In the old days of running (that is, three years ago), figuring out what running shoe to buy was simply a matter of determining whether you were a pronator, supinator or neutral runner. Today, however, with the explosion of barefoot running and crazy obstacle races, the running shoe world is more complex, with cushioned shoes, minimalist shoes and specialty mud-running shoes all offering new and different technologies suited for specialty uses.
FOR THE RECORD:
In that spirit, meet some of the most radical cushioning technology you've ever seen: one shoe designed to climb ropes and wooden walls and swim across mud lakes, and another so simple that it proudly claims to have no technology at all.
Adidas Springblade: The foam-free cushioned shoe has 16 hard, bendable polymer blades that flex like mini diving boards as you land on them, creating a spring effect.
Likes: If you're a forefoot lander, the Springblade definitely returns energy, propelling you forward with an upward bounce on every step. (Heel strikers get a nice landing-in-sand shock absorption but less forward propulsion, it seemed to us.) Either way, the shoe will be durable, as there is no foam to compress. Your knees might never wear out because it absorbs so much impact. So if you like the striking looks ("Wolverine's shoe," my son called it), you might be running in this one in 2053.
Dislikes: Although the bounciness is fun at first, after a while it's like you've stayed too long in one of those blow-up fun houses at your kid's birthday party. Also, the hard polymer blades are co-molded into a hard, not-so-comfortable polymer foot bed. Heavy at 13 ounces in size 9.5.
Price: $180 (available Aug. 1). http://www.adidas.com
Springs in your step
Spira Stinger XLT: The cushioned trainer has three 1-inch-diameter coiled "Wavesprings" embedded in the midsole (two in the forefoot, one in the heel); they supposedly add cushioning and an energy-return bounce.
Likes: Ahhhh. A fast, energizing glide that makes you forget you have shoes on at all. It may be the best application of the often-tried spring-in-a-shoe concept. Springy (but not too much, like the Adidas can be), the XLT is cushiony and comfy, its hidden springs apparently working well with the giant piles of foam and the flexible 1.75-inch-wide plastic bridge that connects the giant forefoot and rear foot pods. It seems weightless but is merely light at 9.2 ounces in size 9 (8.4 ounces in women's size 7. A lighter, race-oriented model, the 7.8-ounce Stinger 2, is $100.
Price: $134.95 (free shipping). http://www.spira.com
Merrell Barefoot Road Glove 2: This is a simple, 6.5-ounce "barefoot" running shoe with an ergonomically shaped toe box, laces, mesh upper and 4 millimeters of cushioning.
Likes: Good alternative for those who like ultra-minimal shoes but don't like individual Vibram FiveFingers-style toe pockets. It's quite comfortable, with a roomy forefoot that does not smush toes together. It has a thin, tactile, Vibram-brand sole that allows good ground feel and includes a wrap-over toe guard.
Dislikes: Too much lace for a minimalist shoe. A quick-cinch lace system would have saved weight, tying time and complexity.
Price: $100. http://www.merrell.com