Brand: Newton Running
Name: Distance U – “Women’s Light Weight Universal Trainer”
Weight: 7.0 oz
Drop: 2 mm
Other: Action/Reaction Technology in the forefoot (“Land-Lever-Lift” lugs)
Newton Running shoes are, to put it simply, like no other running shoes I’ve ever encountered. It is very difficult for me to place the Newtons into a category of shoe (see: a rundown of the major categories of running shoes). Newtons certainly do not belong in the same category as minimalist, or especially not barefoot, shoes, as most models feature fairly thick soles. However, I also hesitate to call them transitional shoes, as they feature very minimal (0-4 mm) heel-toe drops and are designed to prevent you from heel-striking, not allow it, as some transitional shoes do. Truthfully, Newton really deserves a class of their own. They have managed to turn natural running into a science, producing technologically advanced shoes that feature lugs beneath the forefoot, designed to promote a mid-/forefoot running form. The best way I can think to describe them is as “Natural Running Trainers”. You can imagine then, because trying out and sharing new running technologies was a major driving force in creating this website, I was very excited to get my hands on a pair of these unique shoes. I chose a shoe from Newton’s Distance Series, specifically the Distance U, which is the stability version of the Newton Distance, a shoe that has been described by many as the “PR in a Box”.
In the interest of truthfulness with this review, I have to admit that I have very mixed feelings about the performance of the Newton Distance U. I’ve put in a good number of runs in them, and, every time, I’m left feeling somewhat disappointed. Everything I’ve read about these shoes suggests that even experienced forefoot runners will have to go through an adjustment/breakthrough period with Newtons, and perhaps I’m just not there, yet, but I just cannot get myself past the awkwardness I feel when I run in them. I think part of the problem might be that I have a stability model, which, I believe, means that it is stiffer in the forefoot than the original Newton Distance model.
At the time I received this shoe, I was experiencing some hip pain, so I thought the extra stability and padding might help me out on longer distances. Honestly, though, my feet just feel a little dead in them relative to my more minimalist- and barefoot-style shoes. It’s definitely harder for me to tell if my form is “correct” when I am unable to feel my feet responding to each foot strike as much as I can, for example, in a pair of FiveFingers or other minimally padded/cushioned shoe. Additionally, the relatively high stack height, combined with the presence of the lugs, makes me feel a bit unstable in the shoes. This, combined with the narrower toe box, also makes me uneasy about my form, as it is harder to be light on my feet when there is more padding there to protect my landing and a feeling of instability. Perhaps the added flexibility of the original Newton Distance might solve my issues with the performance of this shoe, but, for now, something is just not clicking.
That being said, I do recognize that some of the awkwardness I feel when I run in this shoe may be related to me needing to work on my running form and, because of that, I am not ready to give up on the Distance U. Newton advocates the “Land-Lever-Lift” approach, which takes advantage of the Action/Reaction Technology of the lugs on the sole of the shoe to promote proper forefoot running form. When I run in the Distance U, I can feel the lugs compress and respond as my foot hits the ground. I can see this being very useful to someone who is learning to run with a more natural form. It definitely helps to have a physical response from the shoe, and it is great to have a shoe that does not allow you to get lazy with your form when you get tired. I am a little skeptical that the lugs do that much to propel you forward when they decompress as you lift your foot, as Newton claims, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt!
One thing that has become apparent is the wearing of the lugs, which Newton indicates is supposed to be more pronounced in the first 30 miles of using the shoes. The wear that occurs is unique to each person, is dependent on their form, and differs between the left and right foot. Wear patterns in the lugs can clue the runner in to aspects of their form they may need to work on. In my case, most of the wearing occurs on the lug closest to the outside edge of my shoe, and, even more noticeably, the edge of the lugs closest to my toes on both feet. One thing I know I struggle with is simply lifting my feet, not pushing off on my toes, and the wear of these shoes seems to suggest that I may still be pushing off too much with my toes. It is great that Newtons are designed to show this wear so quickly without compromising the cushioning (and longevity) of the shoe and it, again, emphasizes the true “teaching ability” of Newton Running’s footwear.
