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Is the RealFlex Run 2.0 for you? The Conclusion (Part 3/3)


First an apology that this post is so late. Part 2/3 of this review was published in November 2013 with a promise that the last part would be out in a couple of weeks. Well life and running events caught-up. First Airtel Half in December; then extensive physiotherapy to fix some running injuries during second half of December and first half of January, and finally the Mumbai Full and the several weeks of recovery thereafter dealing with more injuries. Finally have the mental energy & motivation back to conclude this.

The good news is that current mileage on the RealFlex Run 2.0 stands at 270km, which means it’s really been put through the grinder. It has also become a favourite go-to shoe for most of my training runs. I haven’t done any races in these as I kept going back to my Saucony Kinvara 3 which was a tried and tested option. I am looking forward to race in the RealFlex 2.0 at the Budh International F1 track HM in March.

When we talk about shoes and our feature preferences we tend to think in terms of extremes – on cushioning (none to 2 inch springs), on heel drop (zero to 15mm), on flexibility (contortionist “yogi” to rigid planks), on  pronation support (none to big hard wedges) and on uppers (minimalist to extreme padded pillows). And therefore the debate of what shoe is right for a certain person sees some pretty extreme stances being taken.

I personally think the RealFlex 2.0 is a shoe where someone at Reebok has made some really smart design choices and “compromises”, and I don’t use compromises in a negative sense but rather in a sense of saying “maintaining the balance”.

What I mean by this is that the shoe hits the cushioning, heel drop, flexibility, pronation and uppers sweet-spot in a way which will appeal to a wide variety of runners without people having to fight over whether minimalist shoes are good or cushioned shoes are good or whether one needs stability/motion control.

Now that I have said this let’s go back to our runner profiles (if you have read the previous review on the Reebok Cushion you are familiar with this but even if you haven’t don’t worry) and see how things work for each.

Runner Type 1 (used to Cushioned Comfort): If you are a runner who is already running in a highly cushioned shoe. The RealFlex has great cushioning while still being extremely light. I would easily recommend it for people who want cushioned comfort and yet yearn for a lighter, faster shoe.

Runner Type 2 (Heel, mid/fore Foot striker): Two thing stand out for heel strikers, first the heel drop which is 8mm and therefore more than conventional minimalist shoes with 4-6mm drop. Second the extra tough outer rubber in the heel area which gives some extra protection and prolongs the life of the shoe. So a good choice for the heel striker.

And yet the heel drop is much lower than the monsters with 12-15mm drop. The 8mm shoe drop “feels” much lesser and personally I was deceived into thinking the profile was very much like my 4mm heel drop Kinvaras (do read https://runindiarun.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/review-of-the-reebok-realflex-run-2-0-a-little-beyond-the-first-run-with-166km-done-and-dusted-part-23/ to understand the significance of this). This coupled with the flexibility of the shoe also makes it a great choice for the mid/fore foot striker.

Runner Type 3 (Newbie): You are a newer runner; are looking at a comfortable running shoe; are going to do most of your running on hard surfaces (tar or cement roads and sidewalks) without a lot of consideration at the moment for speed, form, gait, etc. Your running style is still evolving and you are apprehensive about the impact running may have on your legs or you may already have some issues. Well choose the RealFlex 2.0 with an easy mind, the added benefit a much lighter shoe and if at any point you want to go aggressively minimal well you are already in a great transition shoe.

Runner Type 4 (Body Weight “irrelevant”): If you recall I had recommended the Reebok One Cushion for the “heavier 80kg+” runner. Well the good news is that this shoe will work for them as well. However because it is lighter and flexible it will also work extremely well for the lighter runner without compromising on the response. So you won’t need the weight of your body to elicit a “response” from this shoe.

Runner Type 5 (You are also fast): If you are already on low profile shoes or racing flats and are a forefoot to midfoot striker but yearn for some more protection then again the shoe is a great compromise.  And since it is very light and relatively flexible the responsiveness is super.

Runner Type 6 (High Mileage Road Runner): High mileage on road means a lot of wear and tear of the lower half of the body. Till now this meant having to wear highly cushioned, bulky and heavy shoes. With the RealFlex 2.0 there is now a much lighter and cushier option available.

