max cushioned shoe review

It’s seven am on a moody July morning on the Gold Coast. I’m setting out for a short run the day after a mediocre 10km race, pondering why I spent so much more time than hoped out on the streets of Broadbeach tracing the race route, despite the consistent training I’d enjoyed in the lead up. 

The controversial wonders of super-foam-laden, carbon fibre-rigidified racing flats haven’t spared my deadened legs from the efforts of the day before. I reach for my comfortingly spongy trainers and hobble out the door. I love the feel of these shoes: the light weight, the generous width, the forgiving foot bed. The run begins as you would expect on the day after a race; my ligaments gradually unwind, and I’m left to focus on my athletic shortcomings. 

A few minutes in, though, my ruminations are interrupted by a twinge in my arch. It’s something I’ve started to notice in the shoes I’m wearing and many recent models. Running shoe arches seem to be trending up and the skeletal architecture of my unfashionably flat feet is no match.

In search of new shoes

The big reveal might be obvious, but these shoes were passed to me not by my local running shop’s assistant, but by an employee of Australia Post. My past experience working at Running Science, partnered with my devotion to the reading of running shoe reviews, described variously as “prodigious” and “culturally significant” (by me) and “obsessive” and “vaguely unhinged” (by my partner), has fostered an ostensible immunity to the dangers of online running shoe shopping.

But, this is not the first time I have picked a shoe that doesn’t work with my foot. So I text Fletch. Of course, he has an answer. That very afternoon, I hop off a plane at Kingsford Smith Airport and head over to Running Science’s new store in Rozelle.

He hands me a model new to the store, one he can’t help singing the praises of. I slip it on, and begin to understand the origin of his approval – it’s something unique.

So what is this mystery shoe? It’s a max-cushioned road shoe. Its name isn’t really important. If you’re intrigued, perhaps head into Running Science, and the knowledgeable team will consider if it’s an option worth you trying. What I am more than happy to share is my experience with its fit and feel. I’ve run just under 650km in this shoe, and I’ve grown to share Fletch’s excitement – for the most part.

The specs

Let’s start with the upper. It’s made of 100% recycled polyester and it does its job. It’s not exceptional – it’s a bit stiff, and although it’s maintained its shape well, I’d like a bit more forgiveness when wearing the shoe. That said, it’s breathable and its relatively minimal construction keeps the weight down. It’s held up well, too, with some slight fraying near the forefoot and a loose overlay the only wear of note. The fit is accommodating, verging on generous for a D-width shoe.

My E-width foot initially felt a touch cramped around the forefoot, but after 30 to 40 km, it relented to my chunky bones’ demands and receded a couple of millimetres. That said, I would rejoice at the introduction of this shoe in a 2E width for men and a D width for women. I would also like a bit more height around the front of the shoe.

I don’t really see the point in having the upper sit so low on the toes, and I think increasing the volume would allow more runners access to this model. The only other gripe I had was the short shoe laces that make a runner’s knot difficult. They look cool, though.

Now, the outsole. It’s very tacky even in the wet, and it’s barely worn down except under the forefoot. That’s all I can think to say on that.

The feel

But how does it ride? I’ve had mixed experiences with max-cushion shoes. Some are so soft and sluggish they seem to sap the life from your legs. If a big shoe uses a soft foam, it also needs to be responsive. On the flip side, I’ve tried firm shoes that rely on the volume of foam to provide cushioning. I’m not convinced this design philosophy is particularly functional, because on days where your legs are tired, such hard high-stack shoes can feel harsh.

The model in question is somewhere in the middle. It relies on its responsiveness more than softness, I think, but this creates a shoe that feels energetic even when your body isn’t. The midsole, along with the rockered construction, creates a lively toe-off, and this is complemented nicely by the give in the heel.

It’s a successful combination that I’ve enjoyed on recovery runs, long road runs, and even an epic three hour expedition on the trails of the Royal Coast Track. The only time I’ve wanted a bit more softness was in the last ten minutes or so of my weekly long runs (around 27 km), when my glycogen-depleted brain began to focus on the shudders being sent through my bones with each footfall.

Even during these sustained efforts, the shoe’s felt relatively stable, if a touch narrow through the midfoot. It’s definitely a neutral option, but one to look at if you enjoy a safe ride.

I would happily recommend this shoe, if I was allowed to divulge its name. I’ll be going in for another pair in about 100 km or so, by which time I think it will have given up the ghost. It’s protective, light-ish, and has a nice bit of bounce. For those inclined to the plushness of other maximal models, it probably won’t prove soft enough for recovery runs, but I think it could still be an intriguing prospect for shorter, daily jogs.

If those chunky super-shoes don’t do it for you, this one could certainly take you through a marathon. For shorter, faster stuff, though, there are too many better options for this to be worth a look. The 6mm drop might prove too low for some, but I think this is a shoe for the masses. And the arch is nice and low.