Terra Plana Ultra – 100+ mile impressions . . .
The first time I picked up a pair of Ultra’s, I thought they were pretty slick but I imagined more of a walking shoe than a running shoe but to my unexpected delight, they are incredible running shoes.
After 2+ weeks and 100+ miles on the Ultra, it’s the “best” running shoe I’ve ever run in as of June 2, 2011. It’s that plain and simple. I’ve done every type workout including easy, tempo and intervals at and below race pace, including roads, and trails and all I can say is the Ultra is awesome. What I’m really pleased about is that Terra Plana addressed the issues I’ve had with the Evo in the design of the Ultra. While I think the Evo is an excellent running shoe, I’ve had blister issues and the weight has been a factor to the point that the weight has impacted by gait, however I’m delighted to say, all that is water under the bridge with the Ultra.
Design & Performance of the Ultra running shoe
At first glance, you look at the Ultra and say “it’s a croc-like shoe,” and that’s a fair initial assessment, however, that’s the only similarity. The Ultra is designed for running and even more so that I ever imagined. As for the design particulars, it has an EVA upper with a removable plug-in sock lining, and it also has a removable plug-in mesh tongue. It utilizes a lock-lacing system and it is very easy to secure a customized fit. With that in mind, please note that for purposes of this review, you can assume I’m reviewing this based on running “without” the sock lining due to how much ground feel I desire (further explanation below), however, I do utilize the plug-in mesh tongue.
Sole. The sole is an EVA dual density product. The overall sole is 6mm which puts it down the middle fairway in terms of the amount of cushion under the foot compared to other minimalist footwear. It’s not clear whether the 6mm is with or without the sock lining but I’m pretty sure it includes the sock lining as only us hard core barefoot/minimalist runners remove insoles. Off the bat, I noticed a major difference in ground feel with or without the sock lining and I elected to run without the sock lining because the sock lining is a bit restrictive for me as it is very form fitting similar to a compression sock (just too tight especially around my toes) and with the Kevlar lining that’s in the sock lining, I just lose too much ground feel. To give you some comparisons, the KSO is 5.5mm, Speed 6.0mm, Bikila 7.0mm, Evo 3mm (6mm with the insole), and the Trek is 8.0mm. However, due to the use of the amphibious EVA sole, the ground feel (without the sock lining) is very similar to the KSO so I give it an “A” for ground feel.
Weight. The Ultra joins a very select and short list of shoes that weigh under 4 oz. (the Evo, for example, is my heaviest running shoe coming in around 10 oz. for a Men’s 44 (US 11), which is more than 3x the weight of the MWU3 and 2x the weight of the Nike Air Zoom Streak XC (Nike XC) which I consider a solid racing shoe for some folks)). The Ultra is so light I literally forget there’s something on my feet at times. It’s just freakishly light, as is the MWU3, however, unlike the MWU3, it’s a true minimalist zero drop shoe.
The Ultra Fit
The Ultra has a wide toe box which is wider than the Evo. Again, this is without the sock lining. My toes had enough room to move, breathe and grip as needed. The Ultra is very flexible as you can bend and flex the Ultra any way you desire.
This is the big question. How long will a shoe designed like the Ultra last? Before I ask that, I look at price and durability together. So, for $90 I conservatively expect the Ultra to last as long as the MWU3 or Nike XC. On the low end, I will be disappointed if I can’t get at least 300 miles on the Ultra and closer to 500 miles will make me one happy camper. After 100 miles, I can clearly see my foot strike pattern and I can see wear and tear around the ball of foot area, however, that alone doesn’t concern me but the issue is whether the EVA sole with hold and for how long.
Only time will tell so look for future reports from me on this key issue but I’m happy that Terra Plana reasonably priced this shoe compared to the $160 Evo which creates sticker shock for many.
High Arch Issue.
This is a specific note for us high arch folks. After 3+ yrs. of barefoot and minimalist running, my high arches have dropped a bit but I still have a defined arch. I raise this because I’ve had issues running in Vibram’s due to my higher arches. I have very sensitive arches and anything that touches, pokes or interferes with my arch is problematic in the long run for me. The Ultra (as with a shoe like the Luna sandal from Barefoot Ted) is perfect for a high arch folks like mine because it allows my arch to function without interference. I can run in Vibram’s but not consistently otherwise I tend to have arch pain which ultimately can turn into plantar fasciitis as the Vibram’s have this unique plastic section in the arch area of the sole (evident in the Speed’s and Bikila’s) and it can cause me issues.
Next to barefoot running, the Ultra is the best footwear I’ve ever placed on my feet. As of 6/2/11, it’s the best footwear I’ve run in and it is on track to surpass my all time favorite KSO, and in fact, I’ve already purchased a 2nd pair.
Kudo’s to Terra Plana
I give a lot of credit to Terra Plana and especially their head designer Asher Clark. Terra Plana is truly committed to producing healthy footwear. This is evident by the investment they’ve made is research and data about how the body functions and moves and it is evident in their shoe design. They aren’t perfect but no shoe company is but they continue to tweak, re-design, modify and create footwear that not only enables the body to move naturally but, more importantly, doesn’t interfere with natural body movement and specifically running form and technique.