Finally a category that I said I would not review for – “The Pronators” since I believe most people can actually do pretty well in neutral shoes and since there is research (new and old) to show that inside the shoe (irrespective of type) the foot is still doing what it is doing ! Read this http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/the-myth-of-pronation-and-running-injuries/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 and this http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0021929000001160 if you are interested in this topic. Well the RealFlex is interesting since it has dual density midsole which makes the mid-foot area more rigid then the rest of the shoe. I suspect this would be of help to the mild pronator (and assuming that these shoes actually help).

So if you are looking for a minimalist, cushioned, flexible, low heel drop, stable shoe which runs cool (a lot of these adjectives would be normally mutually exclusive for most shoes) then the RealFlex Run 2.0 is for you. I am almost tempted to call it an “every runner’s shoe”.

RunIndiaRun
Sandeep

P.S. Two other shoes have been patiently waiting on the sidelines – the Skechers GoRun2 M and the Puma Mobium Elite. Hope to complete those reviews before end of March. The good news is that the GoRun2 already has about 150km on it

Review of the Reebok RealFlex Run 2.0 – A Little Beyond the First Run with 166km done and dusted (Part 2/3)


When I finished part 1 of this review I promised you two things in part 2 – my first run impressions and a lesson in “breaking-in” new shoes.  Although eight outings and 166 km later is a little late in the day to talk about the first run but that is anyway where I am going to start my story.

First Run Impressions
It’s the morning of the 30th October and I am eager to test out the new shoes. I am ready to start my run around 7.30am after dropping off my son for football practice. If you have been reading my blogs then by now you know my routine – I start with a warm-up which today consists of a partial Myrtl routine (someday soon I am going to write about this for sure !), today is going to be a 6 km recovery run (with speeds near the 7min/km mark) which is all about loosening up, getting the kinks and minor glitches in the muscles and body out-of-the-way and flushing some of the lactic acid out before the longer and tougher 18k planned for tomorrow.

The shoe feels very planted yet light. When I stand in them and then walk up to my warm-up spot I can feel hardness near the heel in the sole, I also notice that the heel cup has a pretty hard plastic type of support and I am little worried about both these things.

Start the run, trying to feel and think about the shoe. The first kilometre is slow as usual since I walk for about 200-300m and only then start running. Second kilometre onwards I fall into a rhythm. Stop for a pee-break in the third kilometre, and then back to the rhythm. 4 kms later I suddenly realise something is wrong ! I am running faster than I intended to and I am not feeling it, in fact my mind is pretty much a blank. It is then that I remember that I am wearing new shoes – I could swear that I was wearing my well broken in Kinvara 3 or the Free 4.0 !

This perhaps sums-up the first run in the RealFlex Run 2.0 – the shoe provokes little or no thought and I don’t even realise I am wearing anything new. This, in my humble opinion, is exactly how a shoe that works for you should feel from day one. I know that there are still a lot of kilometres I need to put in this shoe before my final verdict but by the end of the first run I am satisfied. And the question on mind is – “Can these shoes replace my ageing Nike Free 4.0 (now about 1600 kms old)?”

The Next 8 Runs
Have put in another 160k in the RealFlex Run 2.0 which includes Recovery runs (10.1k and 11.18); Fast Striders (6x100k after the 11.18k recovery run); Medium Long runs (18.15k, 19.12k and 23.04k); an attempted Tempo run (18k which didn’t really work out well) and two Long runs (32.06k and 28.11k). The shoe has behaved like a good friend – being there but without being obtrusive!

That description is nice and emotional but doesn’t tell you much about the shoe so let me get back to two adjectives that Reebok uses for the shoe (and I have explained in detail in earlier posts) and see if they live up to them – “Cushioned” and “Responsive”.

