With the line between casual and active wear becoming more blurry by the day, sometimes it can be difficult to ascertain whether a shoe is good for running simply by looking at it.
The Adidas UltraBoost is a perfect example of this confusing ambulatory ambiguity. Their flashy, eye-catching design, would have us believe that they’re more of a lifestyle shoe in the vein of the Adidas/Kanye Yeezy lineup. But if we look a little closer at the ergonomics of the outsole, it does seem as if it’s shaped to smooth out the step of someone traveling at speed.
So, what’s really going on here? Is the UltraBoost technically a running shoe, or is it meant more as a treat for the eye? Let’s find out!
Adidas UltraBoosts — A Runner’s Delight or a Fashionista’s Dream?
Here’s the thing…the UltraBoosts have a stake in both performance and fashion realms of the footwear market, but first and foremost, they are running shoes.
Adidas designed the OG UltraBoosts specifically for runners looking for lots of support and a soft, responsive step. They were eventually adopted by the fashion world due to their sleek silhouette and striking colorways (the 20 line of UltraBoosts even features a collaboration with the International Space Station!).
Whether Adidas had the intention of making a shoe with such a wide, cross-market appeal is unclear. It’s very possible that they only realized the UltraBoost’s potential when it was adopted by the stylishly inclined after its initial release.
Unfortunately, it does seem that Adidas is leaning towards the lifestyle market with their latest release, the Ultraboost 21 range, but is it so far removed from the earlier designs that it’s no longer good for running? I took a closer look at the UltraBoost chronology to find out.
Is the Original Adidas UltraBoost Good for Running?
The original UltraBoost was an incredibly refreshing take on the technical running shoe. With its stylish sock-fit knitted upper and squishy Boost outsole, I’m not surprised it caught on in such a big way with both runners and casual sneaker enthusiasts.
In terms of fit, the Primeknit upper keeps things nice and snug, and the thick Boost base has enough cushion to really ease the impact of gnarly heel strikes on overstrides. The front of the outsole provides a pretty springy toe-off too, propelling you forward and encouraging a swift and steady pace over long distances.
The fabric is nice and breathable, keeping you cool and comfortable even as you stack up the kilometers, but to be perfectly honest, their weight lets them down a bit. It’s not such an issue once you’ve built up some momentum on an easy-going run, but they’d definitely hold you back during short, fast runs.
It’s not just the weight of the OG UltraBoost that renders it a tad too cumbersome for racing. Despite being reinforced by an internal plastic cage, there is just not enough support in the upper to prevent your foot from slipping over the outsole while taking corners at speed.
However, I’m inclined to believe that their weight is part of the reason that the OG UltraBoosts are so durable. These things will carry you mile after mile for years before they show any serious signs of disrepair.
Verdict – The original UltraBoost is a good choice for easy-going and long-distance running, but it’s a bit too heavy for sprints and racing.
Is the UltraBoost 19 Good for Running?
The UltraBoost 19 marked Adidas’ first proper reworking of their now-classic UltraBoost blueprint, and they did a fantastic job of addressing one of its major issues.
As I mentioned just a moment ago, the original UltraBoost lacked lateral stability at speed, but the 19 lineup replaced the plastic cage with a supportive mesh that doesn’t give so easily, yet despite its rigidity, never feels uncomfortable.
The wire frame at the back of the shoes does for the heel what the mesh siding does for the midfoot. Combine these new structural appointments with the Primeknit 360 sock upper, and you finally have that “locked in place” feel that gives you the confidence to push yourself harder during your run.
Unfortunately, the 19 is just as heavy as its predecessor, but the good news is that Adidas managed to somehow stuff in 20% more Boost outsole without adding a single gram, providing an almost obscenely bouncy feel.
Verdict – The 19 beats the original in every way. It’s amazing for long-distance slogs, and I really appreciate the stability of the structure, but it’s still too heavy for sprinting.
Is the UltraBoost 20 Good for Running?
Feeling happy with the adjustments made to the 19, Adidas decided to play it safe with the UltraBoost 20. Other than that epic partnership with the ISS I mentioned earlier, the only new appointment was the Tailored Fiber Placement Technology.
Essentially, this new tech added yet another layer of support in the upper, making them a great choice for running in slippery conditions and over challenging, uneven terrain.
Verdict – With the weight issue yet to be addressed, the UltraBoost 20 is still a little unwieldy for fast-paced and race day runs, but the extra ankle support makes them a solid option for trail running.
Is the UltraBoost 21 Good for Running?
I really do feel that, in the UltraBoost 21, Adidas has abandoned its initial goals of making a functional running shoe, and is pushing for success solely in the lifestyle market.
Not only has the weight issue of previous generations not been resolved, it’s actually gotten worse. That’s right, folks, the 21 is even heavier than the rest of them.
To compensate, Adidas introduced something they’re calling a Linear Energy Push torsion system, which in Layman’s terms means there’s a firm bridge between the heel and the forefoot designed to reduce flex and increase energy return for the toe-off. You can feel it, but a weight reduction would have been far more welcome.
They’ve also packed in another 6% of Boost foam in the midsole, which really doesn’t bring anything worthwhile to the UltraBoost equation. Actually, it feels a little awkward, so much so that I’d much rather wear an older variant for running of any kind.
Verdict – Don’t get me wrong, the latest addition to the UltraBoost family looks awesome, and perhaps it’s a passable shoe for the occasional jogger, but that’s the extent of it from a technical standpoint.
The Final Word
The early UltraBoosts are designed specifically for runners, and they’re a solid choice for mid to long distances, but their weight really stunts them in the sprint department.
While Adidas has made them progressively more stable, some wrong moves here and there with the latest UltraBoost installment have a lot of runners feeling underwhelmed and, to some extent, neglected. That’s why, if you’re looking for an UltraBoost for running, I’d recommend choosing a pair from the 19 or 20 range.