Running shoe playtest review: New Balance Fresh Foam 980

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It’s that time of year when frat bros and sorority sisters from all over America head to Cancun, get drunk, strip naked and generally get up to all kinds of mischief, usually involving a classic foam party!

The bad news for Sport-locker.net is that we’re far too busy to hop on a plane and join in the debauchery.

The good news for us, and regular visitors to the site, is that the lovely people at New Balance have sent us our very own foam party in a box…and it’s way fresher!

Sport-Locker’s Spring Break Foam Party!

The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Road is the Boston based company’s entry into the chunky running shoe market. We couldn’t wait to get the party started.

TECH SPEC

As the brains at NB put it, Fresh Foam is an innovative midsole created from a single piece of foam that provides a lower, more natural underfoot feel.

Whilst the foam midsole is certainly unique in the market, it’s NB’s own take on the increasingly popular and rapidly growing ‘maximal’ running shoe.

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Among other more niche brands, Adidas, Brooks and Saucony, have all released their own incarnation of chunky soled running shoes which claim to offer additional cushioning and support which help to reduce fatigue and chance of injury.

The difference with NB’s approach with the Fresh Foam though is that they’ve tipped the cap to their successful Minimus range by retaining a mere 4mm drop or heel to toe offset, meaning you get the best of both worlds.

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There’s also a breathable air mesh and simple no-sew overlay on the upper that NB say “wraps the foot in the right places”, more on all that later.

THE TEST

One of the most striking things on first inspection is just how light NB have kept these trainers. Weighing in at just 250g or 8.8oz (a full 3oz lighter than the Hoka One One Conquest) the tech guys at NB have worked wonders to make sure you don’t feel like you’re running with lead in your shoes despite the additional support.

The foam itself is much firmer to the touch than I expected it to be, with hardly any give from a firm squeeze. That changes when you get them on your feet and out on the road though. If you’re not used to much cushioning in your running shoe, you’re in for a very interesting experience.

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I’d been running in the NB Minimus 10v2 until this test and felt, if anything, the cushioning had gone a step too far. After the first 5k loosener in the Fresh Foams I was convinced they had slowed me down.

After a few more outings though, I was converted. Whether it needed a slight adjustment in my running style I’m not sure, but within three or four runs my lunchtime 5k time was coming back down quickly, and I felt that the foam was providing an extra thrust to my technique, pushing me forward into every stride.

I also noticed that I was feeling less of those little aches and niggles after each run, suggesting that the additional cushioning is really doing its job, or it could simply be that the Foam Fresh suits my own gait better than the Minimus.

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Either way, I feel the Fresh Foams provide and extremely smooth and comfortable ride, making light of any uneven surfaces or sharps which can be a problem in the more minimalist shoes I’ve become used to.

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The upper has a lovely feel to it, and allows air to circulate through the mesh ensuring comfort and avoiding that horrible feeling of super sweaty slabs after a run.

The tongue is, in contrast, fairly chunky and while perhaps not in keeping with the overall design of the upper, it ensures a comfortable, snug fit and is not offensive during exercise.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall we’re really impressed worth the NB Fresh Foam 980 here at Sport-Locker. As always with NB, the tech updates feel relevant and effective.

The shoe itself is light but offers an abundance of cushioning, support and stability. Always high on our list of priorities here at Sport-Locker is the aesthetic, and again NB have not disappointed.

They sent us the white, cobalt blue and green gecko colour way which is fresh and clean. The blown rubber outsole gives the shoe a very distinctive look an increasingly crowded market and we’ve had more than the odd admiring glance and interested enquiry before, after and even during runs…yes, we’ve actually been stopped mid-run to be asked what they are!

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We’ve even chucked them on with a pair of jeans to nip out for the weekly shop.

So while we may not have got to rummage around in a pool of foam with the Miami State Women’s Beach Volleyball team, Sport-Locker got our own little bit of spring break foam action, and we enjoyed it. A lot!

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What do you think of the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 running shoes? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

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