My buddy Monte was sold some Newton running shoes. He tried them out a few times and they were not for him. Now granted, Monte is not by trade a runner. Which makes one wonder why the running store would sell my friend those shoes when they are quite obviously engineered for people deeply involved in the running experience?
Newtons are designed with these crazy lugs in the forefoot. They are also zero drop shoes in the pair I now own (since Monte gave them to me) and that is pretty much a concession to the fact that real runners are trying to get back to the roots of running without so much padding between their feet and the ground. Sort of.
You’re supposed to run “over” the ground while wearing Newtons, and I get that, because I’ve been running more than 40 years and have tried every type of shoe known to the human race. I’ve seen Huarache style shoes with spandex forefoots. I’ve seen Osaga KT-26s with winglike appendages sticking out both sides of the heel. I’ve worn NIKE LDVs so huge it was like running on the fat ridges of razorback hogs.
So I have both an open mind and a cynical heart about innovations that supposedly deliver a better running gait and performance.
Even Newton’s website struggles to explain why their shoes work:
“We can’t fully explain it, there are no adjectives that can do our shoes justice, and we can’t figure out how to draw a sensation diagram. You just have to try them on because they will feel like nothing you have ever worn before. They will feel like they were made specifically for you. How do we know this? Because we made them specifically for you.”
Well, isn’t that sweet? Except my pair was a hand-me-down. So, I fooled you, Newton.
But they aren’t just fooling around at Newton, I’ll admit. They try to put their money where their mouth is. They’re trying to create a tribe of believers. Newton is also the official shoe for Ironman. So there’s that.
Actually the same running store that sold my friend Monte his pair of Newton’s also tried to sell me a set six months ago. I tried them on and turned them down at the time in favor of a repeat pair of Saucony Triumph shoes. I wear orthotics, you see, and was not convinced those Newton lugs under the forefoot were a good combination with my existing control devices.
But the guy at the store wanted none of that. “You won’t need your orthotics if you wear these. They promote a more natural running gait.”
Dude, shut the hell up, I thought to myself.
I called my friend that owns the store and told him there was a Newton zealot in his ranks that seemed to have drunk a little too much of the Hello, Better Kool-Aid. I love enthusiasm as much as anyone. But you have to be careful what you prescribe when you’re just a store employee with a little bit of running experience.
I know. I once worked in a running store called Running Unlimited. At the time, I was being trained to recognize common biomechanical deficiencies such as pronation and supination by a podiatrist whose book I was illustrating. It was just becoming clear to the running community at that time that not all runners are built the same for running. Many of us have problems waiting to happen in the structure of our feet, the bow in our legs, the angle of our hips and the inherent weakness or inflexibility of our joints.
So shoes were starting to be designed with the goal of solving these problems. But you can’t mass produce a shoe that will fit and feel fine to every runner. So more and more styles cropped up, and shoes like the Brooks Beast were invented to help fat guys and people with shitty strides run at all. Just being honest.
But that’s what made the running boom possible. Then it took off in all manner of directions.
Innovation does not always guarantee results, however. Just ask Apple about their version of the Newton. It was visionary, and opened the door to all sorts of other experimentation. But it wasn’t one of their most successful products.
The Newton running shoe company appears to be doing quite fine, however. I see them on the feet of many people in the running community. This is especially true in triathlons, where traditional shoes such as Nike and adidas and Puma are not necessarily accorded such reverence as they are in track and field and cross country, both sports for traditional runners.
By contrast, triathletes have invented their own equipment and abide by their own rules on everything. The cycling world has certainly been impacted by the demand for more “aero” bikes. With running shoes, companies such as Newton and other less traditional brand as Hoka and Mizuno and even Skechers, for God’s Sake, have jumped all over these markets.
Try them out
So I’m more than willing to give these new Newtons a try. I’ve reinvented myself as a runner the last couple years and my mind is always open to new things. So I ran a mile yesterday in the shoes as a short experiment. They didn’t kill me, or kill my feet. I could feel my forefoot stride working with the lugs under the ball of my feet. But I need to study that some more, and talk with my pedorthist, who has gotten me back on the road these last three years.
Not sure that I’ll race in these babies this weekend. I’m only doing one serious 10K this fall and I don’t want to cramp up and curl up in a Dekalb County cornfield during the Sycamore Pumpkinfest 10K.
But perhaps that would be fitting. The Newtons are rather pumpkin-like in color. And if I do curl up from calf cramps from racing in my new Newtons, I would just be acting like the guinea pig I’ve always been with running.
Like I said. I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to running. When you find something that works you typically go with it. But then the running shoe company discontinues or “improves” that model and you are forced to start the search all over again.
But looking down at my feet, I realize all good inventions tend to start by solving a problem from the ground up. Perhaps Newton is onto something. We’ll see.