The shoe is touted for the runner who is looking for a “barefoot/minimalist experience but is not willing to compromise on cushioning”. I have already covered the first part about the minimalist expereince – the shoe being very light, having a light upper structure and being quite flexible but Reebok is bang on when they say they haven’t compromised on cushioning. Out of the range of shoes that I have – the Kinvara 3.0; the Free 3.0 & 4.0 and even the Reebok ONE Cushion the ride in these feels really plush. Now for those wondering why the RealFlex Run 2.0 would feel even more cushioned to me then the Reebok ONE Cushion, a little patience please, you will get the answer when I do the final part (3/3) of the review 🙂

What about responsiveness? Once again the response seems pretty bang on. The shoe feels very responsive and adapts to a range of running speeds pretty easily (felt equally comfortable during slower recovery runs and all out striders) providing just the right return of energy at push-off. But more importantly there is a fantastic balance between the cushioning and the response (which at times can be opposing characteristics).

Interestingly the RealFlex Run 1.0 (not really called that but rather the version before this one) had some complaints of having a very soft sole and therefore tending to have a less than satisfactory response. So the changes that Reebok has made to the shoe’s midsole and outsole seems to have worked well (at least from my perspective). 

Another thing which I haven’t spoken about in earlier reviews is grip. I run primarily on tar, cement and brick roads/pavements and in some of the other shoes that I have, I have been a little tentative especially if the surface was wet. However these really grip the road without having a breaking action, giving you confidence to keep pushing.

If you remember I was concerned about heat build-up especially due to the nature of the insole. Well I haven’t had any problems with this but then the weather too has been much cooler during the review runs. The shoe doesn’t seem to be as breathable and as cool as my Kinvara (I can actually feel the breeze through them when I run!) but it is still significantly cooler than the Reebok ONE Cushion.

I was also concerned about the harder heel and the stiffer support in the heel cup however when I run I don’t feel or think about these at all. I think I know why they are there but once again I ask for your patience since I will come back to this in part 3 of the review.

Breaking-in a New Shoe
If you ask most experts if a running shoe needs to be “broken-in” for fit and feel they will say they DON’T need to be. In fact they say pretty emphatically that the new shoe should feel great right from day one. I completely agree with both these views. However there is a slight caveat to this that I learnt the “hard” way. 

My second run in the RealFlex Run 2.0 is an 18k on the very next day after my first one in them. I start with the usual routine, feeling quite fresh and alert. I do the first 2k and have started pushing the speed (this shoe makes you do that !) when suddenly my foot seems to catch on something and I am sprawled face down on the road. For the tiniest moment I just lay still trying to assess the damage, then get up and sit down on the kerb to make sure there are no major injuries. Lots of cuts and bruises but surprisingly doesn’t seem to be any major injuries. What seemed to have saved me was my water bottle which was in my hand and landed first when I fell down – the deep lacerations on the plastic bottle reminds me of what could have happened. Anyway get up and complete the balance 16k very very strongly in spite of now being cautious – I guess a fall triggers all your survival mechanisms, pain suppression centers and adrenaline !

When I come back from the run I am still trying to figure out why I fell, especially since I was alert and feeling strong when I started. Then I remember that the day before when I had first used the shoe I had almost tripped a couple of times while still walking! What was going on? Later in the day I get a mail from Reebok informing me that the shoes heel-to-toe drop is 8mm. That is when the brain starts whirring. If you remember from part 1 of the review I didn’t have this information for the first two runs. Secondly my other regular shoes (both the Kinvara 3 and the Free 3.0) have a heel-to-toe drop of just 4mm.

Mystery solved? I think so. Go up a few paragraphs where I say that when I first used these shoes I actually felt like I was wearing my regular, well used shoes. First that was not the case; the heel-to-toe drop was significantly higher, in fact double. Second I wasn’t aware of this difference; and third the shoe never felt like I was using an 8mm drop shoe (why this was so is still a mystery to me !)

Now here is what I think happened – every runner lifts his foot while running (some more than others). The lift is also dependent on the feel of the shoe. A taller shoe would automatically make you lift higher, similarly a higher drop shoe would also need to be lifted higher to avoid potential obstacles. Since I had been running in 4mm drop shoes I had been used to lifting my foot very little to get over potential bumps. When I wore the RealFlex Run 2.0, not conscious of the change in drop & height, my mind was still sending the same signals to my legs and feet, causing me to raise the foot exactly as before. So even the slightest bit of undulation in the road (which I should have just glided over with my other shoes) became a big bump – and bang I was flat on the road !

