Feel the Foam
Comfort is increasingly king in running shoes, and companies are trying new methods to improve the feel underfoot. If you lift the sock liner out of your shoe, you’ll see that the upper is stitched to a flat piece of fabric that is glued to the sole. This piece is called a “strobel board,” and is a big improvement over the rigid, cardboard-like boards that used to hold the upper to the sole. But, in order to hold the upper securely when it is being stretched over the last (a 3-D foot-shaped mold) during construction, the strobel needs to be made of a robust, non-stretch material. After being saturated in glue, this fabric layer still blocks some of the feel of high-tech squishy and bouncy material that makes up the midsole.
Bottom line: Shoes get more comfortable and provide smoother cushioning.
Bring on the Bounce
Not long ago, we thought of shoes as either cushioned—providing comfort—or firm—giving a fast, responsive ride. Now, we’re increasingly seeing companies marketing nuances in the cushioned end of the spectrum, promising shoes that offer responsive, bouncy cushioning as well as those with soft, coddling rides. Adidas defined this new bouncy category with its Boost models, and now is inserting the game-changing material in all of their styles. While such materials don’t actually add energy to the propulsion of your stride, they may provide savings in the energy cost of landing and taking off, making you more efficient (adequate research has yet to prove this). In any event, these midsoles create a different sensation, one that many runners appreciate.Bottom Line: More variety in shoe feel to suit your preferences, and a wealth of options for those who like a snappy, quick-turnover ride but want to be cushioned from the road as well.
Return of Rubber
Remember when most shoes had thin little strips of rubber over mostly exposed midsoles? With oil prices low and a renewed emphasis on traction and durability, we’re seeing more rubber and high quality compounds. Nearly every company has its “proprietary” rubber, a synthetic blend that promises to grip the road or trail and/or wear longer, or they are partnering with a high-end rubber manufacturer like Vibram or Continental. Road shoes are getting substantial rubber triangles and wavy patterns that harken back to early running shoes of the 70s.
Bottom Line: Better durability, more traction on road and trail.