Weird Foot Forward: Mesh Shoe with 'Metatarsal Lugs'

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

With bright, happy color schemes, foam-like outsole materials, high price tags, and a weird underfoot “actuator lug” technology that serious runners sometimes dismiss as a gimmick, upstart Newton Running came to the market a few years back as not just another Nike knock-off. The shoes in the company’s original line, which I positively reviewed back in 2007, can dramatically change a runner’s stride and style, mainly via the aforementioned actuator lugs, which are little strips of rubber that protrude a quarter-inch off the forefoot area of the sole.

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Newton shoes have “actuator lugs” that protrude from the forefoot area of the sole

Newton shoes encourage a mid-foot or fore-foot stride; conversely, they discourage the dreaded heel-strike style of running, which Newton notes as “unnatural.” For me, Newton shoes were indeed instrumental in improving my running style, and for two years I ran many training miles on the road (and three or four marathons) in a pair of orange and white Newtons that never broke down.

But over time I noticed my Newtons dwelling in the closet and never seeing use. With my running style “corrected” or relearned, my original Newton shoes began to seem overbuilt, and the “lugs” were not necessary to guide my gait — I was landing on my mid-foot with little heel-strike, making the corrective lugs unneeded. Further, my shoe of choice had shifted to a lighter, more minimal product like New Balance’s Minimus line or, for trails, fell-running shoes from Inov-8 and La Sportiva.

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Men’s MV2 — mesh body and “actuator lugs” on the sole

This month Newton releases a model for runners like me who now want a shoe that’s lighter and faster. The company’s MV2, pronounced “M-V-squared,” is a build trimmed back substantially from the original Newton design. Ounces are shaved and the shoe is more flexible. The upper on the MV2 is a thin mesh, though turn the shoe over and Newton’s “articulating lugs” are still there. Indeed, the company even added a lug — the MV2 is equipped with five tiny rubber pads said to align with the foot’s five metatarsal bones.

My size 13 shoes weigh 7.7 ounces each — light! The MV2 has zero drop, meaning the sole is flat and the heel has no rise. In fact, when you walk around in the MV2s there is a “negative drop,” as your toes are propped slightly up on the lugs that line the front of the sole.

Walking in the Newtons feels weird. But once you stride forward to run the shoes’ touted encouragement of a “natural-running style” is apparent in a few steps. The lightweight build combined with a racing-flat design makes them scream “sprint” as you jog. The lugs under your foot bones almost force you to land on the front of your foot, a style that perpetuates a higher step cadence and, for many people, a quicker pace.

I have run about 20 miles in the MV2s, so my opinions are not completely formed. So far, I like the shoe. It is comfortable and fast. The lugs, which I am used to from past Newton experience, are very noticeable — experienced runners tempered to racing flats might find the lugs intrusive on their style.

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Women’s MV2 model

Ostensibly, with its light weight and lack of “support,” the MV2s are made for experienced runners already in tune with their stride. To me, the lugs are kind of like training wheels to learn how to run with a new style; how this formula translates to the (again, ostensibly) experienced runners to which Newton markets the MV2 is to be seen.

Granted, the zero-drop, minimal build of the MV2 mimics the current design zeitgeist in the running world. There is a market for it. Further, beyond the “training shoe” design, Newton touts its actuator lugs as having a spring effect that gives its shoes a tiny boost as the rubber lugs compress and rebound with each step. I have never noticed this effect to any perceptible level, though if it’s there even to a small measure as Newton cites, the rebound feature would help newbie and advanced runners alike.

For me, the minimal MV2 so far is comfortable and fast. You can run easily on the lugs under the forefoot and remain in a running mode that is forward, aggressive (or “natural,” as is the current buzzword) easily in this shoe. A bonus, the lugs, no matter their intended effect, also dampen the blow on each stride unlike other shoes in this lightweight class which can feel much more harsh.

The MV2 is being shipped to stores this fall. It costs $125 and comes in a men’s and women’s version. If you’re a serious runner looking for a unique minimal shoe, try out the MV2 at a shop to see if its style is a fit. Burgeoning intermediates wanting to correct their stride could seek this shoe, too, though one of Newton’s more “normal” models like its Gravity shoe might be a better choice. Either way, with Newtons you can lace up, start moving, and you’ll be set to run at a new and different pace.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.

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