There are a couple of lessons here – First know your shoes, both the old one and the new one. If the new one is significantly different then the old one (and even if not) make sure you consciously focus on this and make the adjustments necessary to adapt to the new shoe – else you might end up with injury. After a few conscious runs you should gradually move to a zone of unconscious adjustment whenever you wear these shoes especially if you tend to rotate your running between two or more shoes (as I do). In my case this happened after the 4 or 5 run in these but I think this would also depend on how many kms you put in as well.

Final Thoughts
By now you must have figured out (you don’t need to be Einstein for this ;)) that I have really liked the RealFlex Run 2.0. It has seamlessly worked for me (discounting the fall that humpty dumpty had !) and it has indeed now replaced my worn down Nike Free 4.0 as my preferred training shoe (still trying to keep a low mileage on the Kinvara 3 and the Nike Free 3.0 for actual races).

The shoe is fairly minimalist in design philosophy (light and thin upper, low weight, reasonably flexible, highly responsive, etc) yet has some interesting characteristics like the great cushioning, the higher heel-to-toe drop, the taller height in general and the comparably less flexibility than the Frees which makes it different from the traditional minimalist shoes. If I have to compare it to the shoes I have it feels almost like a cross between the Kinvara 3 and Nike Free 4.0.

I don’t really have any negative comments on these shoes. But if I were to nitpick it would be to ask Reebok to make the insoles more breathable.

That concludes the meat of the review. Watch out for the final post on these shoes where I will try to answer the question – “Is the RealFlex Run 2.0 for you?”

Till then…. 

….RunIndiaRun

Sandeep

Review of the Reebok RealFlex Run 2.0 – The Official Line & Impressions Out of the Box (Part 1/3)


It’s official I am not a one review wonder !

About three weeks back as I was concluding the review of the Reebok ONE Cushion I came across another running shoe launch in India by Reebok – this time with a very bare-chested and in your face John Abraham showing off the Reebok RealFlex Run 2.0. This shoe looked really interesting – it was being touted as flexible, minimalist and meant for fast running – seeing that I have a closet full of similar shoes I was eager to test this one out and see how it stood up. Out went a mail to the good folks at Reebok and about a week later a box turned up with a US 11/UK 10 size eclectic blue RealFlex Run 2.0 (Photo 1 below).

RealFlex Run 2.0

Photo 1: The Reebok RealFlex 2.0

I was a little foxed as the courier handed me the box, it felt very light and I wondered for a second if by mistake an empty box had been sent to me. My mind settled as I gazed upon another beautiful shoe from Reebok (remember the really nice looking ONE Cushion!). Part of the fun of being a runner these days is all the sexy, flamboyant and flourescent shoes you get to wear and if you are running (pun unintended) into middle age (like me) it’s almost as good as acquiring a Ferrari to tide over the “mid-life crisis” !

The Official Line:

Reebok says that the RealFlex Run 2.0 is “for the consumer looking for the barefoot / minimalist footwear experience, but is not willing to compromise cushioning” and goes on to describe it as “lightweight, 360 degree flexible, functional, cushioned, minimalist, responsive, etc, etc” a lot of adjectives for a running shoe, some of which actually feel contradictory. They also provided me with a photo with all the little its and bits neatly labelled (see Photo 2) ! But I am going to just ignore all those details because I have a load of adjectives to test instead 🙂

All the Little its and bits!

Photo 2: All the Little its and bits!

First Impressions Pre-Run & Some facts:

It is uncanny how things turn out – at the end of Part 3 of my review on the Reebok ONE I had made three suggestions and if I didn’t know better I would have thought someone at Reebok had read them and then redesigned that shoe as the RealFlex Run 2.0!

