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Running shoe review: ‘On’ Cloudsurfer delivers extra cushion for long runs

The 'On' Cloudsurfer wins the Swiss Federal Design Award.
The 'On' Cloudsurfer wins the Swiss Federal Design Award.

At first glance, the ‘On’ Cloudsurfer looks like a running shoe from a futuristic sci-fi film. Instead of treads, the outsole is compromised of individual “clouds” – hollow pods that collapse on impact to absorb your landing and then lock to allow a solid, barefoot-like push-off.

‘On’ was co-founded by world-class athlete Olivier Bernhard (triple world champion and six-time Ironman winner). 'On' recently won the 2013 Gold Award for the Best Performance Shoe and the Design Prize Switzerland. And even though the brand is relatively new to the scene, they’ve already attracted a number of top athletes including marathon legend Tegla Loroupe, and triathletes Caroline Steffen, Ben Allen and David Hauss.

I spent six weeks testing the ‘On’ Cloudsurfer, and was so impressed with the shoe’s cushioning, that it has become my “go to” shoe for long marathon training runs.

Like many people, I’ve been very interested in the “minimalist” running movement over the past few years, preferring lightweight trainers with a “barely there” feel. The ‘On’ Cloudsurfer is not a minimalist shoe. In fact, at 9.2 ounces in a women’s size 7, it’s a full three ounces heavier than my current trainers.

At first, I was skeptical about the 'On.' Compared to most of the shoes I’ve been running in, the Cloudsurfer felt a little bulky and stiff when I first put them on. But, I had also been suffering from a pinched nerve that was sending shooting pain down my hamstring, and part of me started to wonder if I needed something a little more substantial for my longer training runs.

My first run in the Cloudsurfer was a 15-mile, hilly course along a concrete path. I noticed the increased weight of the ‘On’ immediately, but within a few miles I grew accustomed to the extra bulk. Ten miles into the run, I realized that my hamstring, while still tweeked, wasn’t throbbing like it had been over the past few weeks.

I was optimistic, and decided to run in the Cloudsurfer for all of my training runs (including speed work), for the next two weeks. By the end of the period, my pain was gone. Was it a miracle, or was it the “clouds” on the bottom of the ‘On,’ absorbing the impact and allowing my nerve to heal without taking any time off? While I can’t say for sure, I do know that an injury that had lagged on for months without any improvement, was finally better.

If you’re used to running in a shoe with an extremely flexible sole, the ‘On’ will take some getting used to. The heel cup is also a little stiff, and the collar runs up a bit higher than some shoes, requiring me to wear ankle high socks to protect the back of my heel from rubbing. For me, that’s been a pretty small sacrifice to run pain free for the first time in months.

I highly recommend the ‘On’ Cloudsurfer for heavy runners, those looking for a shoe with more cushion and support for long runs, and people who just want to try a trainer with some innovative technology.

Tech specs: 7mm heel-toe offset Heel-toe offset; 9.2 ounces in a women’s size 7; 10 ounces in a men’s size 10.

The ‘On’ Cloudsurfer is available in specialty running stores and online for $139.99. ‘On’ also makes the “Cloudster,” the “Cloudracer” and the “Cloudrunner.”

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