally found some time to polish up my review of the new Topo Ultrafly, released in May 2016.

DISCLAIMER: I am a member of the 2016 Topo Athlete Team and these shoes were provided to me free of charge.  As always though, I aim to provide my honest feedback to help you make the right buying decision and to help Topo continuously improve their products.

Product Overview

As those of you that have been following me for a while are well aware of, I try to get most of my miles in on the trails. However, with my schedule, I still manage to log a fair amount of road and treadmill miles out of necessity.  Downside, lack of scenery; upside, I get to try out even more shoes!

The Topo Ultrafly is an extension to Topo’s Road line of shoes and is their most cushioned shoe to date.  At 28mm in the heel and 23mm in the forefoot, it offers a more cushioned ride than their Fli-lyte and Magnify models and you can definitely feel the difference when you put it on your foot.  Additionally, this is the first shoe from Topo that offers “light support” through the incorporation of a denser foam on the medial side of the outsole.  So, while it isn’t a full on support shoe (it doesn’t incorporate plastic posts like most other support shoes), it does provide a bit more support than its brothers and sisters.  The outsole pattern and upper are not identical to their other road shoes, but are similar enough in look, fit, and feel that if you like the other road shoes from Topo, you will not have to adjust much to these.  Lastly, the 5mm heel-to-toe drop offers a more natural foot feel without having to transition all the way to zero drop…it is a happy median.

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Specs

Release Date: May, 2016
Price: $120 (An extra 10% off at topoathletic.com with code TOPODEAN10)
Weight: 9.2 oz (M9)
Stack Height: 28mm/23mm (5mm Heel to Toe Drop)
Fit: True to Size

Design/Fit

The design and fit holds true to Topo principles.  It fits true to size and follows the foot shaped design that gives you freedom in the toe box while securing the rest of the foot through the mid foot and heel.  The upper is light and breathable, yet durable.  My pair of Ultrafly has over 100 miles on them and they still look like I just took them out of the box.

Performance

Comparably Light

For a shoe with this kind of stack height, the Ultrafly is actually pretty light at 9.2 oz for a Men’s size 9.  It is at the lighter end of other comparable popular road shoes such as the Mizuno Wave Rider (9.7 oz) , Saucony Ride (9.2 oz), Nike Zoom Pegasus (9.9 0z.) and the Brooks Glycerin (10.6 oz). Topo saves a fair amount of weight with their light, breathable upper as well as through the strategic use of different foam types to incorporate in mild guidance without overdoing it on denser, heavier foam.  To be honest, I have never fretted too much over the weight of a shoe, particular within a half ounce or so and I don’t think most runners should either.  If the shoe performs for you and you train appropriately, then I don’t think it matters all that much to a majority of runners.

Comfort

The added cushion is definitely noticeable and makes for a great feeling underfoot.  With a 28/23 stack height, the Ultrafly definitely provides a soft, cushiony ride, but not without a minimal break-in period.  I found them to be a little stiff out of the box, but they did loosen up a tad after 25-30 miles.

Ride

Topo markets the Ultrafly as a guidance shoe thanks to the denser foam they use on the medial side of the shoe.  As this is further back on the shoe, you will probably notice this more if you are more a heel striker than you would if you run on your fore or mid foot.  The ride of this shoe was definitely plush, but I found the heel to toe transition to be a bit more stiff than their other road shoes, even after a break-in period.  As a support shoe, this is clearly by design and should resonate with the types of runners looking for a bit more in their shoe.

Conclusion

As a light support shoe, I think the Ultrafly is a solid first version.  It provides added support without hindering the natural movement of the foot, so it is not going to mess with your natural body mechanics.  While my personal preference is probably still for the more flexible Magnify, I would recommend this shoe to anyone that is looking for a shoe that embraces the natural shape and function of the foot while providing a bit more support.

Pro’s

  • The cushioning feels great under foot without being overly squishy.
  • The overall weight of the shoe, especially compared to its industry peers, is light.  The makes it a great candidate for race day or as an every day trainer.

Con’s

  • Not as flexible as I typically like in a shoe, but as this is built to be a moderate support shoe, this is by design.  It will work for runners that seek out more support in a shoe.
  • I don’t typically have to deal with rain as often on the road,  but I found the drainage to be less than ideal.  After a 6 mile run in pouring rain, they felt heavy and had puddles in the heels when I took them off.  This is due to the rubber bumper that wraps around the base of the upper.  I would like to see the next version to have some areas where the water can escape.  In the meantime, save these for dry days.

