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The Zoot Ali'i is based on the same platform as the popular Zoot Solana. The Solana midsole feels lively and bouncy, and the comfortable Ali'i is similar. The Ali'i is built with an 8 mm drop, somewhere in between more traditional running shoes (10 to 12 mm) and mid- foot specific shoes (0 to 4 mm).
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In my opinion this is a smart move by Zoot. There are other tri-specific running shoes available, but most are extra light and/or less cushioned models. However, the vast majority of ironman-distance triathletes will have a marathon time of 3:30 and up, and the Zoot Ali'i is built with this demographic in mind. Most of this group will have a heel or mid-foot strike, and will appreciate the extra cushioning and not be troubled by the added weight.
Another thing that sets the Ali'i apart from other tri-specific shoes is the use of the Boa closure system. In my experience, the Boa technology does not work well in all shoes, but with the Ali'i it works great. In this model the Boa button sits to the lateral side of the foot, where in previous models it was placed on top of the foot and caused significant pressure.
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The upper consists of a single elastic, sock-like piece that completely wraps around the foot. The entrance is easy, with a loop at the heel and on the tongue. Even without socks and with sweaty feet, I had no problem getting the shoe on for a quick transition. It is so snug around the foot that for a short sprint or Olympic distance race, I probably wouldn't even use the Boa system – just get in the shoe and take off. For longer distances and/or when more support is desired, the Boa system delivers. It took me about 1 to 1.5 full turns of the Boa button to achieve optimal support. The arch seemed somewhat higher than average, but it also felt very stable and did not cause any unwanted pressure.
I recently tested these shoes in 100-plus degree temperatures hoping to simulate Hawaii weather, and I found that the upper felt a bit warm. As I continued to wear the shoes in hot temps, the feeling lessened (or I acclimated), but the bottom line is that these are not the most well-ventilated shoes on the market. (I had no issues with heat or ventilation in more moderate temperatures.) It is interesting to note that Dutch pro Bas Diederen is not sponsored by Zoot, but he chose these shoes for a very hot IM Frankfurt.