Let me state openly at the outset of this review that my first experience with a pair of Newton running shoes was not a good one. In winter 2009 I received a pair of Newton Sir Isaac’s – I think this was the first pair of review shoes that I’d ever received – and I was quite excited since I had heard a lot abut Newton and thought the concept looked interesting. Turns out that despite the fact that I had been running in Nike Free 3.0’s and Vibram Fivefingers for 6-9 months at the time, I had a really hard time staying off my heels in the Sir Isaac’s. The shoes never really clicked with me, and I said as much when I wrote my Sir Isaac review.
Late last summer my friend Mark Cucuzzella, owner of the Two Rivers Treads Natural Running Store, convinced me to give Newton another chance and offered to send me a pair of Newton Distance Racers to try out. I agreed to give them a try, and I’m honestly quite happy that I did.
The Distance Racer is Newton’s lowest profile shoe, with a heel-forefoot drop of only 2mm. Despite this low ramp angle, Newton’s are far from what I would call a true minimalist shoe – and to their credit, they don’t claim to be minimalist. There is a healthy slab of firm midsole in the Distance Racer, and the measurements reported by Running Warehouse bear this out – 30mm heel, 28mm forefoot. Furthermore, the Distance Racers sport Newton’s trademark forefoot lugs, which compress and spring back with each step (see sole image below). In other words, there is quite a lot of material and technology underfoot. Despite this, weight is still kept reasonable, and my Distance Racers come in right at 8.6 oz in size 10.
What I have found from running in the Distance Racers is that the low heel-forefoot drop combined with the unusual feeling created by the protruding forefoot lugs makes these shoes an excellent choice for someone looking for a more substantial shoe that will still encourage a barefoot-style gait. I have found it quite easy to maintain my form in these shoes – a far better experience overall than I had with the Sir Isaacs. If you’ve never experienced the feel of Newton shoes, it really is a lot different than other running shoes. The forefoot lugs are immediately noticeable when you put them on, to the point where I don’t really enjoy walking in them. Any heel to toe rolling over the lugs makes you feel like you are hitting a speed bump, and this helps to encourage a midfoot or forefoot strike.
There is really quite a lot that I like about the Distance Racers. The upper is roomy and well constructed, and fit and feel are both excellent. In particular, the toebox is high-volume, making for a very roomy forefoot fit. I also like the wide open mesh used in the upper as it allows for fantastic ventilation. There is very little arch support, and the removable insoles are completely flat. I have run in these shoes both with and without the insoles, and the latter is a perfectly viable option and makes for an even roomier fit (as well as a firmer ride). From an aesthetic standpoint, this shoe hits my sweet spot – the neon yellow and red simply look great.
From a performance standpoint, I have been pleasantly surprised by the Distance Racers. In fact, lately I find myself grabbing them frequently, and I’ve recently turned in some amazing runs in these shoes (including a sub-34 5-miler and a sub-19:00 5K – both were solo time-trials and these times are near my best for each distance). I can’t say that the lugs actually provide any kind of meaningful propulsion, but there is something pleasant about the way they compress as your center of mass passes over the shoe.
If I have one gripe about the Distance Racers, and Newton shoes in general, it’s that making sharp turns in the shoes can be a bit sloppy. Because the lugs do not extend all the way to the sides of the sole (see photo above), cornering can cause you to feel a bit unstable on the forefoot – kind of a side-to-side rocking. Word is that Newton has developed the ability to make the lugs go all the way across the forefoot to the edges on each side, and this will appear first in their 5.8 oz MV2 Speed Racer flat set to be released in the not too distant future (you can see the Newton MV2 Speed Racer here in the June issue of SGB Performance).
It’s also worth mentioning the other drawback of Newton shoes: price. Like all other Newton shoes currently on the market, the Distance Racers are an investment at $155. I have heard many people say that they get a lot more miles out of a pair of Newton’s than they do out of other shoes, so the cost may be justified. I will also say that I think highly enough of this shoe that I bought a pair for my wife to rotate along with her Vibram Bikilas – getting her to work on her form seems to have mostly resolved a chronic hip issue that she had been dealing with up until last Fall (her experience is one of the reasons why I’m such a believer in this stuff!).
All in all, I have been impressed with the Distance Racers, and suspect that they will retain a regular spot in my shoe rotation. Even moreso, I have been impressed by Newton as a company. I have had the opportunity to speak with Ian Adamson, Newton’s director of product development, on several occasions, and met him in person at a running injury conference in Shepherdstown, WV back in January. What comes across clearly in talking to Ian is that Newton genuinely believes in their product and the virtues of natural running, and they are strong advocates of getting directly involved in running communities through educational outreach and training workshops. I’m apparently not the only one who thinks that Newton has a unique and positive approach, as just this past week news came out that former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman has invested 20 million dollars in Newton Running Company – big things appear to be ahead for Sir Isaac!
The Newton Distance Racer can be purchased at Running Warehouse.