Thursday, June 6, 2013

Under Armour Toxic Six running shoe review

Triathletes need to pay attention to what’s on their feet. Some can get away with the $40 sneakers that they run in, walk in, run errands in, mow the lawn in and basically use for any purpose or occasion. They only replace the shoes after the second payer of duct tape wears through and the soul starts separating from the actual shoe. If that’s you, there’s no shame in that game. As long as you stay healthy and injury free, go with what works.

But, for the vast majority of triathletes and more so with the long course racers, getting the right shoes that supports, fits, functions and lasts as long as possible is a constant battle. More often it’s a compromise to find the right shoe make and model that’s affordable and loading up with as many pairs as possible when they go on sale. It’s not uncommon to find a couple of unworn shoes in a triathletes closet still in the box and two to three pairs in rotation for training and racing. When a pair wears out, off to the lawn mowing lot they go, and out comes a new pair. That’s the life cycle of many triathlete shoes and it’s a short lived life when they see 100 to 200 miles a month.

Asics, New Balance, Nike, Reebok and K-Swiss and many more shoes have inundated the running market to provide many choices for triathletes. How many makes and models have you gone through to find that right pair? Maybe you’re still experimenting. Do you go stability, control or even minimalist? There’s not rock solid right answer or guidance that works for all athletes. It’s a game of going to fit specialists, trying shoes and finding what works best.

But, if you need another shoe to consider, the folks at Under Armour would like you to consider their new UA Toxic Six shoe. They sent in a pair for review and below is our take on the Toxic Six.

UA says, “calling this running shoe “minimalist” doesn’t do it justice.”
They aren’t making any bones about it, this is your father’s minimalist running shoe. When you pick them up and look them over, it’s very apparent what they are geared towards. It’s not going to be a staple of a runner that needs moderate to high stability and motion control. If you don’t have strong ankles and solid form, this shoe might not be for you.

That being said, it does have a place in almost everyones running shoe stable. There’s some validity to running in a shoe in short and controlled sessions to make the ankle work for stabilization to keep ankle strength up. Similar to the idea of trail running for stability improvement, running hills or sprints in the T6 could theoretically force the stabilizer muscles to kick in without subjecting them to long term pounding in long runs. It’s not the shoe to train with every day, but it’s a shoe that could assist in mixing up your running to not allow your body to adapt to one kind of shoe and allow stabilizer muscles to go dormant. It’s a working theory, anyway.

What's unique about the T6 is;
  • The neoprene (not your typical clothes upper shoe) upper is light, tough, and allows the foot to move naturally.
  • Asymmetrical lacing system (the laces are not the traditional placement on the top of the foot) reduces pressure and abrasion on the top of your foot.
  • Low heel and forefoot midsole encourages the foot to strike on the midfoot/forefoot, to work with natural efficiency.
  • Full length molded 4D Foam sockliner conforms to your foot's exact shape, eliminating slippage.
  • Solid rubber traction is strategically placed on high impact zones for full ground contact with less weight - it looks like a high-tech foot outline.
  • It only weighs 6 oz.
It’s just different than your typical running shoe. Using neoprene instead of a cloth fabric for the upper shoe is newer to us. It’s almost akin to a water sock that you slide on to hit the pool, only with superior traction and support. It’s a noticeably different feeling than any stability or motion control shoe out there and decided different than other minimalist shoes such at the Bolt Faas 400’s from Puma.

Don’t be fooled though, it’s not meant to be worn like a water sock with no socks. More on that later, but UA does not intend for the sockless running crowd to utilize the T6.

Whoa man. When you open that box, you just aren’t ready for the pure awesomeness of the scientific experiment to combine a cheetah, tiger, orange and the rainbow in a pair of sneakers. Maybe Toxic Shok should have been the name instead of Toxic Six. You might have the entire spectrum of emotions from WOW to WTF when you lay your eyes on these shoes in person. It’s almost like a train wreck or watching Dennis Rodman. You know you shouldn’t stare and watch, but you do and you get mesmerized. They are almost hypnotic. I can only imagine the poor runners around you and what the experience when you fly by them. They might be good to distract your competition so they accidentally fall into the ditch and allow you to get ahead.

