The idea of sustainability has been around for couple of decades, and it is becoming more mainstream in recent years. I actually experienced its real applications only after moving to the Netherlands, from electric cars, solar panels and other daily life applications such as clothes and shopping preferences.
I knew that there are few brands focusing on sustainable sports products, but I didn’t have the chance to use any yet. My first experience with such a product is Zen Running Club’s 100% plant-based and vegan model ZR-01.
The brand has been established by three partners, to find a solution to today’s shoe industry problems; how to create a running shoe with a small footprint.
Zen Running Club ZR 01 First Impressions
When I opened the box, I instantly liked the motto of the company; Made From Good Decisions. Only in recent years, eco-friendly products became more fashionable and Zen Running Club did a good job to put out a product which looks good and that makes you feel good by knowing that you have much less carbon footprint by using ZR-01.
The shoe is a high-stacked, neutral shoe.
It has a very relaxed fit upper, and narrow mid-foot section. I need medium stability especially at slower paces, and when I tried this shoe for easy/recovery runs and extend the distance over 10k, I started to feel my underfoot and glutes tighten.
I didn’t feel any elements to provide guidance or stability and it becomes more apparent at faster paces. Therefore during my testing period, apart from short fartlek sections, I prefer to use the shoe for slower pace runs.
Zen Running Club ZR 01 Sole Unit
As I already mentioned, ZR-01 is 100% eco-friendly; its insole is made of castor bean foam, the outsole is made of natural rubber (which shows little to no wear and tear after 50-60k coverage), and its midsole is made of sugarcane.
I was expecting a soft and flexible midsole unit (maybe I’m biased due to raw material selection) but instead I can say that it provides a firm ride.
The shoe’s stack height is 24-33mm (toe to heel, generating a 9mm drop) which also prevents you to feel the road.
That is something I look for in my daily trainer shoes, when I don’t want to be affected much by the road and protect my feet.
For these reasons, I can classify this shoe as a daily trainer for myself. The natural rubber at the outsole generates a good level of grip. In order to test its ability, I ran in rainy conditions and on a grass surface and I felt less slippage than I expect.
Zen Running Club ZR 01 Upper Unit
ZR-01 has a knit upper that is made of eucalyptus fibers.
It is normal to have soft upper feeling when knit is applied, however, ZR-01’s upper unit is much softer than any other shoes I’ve tried earlier. Even though I didn’t have a chance to try the shoe in very hot weather, I felt it provides a nice level of breathability.
Of course, under the rain, the knit upper doesn’t provide any level of protection, but when the rain stopped and I continued for another half an hour, after coming home my socks were not very wet.
I got used to see some level of heel counter nearly in every model of shoes I had, thus it surprised me that ZR-01 doesn’t have it at all.
I’m a runner who seeks some level of support, especially at slower paces, thus I would have enjoyed the shoe more if it had a heel counter. Even though I tied laces strongly, it doesn’t prevent my feet to move sideways and I didn’t feel enough firmness on the upper that I can rely on faster paces.
Zen Running Club ZR 01 Conclusion
As a general approach, unless a shoe is built for a specific purpose (race, trail etc.) I am trying to test it under different conditions (rainy, dry), at different paces (fartlek, tempo, easy) and for different distances (5-15k).
I apply a similar approach to really understand the purpose of this shoe. I started with a shorter distance at slower paces. The shoe was providing enough protection to not feel the ground, however not having a heel counter was a strange sensation for me (mild pronation, especially at slower paces).
When I picked up the pace to faster speeds (4.30min/km, approximately), the shoe did respond well. At first, I was expecting a heavier feel due to rigidity of the midsole, but it didn’t happen.
However, the faster I ran, the more I felt the lack of stability and support at the upper. I had a similar feeling during my long runs. Due to heel slippage, I needed to adjust my strides and since there is a slight difference between my left and right side (I believe none of people are 100% symmetrical) the longer I run the more I feel my glutes and underfoot tendons being tired and I needed to work on these parts with foam roller to feel better.
With such an experience, I would say that the shoe is suitable for a neutral runner, and/or somebody looking for a daily trainer, easy/recovery run shoe.
I would stick with below 10k distances, and slightly faster than easy paces to limit total duration.
I really like the idea that at the end, a 100% eco-friendly and vegan shoe can be produced, and it can be used for a demanding sport like running.
However, I also believe that Zen Running Club has a to-do list to make the shoe more attractive to a broader range of runners.
The design is nice, the feel is also appropriate for a daily trainer. If they can find a way to add heel counter and maybe a more supportive fit at the upper, without compromising current positive notes, the next iteration of the shoe would be even more enjoyable by runners like me.
As editorial policy, we do not accept free samples from companies.
We purchased this pair of Zen Running Club ZR 01 at Zen Running Club with our own money.