(Nitin Vadukul)

Great Strides

The latest road runners fit better, feel faster, and work almost as hard as you do

Michael Frank

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RUNNING-SHOE MANUFACTURERS peek at each other’s homework all the time. Need proof? Compare the eight kicks on the pages that follow—this year’s best in show—and you’ll see that they share some notable breakthroughs. More shoemakers are using mesh in the uppers, which helps your feet breathe better, even during sweltering summer workouts. You’ll also find plenty of fusion welding, a process new to the athletic footwear market that involves bonding materials with heat and glue (rather than stitching) to increase durability without adding weight. And many designers are lightening up, going easier on the shock-absorbing air/gel/fluid cushions under the heels—good stuff that can weigh down shoes when overused. These and other innovations have been rolled out in a range of models, so whether you need a swift racer for your next 10K or beefed-up trainers for pre-marathon regimens, you’ll have no trouble finding a pair to kick your style.

If you’re in the market for a long-distance trainer, the MIZUNO WAVE MAVERICK 2 is your personal lace-up Lexus: It’s fast, plush, and exceedingly stable. Mizuno extends a light rubber-and-plastic plate from the back of the 11.2-ounce shoe through the arch to control heel strike. This sends your energy forward more smoothly. Deflecting impact are small elastomers—imagine a set of miniature plastic shock absorbers—placed under the heel and across the toe bar. Roll off ten miles in these and you’ll groove on how they keep you under control without sapping anything from your stride. ($85; 800-966-1211,
At a paltry 9.5 ounces, NIKE’s AIR ZOOM SPIRIDON is the lightest shoe in our roundup. It’s also extremely breathable, with a full mesh upper that kept my feet dry during a 90-degree workout. High marks go to the pillowy cushioning of Phylon foam, Nike’s version of expanded vinyl acetate, or EVA, in the midsole and outsole. And with the synthetic-leather exoskeleton, which locks your foot snugly in the shoe, the Spiridon is more versatile than a mere racer. ($100; 800-595-6453,

With a stiff plastic shank tucked into the midsole, SAUCONY’s GRID VISION is as sturdy as a Hummer. But this 13.4-ounce rig also feels fast. That responsiveness comes courtesy of the shoe’s fusion-welded upper, which optimizes each stride by cutting wasteful lateral movement, a godsend for big runners. Springier EVA in the toe shoots you out of each step, and triangular lugs on the outsole deliver the best wet-road traction of any shoe we tested. ($130; 800-365-7282,

To borrow a line from Howlin’ Wolf, the ASICS GEL-CREDD PLUS is built for comfort, not speed. On an hour-plus jaunt, I really appreciated the gel pods under the heel and ball of the foot—not to mention the forefoot cradle, which combines a supportive arch and lateral grooves in the front of the outsole. This improves takeoff while preventing injurious ankle rolling. Another fave of mine: a cutout for the Achilles tendon, with foam that molds to your ankle as this 12.5-ounce luxury cruiser heats up. ($110; 800-678-9435,

PEARL IZUMI’s PUSH is a cushioning shoe that rolls faster than its paunchy 12 ounces might suggest. You can credit better fit, courtesy of a breathable polyester-mesh upper that’s fusion-welded directly to the midsole, eliminating the slop often associated with stitched models. The Push adds stability with silicone inserts in the heel and forefoot and an anatomic footbed with a molded heel cup and sturdy arch support—features that really shine when you gotta hit the gas and need excellent grip. ($80; 800-328-8488,

The 2 in the BROOKS GLYCERIN 2 sums up this shoe’s dual personality. On one hand, it’s a superstable high-mileage trainer. On the other, it’s pure fun. Brooks corrects an off-kilter gait with rubberized EVA in the midsole. Up front, a pair of plastic plates prevent over-rotation at the end of the stride. And the feel? Au naturel. Heck, 45 minutes into a pleasant morning run, I realized that this 12.5-ouncer’s corrective qualities didn’t slow me down. Liquid silicone in the heel and the ball of the foot helps, too, absorbing shock and adding a lively spring to each step. ($100; 800-227-6657,

At 10.2 ounces, the NEW BALANCE 833 is exceptionally light—and all about speed. It may look flimsy, but it delivers control to runners blessed with a normal gait. Designers shaved weight by cementing a seamless mesh upper to the midsole. But the real performance key is the plastic “cage” that wraps around the arch, providing just enough midfoot containment to keep your step in line. The 833 is available in several widths, so there’s still room on board for custom footbeds. ($85; 800-253-7463,
The ADIDAS CLIMACOOL II is more sieve than shoe, with a net sock for a forefoot upper and nylon-mesh “windows” everywhere—even under the forefoot. These ports turn the whole package into a podiatric exhaust fan, drawing in air from the arch and expelling it through the sides and tongue with each stride. Bonus: The 11.9-ounce ClimaCool II is nice and cushy—with soft EVA-like material in the heel and firmer support under the forefoot—but flexible enough to feel like a sprinter. ($100; 800-423-4327,

Big boosts in tasty packages

Every year, sports-nutrition companies release a tsunami of new drinkables and edibles tailored to your body’s energy needs, but this is one instance when too many choices is a good thing: It means you’re less likely to swallow a high-performance sports drink, gel, or energy bar that tastes like medicine or sawdust. Given the performance benefits, it’s worth se

Propel; $1.39; Low-calorie enhanced water (30 calories/24 oz) Vitamins C and E, and B vitamins to aid digestion Low-cal hydration designed for sub-one-hour workouts and with extra antioxidants to boot. Goes down real easy.
SoBe Sports System; $1.39; Sports drink (175 calories/20 oz) Caffeine, vitamins A and E, glucosamine for joints, and glutamine for recovery Supersweet refueling carbohydrates best taken after a workout. A caffeinated punch adds to its powers of rejuvenation.
Fuze Replenish; $1.39; A vitamin- and herb-infused soft drink (160 calories/18 oz) Creatine for strength, and twice the RDA of vitamin C The creatine is a postworkout strength boost, while all the vitamin C helps boost your immunity.
Clif Bar, Lemon Poppyseed; $1.59; A 230-calorie energy bar made from organic ingredients Vitamins A, C, and E, soy protein, iron, copper, and calcium A vitamin-and-mineral whopper of a meal to go. One bar a day while exercising supplies all of your nutraceutical needs.
PowerBar Energy Bites, Peanut Butter Crisp; $1.59; A 210-calorie crispy PowerBar in bite-size nuggets Vitamins C and E, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, calcium, and soy protein By popping a few Bites every ten minutes, you’ll experience the sustained energy of a nugget-by-nugget time-release power bar.
Honey Stinger Gel; $1.39; A 120-calories-per-serving energy gel Sodium and potassium, and B vitamins to assist metabolism Easy-to-digest energy and B vitamins in a gel form. Plus, with its new chocolate flavor, you can make a mean peanut-butter-and-choco-honey sandwich.
From Outside Magazine, Jul 2003 Lead Photo: Nitin Vadukul

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