Monday, October 9

Testing Velocy "anti-gravity" shoes

I got involved as a Wear Tester for Velocy after seeing the company's advertisement in the September '06 Runner's World. That issue featured a three-page ad for Reebok that had a great picture of an elite runner -- clearly landing on her forefoot -- while selling shoes that claimed to potentiate the "natural" motion of the foot from heel strike through to toe-off. The issue also had a review of shoes: all aimed at heel strikers. Velocy stood out as the only manufacturer even aware that forefoot striking was something that should be encouraged.

Visiting the website, I signed up as a tester and they sent me a pair of Velocy Veloz 101s to test.

I liked them straight out of the box. For one thing, here's a man's shoe that isn't grey, white or black. The bright blue contrast stripes of the Veloz 101s made a nice change. The obvious second impression was that these shoes are, well, "substantial". They are solidly made. Very solid, as it turns out. They weigh in at 2lb a pair (in men's US 10.5), making them the heaviest training shoe I've run in this year. For comparison: Asics Gel Kayanos are 1.8lb on my scale and Adidas Supernova Cushion are 1.6.

The fit is generous in the length. Compared to these other shoes (all 10.5), the 101s were a bit on the large size and I could probably have worn a 10.

Out on the road, the shoes felt hard underfoot. This is obviously due to the extended rigid forefoot support which does not have much covering/tread on it. I was concerned at the amount of impact being directly transmitted and it was a relief to get on a slightly softer cinder trail. As a natural midfoot/forefoot runner, I was immediately looking to see how these shoes would help me. I couldn't work out whether they were getting in the way or not. The impact factor continued to worry me. However, when I got back to the house, I realized that I was not suffering from the usual side-effects of a run on a hard surface. My sore Achilles tendon was not bothering me, and I had no calf pain in either legs. This was a good result, repeated as I got more suited to the shoes and was able to try to run faster in them. But there was a significant downside; maybe because of the size and weight, the shoes continued to feel "clunky", even after a few runs to get used to them, and I fell twice on familiar ground, almost turning an ankle on one of the falls. After that run, I stopped wearing them on trail runs because they felt too stiff and unresponsive to be safe for me.

I would love to tear the shoes apart to see what the inside technology is. The Velocy website explains that they have developed "Forward Gravity" technology to "shift the emphasis of support from the heel to the forefoot". As far as I can tell from the outside, the forefoot support is achieved by making the shoe almost completely rigid, so that the toe spring is maintained whatever the foot tries to do. The rigid, hard plastic under the arch extends right under the forefoot, is partly exposed and, where it is not, has a very thin layer of cushioning and tread. There is not the slightest suggestion of the transverse grooves that many manufacturers include as a nod to helping dorsiflexion.

As far as flexibility in the forefoot goes, these are the stiffest shoes I have ever worn that still claim to be running/training shoes. They are built more like street shoes with a training shoe tread. Certainly this provides more support for the forefoot; over long distance training this might save some energy. The effect of the rigid forefoot support is that when you toe off, instead of most of the shoe (and foot) getting left behind and having to be pulled through using muscle power -- as happens with "conventional" shoes -- the forefoot plate acts a little like a loaded spring and powers the rest of the shoe/foot into the toe off.

The cost is that this interferes with the natural movement of the foot, and in my case I found this a little off-putting. It may be that I just need more time to get used to them.

Giving Velocy this feedback, I also told them, in mitigation, that I am well clued up on various attempts to promote more efficient use of the feet. I have trained in Alexander Technique, Chi Running and the Pose Method. For walking and running, I have tried everything from Nike Frees to MTBs, to Puma High Streets and the Kevlar-equipped Vivo Barefoot, and have raced in old-style Nike Frees, conventional Asics racing flats, lightweight "trail" shoes (LA Sportiva Slingshots) and the minimalistic Nike Mayflies. I also emphasised that I was a natural fore-foot runner who has spent the last two years working on form and gait and developing a forward lean.

The Velocy patent pending technonology does not, in my opinion, do what the website says it will do: "allows humans to maintain a forward lean in the direction of movement like our animal counterparts". I can't say I noticed it helped me do that.

The Veloz 101s have this rigid forefoot technology coupled with what appears to be a "standard" amount of cushioning and support in the heel. Why? The only reason I can think of is that while the company is (rightly) critical of other manufacturers who focus on providing the majority of protection in the heel, they are still designing their shoes for heel strikers. I would like to see a more radical shoe designed for out and out forward-leaning, forefoot runners who only land momentarily on their heels.

The Velocy shoes may represent a new way of encouraging heel-strikers to adopt a more efficient foot strike, but the 101s do hold the foot rigidly and do not allow natural flexion or lateral movement. As a lightly built, low mileage, natural forefoot runner, maybe I am the wrong user for these shoes. I don't think I need the amount of control/help the 101s offer. For my gait, they just get in the way.

* See the Velocy range and technical explanation here.

Meanwhile, at Runner's World:

Saturday, August 12, 2006 1:53 PM
Runner's World Letters

Is there embarrassment all round at Reebok?

What I'm talking about is their super-duper, full-color, fold out, three-page advertisement for shoes designed for heel-strikers that is illustrated by a great picture of an athlete who is blatantly NOT a heel-striker. (September).

Seriously. Why is the running shoe industry obsessed with heel strike? 90% of elite runners are midfoot/forefoot strikers (like the one in the ad)
Wouldn't manufacturers better serve customers by preaching proper biomechanics, gait and form?

Heel striking is braking. It's what you do when you want to slow down. Heel striking is biomechanically inefficient and leads to injury. Especially when shoes are padded so much that they allow runners to (temporarily) get away with heel striking with locked knees.

In the same issue you had what you called "Fall's Best New Shoes". Why did you not include in your review the new Velocy (advertised page 98 in the same issue), a shoe actually designed to encourage runners to run "with gravity" and get off their heels? It is the only genuine breakthrough technology we've seen all year.

Simon Martin,
Boulder, Colorado.

* RW didn't publish this, and I didn't get a reply, but Reebok are not using the same runner in their ads any more.

* Original piece about Velocy on this blog is here.

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