May 26, 2015

Review : Skechers GoRun Ultra
  • Type : Maximalist
  • Use : Road
  • Price : $90-$110

Sometimes, I get desperate. I’ve been experiencing a weird knee pain every once in a while for more than a year now, and I’ve never figured out what causes it. One thing for sure, I know asphalt doesn’t help it. To get rid of my problem, I’ve followed about every piece of advice I’ve been given, except maybe for one…

“Run in Hoka’s, man”.

No way. That goes against everything I think to be true. But then again, I have to admit I’ve seen tons of runners, some very good ones, too, use them and harp about the benefits of super-cushioned shoes. So right after my last asphalt adventure, I had the Ottawa Marathon coming up and I figured, this is a good a time as ever to see if maximalism is for me or not.

I had a pair of Skechers GoRun Ultra lying somewhere in my closet. They’d been sent to me to be reviewed about a million years ago (sorry, Skechers!) and I’d never got the nerves to take them out for a spin. Now with a bum knee still hurting from the last time I ran on asphalt and a road marathon to go, I thought the time had come.

Road test
I showed up at the marathon starting line in my brand-spanking new, never-before-worn bright red Ultras, feeling like I was wearing moon boots. The cushioning is so massive, it actually makes you taller. Any notion of proprioception is erased and flex also becomes a distant memory. I felt like I was thumping around with my feet shoved in a pair of giant marshmallows.

The gun went off, and my first thoughts were to try and maintain as much of a forefoot strike as I could. Pretty much impossible. This is a midstrike-at-best situation; there’s over 40mm of material between your foot and the ground. The sole feels square and flat, which is not unpleasant, even if it doesn’t “roll forward” like I expected it to with its monstrous 14mm heel-to-toe drop.

You have to understand that I come from a minimalist background, running in shoes that keep my feet close to the ground and as close to zero-drop as possible. So for me, wearing the Ultras was overwhelmingly different and an experience for which I don’t have a lot of reference points. I have to say that they did an admirable job of mitigating the pounding from the asphalt and absorbing any irregularity in the ground under me. I couldn’t quite shake off the feeling of running in moon boots, but that didn’t bother me much for most of the course. As the miles piled up, I was increasingly pleased with how fresh my legs felt.

Straight elongated leg,
toes pointing up...
Awfully looks like heel striking.
However, this massive shoe quite literally transforms the way you run. You have to basically yank your leg up using your hip muscles. I’m used to pushing off with my toes and landing lightly on the front of my foot; while wearing the Ultra, you kick your leg up and thrust it forward, elongating your stride. I’ve seen some race pictures where I quite obviously heel strike, which is consistent with the slight wear pattern that formed under the shoe. That’s a big worry on the long term.

I managed to finish my marathon with a less-than-optimal body, a finish I attribute at least in part to the thick protection of the Ultra’s Resalyte cushioning. The pain and unease I felt toward the end, I’m pretty sure, can be attributed to the radical difference in running form, to which my various next-day muscle sores can attest.

It’s hard for me to see the Ultra as a usual, every day running shoe. I think it can be useful to the runner who wants a shoe for every situation and who contemplates running long distances on pavement when previous similar experiences have proven painful. I think it is worthy of noting that it’s really hard to run fast in these shoes because of their inherent design philosophy. I’d add it might be a great mitigation shoe for someone who’s heavier and starts being active again and / or experiences pain, although I remain convinced pain should be a guide in respecting one’s body, not something to be masked by technical solutions. But that’s another debate.

While Resalyte once again proves its worth, I think there is such a thing as too much. However, it’s obvious to me I probably would’ve had a very hard time finishing my marathon if I’d wore anything that resembled my usual shoes, because asphalt just hurts. The impact absorption capabilities of the thick, cushioned GoRun Ultra will, ultimately, help you last longer on unforgiving hard surfaces. So I’m left with a conundrum; stop running long distances on pavement… or wear maximalist shoes when I do.

High points
  • Resalyte. Like, a metric ton of it.
  • Obvious impact mitigation
  • Very reasonable weight, at 9 oz
  • More than half the price of a pair of Hoka’s

Low points
  • 14-mm drop is way too much
  • Outsole lugged design is questionable; this can’t be a trail shoe
  • Will change your running form if you are a forefoot runner

The equipment for this personal review was supplied by Skechers free of charge, without any conditions.

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