New Balance Fresh Foam 980 General Info:
The NB Fresh Foam 980 is a neutral shoe designed for high mileage road running.
New Balance Fresh Foam 980 First Impressions:
When I saw the initial buzz, and photos, for the new Fresh Foam 980 I expected, like I think many runners did, New Balance’s first “maximalist” running shoe. When I first saw the shoe at Outdoor Retailer 2014 I was expecting a very built up neutral shoe with a huge platform of Fresh Foam and a similar feel to a Hoka One One.
However, one glance ended that preconceived notion and the Fresh Foam 980 is actually a fairly lean and lightweight daily trainer that works great for faster paced running.
I will say, my first run in the 980s yielded nothing more than a “meh”. But after four runs in the shoes and seeing how the Fresh Foam performs in temps above 50 degrees, I’m very much a believer and fan of this new foam from New Balance.
New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Upper:
New Balance keeps things wonderfully simple with the 980’s upper, akin to something you might see come out of their minimalist line. The one noticeable difference is the gloriously padded tongue and heel collar which seemed overkill at first but was very appreciated during long runs.
Welded on seams make this a chaff free experience and the upper was roomy enough that I was able to run in the 980 with both thin racing socks and thicker wool socks.
New Balance uses its PL4 last which fits moderately through the heel and forefoot and then opens up a little bit at the toe box, and this last seems to accommodate a lot of different foot types.
Dual density mesh is used throughout the upper which is breathable yet tough, and I didn’t have any issues with discomfort, blisters, or hotspots even taking the shoe for nine miles right out of the box.
New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Midsole/ Outsole:
A lot of runners are probably wondering what Fresh Foam feels like, and some of the early marketing descriptions from New Balance were a bit misleading in my opinion. “Pillowy” was a word thrown around quite a bit, “cloud-like” was another. I don’t think either of these descriptors really hit the mark because the Fresh Foam feel just really isn’t a super soft shoe.
The 980 feels nothing like a Hoka…. I would place it between Nike’s Lunar Foam and Adidas’ Adiprene in terms of cushioning, and the 980 has a firmer feel than another popular NB shoe- the 890v4.
Fresh Foam is actually the softest durometer foam that New Balance makes, but given the one one piece construction, and geometric shapes aimed at providing a bit of support, the 980 ends up feeling a bit firmer.
This allows the shoe to provide a bit of support to the runner, and given the relatively low stack height and drop (4mm), the 980 has an excellent transition and quick toe off.
The outsole is non-segmented with a ton of surface area making traction a non-issue. Because of the one piece midsole and outsole the 980 is not very flexible when you try to manipulate the shoe in hand, but it feels great on the foot and flexibility isn’t really an issue unless you’re a runner looking for a “minimalist shoe”.
I can’t imagine, if that were the case, the 980 would be on your list anyways.
New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Overall Impression:
As I mentioned before, my first run in the Fresh Foam 980, in a temperature of about 15 degrees fahrenheit, left me feeling that the shoe was too firm and not flexible enough. However, on subsequent runs I started to enjoy the shoe a great deal more, and now it is one of my favorite road trainers.
The simplicity of having a one piece foam midsole, and using geometry to provide support where it is needed, makes the transition of the 980 very quick and this is a shoe that will be enjoyed by heel strikers and forefoot strikers.
Runners should expect more support from the 980 than many other neutral shoes, and mild overpronators will get more than enough support for everyday training.
This is a shoe that I think can accommodate a lot of runners and one that I would highly recommend. Why? The Fresh Foam 980 is a lightweight trainer with great cushioning that fits well and has some support. Stop into your local running store and try one on. Let me know what you think!
We thank the nice people at New Balance for sending us a pair of Fresh Foam 980 to test. This did not influence the outcome of the review, written after running more than 50 miles in them.