Can your footwear speed you up? We gave four new running shoes, each touting an impressive design technology, to four college runners. One shoe was super-flexible, one super-bouncy, another super-flat and another super-light. The verdict: Set your sports watches, because fast times are ahead.
Reebok Zquick: A shoe with a sock-like mesh upper and a soft foam sole sectioned by deep 1/2-inch-wide grooves that make it so flexible it can be rolled up like a pill bug. (For old shoe testers, it is a clone of the popular, decade-old Nike Free, which has a similar look and features.) Differentiating the Zquick is an external, flexible plastic web that helps shape the rear two-thirds of the upper.
Likes: Fast and comfortable. "It's as comfy as a sock." said one. "Feels like I'm practically barefoot," said another. All testers said they "felt fast" in the Zquick, especially on the flats, and would choose it as their No. 1 all-around shoe for races. Although light at 10 ounces (in men's size 9.5), they all guessed the shoe was lighter.
Dislikes: The soft EVA foam soles (with only a small patch of hard rubber on the outside of the heel) probably will wear out quickly. If you like them, you'd better buy two or three pairs.
Price: $84.98. www.reebok.com
Spring in your step
Adidas Energy Boost 2: Features the second generation of the "energy-return" sole that came out last year. It's composed of thousands of white, bouncy foam balls (made of a secret compound) compressed together.
Likes: As advertised, this shoe bounces when it hits the ground, and both heel strikers and forefoot landers seemed to feel supercharged. "I felt like it was getting me airborne, making me take longer strides," said one. The consensus was that the Boost 2 made you faster — at first. For short races on flat courses up to 5K, it was the preferred shoe. The shoe weighs 11 ounces in men's size 9.5.
Dislikes: The testers agreed that the pronounced bounce was too much for longer, slower-paced races and courses with lots of climbs and descents. The lofty price hurts too.
Price: $160. www.adidas.com
Altra Lone Peak: Flat-soled, minimally cushioned trail-running shoe with a wide foot-shaped forefoot area and no elevated heel.
Likes: The extra-wide forefoot, which matches the shape of the foot, allows the toes to spread out naturally for balance and control, making it particularly comfortable for ball-of-the-foot landers and those with wide feet. The "zero-drop" sole feels natural for minimalist and barefoot runners. A thin, tough midsole, toe cap and side armor protect the foot from stone bruises. Quarter-inch lugs provide good off-road traction. The shoes weighs 11.5 ounces in men's size 9.5.
Dislikes: Heel strikers and those not used to the minimal heel padding complained about harsh vibration and calf-muscle stress. Flat shoes like this require a gradual break-in period for those not used to the forefoot landing of barefoot-style running.
Price: $115. www.altrarunning.com
Speed of light
Mizuno Wave Sayonara: Lightweight, low-profile shoe for racing and fast training.
Likes: The testers couldn't figure out why they liked this shoe, other than it was comfy and felt fast. A big reason for that is its light weight, which always translates to speed at any distance. The Sayonara (8.8 ounces in a men's size 9.5) gets it with a feathery, low-profile midsole made of its new lighter-than-foam "U4ic" compound, which combines with Mizuno's signature wave-plate suspension to deliver good cushioning and a firm, fast ride. An arch support, a low-to-the-ground design and a nearly stitch-less upper provide foot stability and comfort for long runs and racing.
Price: $119. www.mizunousa.com
Wallack is the author of "Run for Life." email@example.com