By Tom Demerly.
There aren’t many traditions in triathlon, but Zoot started a tradition three years ago in Kona, Hawaii. Each year Zoot releases a limited production race shoe timed for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Their third limited edition Kona shoe, the Ali’i 3.0, is out now.
Zoot is an authentic Hawaii and Ironman brand. As the commonly recognized inventors of the one piece triathlon suit they were one of the very first apparel manufacturers selling their wares in Kona during race week. The company got its name when European athletes began referring to their one piece race suits as “zooots” in their accented English. The name stuck.
Zoot’s history and authenticity lends some street cred to their latest release of the limited edition Ali’i 3.0. This is the third version of the shoe released in limited numbers around the world within a few months of Kona. For 2011 the shoe features a nod toward ancient Polynesian culture with a print that invokes the popular tribal pattern theme often seen in tattoos.
Originally the production run of the Zoot Ali’i was 1800 pairs- the same number of people competing in the Ironman World Championships. The shoes sold out instantly, with e-Bay auctions pulling in three times their retail price among shoe collectors once they were gone. As the demand for the shoes increased so did production. Zoot also released a new female specific color scheme with the same pattern. Athletic shoe collections are an odd phenomenon, espeically in urban Asia, but also in the U.S. As a shoe reviewer I do have a small collection of limited edition release shoes so I see the value in this idea. Shoes are collectible too, since they are functional art and can be bought initially for a lot less than most “collectibles”. Clever buyers do a brisk business in the secondary market re-selling these limted editions from all brands.
More than just a limited release shoe collector’s item or a fashion piece, the Ali’i is a nice race day shoe that does go the distance on a 140.6 triathlon run. Built on the chassis of the Zoot Ultra TT, the Ali’i uses the same quick, secure closure system but improves ventilation and drainage in the upper for the heat in Kona and to drain the water from the aid station cups you’ll be dumping over your head running in the energy Lab.
A key technology is Zoot’s sockless “BareFit” construction on the inner. I haven’t run a marathon without socks in this shoe or its predecessor the Ultra TT, but I have done a half marathon sockless and had no issues with blisters or hotspots, even soaking wet.
Another Kona-friendly feature on the Ali’i 3.0 is the sole drainage. Zoot built five holes through the midsole and outsole to help water drain out of the shoe keeping it light and comfortable.
The amount of carbon rubber on the outsole has been marginally trimmed to shave a few grams while the entire nose cap is removed from the shoe making it a true race day hybrid. The missing nose cap also allowed Zoot to continue the color pattern down the front of the shoe, a racy touch.
The chassis of the shoe uses Zoot’s CarbonSpan+ system, a layer of carbon fiber specifically laid-up for distance running that improves stability and alignment trhough the center of the shoe. This is particularly important for athletes going long in the heat who are running on tired legs. Rather than relying on muscular support to do allthe work of maintaining good running form the CarbonSpan+ system in the midsole helps keep the shoe stable even when the athlete has gotten a bit wobbly after eight hours on the course.
The heel on the Zoot Ali’i is the higher pull tab design. Some athletes report problems with this causing blisters- I have never experienced this. I’ve used the shoe without socks on beach runs in races and have not had any problems. It is worth noting that many new Zoot models have a lower heel tab as seen on the Zoot Ultra Ovwa. The heel on the Ali’i is also a traditional rounded outsole design while the Ultra Ovwa’s feature a squared off heel for a flatter transition during footstrike.
In T2 the Zoot Ali’i goes on like lightening. It is the quickest donning triathlon running shoe I’ve tried, as fast as the bantam weight, laceless Zoot Ultra Speed- their all stretch upper race shoe. If you are actually racing in thie shoe- not just collecting them as a limited edition, it is a great race day shoe with the improved ventilation, lighter weight and quick donning.
I’ve raced and trained in previous versions of this shoe and found it stable, light and comfortable. The sockless design is credible and worked for me without blisters. Road feel is good off the bike on tired legs partially due to shoe geometry tuned specifically for running when you are tired. Another feature that seems to help running comfort on tired feet is the asymmetrical bias cut of the shoe. The laces trend inward toward the big toe for a more tailored fit. Interestingly, at least one manufacturer, Brooks, builds their T7 racer where the laces are also asymmetrical but angle the opposite direction.
While Zoot has expanded production of the special edition Ali’i beyond the original 1800 pieces due to demand the shoes are still built only once in a limited production run. They do sell through quickly, mostly to athlete enthusiasts and athletic shoe collectors. In a way- it’s a shame the shoe is a limited edition since they are technically nicer than almost every other triathlon shoe in the market. Even without the cool graphics and exclusivity of the limited release this would be a great stand-alone, in line offering. Aloha!
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