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Most Disappointing Running Shoes of 2014

As a shoe reviewer, I try to be as objective as possible when I write my reviews. If a shoe is great, I say so. If there are problems, I point them out. If a shoe is a total bust, I won’t hold back.

As I work through the list of shoes I’ve run in this year in preparation for writing my Best of 2014 post, I thought it might be interesting as a counterpoint to put together a short list of shoes that disappointed me this year. The shoes included here are all shoes that I have run in, or at least purchased and returned after trying them on and finding them unacceptable (and I have written about all of them).

I realize people sometimes get sensitive when a favorite shoe is criticized, so please view this as my experience with the shoes given my anatomy and running style. You might love some of them, you might hate some shoes that I really like. That’s what makes this fun – we all have different experiences when it comes to shoes. Being passionate is OK!

Here goes:

1. Nike Free 5.0 2014


I’m a big fan of the Nike Free line, and a member of this collection will be on my Best of 2014 list, but the Free 5.0 2015 was a total no-go for me. I tried them on in-store and noticed a tightness over the base of the lace-row (area circled in red above). There was a band of material digging into my foot and it had no give. I wanted to try them so much that I bought a pair in a half size larger than usual, but after wearing them at home for a bit I realized there was no way they were going to work and running in them meant I couldn’t return them. They went back to the store. Several commenters on my post about the shoe mentioned having the same problem, and it seems the shoe would simply not accommodate my higher volume foot. It probably worked fine for those with lower volume feet, but it was a bust for me.

2. Saucony Mirage 4

The Saucony Mirage 4 was a huge disappointment for me because it was one of the best looking, yet worst riding shoes I tried this year (my review here). Quite honestly, the sole felt like a brick strapped to the bottom of my foot. Extremely firm with little give-back, the ride was jarring, stiff, and uncomfortable. Those who like a firm shoe probably loved it, but it didn’t work at all for me. The shoe also suffered cosmetic damage to the beautiful upper due to rapid fraying of some of the stringy elements in the mesh. Pair this upper (minus the fraying issue) with the sole of the Saucony Kinvara and I’d be more than pleased!

3. New Balance Fresh Foam 980

This shoe was more perplexing than disappointing (my review here). The Fresh Foam 980 was marketed using the tagline “Experience the Science of Soft,” yet the shoe was anything but soft. I was expecting a squishy ride, but wound up with a shoe that was firm, responsive, and smooth. I actually quite enjoyed the ride, but was shocked at how poorly they had been marketed. The biggest problem I had with the 980 was that the toe box was too pointy and mashed my toes together (I even went a half size up, did not help) – this gave me blisters between the toes after one long run and pretty much relegated them to the shoe rack after I wrote my review. Fortunately New Balance seems to have recognized the toe box issue, and the recently released Fresh Foam Zante offers a much better fit with a similarly smooth ride. Hopefully the update to the 980 will follow suit.

Honorable Mention: The Merrell AllOut Rush was a bust for me as a running shoe – too firm and poorly balanced with a very heavy sole. I would have included it in the list but I like them a lot as a casual shoe and for light hiking.

I’d love to hear your most disappointing shoes of the year – leave a comment. I suspect I know a few that will show up that I did not get to try myself!

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. David Henry says:

    I’d say Newtons in general were my most disappointing. I’d heard a lot of great things and finally tried a couple (the Fate and Boco Sol) and both have been tough for me to enjoy despite what seem light quality materials and construction, the design is just not working very well for me.

  2. How fortunate of you, Peter; my list is much bigger! :-)

    I take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a fabulous 2015!

  3. Pete, I completely agree with the NB Fresh Foam! They were anything but “foamy”. I didn’t enjoy them, however, and I passed them on to a friend after my initial testing. I couldn’t get over how stiff they were.

  4. The Topo Runduro was a disappoint to me. Pointy toed running shoes don’t work for me. That’s why I was excited to try the Runduro. The Runduro fit my feet extremely well. Unfortunately that was the only thing I liked about the shoe. I found the mid-sole to be too stiff and firm for me. I also didn’t like the laces. The tongue isn’t well padded and the stainless steel laces dug into the tops of my feet.

    • Brian Hazard says:

      Good to know! Wonder if the new Fli-Lyte is any better.

