Friday, April 20, 2012

Gear Review: Newton Distance


Newton's third law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That's a law of physics and occurs no matter what shoe you're using. But what if there was a way to maximize that equal and opposite reaction, such that less of the ground reaction force is wasted, and is instead maximized to propel you into your next stride? The first time I heard of this concept was in 2001, when one of my high school XC teammates announced that she had heard of Nike producing a shoe that was supposed to bounce you into your next stride (for perspective, this girl grew up to be a cyclist and and engineer, so she probably loves gear and technology, but in high school, none of us knew anything about shoes). Unfortunately, the Nike Shox turned out to just have some stupid spring shaped heel made out of EVA and not even be a real running shoe (nothing wrong with EVA, as most shoes use it, but this shoe didn't do what my friend had hoped it would). The next time I heard about it was the infamous Spira shoes, which put actual springs in the forefoot and ignited way more controversy on LetsRun than...well, actually everything ignites controversy on LetsRun, so nevermind. Then a few of my friends started wearing Newton. These were real runners who needed real running shoes; runners who weren't about to settle for gimmicky nonsense. Runners who wanted to do everything to maximize their performance, but weren't about to resort to banned technology (I still have no idea whether those Spiras were actually banned or not). Well, after hearing enough of them rave about these shoes and getting several emails from readers asking if I had tried Newtons, I figured it was time to try out the Newton Distance.

The Newton Distance is Newton's lightweight performance trainer. It weighs in at 7.8oz for a men's size 9 and 6.8oz for a women's size 8, and has a stack height of 24/21 for an H-delt of 3mm. Running Warehouse describes the Distance as such:
The Distance is a moderate feature, minimum neutral shoe designed for daily training and racing. It is built with a semi-straight shape.
CUSHIONING
  • Action/Reaction Technology is utilized in the heel and forefoot. These external lugs compress to absorb shock energy, and then release energy during toe-off.
MIDSOLE
  • Action/Reaction Technology is utilized in the heel and forefoot. These external lugs compress to absorb shock energy, and then release energy during toe-off.
  • EVA midsole offers durable underfoot cushioning.
  • Met-flex grooves in the forefoot allow the foot to flex naturally.
UPPER
  • Open Mesh throughout the upper is a breathable, quick-drying material.
  • Overlays are anatomically placed to provide a secure fit.
  • Metatarsal Stretch Panels in the forefoot stretch to reduce irritation.
  • Slip-Proof Laces stay in place with heel-securing double eyelets.
  • ETC Sockliner is anti-bacterial for underfoot comfort and a healthy foot environment.
OUTSOLE
  • Carbon Rubber Heel is engineered for high mileage durability. (Note from Becki: I have no idea what they're talking about, because mine don't have this at all)
  • High Density Rubber in the forefoot provides a long lasting outsole.
So I opened this post by discussing the energy return technology that Newton uses to set their shoes apart from other shoes on the market. Newton calls this the Action/Reaction Technology, and you can read about it on their webpage. Honestly, before trying the shoe, I assumed that this was some marketing gimmick. To my surprise...this actually works. Obviously it's not like these shoes lift your legs for you or bounce you forward like springs in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, but the forefoot response is insane. It's not like a racing flat's response though, where you hit the ground and there's no cushioning to compress; rather, it's like you hit the ground, and you're instantly bounced back into your next stride. Definitely makes for a quick transition and fast feeling shoe.

Forefoot lugs on Newton Distance

The most distinctive feature of the Distance is its forefoot lugs. While these shoes do have a small heel-toe drop, the lugs almost gave it the feel of a negative drop. It was pretty clear from the start that these shoes were going to be unlike anything I've ever worn before. At first, I found myself doing some weird toe-running thing, trying to run on the lugs and never letting my heels touch the ground (not unlike the way I run 200m speed development sprints...only in slow motion. Also, toe-running is not the same thing as forefoot striking, since the heel does touch the ground in the latter stride). It was awkward, weird, and uncomfortable. After about a mile of that nonsense, I stopped, asked myself why I was letting myself run so strangely, then purposely distracted myself and went back to my normal stride. I still found myself striking more forward than usual, a side effect of the shoe's design, and I still found myself "bouncing" off the lugs. So there's certainly no need to run unnaturally in an attempt to only let the lugs touch the ground, because you can run normally and still get the propulsive benefits. Lesson learned.

Forefoot lugs on Newton Distance

The cushioning of the Distance is super firm, particularly in the forefoot. I'd assume this has something to do with the Action/Reaction Technology and the forefoot lugs. It's actually a firmer ride than most of my racing flats. This shoe is clearly built for speed, not cushion or forgiveness. The skewing towards speed isn't surprising, since it is a performance trainer (that is closer in weight to many marathon flats than most other performance trainers), though it is definitely firmer than other performance trainers I have worn. The light weight also helps with the fast feel. It's definitely a fast day shoe for me, since that's when I appreciate the response, and that's also when I'm landing on my midfoot. Your mileage may vary depending on your cushioning preferences and footstrike.

