Training for the Boston Marathon in the New Balance Fresh Foam 980s

We put one of the local sneaker and apparel company's shoes to the test—and went the distance.

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

It was clear from the second I laced up the New Balance Fresh Foam 980s that my training runs would improve greatly.

After I signed up to run the 118th Boston Marathon, I tried on pair after pair of running shoes at the local sporting goods store, and thought that a lighter shoe would mean a faster jaunt. I threw down money on a generic, light-weight sneaker, an option that seemed to make sense at the time. The thing is, I don’t run (at least prior to the marathon I didn’t), so plunging into the world of athletic shoes with little to no knowledge of how a sneaker is supposed to work became a trial and error process. I searched the Internet, read reviews, and scoured websites. In the end, it came down to personal preference. And, of course, comfort.

But, one thing immediately became apparent: If I continued to run in the original shoes I purchased, my knees would pay the ultimate price, and my experience at the Marathon would be an unpleasant one.

I needed a solution, and luckily, I found one in the Fresh Foams.

Although they weren’t ideal for training in the unseasonably frigid winter weather we experienced this year—the mesh that covers the fronts of the shoes is really thin—the Fresh Foams made the pavement I was pounding feel like the sidewalks were made of rubber. Each stride offered a bounce off of the concrete that seemed to propel me forward at a faster pace than I had experienced with the prior running shoes, and the impact of my feet hitting the ground was absorbed by the layer of thick foam lining the soles.

This sense of agility was something that hardly diminished throughout the hundreds of miles I logged during my months-long training regime, and lasted all the way up to the point where I found myself pushing my body up Heartbreak Hill, in Newton, closing in on the end of the Marathon’s 26.2-mile route.

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

It took some time to get to that point, though. At first, my feet were squeezing disproportionately into the front parts of the shoes, with a lot more wiggle room toward the heel. This wasn’t due to wearing the wrong size, because I had slipped on various sizes prior to training. As the weeks progressed, however, the front ends loosened up quite a bit, but it came only after consecutive use during 18-mile long-runs on the weekends. Also, for some reason (perhaps the shoes, perhaps not), just weeks before the race, I developed a large blood blister that only worsened as I got closer to the starting line.

As for the knee pain I had experienced with the first pair of shoes I purchased, that problem completely subsided when I made the switch to the Fresh Foams. New Balance’s shoes had a “barely there” feeling that killed the shock factor that had rattled my knee caps, while at the same time maintaining overall durability from day one of training to Marathon Monday.

The only time I noticed a blemish of any kind during my training—runs that took me on somewhat tough terrain through Boston’s streets—was when my toe started to poke through that same thin mesh that had allowed drafts of cold air to hit my feet during the sub-zero temperatures. While there wasn’t much I could do about the small hole (in the end it never got any bigger than a pin hole, even after running the Marathon), simply switching to a pair of more durable socks did the trick.

In the end, that thin mesh was somewhat of a “run-saver” on April 21. The breathable material is what kept my feet from sweating profusely during a race day that saw temperatures upward of 65-degrees, something I hadn’t experienced during the overall training season. Add to that the fact that the Fresh Foams buck the trend of traditional running shoes—they were versatile enough to be worn as cross-training sneakers—which often flaunt overly aggressive bright colors, it was safe to say I made the right choice in sticking with New Balance’s design throughout.

At one point I was tempted to switch shoes for a second time, when several companies—including New Balance—introduced sneakers with a Boston-based theme. But even then I had decided it best to stick with the Fresh Foams to carry me to the finish line. And they did.