The Newtonian Method

How an upstart Boulder company is trying to remake the running shoe, one convert at a time.

April 2010

Are these stilts? I feel like I've got pogo sticks attached to my feet! The shoes had looked normal enough while Abshire was describing how they worked—a technobabbly concoction of padding, treads, and air that distributes energy more efficiently. But now, wearing them and weaving like a drunken sailor, I try to focus on Abshire's gentle coaching: Lift your leg; don't push. Straighten your back, but propel forward. Think short strides, not leaps. "This shoe is different than anything you used before," he warns me, "so treat it that way."

I spend the next afternoon trolling Newton's Web site and studying the running-form videos like a grade-A nerd, all the while repeating Newton's footfall mantra— "Land, Lever, Lift"—as I practice lifting my legs mechanically in my office cubicle. As I lace up my shoes that evening and head out for a short test run, I'm concentrating on Newton's third law of motion—every action has an equal and opposite reaction—when I nearly slam into a stop sign; evidently, the studying hasn't improved my balance. I'm supposed to feel like a human spring, bounding forward effortlessly; instead, it's like the first time I tried on high heels. I'm teetering and swerving so much that I head for the sidewalk, hoping that the grass will act like bumper lanes at a bowling alley—or at least provide a soft landing when I topple over. I'm trying, desperately, to remember my cram session and that darn jingle. Lever, lift, what? Lift, land, huh?

One week and 12 miles later, it still feels like I'm running on the horizontal bars of a cattle guard; I'm the princess who can feel a pea through 40 mattresses, and I'm learning way too much about the irregularities in asphalt. This biofeedback is supposed to be reassuring, but right now it's more information than I want or need. As I'm trudging along—finally, in a straight line—plotting a return to my old shoes, I notice that my husband, Chris, is a stride behind me. OK, not a full stride, but I've never been faster than him. Maybe there's something about these shoes after all. Or maybe I'm simply running more efficiently because I'm finally paying attention to form. Even so, I'm still not convinced that running a tad faster is worth being so uncomfortable.

Another week and another dozen miles later, I'm stumbling less and reacting more quickly, but I still wonder if these shoes will be just a fad. My Lady Isaacs feel gimmicky, like that TV ad for knives that cut through metal, and I wonder how long it will be before the Newtons start gathering dust at the bottom of my closet. I need a comparison, so I pull on my old pair of sneakers for an early-morning run. The streets are dusted with a couple inches of fresh snow, unmarred by tracks, until my gaze suddenly falls upon a single pair of distinctive Newton prints dashing ahead of me down the street. For a moment I feel like an adulterer who's been caught red-handed—until the pain from my old, familiar shoes overwhelms the guilt. Four blocks in, my knees are screaming; eight blocks later, I'm limping like a wounded dog. I turn around, hobble home, tear off my old shoes, and slip into my Newtons. Finally, I'm sold.

Natasha Gardner is 5280's assistant editor. E-mail her at [email protected].