By Roy M. Wallack
February 23, 2013
Camera shutters clicked. Techno music throbbed. Dramatic slow-motion images danced on massive video screens. World-famous athletes bounded up on stage to spout well-rehearsed sound bites. Last week, before hundreds of assembled media flown in from around the world, the top brass of one of the world's largest sporting goods companies breathlessly revealed a radical new high-tech product, years in the making after thousands of engineering man-hours, that they claimed would take running to a new level and revolutionize the athletic shoe world:
Foam. A new high-rebound foam.
Adidas' new "Boost" midsole foam is the latest in the timeless parade of "game-changing," "code-cracking" and "breakthrough" innovations from companies big and small designed to deliver the holy grail of running: more speed with less effort and fewer injuries. Below, four of the latest technologies (tested in men's shoes but all available for women too) that might just help you shave a minute off your marathon time — provided, of course, that you combine them with old-fashioned training.
Adidas Energy Boost: A lightweight shoe featuring foam midsoles composed of hundreds of capsules of expanded TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), which claims to combine the shock-absorption qualities of EVA (the polymer ethylene-vinyl acetate, the most commonly used midsole material) with a higher energy rebound effect.
Likes: It works. The shoes, which hit stores Feb. 27, are noticeably bouncy and energizing. I actually liked them better for walking, since I run with a soft forefoot landing that does not emphasize the trampoline effect as much as a heel strike does. The midsole might allow you to keep these expensive shoes longer than normal without replacement, if Adidas' claims that it will not harden, compress or wear down as quickly as EVA holds true. The stretchy upper has a comfy second-skin feel. Weight: 10.5 ounces in size 9.5.
Price: $150. http://www.adidas.com
Soft and hard
On CloudRacer: Lightweight shoe from a Swiss company that features its simple but innovative "Cloud-Tec" shock absorption, 13 half-circles of rubber on the sole that compress and quickly return to form. Theoretically, that allows you to land "soft" but push-off "hard."
Likes: It works well and feels fast, especially if you're a forefoot-lander who runs barefoot style; heel-strikers will find the landing too harsh. Light at 9 ounces in size 9, it provides the good ground feel of a more minimalist shoe while offering decent protection.
Dislikes: I found a 2-inch oval bump on the removable foot bed to be uncomfortable and felt better with the pads removed altogether. That eliminated nearly an ounce from each shoe and enhanced ground contact.
Price: $129. http://www.on-running.com
New Balance Minimus Hi-Rez: Crazy-light foot glove for minimalist runners who are not quite ready to go barefoot. It has a midsole-outsole composed of 42 EVA pods whose independent movement purportedly allows for better ground feel than a unified sole.
Likes: Barely there at 4.5 ounces in size 9.5, this speedy, super-flexible sock-shoe transmits a pseudo-barefoot feeling that even beats the 6.5-ounce Vibram FiveFingers Komodo Sport, which I raved about in this column last year. (I had to take an insole out of the Vibrams to out-feel the Hi-Rez.) The EVA pods, about 3/16 inch thick, have the right amount of cushion for a minimalist runner: almost nothing. The conventional laces allow a custom, comfy fit and a good fit with socks if needed. One the whole, a great shoe for minimalist runners. It is available April 1.
Dislikes: Not quite as comfortable as the independent-toed Vibrams (personal choice, as Vibrams fit my blunt feet perfectly). Also, I'd have preferred a Vibrams-like cinch-lace system, which cannot come untied.
Price: $120. http://www.newbalance.com
Nike Flyknit Racer: Ultralight, cushioned shoe that mates a highly engineered, seamless, sock-like knit upper with integrated tongue to a conventional EVA sole.
Likes: A great 10k or marathon shoe due to its combination of light weight (4.6 ounces in size 9) with cushioning. This not a minimalist shoe but an ultralight shoe for those who want some cushioning on race day. A heavier shoe for daily training, the Flyknit Trainer+, is 7.7 ounces.
Dislikes: The price. A cheap, barely there racing flat, a bit less comfy, will cost half this.
Price: $160. http://www.nike.com
Wallack is the coauthor of "Barefoot Running Step by Step" and "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."