The list of inventions, scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs had by the Swiss is long and telling: Velcro, aluminum foil, Muesli—even the discovery of DNA. When the country that brought you the Swiss Army knife, cuckoo clocks and Lindt chocolate develops a shoe to help improve your stability, by golly you sit up and listen.
On is the collaborative effort between former world duathlon champion and Ironman champion Olivier Bernhard and his friends David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti. Their vision for On was a running shoe with superior cushioning, but also one that would encourage proper running form. This essentially meant a shoe that offered technology upon landing, but took it away for an efficient push off.
Seeking out this seemingly impossible combination involved untold numbers of shoe prototypes in their quest for a shoe that offered both horizontal and vertical cushioning during only the foot strike phase of the running gait, including one version with sliced up garden hoses glued onto the sole of the shoe.
By the time marathon legend Tela Loroupe tested the final prototype in early 2010, the fledgling company had already received design awards for the shoe, and her resounding endorsement helped bring the company into mainstream running markets, and eventually into the sport of triathlon. In March of 2012, On athlete Caroline Steffen wore a pair of test On Cloudracer shoes at Ironman Melbourne where she missed the female Ironman world record by a mere 55 seconds.
So what does running in a pair of On shoes feel like? Well, let’s just say their Cloudtec cushioning technology is aptly named. There are four “levels” of On shoes, designed for runners of varying abilities based mostly on pacing. The Cloudster is the beginning level, next comes the Cloudrunner meant for those amassing serious mileage, third is the Cloudsurfer for both training and racing needs, and finally is the Cloudracer, the lightest of the group.
I tested the Cloudsurfer, which is meant for competitive runners looking for a shoe for both training and racing. The Cloudsurfer is not noticeably lighter than the Cloudster and Cloudrunner models, but the materials are vastly different. The Cloudsurfer has a mesh paneling upper for superior breathability and cooling. I pulled these puppies straight out of the box, slipped them on and knocked out a 5,000-meter track workout.
When I put them on, I could tell they would be comfortable, but honestly they felt quite heavy compared to the shoes I normally sport on track days. However, after my first 400 repeat I was completely sold. There’s no “spring” in these soles, but rather an invisible layer of shock absorption when you strike the ground that completely makes up for any added weight. I haven’t worn “cushioned” shoes in years, because usually they reinforce some bad running gait habits I’ve worked incredibly hard to stomp out (heel-striking, overpronation—as well as this weird heel twist that my physical therapist once referred to as “humorously strange.”) But the CloudTec’s hollow groove construction on the soles encourage forward momentum and a forefoot strike, they just also allow for a very cushioned landing. For someone ramping up mileage while also trying to keep their form in check, it’s truly the best of both worlds.
As for the construction of the uppers, the Cloudsurfer features highly breathable mesh to help keep your feet cool even in warm conditions. The lacing system is light and while I would recommend a quick-lace system for racing, it works perfectly well for the day-to-day usage.
I’d have to say that out on a lightly packed trail is where these shoes really shine. I wore them around my favorite 5-mile loop, which is the perfect testing trail as it offers, hills, gravel, deep sand, rocky sections as well as lightly packed dirt, and they felt like I was running on tiny pillows no matter the terrain.
Overall, I would recommend these as the perfect shoe for those looking to ramp up their marathon training, as the shoes extra cushioning is great for the higher mileage, but the design helps perfect running form at the same time.