By Brian Metzler
OK, I’ll say it: We’re living in the gilded age of running. As both a sport and a recreational activity, running has never been better. There are more people running, a more diverse population of runners, faster race times and, of course, much better running shoes than ever before.
As 2023 comes to a close, there might be plenty of reasons to be discouraged – the U.S. economy, American politics and several international conflicts to name a few – but running isn’t one of them. The post-pandemic era has seen unprecedented growth in running, not only from the rejuvenation of lapsed runners, but also from a huge influx of new runners who have fully immersed themselves in half marathons, marathons and trail races for the first time. As much as Millennials and Gen Zers probably hate to admit they’re following in the recreational running footsteps of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, it’s definitely happening – even if they like to claim they’re inventing it for the first time.
The first step for any fledgling or returning runner begins with the shoes. While carbon-plated racing shoes have changed the game from a performance point of view, I would argue there’s a more significant evolution afoot in training shoes. Cushy, hyper-responsive foams have been a key element of daily trainers for a few years, but there’s an even more significant evolution in training shoes with near-maximally-cushioned everyday trainers that are lighter, more comfortable and more lively than ever before.
Take for example the latest edition of the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13. It’s gone through various iterations over the past few years, but the new version – which officially hit running stores last week – is by far the best one yet. It has a new formulation of the Fresh Foam X midsole foam, new geometry (higher stack heights but a lower heel-toe drop) and a more versatile vibe. Following the lead of shoes like the ASICS Gel-Nimbus 25, Nike InfinityRN 4 and Saucony Triumph 21, the Fresh Foam X 1080v13 proves that thickly cushioned shoes can be both extremely comfortable, durable and reliable while also offering a little bit of zesty energy return.
What’s New: The 13th edition of the 1080 has been completely overhauled. It incorporates a new Fresh Foam X midsole foam with increased cushioning and stack heights. It’s considerably softer and lighter than the previous version of the shoe, and it also has improved forefoot stiffness, a new engineered stretch-knit upper that improves fit and comfort and an enhanced rocker geometry to enhance transitions between strides. It’s not quite a fully max-cushioned shoe, but that also means it’s slightly more agile and versatile.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13 fits true to size with a medium-volume interior with ample room in the toe box. The improved mesh upper replaces the sloppy knit upper from the previous version of the shoe and has done a much better job at locking down my feet comfortably and securely. With plenty of padding on the tongue and heel collar, there’s a soft, plush step-in sensation. But what’s most compelling about the new 1080 is the ride. The reformulated Fresh Foam X midsole, increased stack heights (+4mm under the heel and +6mm under the forefoot) and reduced heel-toe drop (now 6mm instead of 8mm) have given the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13 greater training pace versatility. It’s still best as a slow- to moderate-paced cruising shoe, but it’s much more lively than the two previous versions.
Why It’s Great: The Fresh Foam X 1080 v13 is great because it serves up a soft, buttery ride. It does a great job at combining shock-absorbing cushioning and smooth heel-toe transitions in every stride. The Fresh Foam X midsole is not super responsive, but it’s not mushy either. It feels juicy and lively, not flat and uninspiring. The lighter weight, softer sensation, modest rebound and more distinct rocker shape are definitely trending in the right direction. I loved this shoe for long runs and recovery runs at slow to medium paces, but I also appreciated the tiny bit of energetic buzz that I felt on those types of runs. I didn’t find it ideal for tempo runs, but I did find that it easily transitioned to slightly quicker paces on my longer runs.
New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080 v13 Specifications
Weights: 7.3 ounces. (women’s size 8), 9.2 ounces (men’s size 9)
Heel-Toe Offset: 6mm (38mm in the heel, 32mm in the forefoot)
Why You’ll Love it: I have mostly loved it because it’s so comfortable. The interior has a premium feel, both at the initial step-in/lace-up moments and also deep into the latter miles of a run. The improved upper has greatly enhanced the fit, providing a snug, secure sensation that allows for a more nimble feeling and better proprioceptive feel for the ground. It’s a great update and a much better running shoe than it was previously, but it’s also one of the most comfortable high-cushioned trainers available at stores this fall. It could be an ideal shoe for new or novice runners running low-mileage volume or a runner who’s training for a half marathon or marathon and wants a comfy cruiser in their quiver for those days that it’s hard to get inspired to get out the door and run.
Pro: New Balance is the footwear and apparel sponsor of the New York City Marathon on Nov. 5, so naturally there are a couple of unique NYC color motifs of the 1080v13. While aesthetics obviously have nothing to do with performance, I have to admit I love the lime green NYC version. From a sales point of view, the miniature Statue of Liberty icon and “TCS New York City Marathon” called out on the upper and sockliner might be appealing to some of those running the marathon.
Con: The Fresh Foam 1080v13 is a great shoe, but it’s still not as light as I’d like it to be. While it’s much lighter than last year, it’s still probably half an ounce heavier than it could be. It might be difficult to get this shoe that much lighter without making sacrifices or more changes, but it would certainly make it a more of a versatile, do-everything trainer that could tackle up-tempo workouts.