Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Shoe Review: Zoot Ultra Race 4.0

When Zoot first announced the new Ultra Race - I was a bit taken aback (and in a bad way).  Don't get me wrong - I absolutely love Zoot's shoe offerings.  They're the perfect shoe for me - mainly due to the "core" of features that they implement in their shoes.  These include the liner on the inside that allows the show to be comfortably worn at all distances without socks, the carbon that runs along the bottom of the sole that allows for a stronger toe-off, and a system (which varies between shoes but is available across their entire line) that allows to a quick on and off of the shoe.  Those are three EXTREMELY important things to me in a show and Zoot consistently has all of them.

So why was I disappointed with the initial announcement of the Ultra Race 4.0?  It was because the new Ultra Race had a unique lacing system that was a bit different than other triathlon/running shoes.  The new shoe model used the BOA system as a method of quick on and off tightening and advertised a "consistent and perfect fit each time the shoe is put on".

Wait a minute, why would someone be disappointed with that?  That doesn't sound bad at all - in fact, it sounds perfect!  Right?  Well yes, it does - but no, it doesn't.  You see, the BOA system and I go way back.    Way, way way back.  And way, way, way up.  As in - on top of a mountain.  The BOA system originated (at least my first exposure to it) in snowboard boots.  I remember when they first came out and were the hot item (and drove the price of some snowboard boots up to $500+!!!!).  I managed to score a pair and thought I was the coolest kid on the mountain.

Burton Snowboard boot with BOA system.  Not the same boots I had, but similar enough .  (Image is not my own and was pulled off a google search)

Well, that all changed one day when I got off the ski lift and hopped down, slipped my foot into my bindings, cranked the BOA laces and - CRACK.  It popped off.  And it's in my hand now.  And my boot is no longer hugging my ankle - in fact, it's incredibly loose and floppy.  The trip down was - to say the least - slow and interesting.  I made it down without much of an incident and took it in for repair.  I got it repaired and the next day - CRACK.  Same thing happened, but to the other boot.  At this point, I gave up and just bought a normal pair of snowboard boots and forgot about the BOA system altogether (I actually avoided it like the plague).

That was the case, until I got these shoes from Zoot (all 10 or so years later).

The Ultra Race 4.0 is a lightweight (8.1 oz in my size 8.5) racing flat with a 10 mm drop (my measurement, could be slightly off).  They are an absolute true triathlon shoe that is designed to go any tri-distance.

So how did I like mine?

I loved them.  I'll get into the hows and why in a bit, but let's take a look at the shoe itself.

The first thing you'll notice is the colorway.  The shoe is not for the timid person who doesn't want to be seen.  These things are BRIGHT.  They look fast, they ARE fast - they make you look fast (whether you are or not).  I've gone on several runs in these and every single time someone compliments me (or at least makes a comment) about the shoes.

The features on the shoe are pretty standard fare for Zoot.  They have the same midsole which provides a firm ride without taking energy away from  your foot.  They have the strip of carbon that they put along the sole of the shoe to create a springy toe-off.  This seems somewhat of a gimmick at first (that's what I thought on my first pair with the carbon strip) - but it absolutely works.  When I run high miles (20+), my form begins to fall apart and I've found that the carbon strip helps keep the spring in my step.

Zoot's Carbon Span strip is in full effect on these shoes.
They also have an incredible upper (similar to the one on the original Ultra Kane) that allows for a compressed fit that still gives your foot room to move (and be free of socks).  
Zoot's Ultra Fit upper that allows for sockless wear and great comfort.

The big question for me wasn't about the shoe itself - but more about the lacing system.  Would the BOA lacing system be "up to snuff" and durable enough to handle racing?  The last thing in the world I would want it to come tumbling into T2 and have a malfunction in the lacing system on the run.  

The BOA system.

I'm happy to report that the system works great with these shoes.  A simple small tug on the BOA knob loosens the shoe (no need to turn to loosen the shoe) and a simply push tightens the shoe and a small twist (usually no more than a turn or two) tightens the shoe to a perfect fit.  If sized properly, the shoe should "fit" relatively well without even touching the BOA system.  The "lacing system" here is (as you can see in the picture above) put together of several strips of material that tighten around the foot as the BOA system is tightened.  This tightening, for me, was more of a "fine tuning" of the fit.  The shoe was pretty well fitted even before I messed with the Boa system and I feel I could run in it without tightening it at all.  However, when tightened, the fit only improved.

One issue that is (somewhat) common in Zoot shoes for some people is the "high, hard back" that is found on several of their shoe models.  Depending on the foot type and gait of some runners - some shoes with harder material that goes up higher along the heel/achilles can cause blisters that just don't go away.  I'm happy to report that this is not the case with the Ultra Race 4.0 - which has a "mid back" (for lack of a better term) similar to the one found on the Ultra TT.
The back doesn't go up too high on these shoes, which prevents blisters for runners with certain foot types/gaits (like myself).

I found that the shoe performed extremely well and held up to all my expectations when put to the test.  I've had it on a variety of runs from "race pace" 5ks all the way to 24 mile "long runs" and it has performed extremely well in all of them.  The water drainage slots (another Zoot feature in their shoes) worked extremely well.  I did a few swim/run brick workouts in the shoes and found that they dried quick enough to not become "sloshy" on the inside or encumber my run in any way.
Open water swim/run brick workout.

These shoes are incredibly fast shoes and, while I have yet to race in them (that happens March 24th at the Fearless Triathlon Double Sprint), I'm confident I'll be posting some very quick run splits in these shoes.

All in all - this is a stellar shoe which absolutely outperforms other triathlon shoes in its class.  It's pricey ($180 MSRP) but is worth it in my opinion.  This is a lightweight, all distance racer that has a very wide range of feet that it would fit.  Not only do I recommend them, but my dog does to.