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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Gear Review: RAD Roller

I would like to think that I am no different than most ultra runners; I too am always trying to find the best way to deal with those little aches and pains that come with pushing your body to the limit.  Yoga works great for stretching and the occasional massage is great if I can afford it, but most days I tend to rely on my foam roller and “The Stick” to get the job done.  The problem I have always had with these though is in my ability to really get to the most troublesome spots.  I seem to never feel totally rejuvenated after using them.  I have always thought of the foam roller as an idea that someone in a manufacturing plant came up with when they were trying to figure out what to do with scrap packaging foam.  Sure, it fulfills a basic purpose, but I tend to get more frustrated than not while I am rolling around on the floor looking for the best way to use it.  The Stick, for all of its usefulness, has it’s shortcomings too.  For one, I actually don’t like that it flexes, which prevents me from getting deep into the muscle.  Second, I am tired of getting my leg hair stuck in between the small rollers…ouch!  It just seems to me that we athletes have become complacent when it comes to self massage and myofascial release.  We love how it aides recovery and helps with the sore spots, but seem to have really low expectations in what they are able to do for us.

While I was cruising around Outdoor Retailer, I ran across the team at the RAD Roller (www.radroller.com) booth (probably my best discovery at OR this year).  It seems we no longer have to settle for rudimentary tools.  This is a company that definitely took an innovative, problem-solving approach by looking at the frustrations we athletes have with everything else on the market in order to develop products that focus on the best ways to deal with our various ailments.  After watching a demo, I left with their full kit so that I could see just how well it worked.

DISCLAIMER: RAD Roller provided me with their whole kit for the purposes of this review. As always, I will do my best to remain unbiased in order to provide YOU with an informative review and THEM with honest product feedback.

Overview

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The RAD Roller kit consists of a number of tools, including:

  • RAD Roller
  • RAD Rounds
  • RAD Block
  • RAD Rod
  • RAD Helix

Price: $140 for everything listed above as a kit

You can purchase these pieces separately, but get the most bang for the buck my buying the kit.  They also have different kit configurations if you don’t want to get everything.  Together, this replaces a number of tools in the typical athletes’ self-massage/myofascial release tool box.  For me, I was able to ditch my foam roller, Stick, and plantar fasciitis ball.  What’s more, I felt that I was not only replacing these previous tools, but upgrading in most cases.

Product Details

Each of the tools comes with extensive how-to documentation that covers using them to target different areas of the body and their website is also helpful, so I won’t get into too much of that here.  Instead, I will go over each tool and what I liked best about it.  I will then wrap up my review with some overall pro’s and con’s.

RAD Roller

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The Roller is their flagship product, which consists of two balls fused in the middle.  These are great for trigger point and working out tense spots in general.  They are also pretty flexible in that you can use them on just about any part of your body.  The best way to use these is to settle on a spot and roll back and forth no more than an inch in either direction. My favorite part of the body for the Roller was on the neck (using the block) and anywhere on the legs.

RAD Rounds

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The Rounds come in two different sizes and are great for trigger point therapy and reaching the small spaces.  I liked these mostly for my feet (like a golf ball to roll out the plantar fascia) and for knots in general.

RAD Block

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The Block, in my mind, is a key accessory.  Some muscles are hard to work unless you can position your body a certain way.  While it does nothing by itself, when paired with the Roller/Rounds, it allows you to lift off the floor slightly so that you can get the right angle and maximum leverage to work certain muscles.  I found this to work especially well on the arms, hip flexors, and quads.

RAD Rod

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As a Product Manager by profession, I always found The Stick to be a bit over-engineered. In the case of the Rod, simplicity is not only key, but twice as effective.  The core of the Rod is an unyielding steel bar, which allows you to get really deep into the muscle.  I LOVE this on my quads and upper shoulders.

RAD Helix

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The Helix is genius, especially on the back.  I have been looking for something like a foam roller for my back and this is it!  It perfectly hits the support muscles along my entire spine, which are always the tightest, without aggravating my spine thanks to the groove in the middle.  For me personally, this may have been worth the price alone.  Other areas where I found the Helix to be most valuable were the neck, IT band, and calves.  One tip that is useful: although the instructions seem to imply you can use the Helix on its own, I found it to be more stable with the RAD Rod in it.

