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Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Newton MV-2 Running Shoe Review
About a month ago, I began looking for ideas of shoes to review that I wouldn't normally touch with a ten-foot pole. Now I could have done something more expected like grabbing a big old clunker like the Brooks Beast and taking it for a drive. I imagine you'd already know how that review would turn out. We'd all get a laugh at me suffering along in a pair of boat anchors, and crack the standard jokes about heel striking (if there are any jokes about heel striking). Hardy har har.
Instead, I thought I would take this opportunity to review a shoe that I've been curious about for a while. The Newton company claims to have made a line of shoes that not only promotes a natural running gait, but also absorbs and returns the energy normally lost while running in a traditional cushioned running shoe. Normally, I would call bullshit. But Newton has done a lot of studies on the topic, and their shoes actually do what they say when compared to traditional trainers.
The question for me wasn't whether the shoes worked. I know they do. The question for me would be whether they would appeal to the minimalist crowd. Would they be good enough for a habitual barefooter?
The Newton shoe that especially peaked my interest was the Newton MV-2. It came to my attention after Dr. Mark Cucuzella, who I met a few weekends ago at the NYC Barefoot Run, won the 2011 Air Force Marathon while wearing them. Mark is a huge advocate for barefoot running, and a regular runner in Newton shoes. I figured if he liked them, I might as well. As a 6oz racing flat-inspired shoe, the MV-2 was also the closest thing to a minimal shoe (by my definition) in the Newton lineup. MGBG ain't running in no clunker.
So here it is...the MV-2. Now before I go talking about these shoes in particular, I think it's appropriate to talk about the Newton brand in general. Newton doesn't make minimal shoes. They make cushioned trainers. Even the MV-2 is not a minimal shoe by my definition. Yet surprisingly, I like Newtons.
Now let me be clear. I never thought I would say that about a company that makes cushioned trainers. And I actually had a negative opinion of Newton until the Merrell Barefoot Roundtable. While there, a conversation I had with some of the Merrell Barefoot shoe designers changed my mind.
While chatting about the new 2012 line, we got to talking about the Bare Access, which is a more cushioned zero-drop shoe similar to the Altra Instinct. I was skeptical about the direction Merrell was heading with a shoe like that. The designers explained that after they introduced the Trail Glove, they noticed that people in the company who had never been physically active before were getting up and moving around. The Trail Glove might not have been the perfect minimal shoe for all applications, but it was encouraging people to get outside and be active. They hoped to expand that trend to even more people with the Bare Access. I certainly can't argue with that kind endeavor.
I like Newton shoes because they provide access to natural running form to a broader audience. Not everyone is ready to give up their cushioned trainers. But that doesn't mean they should be condemned to run with a heel strike. And some features on a Newton shoe encourage a forefoot strike.
Most notibly, all Newtons are equip with a number of actuator lugs located underneath your metatarsals. These lugs provide feedback to a sensor plate within the shoe that provides a wearer with better groundfeel than they would experience in a thick-soled shoe. I'm happy to see that Newton recognizes that groundfeel is essential to ensure a forefoot strike.
Then there's Newton's Action/Reaction Technology (ART). For those unfamiliar with the technology, here's how it works. With each step, the force from your landing drives the actuator lugs into a hollow cavity in the shoe. You then pivot or "lever" onto your toes to activate the "flex zone" (the area with little holes directly above the lugs). When you lift your leg, the lugs release the energy they stored during your footstrike and help propel you forward.
Here's where I get off the Newton bus. I don't dislike ART because it doesn't work. It does. I dislike it because Newton insists on throwing the technology in with their claim that the shoes promote "natural running". There's nothing natural about ART. It's an artificial device that is designed to propel you forward further than you otherwise would be able to. End of story.
So what about the MV-2's in particular? I think that the MV-2 takes the concept of natural running a bit further. It is the first zero-drop shoe in the Newton collection. Also, at 6oz. it is more in line with the weight of other minimal shoes.
Newton also should have gone a lot further. The MV-2 is supposed to be Newton's version of a minimal shoe. If that's the case,why not offer more features that minimal shoe wearers would enjoy? For example, put in a toe box that allows your foot to function naturally. The toe box on the MV-2 is shaped like that of a traditional racing flat. Also, get rid of the rough interior in favor of something that a person can wear without socks.
They also could have gotten rid of the ART on this model. I know that it's kind of Newton's "thing". I also think that it won't appeal to a lot of the minimalist crowd. For one, I felt like it didn't really work. In fact, it seemed to make running in the shoes harder. I'm not the only blogger that felt this way. Runblogger also noted that the ART really didn't seem to work. That could have been because the MV-2 is so stripped-down that the ART is unnecessary. It could also be because I'm used to using my own Action/Reaction Technology...i.e. "my feet". Either way, minimalists aren't going to like the idea of somethig artificial taking the place of a perfectly good fucntion of their body.
I also disliked that in order to even use the ART, I felt as though the MV-2 forced me into an unnatural gait. I actually had some trouble hitting the lugs in a way that caused them to activate. I'm a natural midfoot striker, and I only hit their back end. I had to modify my gait by pointing my toes in order to feel like I wasn't sinking in quicksand. I also had to pivot my toes in order to be propelled forward by the shoe. The result was a lot of stress on my ankles and calves.
So although I'm all for Newton's attempts to bring good form to a wider audience, I don't appreciate them trying to sell a minimalist bill of goods. If a company is going to market their shoes with the tag line "run like you were born to run", they better actually put the features in a shoe so that you actually can. This shoe isn't much of a minimal shoe at all. It's Newton racing flat and nothing more.
Will you folks like this shoe? If you like Newtons, then probably. If you're looking to adopt a healthier running stride, but don't want to jump right into minimalism, give them a try. But I think most minimalist runners should pass on it.