A review of this Puma shoe which adapts to the shape of your foot when you run

Imagine what happens when a cat’s foot hits the ground at speed. The pads underneath its paw spread out and then, as the animal’s leg rises into the air, the pads contract.

This opening and closing of the paw is a natural movement and is what provides the animal with its cushioning. It is a simple, effective and attractive concept on which to build a new running shoe. It is also very appropriate given the brand that has had the idea is Puma.

Of course, the human foot uses the same principle, the only difference being there are no pads on a human foot and instead the bones in the foot, such as the metatarsals, spread out when hitting the ground before contracting again when in the air.

Now, Puma has built a shoe that mimics this action. Like a cat’s paw, it has flexible pads on the sole. A strong rubber band also winds its way through the outsole of the shoe in a figure of eight pattern to enhance the foot’s natural spring. It is called the Mobium and Puma believes it will lead to the creation of an entire new category of running shoes.

Athletics Weekly is in New York City to see the global launch of the Mobium. Journalists from running and athletics magazines in South Africa, Brazil, Netherlands and elsewhere have descended on the Big Apple to find out what it’s about.

Unusually, for a company who sponsor Usain Bolt, Puma has not used its trump card much to promote the new shoe. It is a bold move not to use every single opportunity to link Puma products with the fastest man on the planet, but in this case it is also quite understandable. This is a distance runner’s shoe, after all, whereas Bolt has bragged in the past about the fact he never runs more than 600 metres in training, even when warming up.

Saying that, this is not a shoe for a plodder. Neither is it a shoe for someone who wants to grind through 100 slow-ish miles per week.

Instead, the shoe, which retails for a competitive £85, is designed for runners with a neutral stride doing slightly faster, longer efforts, preferably on a firm surface so that the pads on the bottom of the shoe can effectively expand and contract.

Susan Partridge, Puma athlete and Scottish international marathoner, says: “I like them for longer tempo runs of 20-30 minutes. So when I want to run faster and feel the flexibility of the sole and the benefit of the lighter weight shoe, then that’s when I wear them most.

She adds: “When you put your foot down the sole actually expands with your foot, which is the natural movement of your foot, and it adapts to that and you can feel it, whereas other stiffer shoes you feel you have the cushioning but you don’t get the sole moving with your foot like the Mobium does.”

The word Mobium is derived from the Latin word for movement, while there is also a link to the Möbius band – a mathematical shape that is similar to the rubber band in the outsole of the shoe.

There is always a good team behind any big shoe launch but if any one man deserves credit for being the brainchild of the Mobium then it is Raymond Horacek. Head of footwear creative and design with Puma Japan, Horacek has worked on the design of the Mobium for the past two years and in New York he shows us drawings from the many various stages of the design, starting with rough outlines of the original idea through to the final versions.

He shows us the key features of the shoe:

»  Mobium Band: this weaves its way through the outsole in a “figure of eight” and is designed to work dynamically like the tendons in the foot. The more force applied, the more spring it returns. Puma believe this is the first shoe in the world to have a band such as this. To me, it looks like a weak point and I can imagine it eventually snapping, but Horacek surprises me by saying it was the toughest part during the stretching process. Andrew Wood, the Puma UK marketing manager, adds that when it comes to toughness it’s not so much like a rubber band but more like a bungee rope.

»  Windlass Chassis: this is built to mimic the Windlass Effect of a foot’s expansion and contraction as it moves. This sculpted arch creates a platform for the foot in movement, helping the foot transition through the full running gait. Mobium’s upper and outsole works in unison with the Windlass Chassis, so that the entire shoe moves the way the foot naturally does.

»  Expansion Pods: similar to the paws of a cat, which compress together during its propulsion phase and expand during stance phase to provide cushioning, these expansion pods on the outsole of the shoe expand and contract with the foot.  “We’re very lucky to have this very powerful and functional story at Puma,” said Horacek.

Puma believe this three-part system of design encourage runners to land on their mid-foot rather than heel-strike, which will result in less of a braking action. It was time, I thought, to test them out.

Where better to do this than Central Park? One of the best places in the world to go for a run, I headed out with about a dozen journalists and Puma staff for a 30-40-minute run, but after most had peeled off and bailed out I eventually did 70 minutes with Mark Miles, a recently-retired 29-minute 10km runner from Belgrave Harriers who has just started work this year for Puma UK. Snow was covering most of the grassy areas of Central Park and the path of the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir – a favourite training haunt of Paula Radcliffe during NYC Marathon race week – was frozen over due to the winter chill.

In short, the Mobium was an instant hit, providing everything Puma said it would. Despite our modest pace on this particular run, I felt the shoe nudging me on to my mid-foot as I ran. It provided a very comfortable ride and, if I’d wanted to put my foot down, suitably fast. Like the cat it stole its design from, the shoe also felt very sleek and agile. On a more simple level, it was not too heavy, nor too light.

I could imagine racing a marathon in these shoes, although my only disappointment was that it is not really recommended for off-road runs. This was entirely understandable, as the expansion pods need a firm surface on which to “work”, but since leaving New York I have in fact done quite a few off-road runs in the Mobium and they have gone perfectly well, especially if the off-road surface is quite firm and not too muddy or bumpy, so I would not entirely dissuade runners from taking these shoes off-road.

While the shoe is beautiful to run in – and the concept of the cat’s paw is magnificent – I’m also doubtful as to whether it will be as big a hit as Puma hope. Mary Taylor, Puma’s global head of footwear, describes it as a “game-changer” and that it will “change the paradigm in the category of performance running”.

I think Puma’s plan is for “adaptive running” shoes like this (and more are in the pipeline, presumably for other sports like football) to have their own section in the shops in the same way “barefoot running” shoes have created their own niche. In New York, the example was made of the iPad and how it has also bulldozed its way into its own section in stores.

Time will tell if this happens with adaptive running shoes such as the Mobium. Although, as Puma said at the launch, the design of their shoes is “not a destination but a journey”.

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