Years ago, a shoe was sold that was a delight for natural heel-strikers such as I. That was the classic Nike Air Pegasus with the rugged polyurethane heel. The “poly” heel was virtually indestructible and ensured a solid heel plant with every step; it offered a consistent reward for a certain type of runner. That shoe was also blessed with an extremely flexible, blown rubber forefoot.
Running shoe construction is different these days and heel striking is something that is going out of favor. Thus, we have lowered heel running shoes and seemingly softer, and less durable, materials in the rear. Some running shoe companies seem to have adopted a goal of transforming heel strikers into mid-foot and forefoot landers.
With this as background, it was a surprise to run in this year’s edition of the On Cloudrunner, a shoe “[e]ngineered in Switzerland.” It’s a different type of running shoe, as is apparent when you look at the 15 Cloud Tec elements – or lugs, on the outsole. These lugs (smaller and softer in front, larger and firmer in the rear) are meant to absorb both vertical and horizontal shock. Despite the hollowness of the construction, the lugs offer Nike Air-like (or Zoom Air-like) protection against external forces – forces like concrete and asphalt.
My test pair, provided by On, came in an Anthracite and Methyl color combination, one that I would describe as dark gray and turquoise. Perhaps because of its Swiss roots, the shoe presents a message of being seriously functional rather than frivolous. No doubt, some will find it to be too European/industrial-looking – like an athletic shoe you would find at Ikea, if they sold such things. However, On does offer a striking 7.9 ounce Cloudracer flat for those who desire a flashy shoe.
The Cloudrunner is a mid-weight shoe at 11.5 ounces and despite being a neutral shoe, it offers some stability. I found the fit (a half-size up from walking shoe size) to be somewhere between medium and narrow with a uniquely-angled toe box that provides plenty of room for toe wiggling. The toe box is exemplary in being extremely flexible.
Two sets of laces, one in Anthracite and one in Methyl, come with the Cloudrunner. The laces stay tied. The wide-apart lacing pattern means that the shoe does not feel tight while you are jogging along. (I generally dislike running shoes with this type of lacing pattern but it did not present any issues this time around.)
This is not a shoe in which to spend much time walking. As with Newton running shoes, the outer sole lugs make walking feel quite awkward, and there are far more lugs on the Cloudrunner than on a pair of Newtons. To its credit, the Cloudrunner – the motto of which is, “I make concrete easy” – provides a good ride on concrete and an even better one on asphalt. This shoe, in fact, was seemingly made for running on asphalt. I’m less sure of the notion that runners will experience the “running on a cloud” feeling with this shoe; instead they may find it to be firm.
The Cloudrunner midsole is built of a high quality EVA and it is likely to be extremely durable. Heel strikers will joyfully find that the heel, supported by the largest external lug, is firm and stiff. It may be the closest shoe to the classic Pegasus in terms of delivering a tenaciously solid heel plant.
The Cloudrunner is a trainer that would seem to be perfect for mid-range to long-distance runs, and it should perform quite competently as an event day racer, from a 5K to the half-marathon distance. I wish I had had these shoes on my feet when I ran my first half-marathon. And the second.
For most runners, these shoes should get the job done. For heel strikers, the party’s on at On!