After an incessant rainfall during early summer had confined my runs to the pavement because of tough mudder-like (I’d guess) trail conditions in South Carolina, my feet were begging for a little tender love and care. I have been running mainly in New Balance Minimus Zeros and Vibram Bikilas and so I was looking for something a bit more cushioned on my 10+ mile runs. I am a rather recent convert to Vibram Five Fingers and numerous racing flats- it has been two years since I have ditched my prescription of running shoes from the traditional stability category. In addition to the above shoes I have also been using an Altra The One.
There has been a sizeable amount of publicity about the newly launched Topo Athletic shoe company. Tony Post, former CEO of Vibram USA and lifetime top distance runner, conducted a great pre-release campaign that generated lots of publicity among runners and fitness enthusiasts alike. In fact, I was reminded of the marketing initiative that the Korean car company Daewoo used in Europe in the mid-nineties. Both utilized tactics that were supposed to generate strong brand recognition and a pull from consumers asking their retailers for a chance to check out their products.
In the case of Topo Athletic, the shoes they have released are the RR (the performance trainer/race model reviewed here), RT (all around running shoe) and RX (fitness/gym shoe). Today, I’m reviewing the racing model?the Topo Athletic RR. After the jump!
I was very excited to receive the shoes in mid-August after the initial launch supply issues had subsided. Sizing on these is a bit tricky (I use 12.5 in most running shoes, have 46 Vibrams and settled for a 12 US in Topo) and run both barefoot and in the thinnest Injinjis available (the Topo Tabi socks are a bit thick for my taste). I usually rely on Shoefitr for buying my shoes online and since Topo Athletics have not been scanned yet, I relied on the sizing advice that Topo provides on their website.
I removed the insole to reduce stack height and voila?we have got a great all-round road and gravel trail shoe with excellent traction and sufficient ground feel to satisfy a not too dogmatic minimalist runner. While these shoe are to be classified as “transitional” based on their stack height and somewhat rigid construction, I never felt disconnected from the ground and also enjoyed the zero drop sole. The RR certainly supplies a firm ride (particularly without the insole) but still has just enough cushioning for me to take on high mileage runs. There is a significant difference in cushioning and ground feel between running with or without the EVA foot bed and might well convince minimalist runners who feel that the RR is “just too much” of a shoe. Even though there is stitching on the insole, I never felt uncomfortable when running barefoot. These features are impressive when considering the relatively low weight of around 7oz in my size.
I am a recreational runner and at very best a layman when it comes to the science of biomechanics but I am convinced that the Topo Athletic RR guides my stride better than the more flexible Vibram Bikila and its soft upper materials. I have rather pronounced bunions and this is why I am sold on the concept of toe/tabi shoes. I only have Topos and Vibrams for comparison—my Fila Skeletoes are substandard for running in my opinion. B2R is currently out of stock in my size and SMAAT (Splitlander) do not even offer it.
When compared to the VFF Bikila and KSO, the RR feels a bit narrower in the forefoot, indeed, very similar to the VFF Spyridons that I love for trail running. The shoes broke in quite nicely after about 20 miles and provided the almost stereotypical “glove-like” fit. I also appreciate the relatively narrow heel with a snug one piece heel cup.
The workmanship on my pair of RRs was good. I noticed some residual glue and rough edges between outsole and upper. I consider this solely cosmetic and do not expect that it will lead to any future separation. The materials on the upper are of high quality, the marketing material describes them as consisting of mesh and microfiber upper. The shoes feel very soft once broken in and let my feet breathe rather well. I never encountered sweaty feet or blisters.
The Boa closure system works well. I was initially concerned that the wire would cut into my foot and create hotspots but the thick tongue has effectively prevented this. You will need dry hands to tighten the BOA wheel?my hands kept slipping while trying to tinker with it mid-run with sweaty fingers. Topo Athletic will be happy to send you the BOA tool in case the wire should ever get stuck within the plastic spool.
The outsole wear after 150 miles is clearly noticeable. Despite being tall and heavy (175lbs at 6’3″) I am both hopeful and confident I can get 500 miles out of these shoes while retaining decent cushioning, not excessive if you consider the 130 USD suggested retail price. The outsole provides very good traction on wet or sandy roads and superior protection against bruising. I frequently run in the dark in a section of my neighborhood that has lots of construction going on and often step on golf ball sized gravel without too much of a puncture through to the sole of my feet.
Room for improvement
As you could see above, I am really fond of this shoe and would like to suggest to the team at Topo Athletic to improve on their first generation products:
High outsole walls: for a trail shoe I see the merit for rock and root protection, but on a road shoe this is excess material and only adds weight and unnecessary constriction of the toes.
Slightly wider forefoot: I strongly believe that this design feature would find additional support among the natural running community.
Stiff shoe design: I have not felt constricted in the phases of pronation and push-off of my step but the shoe is just a bit rigid considering its other more minimal construction features.
Availability of size 12.5US Mens: Finally, I do understand that a startup company needs to make tough economical decisions and save on any shoe mold that might not be profitable as well as reduce excess inventory, still, I would love to see Men’s 12.5 sized Topo Athletics in the future.
I am very happy that I have been able to add a new shoe to my rotation for easy as well as tempo runs on the road. In fact, I might even consider it for a future road marathon.
I applaud Tony Post and his team for a strong freshman effort and hope they have the customer response as well as the open-mindedness to build on this achievement for future model cycles.
I invite you to discuss any comments and personal impressions about this shoe in the below forum, I will also be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Above photos from Greg’s initial look at the Topo RRBackground on writer ? Guest reviewer Christian Messerschmidt is a 38 year-old runner from Germany and has lived in the Carolinas for ten years. He’s been running for over 20 years and switched from heavy heel-striking to what he believes to be a more graceful stride 2 years ago?just for fun. After a 10 year work and family related competition hiatus, he has started preparing for races up to the marathon at the beginning of the year and is still trying to get close to his personal bests established when he was in his 20s. His dream is to finish a Western States 100 with a silver belt buckle.
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