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Sunday, November 18, 2012
Can cushioned shoes give faster results?

By Stuart Miller
ESPN The Magazine

Shoe Illustration
On's shoes have more support than minimalist sneakers, featuring rows of rubber pods on the sole called clouds.
Editor's note: This story appears in the Nov. 26 issue of ESPN The Magazine. Subscribe today!

Forget barefoot running. Sneakers of the future provide soft landing -- and faster times.

Swiss Ironman competitor Caroline Steffen has always excelled in swimming and cycling, but in triathlons, two out of three actually is bad.

So heads turned this year when Steffen, 34, began to excel in the one leg that has always held her back. In this year’s Ironman World Championship, she improved her running time by seven minutes from 2011 to 3:08:08 and finished a close second in the women’s division.

“I’m running like I never have before,” Steffen says.

The secret to her success? Not a new workout regimen but simply a new pair of shoes.

After years of the “barefoot” running craze and its resulting minimalist shoes, the trend is swinging back toward cushioning. Steffen’s game-changing sneakers, made by a tiny Swiss startup called On, include rows of rubber pods on the sole called clouds, which absorb shock and help an athlete conserve energy.

Major shoe companies like Brooks are beginning to make better-cushioned sneakers as well.

A study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology found that On’s shoes can cut a runner’s heart rate and blood lactate concentration enough to improve athletic performance.

But Steffen doesn’t need convincing.

She says her Cloudracer shoes, designed by former champion triathlete Olivier Bernhard, not only help her run faster in races but have revolutionized her training plan.

“I’m doing up to 20 percent more kilometers each week over last year,” she says. “Each step is more efficient, and over long distances that’s a pretty big deal.”

On sneakers quick facts:

• On's shoes are lightweight but offer more support than barefoot sneakers.

• Clouds at the heel are thickest, creating a cushioned landing.

• Clouds near the toe are thinner, allowing for a powerful push-off.

Read more at the On website.