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I Ran a Half Marathon In Sneakers I Had Never Even Tried On Before

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Photo: Adidas

When you're training for a race, you spend a lot of time stressing about your feet. Do they hurt? Where exactly do they hurt? How bad are the blisters going to be when you take your shoes off? Are all your toenails still going to be attached by the end of it all? (Related: 10 Weird Running Pains—and How to Fix Them 

For the most part, I've been lucky—I haven't lost a toenail (yet), and while I've built up some serious calluses, I've never experienced run-ending blisters or major foot issues like plantar fasciitis. I like to think that's because I've run (and trained for) four marathons in the original Adidas Ultraboost, which became the brand's fastest-selling shoe after it was introduced in 2015 and is still one of their bestselling running shoes. (In fact, it's been so popular, adidas just re-released the OG shoe in early December.) Since the Ultraboost's debut, the brand has also released an Uncaged version, which I love for half marathons; the Ultraboost X, specifically designed for women's feet; and an all-terrain version for running in crappy weather.

This fall, I ran two marathons—Berlin and New York—back to back. So even with my Boosts, my feet were pretty beat up by the end of my training. I had optimistically signed up for a half marathon in the Cayman Islands one month after the NYC Marathon, but after crossing that second finish line, I honestly wasn't sure I could handle another 13.1 miles.

And then, Adidas threw a curveball and said they were launching a brand-new Ultraboost 19 the week after my race—it officially drops on December 11, with new colorways rolling out in February 2019. And they asked if I would try it out for the half. Of course, I said yes. (Related: How Ditching My Running Training Plan Helped Me Rein In My Type-A Personality

But first I wanted them to tell me why I should even consider messing with a good thing. "We look really carefully at running culture in designing our products, and what we've discovered over the course of the five years since we launched Ultraboost is that people are wearing their running shoes for so much more than just running," explains Anne Nebendahl, the senior design director for Adidas Running. The OG Ultraboost, with its cushy support, was designed for long-distance running, but also became something of a street-style staple thanks to its unique design. "We worked with thousands of runners through our Adidas Runners Community and looked at every single component of the old shoe, trying to make it better so that people could wear it for everything from fun runs to sightseeing runs to 10Ks and marathons," says Nebendahl.

Translation: Adidas deconstructed the entire Ultraboost to make every single element even better than in the original. That started with adding even more Boost technology, a cushioning system that provided the highest energy return in any running sneaker when it was created in 2013. (Brands are constantly trying to improve on energy return; earlier this fall, the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% was determined to have the highest energy return ever seen in independent testing.)

Then there's the redesigned torsion system, which sits under your arch and helps keep your foot stable. It's lighter than before, too, thanks to a new 3D-knitted upper, and a reimagined heel cradle helps provide even more support and propulsion. It also looks cooler than ever, which again, goes back to the brand's awareness that sneakers are a big part of people's wardrobes even when they aren't logging miles. (Related: I Own 80+ Pairs of Sneakers but Wear These Almost Every Day

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Photo: Ashley Mateo

So for the Cayman Half Marathon, I broke my cardinal rule of not racing in new shoes—I figured I'd be safe because the Ultraboost 19 was a similar, albeit possibly super-powered, version of my trusty OG Boosts. So when I laced up at the start line, I was pumped to see how these shoes carried me through the next 13.1 miles.

The most noticeable change in feel was the extra Boost foam in the midsole, which made my feet practically bounce off the pavement, despite legs that hadn't logged significant miles in a month. "With 20 percent more Boost, the shoe is going to feel firmer and more responsive—it's going to propel you forward without making you do extra work," explains Nebendahl. The new torsion spring in the shoe also plays a role in the propulsive feeling—in the Ultraboost 19, there are two finger-like prongs that extend that torsion system into the forefoot. The result? "You're going to have a much more explosive experience when you run," says Nebendahl.

Visually, the new heel cradle is the coolest looking part of the new shoe—especially in laser red. "The Ultraboost heel frame is very iconic, and we reduced it to the simplest form that we could get it to, giving you enough support in your heel to stabilize it but also providing flexibility," she says. "Flexibility here matters because when you hit the ground, your heel expands and then snaps back. This cradle allows for that adaptability; with the old heel, that was stopped."

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Photo: Ashley Mateo

What I ended up appreciating most, though, was the cloud-like comfort of the whole shoe, which is partly due to all those different components working together and partly due to the reconstructed sock-like upper, now a 3D-printed seamless Primeknit (compared to the previous 2D knit with a seam up the back). "It's extremely comfortable, but still gives you enough support to run," says Nebendahl. I can attest: My foot always felt locked and loaded without ever feeling constricted by the fabric (and I was running in temperatures that were creeping up into the 90s). 

That's really what the brand was going for in redesigning their most popular shoe: "The main thing for us is that we know people love the comfort of the Ultraboost, and we wanted to keep that," says Nebendahl. "This shoe should be your best companion on a run, whatever distance you want to do." 

I didn't race the Cayman Half for speed. I knew my legs were still feeling the effects of the NYC marathon, and all I wanted to do was enjoy the race without doing any more damage to my tired feet. And for 13-plus miles, the only times I thought about my feet were when I realized just how great everything felt. There are tons of running shoes out there—ones that promise to make you feel faster, more stable, or more supported. But if they don't make your feet feel good, what's the point of wearing them?

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