Final Impressions

Overall, this kit is exactly as advertised. It gives you access to complete self-service massage and myofascial release that, in my opinion, meets and exceeds the needs of most people.  For me, I found that it provides enough added benefits over existing tools that I know longer feel like FREQUENT trips to a masseuse are mandatory (in fact, I cancelled a planned massage because I didn’t feel like it was worth spending the money).  That is not to say that it can replace an experts’ touch when it is REALLY needed, but I think it is a great kit for the daily maintenance stuff we should all do and definitely better than other self-service products on the market.

Pros

  • An all-in-one kit that prevents you from having to piece a kit together.
  • Travels well.  Everything is compact and fits in a suitcase with ease.
  • Kit is price comparable to anything else on the market when factoring in everything that it replaces.
  • Only time will tell, but everything seems very durable.  You probably still shouldn’t let your dog chew on them, but they are able to bear weight with no issues.

Cons

  • More expensive when priced individually, so it is in your best interest to commit up front.  If you are interested, I would definitely buy the kit together and save yourself the extra $20 or so.
  • This may be personal, but the one thing I still preferred my foam roller for was the glutes.  As a large muscle, the Roller/Rounds/Helix just didn’t seem to work the whole muscle as well as the foam roller.  I may discover that I am doing it wrong and change my mind, but this is where I am at right now.

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!

Gear Review: Topo Runventures

Topo Athletic is a relatively new company (about two years old) founded by Tony Post, former CEO of Vibram USA.  My impressions of Topo, from what I have gathered as part of research for this review, is that Tony wanted to take a little bit of everything that he has learned from his 25+ years of experience in the shoe industry and incorporate it into the design of their product.  The result is a line of shoes that reiterates natural mechanics similarly to most minimal shoes while adding a little more structure and durability.

I will admit that prior to this review, I was not all that familiar with Topo Athletic.  I had seen the brand around, but had never tried them myself or known anyone that had.  Back toward the end of January, I saw a picture pop up on the Elevation Tat Instragram feed of Trent Beachy (whom I met at Run Rabbit Run in 2013) wearing a pair, so I decided to reach out to Topo to see if they would be interested in having me do a review.  As it just so happened, they were getting ready to release their new trail shoe, the Runventure, and were happy to support my review.  So here it is, the Runventure!

DISCLAIMER: I have no formal affiliation with Topo Athletic, however, they did provide me with a demo pair for my review.

Product Description

As a relatively new company, Topo Athletic only has a few trail shoe options in their arsenal.  The MT, the Oterro, and the newest model, the Runventure.  The Runventure is very similar to the MT in many aspects.  The main difference is that it incorporates a full length rock plate.  This positions the Runventure in their lineup as a shoe for more technical, gnarly trails versus the MT, which makes more sense as a crossover model for road, rail trails, fire roads and other less technical paths.

The shoe itself takes bits and pieces of its design from several areas.  It is a shoe that incorporates principles from the minimalist movement, such as better toe movement and lower heel-to-toe drop, with a slightly higher stack height to provide more under the foot protection.

Specs

  • Weight: 8.9 oz (size 9)
  • Drop: Heel: 19mm / Toe: 17mm / Drop: 2mm
  • Fit: True to Size

Outside of the Shoe

I have included pictures of the upper and outsole below to give you an idea of what they look like.  Here are a few quick observations:

  • The upper is a mesh material which has a great look and durable feel.
  • A standard lacing system.
  • The tongue and heel cup offer a good amount of padding while still providing a minimalist feel.  It fits well enough to keep debris out of the inside of the shoe.
  • The lug pattern on the outsole provides good coverage and grip.  The lugs are shallow enough to preserve ground feel, but deep enough to provide great grip in varying conditions.  You will also notice a couple breaks in the lugs (the red sections) that allow for foot flex.

Topo Runventure 1     Topo Runventure 2

Inside of the Shoe/Fit

Starting with the front of the shoe, the Runventure features a very wide toe box, similar to what Altra has made popular over recent years.  This allows the toes to splay naturally, providing a more stable platform and allowing the toes to remain in their natural position.  As you move toward the back of the shoe, you experience a much more snug fit with the it wrapping the midfoot and firmly holding the heel in place.  In my experience, this differs from a lot of the shoes out there, which are typically uniform in their fit, either snug or loose fitting from front to back.  It seems that Topo has found a design that allows both a firm fit and freedom of movement where it matters.

