By Tom Demerly.
In their fourth year of running shoe design Zoot has found a sweet spot no other running vendor shares. Good stability and neutral lace-up shoes for general running are so plentiful that the hardest part about shopping for them is making a decision. Zoot has not only built credibility in the stand-alone running mix over the last four years, they’ve innovated some relevant new categories in run.
I’m not light. At 175-180 pounds I’m a heefer. I can still get down the road at a sub 8:00 pace and even faster as the pounds melt from the upcoming season heat and increased training schedule. I do want a race shoe, but an emerging class of stability race shoe. Even more refined, I’d like a shoe with T2-tuned geometry for running well off the bike and with some guidance for a 50 year old set of bones with more than one knee surgery. That is a long shopping list, and the new Zoot Ultra Ovwa for 2011 ticks off every wish on the list.
The new 2011 Zoot Ovwa is a stability race shoe with a triathlon specific upper, drainage features and the full catalog of proven Zoot tri-specific features like Tri-Dri and Bare Fit.
I got a chance to test Zoot’s new Ovwa on varied terrain over several runs. It’s my new race day shoe, and the shoe I’ll go to for a very fast tempo/threshold workout. I’m no stranger to Zoot shoes. When they made their first shoes four years ago I was on board. The shoes were good, but needed some improvement. The improvement came fast extrapolating on into hefty innovation. I’ve used Zoot racing shoes from sprint to half-Ironman distance. In each successive year the designs have become better and more refined as new models were introduced. In Zoot’s first year there were four models. Now there are 12 men’s footwear models and another 12 female specific run/triathlon models. Some shoes are a convergence of proven technologies and themes, others, like the recent addition of Zoot Running, are off the drawing board fresh.
Starting at the back/bottom of the new Zoot Ultra Ovwa the trailing edge of the heel is slightly squared. This is a great transition when a downward slope makes you into a heel striking human rockslide on the verge of careening out of control. We run a lot of hard-packed dirt surfaces here in the Winter Training Capital of Tucson, Arizona. The truncated heel shape makes running the down hills a little more controlled. A rounder heel is roly-poly on heel strike during descent. This one goes down smoothly.
On level ground the Zoot Ultra Ovwa has geometry and materials tuned for running on tired legs. This is a 10 millimeter drop shoe. It is built on a 19 mm heel and a 9 mm forefoot. I traditionally preferred a higher rear end 12 mm drop shoe, such as Zoot’s Ultra Kane from their run line. I’m beginning to think the reason I wasn’t a 10 mm drop shoe guy was not the geometry of the shoe, but the configuration of the midsole. I like this 10mm shoe, even more than my prior fave the Ultra Kane. Perhaps a lower slung shoe does work off the bike for me- I just needed a firmer chassis.
Speaking of the chassis on the Zoot Ultra Ovwa, there are substantial suspension benefits added to this geometry with the hefty medial posting and the great feel of Zoot’s proprietary Z-bound. Z-bound is a polymer with exceptional energy return characteristics and gives the shoes a zippy, responsive feel. As a result of the medial high durometer material the shoe hits the ground predictably and controls roll very well. At speed, (for most age groupers off the bike) at a sub 8:00 pace most of us tend to pitch slightly forward for footstrike and the distribution of the material reflects that. It is right where it needs to be.
The uppers on Zoot shoes were an early criticism of mine and must have been for other reviewers, testers and athletes as well since Zoot has dialed their uppers in to the point where they went from marginal to industry best. As Zoot’s Kevin Hoard pointed out, “The upper is part of the ride of the shoe since it helps control the foot.” A talented age group distance runner, Hoard has pulled new Zoot shoes out of the box for 18 mile training runs without issues. Hoard mentioned the Zoot lacing pattern that follows the curve of the foot, making the stock elastic speed lacing system on the Zoot Ultra Ovwa even more comfortable, easy to don and effective.
Another fascinating technology that helps the new Zoot Ultra Ovwa ride well is the carbon fiber shank or “sway bar” built into the midsole. If you are familiar with carbon fiber bike technology you know the ride of a bike can be varied by changing the carbon fiber lay-up. The same is true of the carbon fiber stiffner/sway bar in the Zoot Ultra Ovwa. The carbon fiber in the Ultra Ovwa is stiffer carbon than other carbon spars in Zoot shoes, providing a greater degree of lateral control in the midsole.
All the ride and stability technologies on the Ultra Ovwa combine with the upper to make this shoe the high point in the triathlon line from Zoot. The shoe was a trifle above the claimed weight at 9.1 ounces in my size 9.5, but Zoot’s Kevin Hoard mentioned he thought the claimed shoe weight published on the Zoot website may have been transposed from another shoe model by accident, something I’m used to seeing on bike geometry charts. Zoot claimed 8.6 ounces. The 9.1 ounce actual weight still felt super responsive and zippy, and the precise fit only adds to that great feel.
Zoot also uses the BareFit sockless interior in the Ultra Ovwa, a good feature to prevent blisters and speed transitions. I run sockless in this shoe. An interior anti microbial treatment resists odor for sockless running and other things that make your shoes disgusting in a long race when every second counts. There are also drain holes in the outsole for aid station cups dumped over your head to drain out of your shoes. A pull tab heel and generous finger hole in the integrated tongue aids in donning.
On previous versions of some Zoot shoes the heel tab came up much higher. I had no issue with the higher heel tab design, but some people did experience achilles area rubbing. The Ultra Ovwa uses a lower profile heel tab that avoids this potential issue, a nice update.
The Ultra Ovwa is $120 MSRP and a reasonable value at that price considering it just saved you a couple bucks with speed laces right out of the box. Zoot makes a complimentary training shoe called the Kapilani with a slightly higher chassis at 21 mm heel and 11 mm forefoot for the same 10 mm drop as the Ultra Ovwa but with a claimed 10% greater cushioning, more durable outsole along with a conventional lace upper. If you race and do speed work in the Ultra Ovwa you may like the Kapilani as a trainer.
When I do a shoe review I almost always have a nit-pick, and perhaps the miss-step on the quoted weight is my criticism here. From my perspective though, this is the reference triathlon running shoe now, and my favorite. After I ran in my test pair for this review a few times I wiped them off, wrote my last name on them in permanent marker and set them next to my transition bag. I’m racing in these.