>8/2/13: Shoe Review - The NKOTB is the Newton EnergyNR

- By Staff Contributor, Nick Cunkelman

Product claims are as common in the running shoe market as neon colors are on our dear shoe wall these days, and Newton Running is no exception on both fronts. The claim? “Newton Running shoes help runners achieve a faster, more efficient, and injury-free midfoot/forefoot running form.”  The neon craze? Walk into any Marathon Sports location and take note of this Boulder, CO-based brand’s Crayola-crayon color schemes bedazzling our shoe wall. Yet bold assertions and fashion aside, it is hard to ignore the fact that in the past few years—as more and more runners become interested in so-called “natural running”—the Newton brand has become increasingly relevant to the discussion. Trouble was—with Newton catering to its cult-like “natural/barefoot” following—many didn’t have a shoe in the Newton line designed exclusively for them.   


They do now. The EnergyNR is Newton’s “transition” shoe, built for those switching to the brand from more conventional running shoes. In this review, we’ll explain first how Newton defines “convention” (leading to how the Energy fits into its line), how this definition compares to Newton’s “natural running” philosophy, and conclude by taking the Energy for a test drive.


To begin, if you take only one word away from Newton, let it be this: offset, offset, offset. Unlike most other brands, who tend to organize their shoes into “Neutral,” “Stability,” or “Control” categories based on the degree to which a shoe has support to correct for excessive motion in the ankle—be it via dense foam, an accentuated plastic plate, or a mixed-material approach on the inner side of the shoe—Newton categorizes its shoes by the difference between the heel height and the forefoot height—the offset.  Newton works beyond “convention” – defined as high offset shoes, say around 12mm - regardless of the support level.   Conventional footwear that is classified as “Neutral,” “Stability,” or “Control” shoes all have a 12mm offset – give or take.


Newton, on the other hand, builds shoes that have between a 0mm and 6mm offset. This “level” approach to running shoe design works to “help runners achieve a…midfoot/forefoot running form” by taking away the thick heel found in conventional running shoes—a design feature intended to “catch” the heel in the gait cycle, keep the Achilles loose, and reduce the risk of Achilles hyperextension. Picture a swingset where plush-seated swings are momentarily stopped before they reach the bottom of their “swing arc,” and you have convention (the “plush” is midsole foam with air bubbles providing the cushioning). Now picture a swingset where wooden-seated swings move freely through that arc, and you have Newton. Indeed, for Newton, “natural running” is landing with your weight directly below your center of gravity (i.e. bottom of the arc), with a more forward contact point on your foot, and in a shoe with a firm feel and minimal energy loss at each foot strike. Newton calls this last design feature its Action/Reaction technology, which is made up of actuator “lugs” on the outsole that push into an air chamber in the midsole at foot strike, return to their original shape after toe-off, and return this energy into forward propulsion. Newton’s “metatarsal sensor plate”—a piece of plastic built into the forefoot of the shoe above the air chamber—gives the shoes a firm feel, letting your neuromuscular system adjust to the ground beneath you in that fraction of a second for which you make contact.


The Energy, then, is Newton’s “transition” shoe in that they feature a high offset (6mm) with lower-profile “lugs” on the outsole (i.e. not as noticeable with each step.) Like the MV3, Newton’s racing flat, the Energies also have five lugs spread across the midfoot as well as a crease in the forefoot for enhanced flexibility. Weighing in at 9 ounces, the Energy is not the lightest shoe Newton makes (again, look to the MV3), but it is certainly lighter than most high-offset neutral trainers and, in practice, makes up for its lower heel with its low-profile lugs. Indeed, if you’ve never run in a Newton before (or low offset shoe for that matter), you will notice that these shoes seem to want you on your midfoot/forefoot—almost like they have a sweet spot. Yet thankfully—again, considering you’ve never run in a Newton before—the lower-profile lugs are more forgiving if you don’t hit that sweet spot. (The Distance, Gravity and Motion, for example, all with more accentuated lugs, would be less so.) And with its “skater-style” upper and price point at $119.99, the Energy is a refreshing new addition to the Newton lineup and a shoe ideal for those that have had success in conventional neutral shoes—like the Mizuno Wave Rider, Asics Gel-Cumulus, Brooks Ghost, New Balance 880, Nike Pegasus, or Saucony Ride—and are curious about “natural running.” Just be sure to transition slowly, get a proper fit (ball of the foot over the middle of the lugs), and don’t ignore your form. And as always, if you have any questions, do come by our locations soon, and in the meantime, happy running!


The Newton EnergyNR is currently available at all Marathon Sports locations, and will be featured at the Timberman 70.3 Expo later this month in New Hampshire.