With so many of my favourite trails closed during the Coronavirus pandemic, I'm doing far more road running from home than I usually would.
I thought I had good road shoes already – the New Balance 860v9. Wide, comfortable, and supportive, I've had many great runs on them. I'm on my second pair, and I am a fan.
But what I learned as the pandemic shut the world down, is that my New Balance shoes aren't so good for me on long runs. A long run for me is +2 hours, or anywhere above about 18kms in length.
As I replaced my long weekend trail runs with long weekend road runs, my feet started to protest. They just aren't used to running that long on pavement instead of trails. Soreness and fatigue were beginning to bother me.
So I started looking for a shoe to get me through those long road runs.
Sometime last year I tried a pair of Topo Terraventure trail shoes. I love those shoes. They have a wide toe box, fit snugly, and have the right amount of support and ground feel for me. Plus they look cool. I'm still on the fence about whether I can run a full 50k in them, but we'll see.
So I knew Topo made good shoes that suited me and started looking at their road shoes. I wanted something stable, supportive, but with the right amount of cushioning to help me pound that pavement for hours at a time.
Two models caught my attention – the Phantom, and the Zephyr. I read reviews for both of them, then emailed a local distributor (Injinji Performance Shop) and asked their advice. They steered me towards the Zephyr, and I received my shipment the very next day.
I went for the “salmon” colour, and right out of the box they look great. I popped them on my feet for a quick hallway run. Good fit, good feel under my feet. The toe box is roomy as you would expect from Topos. The tongue is not padded, which I like as it prevents it from bunching up uncomfortably when I lace up the shoes.
The next day I went for my first run in them.
My Impressions from Running in the Topo Zephyr
Some reviews suggested that the Topo Zephyr feels stiff at first and needs breaking in. I didn't notice any stiffness. I felt supported and stable, but not stiff underfoot.
The stability comes from an elastomer plate in the midsole. I had to look that word up. Apparently, it means an “elastic polymer”, which I take to mean a plastic or rubber-like plate that is somewhat flexible and provides support and responsiveness.
Whatever it is, I felt that the Topo Zephyr was giving me exactly what I wanted. Some extra cushioning for long runs, but still a supportive shoe without being too soft underfoot.
The heel drop is 5mm. The Topo Terraventure that I run with on trails has a 3mm drop. The Altra Timp that I ran my first ultramarathon in is zero drop. I am trying to strike a balance between a minimal drop and not over-taxing my middle-aged calf muscles. So having a 5mm drop for long runs on hard surfaces is fine by me. Out on the trails with their softer and more variable terrain, I like a lower drop.
So far I've run 18km, 10km, 7km, and 21km distances in the Topo Zephyr. All runs have gone well. No issues at the start of the session. My legs warmed up nicely in the Zephyrs. No problems midway through the workout. Late in the more extended missions, I'm not feeling much foot fatigue, so they're doing the job I want them to do.
My Small Issues With the Topo Zephyr
I have one minor hot spot where a toe is rubbing a little. It's not from the tight toe box. There's plenty of room. I think that toe is just trying to grip the shoe a little, which is something I need to work on in my running form.
Some reviews noted a kind of “clopping” sound, similar to a horse trotting along on the road. I suspect that comes from the hollow space under the shoe where you can see the elastomer plate. I had heard it only a few times during my runs when my foot strike wasn't straying from its normal position. But it hasn't been a problem for me at all. Either way, I'm not too concerned if people can hear me coming when I run.
Where the Topo Zephyr Fits in My Shoe Rotation
It looks like the Zephyr is precisely the shoe I want for my long road runs while the trails are closed. The New Balance 860v9 can get me through shorter efforts.
But what I lack is a recovery shoe. Something with a little more softness for those shorter recovery runs in the day or two after a long run. The Zephyr is perhaps just a bit too firm for that purpose.
I'm considering adding either the Topo Phantom to my collection or one of the Hoka shoes. I can confidently order the Phantoms because I know my sizing with Topo shoes. Hokas I would need to try some on in a store, and that's not easy at the moment with so many shops closed. I will try to get by for a little while before I have to make a decision on that.
When you find a shoe brand that works for you, it's a good feeling. Being able to confidently order shoes online saves a lot of hassle.
If you're already a fan of Topo, and you want a stable road shoe with excellent cushioning, I think the Zephyr is a good option. If you've never run in Topos but have tried Altra shoes before, the sizing is pretty consistent between the two of them in my experience.
Note: This is not a sponsored review. I paid for these shoes with my own money and did not receive any benefit for writing this review.