Topo Sports Spectrum Review ($150)
Topo Athletic’s first cushioned performance shoe lands in a crowded category of lightweight, bouncy trainers and runners. But the Specter manages to stand out thanks to its generous forefoot fit, balanced cushioning and stability, and natural, smooth ride.
If you’re not familiar with Topo Athletic, the Boston-based company was born in 2013, one of the brands that rose from the ashes of the minimalist movement. Topo founder Tony Post served as president and CEO of Vibram USA in the 2000s and was instrumental in popularizing the Five Fingers as a running shoe before launching his own brand. The shoes he created are designed to allow a natural stride while providing comfort and support. Distinguishing features include a roomy toe box to let the toes splay out for natural balance and propulsion, a low heel-to-toe drop to gently reduce over-strikes and, so far, relatively low stack heights .
I have also always enjoyed the underfoot feel of the brands, which I would describe as comfortably firm. It’s something like running on the wet sand of a beach that the waves have just broken: the surface gives way under your foot but maintains a firm and solid base on which you can dance, unlike the dry sand in which you continue to sinking into you as you try to steady yourself and push back. Over the years, even evolving their cushioning, the Topos have always provided that feeling of responsive stability.
Fortunately, when they set out to create their most stacked and cushioned model yet, Topo’s designers felt it was important to maintain that soft yet grounded feel. They made this combination using two foams underfoot. The midsole core of the Specter is comprised of ultra-light, ultra-soft and bouncy Pebax foam (like in the Nike Vaporfly) that compresses and pampers the contours of the foot before bouncing back. However, this spongy foam does not sink too far, as it is surrounded on the bottom and sides by a somewhat firmer EVA blend foam. “You get the best of both worlds,” says Russ Stevenson, Product Manager at Topo, “A very fast ride underfoot, with a neutral and stable platform. As you increase your mileage and your form begins to break down, you stay on the platform.
To see if the claims were true, I wore the Specters for three weeks of daily runs, including a progression run, a tempo run, and a few longer runs. Plus, I packed them on a trip to Chicago where I rode miles on a concrete lake. path. I didn’t put on the volume needed to gauge their durability, but I timed enough time to dial in their fit and note how they felt at a variety of paces and fatigue levels.
I found the Specter’s ride to be much more cushioned than previous Topos, but still underpinned by the security of a stable platform that supported my position, so much so that I noticed my feet and legs loosening up as the races progressed. The shoe felt like it complemented my natural stride pattern and provided an efficient ride that seemed to reduce fatigue.
Pebax’s mid-height layer, however, didn’t produce as much boing as shoes with thicker slabs of energy-returning foam, and the forefoot rocker was less curved and more flexible than many. similar models, which go around a little less propulsive than other shoes in this category. But I’ll take that compromise in a training shoe, to avoid the feeling of balancing on a spongy superball or having to alter my stride to match the roll of a stiff plate.
I enjoyed the large forefoot room the most, letting my feet spread out luxuriously and my toes engage for a stable stance. The toe box is by far the roomiest in this category, as even Altra, the foot-shaped competitor brand, has switched to a new, slimmer shape for its fast models. But the Spectres’ heel and midfoot fit snugly, and its engineered, flexible mesh upper with internal support straps and closely spaced eyelets locks my medium-width foot down securely at speeds up to about 10k. – anything faster than that and the plug started feeling sketchy.
Overall, I found the Specter to consistently provide the easy comfort and support of a reliable, fast buddy that’s always ready for a run at any pace, which has kept me going. reach even when I should have moved on to test other models. This would be a great shoe to train for a marathon or a half where you plan to compete in a high stack runner as they offer similar geometry (so you’re practicing the same stride patterns) but let your feet get active and get stronger, making you more powerful on race day.
The Specter is for you if: You’re a runner who appreciates a generous forefoot and a comfortably firm, stable platform in a versatile, light and fast trainer. It’s a great option for those who find the plates too prescriptive or the super foam midsoles too spongy and unstable.
What are they best used for: The Specter shines when you’re putting in training miles on daily runs, long runs, and fast-paced efforts at marathon or half-marathon pace.
Altra Vanish Tempo ($190)
Similar shape, but slightly narrower fit. More aggressive rocker. The full-height super foam midsole makes the ride more bouncy and cushioned, but with a less stable stance.
Saucony Tempus ($160)
Similar midsole frame construction but with more PEBA foam underfoot for a softer feel, more rebound and softer heel landings. The higher frame on the sides of the midfoot provides better control of rotational movements. Narrower point.
Hoka Mach Super Sonic ($150)
Similar two-layer midsole construction, slightly flexible rocker and cushioned yet supportive ride. Narrower forefoot and stiffer, more secure upper.