  • First I said the shoe needs to lose weight, about 25-30gms. The RealFlex feels really light and in fact I was quite sure that it was as light if not lighter than my Frees and the Kinvara (all below 225gm). I was surprised when I found out the shoe weighed 240gm. Much lighter than the Reebok ONE (at 283gm) but just a tiny bit heavier than the other shoes.
  • Second I said the Reebok ONE needs to be more breathable, well this shoe with its significantly less padding in the heel and tongue area definitely looks more breathable and this has contributed to the lessor weight. I hope this would also translate to better heat management (which I will know only after I run in them).
  • The third thing which I would have liked to see is a perforated fabric insole but I still see a lot of smooth rubber. I am beginning to think that maybe all Reebok insoles these days are made of rubber on top (unlike the Nikes, Saucony and even Adidas I have used earlier). My problem with this is the heat & sweat management but let’s wait and see how this shoe manages that during runs.

Before moving any further let me address that the all important question “whats the price of the shoe” – well the retail price is Rs. 6,999 which compares well with other similar shoes in the market.

I decide to slip the shoe on and walk around.

  • This shoe too feels very roomy and in fact at first I think I have been sent a larger size, I almost pack it back up to send back to Reebok for a smaller size but then decide to compare it with the other shoes. Almost identical, only very marginally bigger – in fact the fit is very similar to my Kinvaras (which are a perfect fit by the way). The Nike Free 3.0 V4 is comparably pretty tight and the foot feels restricted at times. The fit is also very comparable to the Nike Free 4.0 V2
  • The heel-to-toe drop, which I actually only get to know after my first run, is 8mm (21mm-13mm). This is a real revelation and surprise for me since when trying it on (and while on the first run later) I couldn’t make out any difference in the way my foot was landing compared to the 4mm heel-to-toe drop for the Kinavara and the 6mm for Free 4.0
  • The shoe is indeed flexible – however I think Reebok has over emphasized this since it is nowhere as flexible as the Nike Free 3.0 or Free 4.0 or even the 5.0. But we have to do a few runs to find out whether this makes any difference whatsoever. I remember getting my Kinvaras, which are pretty rigid in comparison, and thinking I bought the wrong shoes – it made no difference and as of now they are actually my race & training “go to” shoes !
  • The shoe has a lot of bits and pieces on the top and the side including a different type of lacing system support and side band (called the FitFrame LT) which is claimed to make the shoe very functional and a better fit. Well the only thing I can say is that the shoe felt comfortable and I didn’t have any problems getting the right tension in he lacing nor did I feel any lace pressure on the top.
  • The shoe does feel nice under the feet but cushioning and response are best tested on a few runs (you should read my earlier blog to understand cushioning and response in some more detail – here is the link – https://runindiarun.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/review-of-the-reebok-one-cushion-33-wrap-up-shoe-physics-and-recommendations/)
  • The comparison photos below were actually taken after I did a few runs in these shoes and once again I was very pleasantly surprised. From the runs and the feel and look the shoe felt & looked very similar in height and construction to the Frees and Kinvara (minimalist) and significantly smaller than the Reebok ONE Cushion – but the side by side comparison had another tale to tell – check out the photos below the RealFlex Run 2.0 is actually as tall as the Reebok ONE Cushion ! Doesn’t feel like that at all !
SAM_1423

Photo 3: Length similar to the Free 4.0. To box is a tad roomier.

SAM_1420

Photo 4: Surprisingly taller than the Reebok ONE Cushion !

SAM_1421

Photo 5: Much more formed and taller than the Kinvara 3

SAM_1422

Photo 6: Same situation with the Free 4.0

Reebok made several claims about the shoe and till now (by just observing, wearing and walking around in them) I have been able to confirm that it is indeed lightweight, quite flexible, fits well, feels good under the feet and has a minimalist feel to it overall. For the rest of the test we will have to pound some tar !

The day I got the shoes I had already done a 16k run in the morning otherwise I would have headed out in the shoes for a run right then, I was that excited to get them. Well I did go out the very next day morning and the good news is that I have now already put in 86km in them !

So watch out for the impressions of the RealFlex Run 2.0 from my first run and also for a personal learning and lesson in “breaking-in” new shoes which I learnt the “hard” way !

Till then …

…RunIndiaRun

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