Cloud Racing

By Pete Williams

On Running’s new Cloudracer shoe

For the last few months we’ve been running in Cloudracers, the newest shoes from On Running, those funky, brightly colored shoes with little padded cushioning devices on the sole.

We first wrote about “Ons” last fall. Though there’s a tendency to want to group them with Newtons or even minimalist footwear, they probably belong in their own category. The company’s technology is called “running on the clouds,” which brings an element of core training to distance running.

The Cloudracers, like racing flats, are meant for actual racing, though like any shoe it’s important to grow accustomed to them during training. I’ve never owned a pair of racing flats, so perhaps I’m not the ideal guinea pig, but I love the feel and the light weight of the shoes.

Core training transformed the fitness industry over the last decade as athletes realized they could generate more stability around their hips, midsection, and shoulders by training on unstable surfaces such as physioballs balls and BOSU balls. Such devices force the athlete to recruit more stabilizer muscles, thus building more strength and stability.

Athlete and Co-Founder Olivier Bernhard.
Photo: Braschler/Fischer

Olivier Bernhard (left) figured he could produce the same effect with a running shoe. The Swiss triathlete, a six-time winner of Ironman races, had grown frustrated with nagging knee and Achilles injuries for which doctors and trainers could not find a solution. Bernhard, after all, had textbook running form.

An engineer Bernhard worked with in Switzerland realized that there are two forces at work when running: the vertical and horizontal impact. It’s the horizontal impact that causes the most damage to muscles, ligaments and joints, though existing running shoes only absorbed the vertical impact.

What if they could create a running shoe that would allow a runner to land as softly as on sand and to push off as effectively as on concrete? The result was On Running, with models like the Cloudsurfer and Cloudrunner launched in 2010.

The technology, Bernhard says, is similar to a physioball, where the body must adjust to remain stable. “Think of these shoes as having a bunch of little physioballs that are continually providing feedback to your foot to stabilize your landing and stabilize the hip,” he says.

The Cloudsurfer

I’ve been running pretty regularly over the last nine months in my black-and-green Cloudsurfer shoes. The Cloudracer has a lighter feel and since the the 18 padded cushions aren’t as pronounced on the Cloudracers, there’s a comparable racing-flat feel to them.

The idea behind a race shoe is to have something as light and airy as possible and that’s what the Cloudracer feels like.

Running on the clouds.

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