I am not really a shoe person. Ask my sister, the queen of shoes. While she’d drop $$$ without even thinking, I like a few really good pairs and couldn’t really be bothered to buy things I can’t see myself wearing regularly. Not that I can’t appreciate Louboutins — I can — I just don’t collect shoes.
The same goes for running shoes. I don’t hoard multiple pairs of my favorite model; I don’t rotate three different styles; I don’t obsess over how they’re the same or different or what they do or don’t do for my feet. When I was in high school, I trusted the amazing staff at my local running store to pick out the best model for me because they knew me and my training/racing patterns really well. I wore the Mizuno Wave Rider for awhile, followed by the Nike Miler, followed by the Mizuno Precision. They all worked. I never got injured, my shoes never hurt, I was always able to just run. I didn’t ever feel the need to try out anything different “just because.” I didn’t get into the whole barefoot Vibram thing. And I never learned when and why runners wear different types of shoes.
Fast forward to last year, pre-Boston. Some calf tightness led to the discovery that my form could use a few tweaks. Mizuno made the huge mistake of changing up their whole line, and the new version of the Wave Rider just wasn’t what I needed anymore. My coach and my PT were pretty into the Newton/natural running craze, so I decided to try them. As you might have guessed, I fell totally and completely in love. I bought these:
After I got rid of the last pair of Mizunos and started training in the Newton Gravity (orange), I felt great. That tightness resolved itself, and my form noticeably was better. I became a Newton believer — but still, not because I understood or overanalyzed the minute details of what they did. They just worked.
Now, however, thanks to a very informative session with a Newton rep held at Georgetown Running, I can explain to people who ask about my blinding neon shoes the concept of natural running and the purpose of the lugs found on the bottom of each pair. I used to just say the weird soles promoted a forefoot stride. But here’s what I took away from the clinic:
According to the Newton folks, there are two important elements to “natural running” — or, what the body would do if we all ran around shoeless. The first is a slight forward lean, which stretches muscles and tendons like the calves and achilles so they can store more energy and eliminates the small unnatural bend in the lower back that occurs if you are straight up or leaning slightly back. The other is cadence — 180 steps per minute, or 3 per second, is the exact amount of time it takes tendons to store and release energy. This is also known as elastic recoil. Contrary to reason, a faster cadence does not mean faster running. A slower-than-180 cadence also is less than efficient. These two factors combined create proper natural running form.
So what are Newtons supposed to do? They eliminate the drop between heel and toe that other shoes have, which basically means that your foot remains on a pretty level plane. If the heel is 4mm or higher than the toe, your muscles and tendons compress and don’t have the same ability to store and release energy. High heels are a huge exaggeration of this, but could you actually run efficiently and comfortably in them? [My sister probably could.] Newtons also have minimal cushion, which means the foot feels the solid ground more quickly, spends less time there, and requires less energy to push off. The whole lug thing is what Newton calls Action/Reaction technology [I mean, the company is named after some famous physics guy…]. The shoes also promote proper forefoot landing, and the middle of the lugs on the bottom should hit at the top of the first metatarsal — which means that the size you wear in other running shoes may be pretty far off from the size you wear in Newtons. Case in point, I normally wear an 8 but am now in a 9.5.
So that’s my best understanding of the science behind the shoes. But how do you put that into practice? The rep led us through some drills (many of which runners probably already do without understanding their purpose) and stretches that get the body ready to find that natural running position. The shoe alone does not create it for you. One of my problems is that I land (correctly) on my forefoot, but my stride is a bit long and too far forward — the actual power in running comes from having a long stride *backward*. Butt-kicks simulate that. Skipping promotes forefoot strike first and then settling on the heel — because forefoot does not mean “run on your toes.” Marching in place, then running up and down in place, then leaning forward to move forward simulates proper running position by focusing you on the two elements of form. Throw your shoulders and arms forward as though you are doing a butterfly stroke to feel an even stronger pull. If you’re doing this drill, lean back once and feel how that destroys your momentum. Interestingly, we were told to “lean forward” but never to run. And yet, somehow running was exactly what we were doing.
If your form is going to shit, there are a few things you can do to collect yourself and get back on track. Stop, stand up straight, stretch your arms to the sky and look up. Roll your shoulders back. Think about your core and upper back being pulled up by a string. Tighten your core muscles. Hold your palm in front of your chest, put your pinky and thumb on either side of your collarbone and your pointer finger on your chin (this puts your head in the proper position). Regroup and start again. And guess what? All of these things actually make sense and feel natural when you translate the theory into practice.
The last thing I learned? People go on and on about how Newtons last so much longer than other brands and models. This is only sort of true. Basically, the number of miles you get out of your shoes depends on your form. Once the lugs on the bottom are completely worn down, it’s time for a new pair. If you pronate to one side or the other, you might wear down one side first. This means you might get anywhere from 300 to 800 miles out of them. I’m at 100 or so miles on my Distance model and 350 on my Gravity pair. Both have minimal wear, so I think I’m going to be on the upper end of the range. My new MV2s probably will get less because they’re an extremely light racing flat.
Bonus points for the cool colors. Who doesn’t love that?
It’s also worth pointing out that the Newton Running Lab in Boulder, Colo. looks and sounds like the coolest place on earth. I’ve been told they have a couch or two, so, in theory, I could move in.
And that’s what comes from drinking the Newton Kool-Aid. They definitely aren’t for everyone, but I’m happy with them and thrilled to finally understand how and why they do what they do.