The Newton Distance U does not necessarily lack on comfort, but it does feel more like a traditional shoe compared to other shoes I have reviewed for this blog, and, unlike many of my minimalist shoes, it is not a shoe I would want to spend all day walking around in. The lugs on the bottom of the Newtons feel a bit like a mini-speed bump when you walk over them, making walking in them a bit weird. The toe box is generous relative to many traditional running shoes, but not as generous as what I would consider a true minimalist/barefoot shoe, and as far as barefoot feel goes, there is virtually none. Of course, as I mentioned before, this is not really a minimalist shoe, it is a “Natural Running Trainer”, specially engineered to encourage a natural running form, while offering protection for your feet over any distance. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I have sensitive feet, and while I work hard to run lightly to avoid friction and blistering on the balls of my feet, I still run into this issue from time to time. I do not, however, encounter this when wearing my Newtons because of the extra cushioning. I should also mention that these shoes are remarkably lightweight considering how chunky, and heavily padded they may appear. The uppers are made of a relatively large-weave mesh, so they are incredibly breathable and not terribly constricting. One major gripe I have with the shoe is that the heel cup of the Distance U is a bit wide and the liner of the shoe is relatively slippery, making locking in my heels somewhat difficult, even when using an alternate lacing method. This is likely another contributing factor to the awkwardness I feel when I run in this shoe.
Newtons are a bit of an oddball when it comes to aesthetics. Although they are technologically advanced for a shoe, they do not have the same modern, sleek look as some of their running shoe brothers. I wouldn’t say they’re my favorite shoes aesthetically, especially because they look so chunky compared to all of my minimalist/barefoot shoes, but I appreciate the look Newton was going for with the Distance U. I am definitely a big fan of the bright colors they have chosen, and the 2012 models feature a few small changes that improve their overall look compared to earlier models. Of course, as expected for a shoe that costs $155, the materials and construction of the shoe are top notch. Although, in terms of durability, reports are that Newtons have a lifespan that is more typical of a traditional running shoe, making that $155 feel like a rather large price to pay every 300 miles or so when some shoes, like Skoras, are being hailed as holding up for thousands of miles.
- Shoe provides a physical response to promote a natural running form
- Quality materials and construction
- Turns running into a learning experience
- Bright, fun colors
- Surprisingly lightweight
- Not zero-drop (see my earlier post about how this may affect some, myself included, more than others)
- Narrower toe box than many minimalist or barefoot-style shoes
- Little to no ground feel (significant amount of cushioning)
- Lugs and high stack height may make some feel unstable
- Expensive when considering the shorter lifespan relative to some minimalist shoe options out there
Safe to say, wearing Newtons has definitely been a learning experience and I am interested to see what else I can learn from them about my running form. I will admit that it is possible that the stability model was just not the right choice for me. Since I really only became a runner after switching to minimalist shoes, I never thought much about whether I over- or under-pronate, which is something that tends to be more of an issue when heel-striking. Because a stability model is best for someone who over-pronates, and I may very well be a neutral runner or an under-pronator, I might just need a more neutral shoe. That, or the extra stiffness of the stability model may be throwing me off. Mixed feelings aside, I am not ready to give up on my Distance U’s. I know there are many other reviews out there from people who simply adore these shoes, so perhaps I am just the exception, or I have more work to do to become a more efficient and natural runner! For now, I find that I cannot recommend for or against others purchasing the Distance U. Time will tell, though, and I will be sure to update you if I finally find the Newton Zen that I know is out there.
Meagan is a geochemistry research lab manager, runner, Netflix binge-watcher, and Mom to a rescue dog, a bunny, and a human child. She started running in May 2011 and ran her first half marathon in October 2012, followed by her first marathon in October 2013. In July 2018, she joined the triathlon world and completed an Olympic-distance race. After an extended break (pregnancy/maternity leave), she is making a long-overdue return to running and is preparing for a high-elevation half marathon at Crater Lake National Park in August 2020.