      • Hi Todd,

        Sorry to hear about your disappointment with the Runduro. I work for Topo Athletic and I’ve been a fan / member of The Running Shoe Geeks writers and group for a bit, it reminds me of my run retail days getting to talk shop but I digress.

        I’d like to offer you a product swap, if you email me we can swap your old Runduro’s for the new Fli-Lytes.

        The Fli-Lyte will feel responsive, like the rest of our product line but the Boa lacing comfort issue you had has been resolved with a traditional lace. Although I’m a big fan of Boa on our shoes and my snowboarding boots, certain foot types (high instep in particular) can be irritated by the uniform pressure from lace. With the traditional lace on the Fli-Lyte I think you will be more comfortable.

        Here’s my email, and I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for the sharing!
    My candidate for this topic would be UA Speedform Apollo.
    Coming from running experience of NB MR00, Mizuno Evo Cursoris (although with their own, other issues), Free 4.0 v4, all with suffice room for toe splay, the non-stretching upper (except the collar at Achilles area) + moderate width toebox setup is just not for the slightly-wider-than-average feet me. Also, the ultra thin mesh tongue caused pretty obvious lace bite on instep… worse with sockless runs. The silky smooth bra-like inner construction used as selling point, too, contributed to the issue: I had to tie the laces tighter to prevent sliding within > severe lace-bite.
    That being said, I do acknowledge the nimble built, smooth transition and the firm, responsive yet adequate cushioning of the Apollo.


  6. Yes, I loved the mirage 3, and saucony continues to say that the 4 had no changes to the midsole/outsole, but it feels completely different. Also going to miss the cortana, and hope there is something close that saucony is going to create in 2015!

    • The Zealot is replacing the Cortana. I have a pair but have not run in them yet.

    • I never ran in the Mirage 3 but I love the 4. For my it’s the mix of a very comfortable upper, light, responsive sole with the right amount of cushion. But I guess this is very personal.

    • I don’t mean to come off as rude but I’m not sure if what you said about the Mirage 4 needing the Kinvara bottom makes sense. Both the Kinvara 3 and Mirage 3 were using the ProGrid system on the bottom of the shoe. However both models switched to the PowerGrid system. It’s supposed to be a newer foam that is 20% softer. All the Natural series shoes switched to that system. So you said this.

      “Pair this upper (minus the fraying issue) with the sole of the Saucony Kinvara and I’d be more than pleased.”

      They are the same.

      • I prefer to go by how a shoe feels to me rather than what the marketing info says. It’s also possible for the same foam to be made in different durometer/firmness, and other factors like type of rubber in the outsole can make a difference too.

  7. I totally agree on the Fresh Foam. I thought it would be cushy but my altra one2’s are more cushioned. I also felt like it was more than a 4mm drop. It just felt unnecessarily heavy (compared to Kinvara). And I had the same experience with toe box, narrow and rubbed on top of my toes. I also thought the upper was “too much” material, it bunched when I synched up the laces and looked odd. I got them free thanks to NB, but I wasn’t impressed. I did however like the trail version of the 980 better upper fit and not as much rubbing on toes. And I’ve continued to run in them: nice and grippy sole.

  8. The new 5 lug Newton line (notably the Distance shoes). I’m learning to like them but just not the same. Sigh

  9. Great post Pete!
    1. Hoka Clifton–sloppy upper and as light as they were, felt like they sapped energy when I ran
    2. Mizuno Sayonara and Hitogami–on paper these should both be great for me. Sayonara was super stiff and the hitogami just rode really poorly for me.
    3) Asics Gel Excel 33 and Gel Lyte 33. Love the Hyperspeed so much that I thought there would be a good asics trainer for me. Both of these were disappointments for me.

    • I would agree with the Hitogami. Its specs look so good on paper, but something about the ride was just un satisfying. I suppose I was secretly hoping that it would ride like a more cushioned Wave Universe. In any case, I went out on a limb and got the Wave Rider 17s (as they were on a massive sale at Running Warehouse) and I truly love them, which I never would have imagined not too long ago when I was obsessed with drop.

  10. Wafa Hozien says:

    First — wishing you and all of your readers all the best for upcoming New Year.
    Second, I always have to buy a running shoe that is a half size or one size larger because when I run the sneakers hit my big toe so much that it makes me bleed or I get blisters on my little toe.
    Third, you did not mention the gel inserts that I seem to have to buy now with a new pair of sneakers, the gel inserts are costly. Once upon a time, the cushion of the sneaker was fine, but nowadays if I am doing a lot of running, I have to have the gel inserts.
    Can you rate those in a future blog?

