Article by Michael Ellenberger
Newton Running Company
Distance 9 ($155)
Fate 6 ($140)
Newton! You may love them, you may hate them - but you probably do know of them! The Boulder-based shoe manufacturer has been around since 2007, making distinctive trainers and racers with those signature lugs across the forefoot. There have been tweaks over time - both the models I tested, the Distance 9 and the Fate 6, have 5 lugs to match the anatomy of the foot, whereas many of the older models (and some residual models, like the Distance Elite) only have 4.
As I’ll cover in-depth, I think the move to 5 lugs makes a massive difference in usability and comfort.
I’ll address the elephant in the room here (and, assuredly, again later) - is Newton’s technology a gimmick? Why are they the only manufacturer with this lug-based cushioning system? Well, the answer is complex - partially, there is some gimmick here, I think, but Newton also has extensive patent protection on their shoe technology, which precludes others from using the same system.
While I don’t know that lug-based cushioning is the future of running shoes - or even a necessary step towards more efficient running - I can’t say I dislike the setup, and both the Distance and the Fate have outsole cushioning that, to put it simply, just gets out of the way. With that - let’s run.
Michael is a patent attorney and 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). He recently secured a 2:31 marathon PR at the Austin Marathon.
Weight (oz): 7.6
Weight (oz): 9.2
Pros and Cons
Distance/Fate: Top-notch upper and construction
Distance/Fate: Durability and outsole traction
Distance: Zippy and poppy, once activated
Wide toe boxes and platforms will work for a lot of feet
Distance/Fate: Lugs take some getting used to - especially on the D9
Distance: 2mm drop feels like 0mm
Fate: Slightly clunky, especially when running faster
First Impressions & Fit
In both the Fate and the Distance - and especially the Distance - your first impressions will be heavily dictated by whether or not you’ve ever worn a Newton before. If you haven’t, well - you’ll notice something a little different here. The lugs across the forefoot are more squared off and taller in the Distance 9 than the Fate 6, which makes them markedly more noticeable, particularly when standing. But you’ll notice them either way - especially when standing around, waiting to run.
The uppers on both (as detailed below) are extremely well done and, especially so on the Distance 9 and will be immediately noticeable as a strong suit. In my experience over time with Newtons this has always been true, but the 2020 variants of the Fate and Distance really sell the premium experience. Let’s run!
Distance 9: The upper on the Newton Distance line has long been a really airy, open mesh - you’ll be able to tell it's a performance trainer just by the way it looks and fits. Very sporty and racing-flat esque.
Fortunately (and in an improvement over some prior versions I’ve worn), the tongue and lacing have been refined - Newton uses these really great flat laces on both the models I’m testing, and in conjunction with the tongue, I didn’t experience slipping or sliding. I do think - on the Distance more than than the Fate - a gusseted tongue would go a long way towards that “performance fit,” but that’s more of a “want” than a “need”
The only concern I have about this airy mesh is lockdown - there’s some internal structure here, to be sure, but when running fast (i.e. strides or short repeats), it does feel like you’d benefit by a little more lockdown. Generally that isn’t a use case for this shoe, so it’s not a massive concern, but if you’re a runner who frequently gets on the track (and wants to take their Newtons!), you might be better off with the Fate.
Oh, and in winter… it’s cold. I’ve trained in this shoe (well, probably the Distance II or III) through a Minnesota winter and… let me tell you, it’s a bit of a mistake. Newton makes more rugged trail or weatherized versions, and you should seek those out if you live somewhere that gets slushy or snowy winters because this mesh lets a lot through. But hey - they dry out fast in the summer!
Fate 6: A slightly more dense mesh on the Fate 6 (and a really striking red to boot), I found the lockdown to be very good in the Fate. Moreover, even though there are a number of overlays on the upper, I didn’t have any issues with chafing or breathability. Fortunately, the platform over the toebox is quite wide, and there are no overlays on the toe, so you get sufficient room to spread out your metatarsals over the lugs. It’s simple and clean, and genuinely one of my favorite uppers of the year so far.