One word of advice, find low cut socks. No show socks are best, but go with ankle socks and you will be ok. T6’s just do not look right with anything higher. By all means, if you have no other options, grab any sock you have and hit the road, but if you have a choice, make it a fashionable one.

 But all kidding aside, you won’t find another pair of shoes that look like this. They stand out, mission accomplished.

Fit and Function
All the whiz-bang adjectives and acronyms for the design are great, and you can attract as much attention as you want with the off-beat design, but if people buy the shoe and they suck and don’t deliver, well, then you’ve wasted your time making a shoe.

We tried them out. 8x30 second hill repeats, yes please. 30 minute tempo runs, yep. 5 mile stroller run with a weight vest and pushing 80 pounds of kids, without a doubt. We did as much as we could with these shoes. We hesitated to take them longer than 6 miles or more than 2 days in a row. After achilles issues and known form issues, it was strategically decided that injury avoidance was a priority and we played it conservative. They may have very well done great on a 2.5 run, but with triathlon season in full swing, we opted not to take the chance of a mid-season injury.

Heck, we even tried them without socks. Traditionally this reviewer wears socks, but the look and sock-like feel of the T6 enticed us to take a walk on the wild side. Well, after a nice blister in a 45 minute intense workout, we decided it was better to stay with socks. If you are an experienced sockless wonder and cram your shoes with lubricant, then you probably would be ok, we’re guessing.

Notice the tab on the front that can be used to pull on the shoe without having to mess with tying and untying. It’s very conducive for triathletes in transition to just grab and slide them on.

That reinforces the idea that these shoes are on top of the comfort game. Yes they are lightweight and just ooze minimalist, but they provide a comfortable footbed while you’re out pounding the pavement. Once we laced up the side laces, it was a matter of sliding the shoes off and on since they had the neoprene flexibility. In a sprint triathlon, or if you are full time minimalist, these shoes are super easy to open up and slide on. They have the flexibility and elasticity to open up for your foot, and come back into shape to form a snug fit around your foot. T6 has the potential to shave time off of your transition with the simplicity of sliding them on and taking off. There’s no true tongue that could get bunched up and in the way.

So far we have logged around 30 miles with the T6 shoes over 2 weeks. As we mentioned, we have used them sparingly as this reviewer is not a regular minimalist shoe wearer. Don’t just switch from your motion controls to UA T6. Ease it in and there’s nothing that says you can’t have different types of shoes for different types of training. They work parts of your ankles underutilized or rendered dormant by stability shoes. Women can wear heels one day, sandals and then flats on another. Why can’t runners wear stability one day and minimalist the other? There’s no rules about it. Just be smart about it.

These bad boys will run you around $100 before tax and shipping. They are not cheap, but they are in the range for name brand reputable minimalists running shoes. You can get into some “lesser” brands and shoes starting at the $65 mark and they go up from there. You can blow up to $175 if money is no object when it comes to minimalist running.

Are they worth the price? That’s all in the eyes of the shoe wearer. If they fit, you like them and they provide you with hundreds of miles of running enjoyment, then they are the right price. Since they are in the sweet spot of prices, they are not a rip off and they are not a cheap knock-off.

So, Under Armour is trying to get traction in the running shoe market. They have a wide selection and they are hoping to make a bold entrant with the Toxic Six running shoe. Aimed at the minimalist market, it may not be for everyone. But, if you like making a statement, they can be great everyday drivers to get double takes and stares.

They are somewhat out of the ordinary (aside from the colors) in that the utilize neoprene for the upper shoe material. The sock-like lining offers a feel and comfort not matched by many other minimalist shoes. They may not be a sockless solution, but you can wear thin socks and not lose any feeling for the pavement. Just use them with caution if you have traditionally not been a minimalist shoe kind of person.

There are alternatives from other brands that are more affordable, but there is a drop in comfort and feel. Competitors stay light weight, but the shoes from others appear to be less sturdy and the souls are more foam than rubber to save weight, which reduces durability. The T6 from Under Armour is a new player, but they might just play the game as well as anyone when given the chance. “Put me in coach, I can score!”

* Writer’s note, UA provided a pair of T6 shoes to try out for this review. In no way did they influence this review.
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