In Action

This section highlights a few of the runs I had in these shoes accompanied with some of my general impressions from each of those runs.

Test Run #1 – 4.5 Miles: non-technical, dry trail conditions (Strava Link)
I swapped into these shoes and tacked this run onto the end of 18 miles just to get an initial feel for the shoes and break them in a bit.  I wasn’t looking to put them to the test, but instead just get a sense of the fit.  Overall, I was happy with them out of the box.  They didn’t seem to need much of anything in terms of a break in period.  I can confirm this is true after having since put additional miles on them.

Test Run #2 – 9.5 Miles: semi-technical, mixed trail conditions (Strava Link)
This run turned out to be the most telling of my tests as the recent warm weather in Salt Lake City created a mixture of dry, muddy, and snowy conditions as I moved in and out of shaded areas and higher and lower elevations.  This allowed me to focus on testing the traction of the shoe quite thoroughly.  I was really impressed with how the shoe handled on both dry and snowy conditions.  The lugs were deep enough to grip the trail nicely, which gave me a sense of confidence while running.  The lug pattern seemed to facilitate both up and down hill running equally well.  In the mud, the shoe also gripped nicely, but they definitely didn’t shed mud as well as I had hoped, most notably in the heel.  I am a midfoot striker, so it didn’t really impact my traction in the mud,  but the slight contact my heel made with the ground allowed mud to collect on the heel, weighing it down a bit.  One thing I really liked with the shoe was how it handled traversing over shale rock.  A combination of the tough outer and the rock plate made gliding over it easy!

Test Run #3 – 18.0 Miles: semi-technical, dry trail conditions (Strava Link)
This run, for me, was all about how well the shoe held up over a longer distance.  I should note that I am used to running in shoes with slightly more cushioning and stack height for much of my longer runs.  This was evident after about 15 miles when my legs started to feel a bit beat up.  I know many runners out there will be better adapted than I am, so this is likely more of a personal issue.  The other thing that I look for with shoes on longer runs is the development of hot spots or blisters and, for me, these usually surface around 10 miles into a run.  I had no problems through 18 miles with these, which confirmed my initial impressions about the great fit and comfort.

My Final Thoughts

While it is true that Topo is a relative newcomer, it it clear that they bring a wealth of expertise in shoe design to the table.  With the Runventure, I get the impression that they knew what they wanted the shoe to be and executed on it.  It has a great fit and appears to be quite durable.  A couple tweaks aside, I had a pretty good experience with the Runventure.

Pros

  • My favorite aspect of these shoes had to be the fit.  The toe box had plenty of space to let my toes splay naturally, but the mid foot through the back of the heel still had a snug fit that kept the shoe from sliding all around.  This might be the best aspect of this shoe and the Topo brand overall.
  • They have a great trail feel, but still provide ample protection.  I was actually quite surprised with out easy I was able to run on rough terrain, such as shale rock, and not feel it at all.  At the same time, I still didn’t feel disconnected from the trail at all, which is a chief complaint of more cushioned shoes.
  • The shoe seems to be well constructed and durable.  With nearly 100 miles on them, there is no significant wear and year.  Clean the dirt off and they would look nearly brand new.

Cons

  • I would have preferred just a BIT more cushioning as my legs felt a bit beat up after 18 miles, but I suspect that has more to do with personal preference and what I am used to running in.  I typically run in a middle of the spectrum shoe in terms of stack height and cushioning and I would have to get more used to these before I went much more than 20 miles in them.
  • The heel didn’t shed mud as well as the mid- and forefoot.  While running through mud, it accumulated on the heel, which weighted the back of the shoe down quite a bit.

Recommendation

Score: 4.5 of 5

I think this would be a great shoe for a minimalist runner looking for a slightly more cushioned trainer or for someone looking to transition down to a more minimalist feeling shoe.  The 2mm drop seems to be a growing trend recently.  I have struggled trying to transition to zero drop in the past, but it seems that even a minimal 2mm drop made enough of a difference that I didn’t have an issue with them (although I was careful not to overdo it).  Honestly, I really enjoyed running in this shoe I will likely buy more of them in the future to keep them as part of my rotation.

Update on May 13th, 2016: A year after this review, I loved Topo shoes so much that I ended up joining their athlete team.  As a result, I can now offer you a 10% off code if you decide to try them out!  Just use TOPODEAN10.

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!