Distance 9: The lugs practically define Newton, so we’ll start there. Newton packages its midsole cushioning beneath the lugs - moved slightly more central in this version, compared to previous iterations of the Distance - with the effect that, when you’re activating the lugs, you’re getting good energy return! Conversely, if you’re a heel striker or somehow missing the lugs… you might be left hanging. There is some foam elsewhere, of course, but the primary function of the shoe - the energy-returning effect - is encapsulated under the lugs, in what Newton calls its Action Reaction Technology (“ART”).
The midsole here is also extremely flexible. This is is a mistake I did not make in the Distance 9, but in past versions, I tried to take these on trails and very much paid the price (including a hard fall when running at speed). There’s no rigidity or torsional strength through the middle of the shoe, so non-road runners need not apply here.
Fate 6: As mentioned above, the lugs on the Fate 6 are smaller and more rounded than on the Distance 9.
Newton has loaded the Fate with new technology - I’ll give you some tech specs, and then I’ll try and translate that into what it feels like to the end user.
Newton says Fate has a new Action Reaction Technology (“ART”) with an “innovative XPS plate system, tuned membrane, and webbed outsole” to help facilitate a more responsive and smooth ride. Newton is hardly the only brand to use a lot of buzzwords, but man - that’s a lot! Fortunately, it’s a lot smoother on the run. The “ART” is functionally a term to describe the lugs and coupled cushioning, and the way its integrated in the Fate means that as you press down with a footstrike, the lugs create almost a trampoline-line propulsion (remember - action/reaction!) and bounce back with some energy return.
Distance 9: There isn’t a ton of blown rubber on the outsole of the Distance 9, but I think it’s well done - it’s well covered across the lugs, of course, with another crucial patch on the lateral side of the heel. For a runner like me, that about covers it, and I had no issues with wear nor with traction on any runs. In fact, I found the performance of the Distance 9 to be quite good in rain - grippy, even on some tight turns. My past experience reminds me this isn’t necessarily the case on snow and ice, but fortunately that’s a few months off (for us midwesterners, anyway).
Fate 6: The Fate 6 outsole is considerably beefier than that of the Distance 9 (being oriented more as a trainer than a racer). While the 9.2 oz. weight of the Fate 6 isn’t necessarily something to complain about, I do think Newton could have gotten away with using a little less rubber here. Regardless, it’s well-apportioned and adequate under slick conditions.
Distance 9: Here’s the thing - once you’ve activated the lugs on the Distance 9, it’s a genuinely fast and engaging ride, almost like when you get traction under your track spikes or find that perfect gear in a pair of Nike Zoom Vaporfly. It’s an interesting (and fun!) sensation to get the Distance to click, and while I didn’t do any technical workouts in the Distance 9 (besides strides, if that’s sufficient), I found my everyday runs creeping towards tempo run territory, just because the Distance 9 is such a fun shoe to take out. There’s a part of me that wishes the lugs were perhaps 25% smaller - on a new pair, they do feel a little firm and obtrusive - but they wear down over time, and end up riding pretty smoothly.
If you remember the New York Times 2018 survey and analysis of running shoes - the one that really helped bring the Vaporfly 4% to mainstream popularity - the Newton Distance is actually the third highest performing shoe (as reported, see below) - ahead of ASICS’s DS Racer, Adidas’s Adizero Adios, and Nike’s Zoom Fly. That doesn’t mean you’re going to run faster in the Distance 9, necessarily, but it is a curious effect of a forefoot-specific footstrike and a relatively bouncy ride.
I think it goes without saying, but I’ll include it nonetheless - if you’re a heel striker, the Distance 9 is not for you (unless of course, you want to work on that - and Newton has shoes to help you do that). In fact, whereas something like (I’m choosing almost randomly) the Hoka Carbon X can function nearly as effectively for both forefoot and heel strikers, the Distance 9 is a bit disadvantageous for a heel striker. It’s uncomfortable, less cushioned, and just generally faster to wear down.
Additionally, the drop here - Newton says it’s 2mm - really does feel low, akin almost to a 0mm offering. My achilles were sore after my initial couple runs, and they will undoubtedly take some getting used to, in comparison to more traditionally-platformed trainers.
In fact, with the lugs counting towards the drop, those who are heel striking may find the Distance to actually be at a negative drop (now there’s something new!). I didn’t feel the drop is adversely affecting the shoe - not any more than a low drop hurts any other performance trainer, that is - but a little more rear stack might make this feel both faster and more traditional, and help Newton win over some fans.