Newton Distance doesn't have a lot of forefoot flexibility due to the positioning of the lugs, and the flexibility comes from behind the lugs

Flexibility through the midfoot of the Newton Distance is high

Due to the positioning of the lugs, the Distance doesn't have a very flexible toebox, and almost all of the flexibility comes from the midfoot area behind the lugs. On the other hand, it is very flexible through the midfoot. Additionally, the Distance has a very soft heel counter. This combination actually makes for a shoe with very little support, though Newton does have a variety of guidance and stability available for those who need more support, all of which can be found here.

Soft heel counter of the Newton Distance

The upper on the Distance is fairly wide, and I found myself fiddling with the laces for a while before I could get them to fit my narrow feet without them being sloppy. I finally realized that they're one of the few shoes that I can lace-lock without irritating my anterior tibialis tendon. Once I got the fit dialed in, the upper is great. The material is very soft and breathable. Additionally, the toebox is wide and untapered (doesn't come to a point at the toes, so you may find this shoe to be more "foot-shaped"), so there's ample room for toe-splay. The last also seems to be a little bit straighter than other shoes that I've worn (I think this may be why I had to play with the laces for so long to get them to fit, since all of my other shoes are built off of either a curved or semi-curved last). This straight last means that not only will they please the crowd who likes a roomy foot-shaped shoe, but they'll also probably do a good job of accommodating an orthotic.

Newton Distance has a roomy, untapered toebox to allow for toe spread (compare to the tapered toebox of the Brooks Launch on the left...ignore the rearfoot which is all stretched out since those shoes have way too many miles on them and have since been retired). Also, that upper is every bit as breathable as it looks!

The ride of the Distance is very dependent on your footstrike. Most shoes tend to accommodate a variety of strides. Not the Distance...the Distance knows its audience and caters to them appropriately. Unsurprisingly, it sucks to heelstrike in the Distance, and it feels like you have a tree root permanently lodged under your forefoot. Additionally, there is no outsole rubber under the heel, so heelstrikers (as well as some midfoot strikers) will find themselves destroying these shoes quickly. On the other hand, the Distance seems to feel alright with the midfoot strike. It loses the awkward forefoot bump feel, and you still get most of the benefit of the Action/Reaction Technology. However, it's with a forefoot strike that the Distance will truly shine. Forefoot strikers are really the people who will benefit most of this shoe's technology. As I stated previously, you do unconsciously end up striking a bit more forward than usual due to the design of the shoe and the protruding lugs, but definitely make sure you take your footstrike into account when you determine whether this shoe is appropriate for you, because that's really a make or break quality with this shoe.

Forefoot lugs on the Newton Distance are made of a hard rubber (orange), and the heel is an exposed EVA (yellow)

Durability is also going to depend on your footstrike. As stated in the last paragraph, there is no outsole rubber over the heel, so depending on how you normally wear your shoes, you may destroy the heel quickly. On the other hand, the rubber used to make up the lugs is pretty dense and should last for a while.

As an aside, I've heard that Newton shoes in general are awesome for helping knee problems. However, I do not have any personal experience with this.

The Newton Distance is a niche shoe that appeals to a certain audience, and that certain audience is really going to appreciate it. If you're a neutral forefoot striker looking for an uber-responsive performance trainer, this shoe is worth every penny (and that's a lot of pennies...it's not a cheap shoe!). For midfoot strikers, I'd recommend you try before you buy. I think many neutral midfoot strikers will like the shoe, but whether or not it's worth $155 to them is something they'd need to decide after running in the shoe.  Overpronating forefoot and midfoot strikers may want to check out Newton's more stable options. Rearfoot strikers (neutral or otherwise) will be happier elsewhere, as there are plenty of other performance trainers that will better suit their needs. Additionally, if you've struggled with chronic knee problems, they may be worth a look. For me personally, it requires a little bit too aggressive of a forefoot strike for me to be using on easy days, and while it's pretty freaking sweet to run fast in, I'm not sure I can see it replacing my flats. However, I love how fast the Distance feels, and if I were a true forefoot striker, this would almost certainly be my shoe. I would definitely recommend this for a forefoot striker who wants a fast, responsive shoe.


The Newton Distance retails for $155 and is available on Newton's website, as well as at select retailers where Newton products are sold. It fits true to size, though it does tend to run a little bit wide.

Full disclosure: The Newton Distance was provided free of charge in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed in this review are mine and based on my experience, and do not reflect the opinions of Newton or anyone else.

4 comments:

  1. I've had my Newton Distance shoes for a couple of months now and the bottoms look like I took a belt sander to them. Very disappointing for the price.

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  2. What part? The heel? Because that part has no outsole rubber over it...I'm not surprised if that part is wrecked. The forefoot rubber seems pretty tough...I'd be surprised (but curious to see what it looks like) if you destroyed that.

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  3. Good review, and I'm surprised at your comment Shaun. I own 2 pairs of Newton's shoes (gravity and distance), and have got ridiculously high mileage out of 'em. I do treat 'em good though and try to run on fairly soft surfaces 50% or more of the time.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good review, and I'm surprised at your comment Shaun. I own 2 pairs of Newton's shoes (gravity and distance), and have got ridiculously high mileage out of 'em. I do treat 'em good though and try to run on fairly soft surfaces 50% or more of the time.

    ReplyDelete

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