That's according to shoe expert Dr. Paul Langer, a podiatrist with Minnesota Orthopaedic Specialists in Minneapolis, and a veteran runner with two dozen marathons, several triathlons and the Ironman under his belt.
"Running shoe design hasn't radically changed in 20 years," he said.
But Newton Running, a new company from Boulder, Colorado, that recently shipped its debut line of high-end shoes (read: $175 a pair), has Langer singing a slightly new tune.
Indeed, Langer--who is not alone in his assessment--goes as far as saying that what Newton has done is among the biggest running shoe innovations in recent memory.
"The jury is still out on performance, but there's no doubt the company is trying something new and intriguing," Langer said.
So what has Newton (www.newtonrunning.com) done? The shoes feature rubber lugs--called "actuators"--that extend a quarter inch or so from the base of the forefoot region on the sole to mimic a barefoot running style, attempting to promote a more efficient and natural running technique. According to the company, the design minimizes detrimental heel striking, promotes forefoot striking, increases speed and prevents injury with some runners.
There's also a claim that the actuators rebound you into each new stride, contracting on impact, absorbing energy, then springing you forward in a fit of, well, Newtonian physics.
In addition, the shoes are fairly lightweight--the Gravity model I tested are about 11 ounces per foot--and they have a mushy, dead-feeling heel, further egging you to strike on your forefoot.
Did I mention they cost $175 a pair?
Dr. Langer has two pair of Newtons, but when I ran with him in late August he'd not yet put enough miles on the shoes to make any final conclusions.
In my testing--which has included about 200 miles over two months on the Gravity model--I've come to love the shoes. They keep me upright, forward and feeling fast. They are well designed, good looking and comfortable. (They'd better be all that for $175 a pair.)
Are they miracle shoes? For some runners, maybe. I am a perfect candidate for Newtons, as I land on my heel when I get lazy but am a natural forefoot striker. These shoes reinforce that forefoot stride, keeping me running fast and efficient by encouraging me to land on the actuators, which are right under my forefoot region.
The Gravity shoes have worn well, too. The actuators show signs of use, with the front tip of the lugs now rubbed off and angling down from repeated pavement pounding. But it's been 200 hard miles, and I'll likely get another 200 miles out of the shoes before they're dead. That's a normal lifespan, according to Dr. Langer.
Newton makes some big claims with its fancy new footwear. You pay a pretty price to try it out, and depending on your running style there may be fewer gains.
As for the company's claim of rebounding actuators that spring you into each stride, I'm not sold that this is noticeable. For me the advantages have been the shoes' great fit, the subtle stride-enhancing details and the position they put my foot in to better run the race.
Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit www.thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.