Fate 6: While the technology in the Fate 6 works similarly to the Distance 9, I found that diluting the Newton motif diluted the fun slightly, as well. Most of what I wrote above still stands - you can activate the lugs in the Fate, and that significantly enhances the ride… but it’s sort of a watered-down version of the Distance in that regard. A little less aggressive, a little less fun (but perhaps easier to activate, in my experience!).
For most efficient or fast runners, I think the Fate 6 will serve as a stepping stone of the Distance 9 - and those who know they can already work with a forefoot strike, and have interest in a lightweight trainer, should skip the Fate altogether and go to the Distance.
Distance 9: I stand genuinely impressed with the Distance 9. t’s a competitive, fun, and quite fast riding trainer. With the influx of carbon plates (and just generally fast-geometried shoes), I don’t think I would ever race in it, but it’s a great option for ripping a long run or cruising a tempo run. Even efficient, forefoot runners who have never tried Newton can find utility in this shoe. It’s weird - there are undoubtedly runners who won’t try this shoe simply because it’s different, to be sure - but I came to quite enjoy it.
My complaints (besides lack of winterization, which is more of a personal problem) are just slightly inadequate lockdown at fast speeds, the harsh heel-to-toe offset, and slightly obtrusive feel when the lugs are new. Not massive complaints - not enough to keep me from coming back to the shoe - but improvements that could make v10 a smashing success.
Michael’s Score: 9.0/10
Fate 6: Ultimately, I think my view of the Fate 6 is clouded slightly by testing the Distance 9 in parallel, because the Fate does nearly everything the Distance does, but in a watered-down package. It’s a fine option for those new to Newton - that’s how Newton pitches it, anyway - and the more rounded lugs in the ART system are more forgiving and comfortable, but in comparison, it’s not quite as engaging as the Distance.
Even the upper - exceedingly good in its own regard - is not quite as nice as the Distance’s. I struggle to call them “clunky” - they’re well under 10 ounces - but they don’t feel as svelte or nimble as the Distance 9s, either, and picking up the pace in them is not nearly as smooth as ramping up in the Distance. That said, the rounded lugs are a little smoother, especially out of the box.
Michael’s Score: 8.5/10
ASICS NovaBlast (RTR Review)
The NovaBlast is similarly flexible and soft up-front to the Distance, with a fun (if slightly wobbly!) ride. All of these comparisons are a bit finicky, because switching to Newton seems to require a bit of a mental switch (and the lugs are markedly different from most options), but I think those who like the pop of the NovaBlast with a bit more of a firm platform will appreciate the Distance or Fate.
Nike Zoom Pegasus 37 (RTR Review)
The Pegasus 37 was a bit of a misfire (from my perspective) after a string of terrific Pegasuses (or “Pegasii”). While the Pegasus 37 will still function well for an easy day cruiser, the Air Zoom units up front - in contrast to the lugs on the Newton - tend to feel more intrusive at faster clips, and the forefoot cushion, unlike the heel mounted React foam, is not nearly as springy as I’d hope. I’d take the Newton Distance 9 over the Pegasus, but not the Fate.
Hoka One One Clifton 7 (RTR Review)
Another soft, high cushion option, I just didn’t jive with the Clifton 7. Partially, I found the footbed a little narrow, and the toebox more constricting than on the Distance. Between the two, I think the Distance 9 is the most compelling option for runners who want a faster-paced option. I didn’t find a lot of “pop” from the Clifton - the energy return from the lugs is more compelling than Hoka’s sculpted EVA.
Skechers GoRun 7+ Hyper (RTR Review)
I raise the GoRun 7+ Hyper - perhaps my favorite trainer of 2019 - simply to analogize the energy return from Newton’s lugs to Skecher’s Hyperburst. In many ways, the Hyperburst is a more compelling and all-around easier option to “activate” (being the entire midsole of the shoe). What’s more, whereas the Newton takes some “work” to use (ensuring a midfoot strike, and propelling forwards into a toe-off roll), there’s no such hurdle for the GoRun 7+ Hyper - you get the same effect with nearly any footstrike and any pace. It’s just a simple, well-done, engaging trainer.