  11. I agree on the NB Fresh Foam. The fit was funky and they were not very durable….only put on around 200mi before they needed to be replaced.

  12. I found that the Huaka did not live up to all of the hype for me. The midsole did its thing okay, but the upper had a strange fit that would pinch across the forefoot. I feel the upper in a good shoe should disappear, which the Hauka’s do not for me.|
    The uppers on various Pearl Izumi, Saucony, Skechers and Nike shoes fit much better for me this year.

  13. Brian Hazard says:

    I’ve been putting in regular miles on the Nike Free 5.0 lately, and have been pleased overall. It didn’t click for me the way last year’s 3.0 did, but it’s close. I’ve got the 4.0 also, but I’ll work through this one first.

  14. I have to say my merrell allout fuse was a big FAIL for me, thinking that I could use them for trails (as marketed) was a big mistake, kept slipping around on muddy terrain and it was just a disaster waiting to happen. Replaced the shoe with a shoe that has more aggressive lug system, the Salomon Speedcross 3, anyone wanting to do trails on all-terrain conditions, the Salomon is the shoe to go to!

  15. Chas+Willimon says:

    I’d say my biggest fails were (in no particular order):
    NB 980: for reasons listed above
    Skora Phase: heel cup blisters me.
    Merrell Trail Glove 2: Okay, I love the trail gloves, but the overlays they used on the 2 dig right into my arch, just rear of the ball of the foot. This makes sockless wear impossible, and longer runs improbable.
    Also, from 2012, I’m still lamenting the Wave Sayonara and the the Altra Superior 1.0. Though, I’m excited about the changes to the 2.0.

    • Mark Hewitt says:

      I second the Trail Glove 2, rubbed me on both arches and got very bloody within 2 miles of running in them, the fabric and positioning of overlays is totally different from original TG, which I could run over 20miles in with no problems.

  16. Pete

    I wasn’t thrilled with the Kinvara or the Foam Fresh… A few weeks back I found a pair of bright orange Merrell’s at DSW, comfy enough to knock around town.

  17. Again with the NB 980s. A shoe I liked the concept and look of them until I tried them on. They actually looked as awkward on my feet as they felt. One silver lining of the fresh foam bust is that I discovered the Adidas Boost line. Shaped like my feet and the responsiveness lacking in many other models I’ve tried. Good lesson in finding what works for the individual by trying what doesn’t work first. Love your blog-full of interesting info and have been following for a while. Merry Christmas!

  18. Exactly right about the Mirage 4…it was a brick…nothing like the Mirage 3. I also agree that the NB 980 did not have enough forefoot room–I could tell as soon as I tried it on.

  19. Here is my worst shoe list.

    3: Altra Torin 1.5- I loved the 1.0 and wish Altra would have changed (the shoe and the company) so much for the 1.5

    2: Merrell AllOut Rush- I agree completely with your findings. I was very excited for the release of this but was left a little disappointed.

    1: Hoka Rapa Nui- I wanted to love this shoe so much. For 2014 busts I think this one takes the cake.

  20. Errr… “and wish Altra ***wouldn’t*** have changed…”

  21. reanimated says:

    Hard to believe the MT110 v2 isn’t at the very top of the list. If the theme is disappointment, the MT110 v2 as the follow up to the original, and an utter repudiation of every design concept the original encompassed, is hard to beat.

  22. anthony bach says:

    my go to long shoe is asic gt 2000 they are not to light not to heavy they fit snug and they have just the right amount of suport you need to feel great posted by lewisburg p.a state xc runner

  23. I totally agree with the Saucony part! Unfortunately, I bought one pair and I was so disappointed!

    However, I also bought the Adidas Adizero adios 2 and the Salomon S lab Sense (for the trail) and was really happy with them!

  24. Nike Freerun’s are notorious for being tight across the instep…i too have the same issue with them..i just wish Nike would get it together and make them in a way that has give in this area because lets face it we all don’t have narrow feet. When i tried them i had to move up a size to get them to even gain the slightest room in the instep but then you had to deal with having an overabundance of Clown type length to trip over. Nike is not known for accommodating anyone but narrow footed people for the most part anyway.

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