The Tarther was introduced to America after years of success in Japan, where it was commonly an all-purpose shoe used for both training and racing. ASICS is marketing it to Americans primarily as a racing shoe, though many of its traditional customers think of it as a daily training shoe. Looking at both sides of the coin, the result is a sturdy racer and a daily performer.
Lightweight racing shoes get a bad rap when it comes to durability. ASICS racers are often an exception and this is true with the Tarther. Despite being lightweight, the shoes’ upper is firmly stitched, its materials are durable, the midsole is built to last, and the outsole is built for the all-surface long haul.
The shoelaces are nothing fancy. They look like coarse laces from decades ago. The front toe protection on the upper does not have a fancy color or design. The mesh is one simple color. Fresh out of the box, the white and red colors give a vibrant appearance. The nice whites do turn the color of dirt and grime, but a lot of racers would not last long enough for this to happen. The Tarther lasts. The laces, mesh, toe protection, and stitching may not look fancy, but they are what make the shoe durable enough to hold up over hundreds of miles.
The Solyte midsole is solid. This is not a cushioned trainer here to baby you. The midsole absorbs some shock, but otherwise is only there to give you a small heel height while holding the upper to the sole. The midsole shows some wrinkling as the miles build up, but this does not cause a tangible compression. The shoes feel the same at 200 miles as they did at 0 miles.
The sole is made of rubber in the heel, some strange plastic in the arch bridge, and a surprising amount of hard plastic in the forefoot. Essentially, the shoe delivers rubber in the popular spot of heel impact, a very simple bridge midfoot that looks as if it’s giving you two additional tendons for underneath your foot, and then a complex assortment of grippy designs under the forefoot. The dozens of plastic points aren’t spikes, but kind of function that way. The sole surface has texture, but is sanded flat so it moves easily across pavement. The hard plastic pieces in the forefoot are built with several millimeters of wear to spare. The thin rubber under the heel lasts longer than it would in a standard trainer, as the somewhat reduced heel-to-toe ratio in the shoe minimizes impact force at the heel.
The shoe provides a fairly wide fit considering it can also be used for racing. None of the materials cuddle the foot, but this plays to the shoe’s strength, as it has fewer features capable of degrading over time. The shoe gives a feel for the road, trail, or track. It delivers a firm feeling, but provides a little bit of transition via having some heel height. This is probably not a shoe to wear casually around the house, as the forefoot “spikes” might grip the carpet or just be more all around noticed than shoes with all-rubber bottoms. I bring this up only because its heel-to-toe ratio makes it an ideal transitioning shoe for people looking for something more minimal and oftentimes wearing shoes around casually can play a large role in successfully making the transition, so it’s worth knowing you might not want to visit your friend who just bought new carpet when you’re wearing these.
The Tarthers do have a removable insole. This is pretty typical for trainers, but not common in a shoe for racing. Orthotics wearers and fans of store-bought insoles may see this as an advantage to owning the Tarthers.
The shoe is neutral in the actual sense of the word, which is rare these days. You will pronate noticeably in these shoes unless a) you move quickly onto and off of your forefoot or b) you are a true supinator. This is why the shoes are mostly a racer in America, because even runners accustomed to “neutral” trainers will notice the pronation becoming a factor as the race gets longer. The arch collapse adds motion in the ankles and knees just like any other racing flat without medial support would.
Many of the Japanese train in the Tarther, adapt to their feel, and can enjoy running longer at less effort. The worldwide movement towards more minimal shoes means the shoe is likely to see increased use in America as a daily trainer. The heel is low enough to reduce heel striking relative to that of standard trainers, but still high enough to take some of the pressure off the calves and Achilles. This makes it a great flat for runners who only wear a flat for a race, as the small amount of heel mitigates the risk associated with such a sudden height change. Likewise, the added height pays dividends when used as a daily trainer for minimalists, as it prevents the Achilles/calf from stretching too far and gives midfoot and forefoot strikers some opportunity to be lazy.
“Long a favorite in Japan, this racing flat is designed for all distances, and even doubles as a flat for track workouts. Features Solyte® midsole material, slip lasting, DuoSole® outsole, and the Racing Trusstic System®, which increases turnover.”
I’ve had favorable experiences wearing the Tarther for: long runs, easy runs, tempos, intervals, trail runs, grass runs, and races. If ever there was a shoe that might actually do all of these things well, then this is that shoe.
I’ve put around 150 miles on my current pair. The shoe performs no differently than the day I bought it. I have good reason to believe the shoe could last several hundred more miles. In my closet of 20+ shoes, I look at the Tarthers as my shoe that is most likely to outlive the others. The midsole does not compress. The stitching has been firm thus far. It’s really going to come down to when I wear through the heel rubber or the forefoot plastic.
The shoe performs strangely well on trails. I saw a Running Times blurb that recommended the shoe for use on the trail and I wasn’t surprised to see them agree, as I had already taken the thing out for a spin on trails and cross country courses. It’s grippy; you aren’t very likely to slip on pine needles, but you may take a few of them with you for several meters.
I was initially worried that the shoe would not grab the road well. I had a daymare [daydream + nightmare] of me falling during a road race in the style of Robert Cheruiyot at Chicago in 2006. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWheGgqmq0A I still worry sometimes when making a quick turn on the road, but the shoe a) delivers a comfortable midfoot transition and b) does have rubber in the heel so I don’t fall on my asphalt. I’ve tried on the shoe Cheruiyot wore during that marathon and can tell you that the Tarther has a much safer road grip.
If you buy this shoe, you will find a reason to wear it. It’s like the gift certificate of shoes; you can use it as you please and still get every dollar’s worth. Most performance trainers error on the side of being mostly like a trainer by erring on the safe side with medial stability and cushioning. The Tarther meets halfway coming from the other direction. It starts out as a great racing shoe and adds a tiny amount to the heel midsole. This makes it unique among all the multi-purpose shoes on the market. I recommend it to any neutral runner who sometimes ponders a life without overblown cushioning or stability.