Richard Drew  /  AP
A pair of $250 Adidas 1 computerized running shoes, worn by AP editor Frank Bajak, is shown in New York on April 26. The shoes adjust their cushioning every time the foot swings upward off the ground.
updated 4/26/2005 7:53:34 PM ET 2005-04-26T23:53:34

Ken Bob Saxton, the ebullient evangelist of running barefoot, got a lot of attention at last week’s Boston Marathon with his simple message: Runners would, on the whole, suffer far fewer injuries if they unshod themselves.

Saxton has a point.

I cringe when I see runners who lack a fluid gait. My knee and hip joints ache just watching as they literally pound the pavement.

Avoiding injury in running comes with good mechanics.

The world’s first computerized shoes, Adidas 1, won’t teach you how to stride with the grace and economy of Abebe Bikila or Zola Budd — to name a pair of famous barefoot runners.

But this footwear actually does help. Every time the foot swings upward off the ground, the shoes adjust their cushioning to the individual wearer’s running style and pace and to changes in terrain.

$250 price tag
OK, but do the benefits justify the — gasp — $250 price tag?

Let’s first consider what you’re getting.

These shoes are no gimmick. Adidas engineers spent three years developing them in secrecy at the company’s North American headquarters in Portland, Ore.

Each shoe contains a microprocessor capable of making 5 million calculations per second. A magnetic sensor in the shoe’s heel measures its compression on impact, taking 1,000 readings per second.

A secret algorithm (Adidas engineer Mark Oleson says they intentionally omitted it from the patent) then decides on the optimal amount of cushioning required.

To achieve that, a tiny electric motor, spinning at 6,000 rpm, turns a metal rod that adjusts the hollow plastic heel. All of this is powered by a replaceable 3-volt battery said to last for 100 hours.

All about cushioning
I have to tell you, “It works.” Just don’t expect spring-loaded leaping power that will with empower you with Steve Austin-like propulsion. And don’t expect any special torsion control. These shoes are about cushioning.

Aaron Harris  /  AP
The Adidas 1 running shoe is shown in Toronto on March 30. A microchip beneath the arch sends instructions to a battery-powered motor that adjusts the cushioning level.
I wore a pair of Adidas 1 on five training runs averaging about 7 miles each. I varied the surfaces. Two of the runs were along Manhattan’s West Side Highway; one was on suburban streets and lawns and two were on the dirt trails of New York’s Rockefeller State Park. I also tried simply walking in the shoes.

I always start my runs slow, taking about 2 miles to establish a decent pace. The shoes didn’t do much for me then, and in fact it was then that I would have preferred more cushioning under the balls of my feet. But once I hit my stride, finding the right rhythm and adjusting it so my feet landed as lightly as possible — Remember mechanics? — I felt the computerized shoes working in my favor.

On downhill stretches the extra cushioning was definitely perceptible. Not remarkable, but a help.

And when on one particularly long run I hit that endorphin-juiced sweet spot where my legs seem to cycle like a flywheel, even as fatigue sets in, I felt the shoes assisting me.

I’d have to say that the harder the surface and the choppier your running style, the more a pair of Adidas 1 will help you.

Five different settings
There are five different settings to which you can adjust the shoes for more or less cushioning. Controlling the shoes is a no-brainer. And they turn off automatically 10 minutes after you stop running.

Now I know what many of you are thinking. There’s a computer inside these shoes taking measurements. It can record how far I run, diagnose my style and perhaps provide advice. How to tap in for feedback?

With these shoes, there’s no way to extract the data.

But co-creator Oleson says the shoes are fully capable of doing so. (I’m imagining the engineers at Adidas, downloading data from my returned shoes, getting some laughs at my expense).

The next generation of smart running shoes will surely be all about feedback: Your own personal running coach, snug under your arches, gauging your every step and filling an electronic log book.

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Personally, I’m looking forward to future, more affordable versions.

And that raises a pressing question for athletic rules bodies, from USA Track & Field Inc. to the International Olympic Committee to the organizers of your local Sunday 10K race: Should computerized footwear be banned from competition as performance-enhancing?

I’ve got an idea for avoiding the anticipated controversy.

Let’s make everyone compete in bare feet.

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