I’d been reading a lot over the past couple of years about “Natural Running.” The best way to describe “Natural Running” is that it is how you would land on your feet if you weren’t wearing shoes. To get a feel for what this is, put on your shoes and pay attention to what part of your foot strikes the ground first. For 75% of runners, it’s their heel. Now take your shoes off and try running barefoot across your lawn. Pay attention to how your feet strike the ground. You will find that you land on your forefoot or your midfoot NOT your heel. Your heel will eventually touch the ground, but not initially. So it is natural to strike with the forefoot/midfoot.
By landing on your forefoot or midfoot, the impact gets significantly distributed to your muscles so it does not transmit the full impact to your joints. Advocates claim that this reduces injury and down time, AND increases your speed, because some of the force of the impact can be returned to you during toe-off because it is not absorbed by the heel shoe where it is lost. You also don’t need a big high heel to absorb the impact. Most shoes have a heel that is about a half inch higher than the forefoot.
Because we humans evolved over thousands of years without the benefit modern running shoes, the idea of running using the muscles that have evolved over millennia for barefoot running sounded reasonable to me. Over the past 18 months, I have change my landing from a heel strike to a midfoot strike. I have also been running is shoes with lower heel-to-forefoot ratios. This stretches the calf muscles out and takes a little getting used to. Still the heels in these shoes are higher than the forefoot. If you were running barefoot, the heights would be the same, obviously. So I was still not able to replicate true barefoot running in any of the available shoes.
So, you can imagine my excitement when the Runners Forum brought in the Newtons – the ultimate running shoe designed to facilitate “Natural Running Form” and yet take advantage of the latest high tech materials to return energy and to protect your feet! I bought a pair IMMEDIATELY.
Unlike other shoes, where you break the shoes in, with Newton’s you need to break yourself in. If you are a heel striker, you will need to adjust your stride. This will take time. If you are already a forefoot/midfoot striker, remember the heel to forefoot ratio is nearly even. This will stretch your calves and Achilles tendon way more than you are used to. No matter how your feet strike, you will be using new parts in your body and you will need to ease into it, or SORE MUSCLES WILL occur. Newton gives excellent instructions for this break in right on the box.
My first run went really well. The shoes do feel very different than any other pair I’ve ever worn. All the cushion is under the forefoot. It’s like running with a spring under the ball of your foot. It gives the sensation that it really is returning some of your energy. With the heel/forefoot height ratio as low as it is, it makes striking initially with the forefoot much easier than when you are wearing a standard running shoe with a high heel. The lugs under the forefoot on the Newton don’t cover the full width of the forefoot. The result was that my forefoot felt a little wobbly. Another unique experience is the toe-off. The landing lugs under the forefoot are high. As your foot moves through the stride, you roll off the lugs toward your toes, the front of the shoe drops down and to me it was a little reminiscent of running on sand except there was no slippage.
It took some getting used to. There are a lot of changes going on! If you over do it as you adjust, you will end up with sore muscles for sure. (I followed the instructions on an aggressive schedule and didn’t have any problems, but then again, I had been running in lower profile shoes for some time.) I put about 50 miles on them before I ran the Mini -500 half marathon in them. I had no problems. I ran a full marathon a month after the Mini. I still wasn’t 100% confident in my adaptation to the Newtons, so I went with my old standbys. I’m still working on finding the so-called sweet-spot on the shoes. I still occasionally land a little far back in my foot, and land on the outside of my foot and roll inwards. The sweet spot is where you make the perfect midfoot landing. You touch down on the midfoot with your heel just off the ground. Your heel then touches gently and you roll forward toward the ball and then toe-off. By finding the sweet spot, you get the most energy return and mimic your natural gait. Newton says it takes a while to find this spot because you are changing your strike pattern so drastically. I believe that is true.
Too early to say whether it will help me set PRs yet, or help with injury prevention. Now that I’m more used to being in them, I am very comfortable. I’m taking them to my interval workouts and they are performing excellently. After 75 miles, I think I’m honing in on the sweet spot. In addition to the Racers I got initially, I just got a pair of the Trainers. I guess I’m committed!
(Doug is a valued team member at the Runners Forum. We trust him to provide objective and well written testimony on all aspects of his training and the products he uses. Doug is also the 13th oldest person to ever win a marathon in the WORLD and 4th in the U.S.A.!)
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