2. CUSHION: GOOD, BAD, OR EVIL?
How much cushioning do you need in a shoe? That’s been a hotly debated topic over the past 10 years. Studies have shown that running in shoes with less cushioning can reduce injuries, and yet there is plenty of reason to believe that shoes with more cushioning tend to feel better on your feet over the long haul. Still, it’s a very personal question and one only you can really answer. Part of it comes down to personal preference, but part of it is based on performance aspects, too. The lower your feet are to the ground, the more you can engage a proprioceptive sense of how your feet need to move over various aspects of terrain—for example, running over a rocky section of trail or training to maintain balance while maneuvering through Spartan obstacles.
Does that mean sacrificing comfort and some protection for nimbleness and agility? Yes, it might. On the contrary, if you’re wearing a highly cushioned shoe, you’ll have more protection and comfort but the proprioceptive connection with the ground will be a bit vague. Also, while speed is most efficiently derived from firmer shoes, it doesn’t entirely mean that softer cushioning means you’ll run slower. It means you have to weigh the benefits of how fast you want to go versus how comfortable you want to be for your 5-mile Spartan race or your 50K ultra-running event.
While many brands claim that their newfangled foam midsole components contribute additional energy return, that’s just not true. All foam midsoles absorb energy; it’s just that some of the new midsole components (including, among others, “Boost” from Adidas, “React” from Nike and “Everun” from Saucony) tend to lose less energy than traditional foam midsoles made from the standard EVA (a.k.a. ethylene vinyl acetate) foam used for decades. In other words, some of the new foams will seem to be more energetic than basic or traditional midsole materials, but really they’re less debilitating. But that’s a good thing!