Topo Athletic Specter Review
Can you boost propulsion with carbon-plate-like technology (a Pebax® and EVA combo) but still allow your feet to function as nature intended? We aimed to find out in our Topo Athletic Specter review. Topo Athletic’s ethos is making running shoes that allow and encourage your feet to function. For that reason, all their shoes have a broad, rounded toe box and are a low heel to forefoot drop, ranging from zero to 5mm. The cushioning has generally been firmer and responsive so that your feet get stimulated to function inside the shoes. The Topo Athletic Specter is a little different. The trend in the running market right now is shoes that are softly cushioned and use a rocker and/or a carbon fibre plate to ‘make you run faster’. The somewhat rarely mentioned problem with these shoes is that they essentially replace your natural foot function (spreading out and cushioning your landing) and if you use them too frequently then your feet, calves etc.. get weaker. As a result of the lack of strength you can experience more injuries. When designing the Specter, Topo took a slightly different approach, using a Pebax foam instead of a carbon fibre plate and placing the foam inside a much denser Eva frame. This together with the rocker in the shoes intends to provide some extra propulsion but together with the broad rounded toe box also allows for some foot function too.
Topo running shoes have a firm fit at the heel and a snug fit through the midfoot, before opening out into a broad round toe box. This makes them popular with customers with a range of foot shapes, who like to have space for their feet to function inside the shoes. The fit of the Topo Athletic Specter is no different. The light engineered mesh upper is very soft and pulls in nicely around the foot. There’s no plastic heel cup so it can take the shape of your heel. It is lightly padded but still very comfortable. The tongue is also lightly padded and has two loops that the lace threads through to stop it from moving around as you run along. There is an extra lace hole at the back to allow you to butterfly the laces should you wish to get a really locked in fit, or a snugger fit at the heel.
The feel to the cushioning is soft but not soggy and bottomless, as some do. The Specter has a broad base, which together with the Eva frame around the Pebax foam gives the Specter a very stable feel. The rocker is in the forefoot and gives the shoe a very positive push off. Rockers are used by brands to help increase cadence and keep you running with a more upright posture when tired. As a nation we sit down a lot and lean forward which makes us generally weak around our middle. So, as we get tired, we tend to lean forward at the waist. This makes you heavier on your feet and slows you down. The curve of a rocker essentially ‘reminds you’ to pull your legs back and not over stride, so you stay more upright.
The rubber on the outsole is very thin. Topo claim that it is very durable and grippy, so time will tell to a degree. We have definitely noticed the grip though. The shoes seem to stick to the tarmac even when cornering at speed. There are no signs of any wear to the outsole after 100 miles of running so far. The Topo Athletic Specter is billed as a shoe for racing or faster training. We think that it will do more than that. The light cushioned, stable ride makes the shoes comfortable enough and cushioned enough to use regularly. Your foot feels like it can function in the shoes despite the soft feel to the cushioning. Although durability can only be determined over time, I would say if you aren’t heavy on your shoes then you’ll get 500 miles out of the outsole, as it’s completely untouched after my 100 miles. If you are heavy on your outsoles, maybe in certain areas, then perhaps the Specter would indeed be best saved for your quicker running. It can be fun to switch between an everyday cushioned training shoe and your racy shoes!
If you do decide to use the Specter as your daily training shoe, you’ll have to be careful that you don’t end up running too fast every day, as they do encourage you to pick the pace up!
The Topo Specter doesn’t feel like the other Topo Athletic running shoes. It still has the roomy rounded toe box, but the rocker and softer cushioning makes it feel very different. It reminds me of the Scott Pursuit. The Pursuit has a more pointed toe box and a very soft midsole. The Specter feels as soft but the EVA core that is placed around the Pebax foam gives it a much more stable feel. I am not personally a fan of carbon or Pebax plated shoes. I feel like they take over and try to make my legs run to their rhythm. I have found that the non-plated shoes with a forefoot rocker allow me to run just as quick but feel more natural as my foot can flex in the shoes.
It is undulating where I live, and I often find that the really softly cushioned shoes slow me down on the up hill sections. All the power seems to sink into the soft cushioning and hills become really hard work. Like running in deep mud or soft sand. The Topo Athletic Specter doesn’t have that problem. In fact, I can feel the energy return from the midsole or the rocker as you run up the hill. Like all shoes with a rocker, on the downhill parts the shoes automatically increase your speed as they keep your cadence going. Sometimes to the point where it is difficult to run slowly. On the flats the Specter offers a smooth ride from heel to toe. I found it easy to keep a quick cadence going.
The Specter feels very light, and they are. At 192g women’s UK5 and 230g in a men’s UK8. However, it isn’t just the weight of the shoe that makes you feel light on your feet. It is the rocker that increases your cadence and makes you more efficient. I always mention it, but people trying on shoes with a rocker (there are many) in our Newcastle store always say it!
The Topo Athletic Specter is the Topo shoe with the biggest stack height. It’s 35mm in the heel and 3 mm in the forefoot. However, the broad base and Eva frame around the Pebax foam makes them feel very stable.
To sum up the Topo Athletic Specter review, below is our Newcastle shop manager, Craig’s take:
“A fantastic shoe that I absolutely adore. Quite possibly my shoe of the year (so far!). I enjoyed using it both for long runs or short, where it helps you put your foot down and head towards those PBs. Certainly not as aggressive and obtrusive as a carbon plate shoe, but a shoe where your input works well in harmony with the shoe as opposed to the shoe doing all of the work.”
Scott Pursuit: I enjoyed these as much as the Specter. The Topo Specter offers a more stable ride and feels more secure cornering. The Scott Pursuit is easier to run slowly in. So, makes it easier to use for easy runs as well as faster runs. The Spector urges you on a little more so you have to be more disciplined. Here is our review: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/scott-pursuit-review/
Hoka Mach Supersonic: Not as much stack and not as soft but, a shoe designed for the same type of running. Here is our review:
Altra Vanish Tempo: Similar to Topo Altra’s are shoes designed to work with the feet rather than replace them. The Vanish Tempo (non carbon) has a broad rounded toe box, soft cushioning and a rocker like the Specter. Here is our review of the carbon plated version. The non Carbon Vanish is the same without the plate: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/altra-vanish-carbon-review/
Brooks Hyperion: These are 8mm heel to forefoot with a firmer cushioning and a rocker. https://www.northernrunner.com/brooks-m59/hyperion-t203