Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Product Review: Airia Running Shoes

A couple of months I was contacted by a representative from a company called Airia, which I had not heard of before. They had been developing a new kind of running shoe, which they hope will be revolutionary. At first they asked if they could put an article on my blog, which I rejected out of hand, but the alternative offer was to send me a pair of shoes and I would use them and give a review. They agreed that I could write whatever I want, even if my review was negative.

Their claims sure are ambitious. The shoes are supposed to make 8 out of 10 runners run faster, and potentially by quite some amount as well. The price of the shoes is rather ambitious as well, for $190 you can call a pair your own. By contrast, I tend to buy all my shoes in a sale and generally spend no more than €60 per pair. I'd need some serious persuasion to spend so much on a shoe; I admit I was a bit sceptical from the outset (my parents didn't call me Doubting Thomas for nothing) but at the same I was also intrigued. I'd love to get a pair of shoes that automatically make me run faster - who wouldn't!

Anyway, when one pair was delivered to my house, I had two initial impressions: 1) they look very nice. 2) They sent me the wrong size, the shoes looked much to small.

The first impression still stands, though to be honest the looks are my least important consideration. The size turned out to be correct after all. The shape of the shoes means that the sole at the toes curls upwards, giving the impression that the shoe itself is shorter than it actually is. I had gotten a pair of the same size I always get and the fit was perfectly fine.

The telling feature about these shoes is the curved sole with a few bumps, the most noticeable one at the outside, beside balls of the foot. They do warn you that the shoes are strictly for running only, and you immediately know they mean that, standing around and walking in them feels really strange as the shaped sole pushes your feet into a sloped position and subsequently your legs are kind of x-shaped.

You can watch the video and have a look yourself. The unusual shape of the sole immediately becomes obvious.

Luckily, as soon as you start running it feels a lot better. Again, they do warn you that it might take a while to get used to those shoes as they are so different to other pairs. They advise to start with a short run, but I'm an ultra runner and a short run for me is 8 miles, so that's what I did, in the full knowledge that they most likely had a different distance in mind.

The first run didn't go all that well; while I had no real problems with the pronation the shoe's shape forces you into, my right foot kept brushing against my left calf, feeling rather uncomfortable. I sometimes do that with "normal" shoes when I'm very, very tired and my form gets sloppy, but here it happened right from the outset. Interestingly, this did not repeat itself on any other runs, so either I was tired on that run or I somehow adapted subsequently.

While much of the shoe, especially the sole, is heavily engineered, other parts are surprisingly close to a minimal shoe. The shoe features a zero drop (meaning there is no height difference between heel and toes), which could cause problems for runners used to a 12-mm drop, which used to be de-facto standard a few years ago until the minimal shoes came along, but is something I already have experience with. There is also next-to-no cushioning, again something that could cause issues for some runners but again something I am fine with (in fact, I prefer my shoes that way).

The upper feels nice and airy (and good quality), but the shoes are heavier than my usual Brooks and Saucony trainers (about 250g per shoe against 190g, as Niamh's kitchen scales just told me [don't tell her I used her kitchen scales for running shoes!]). Mind, I barely noticed the extra weight.

In short, the shoes have plenty of things I like in a shoe, so I should have felt perfectly comfortable with them. But unfortunately, it did not turn out that way.

I am an ultra runner with (I think) excellent biomechanics and I am used to having very light shoes under my feet that don't interfere with my running pattern. These shoes, however, do not fit the bill. They try to force you into a certain pronation pattern and nothing else will do. That may work for others. If a runner has bad running form, maybe these shoes will indeed improve it and enable the same runner to run faster as if by magic. However, it does not work with me. I tried to run as relaxed as possible and just let the feet follow the pattern that the shoes dictate but I never felt comfortable.

When I initially got the shoes I had the mad plan of maybe wearing them for the Dingle Ultra. That would be a real acid test. However, after realising that I did not feel comfortable in them, I had to abandon that idea. The clincher came in a long run last week when I had to run up a very steep climb that forces me onto my toes. The curved sole of the shoes basically threw me off-balance with each step. Try running on a rocker and that's what it felt like. There is no way I could make my way up the steep 5-mile climb up Conor pass in those shoes, it is just not feasible.

I do have the subjective feeling of the shoes not being comfortable, but I also have cold hard numbers. My runs in those shoes are not faster than in my Saucony or Brooks shoes, and the HR isn't lower either. Add to that the high price and for me, personally, it quickly becomes a no-no.

I wanted to like those shoes. They look good and they are screaming good quality materials and manufacturing. I felt excited about being asked to review a pair of shoes, but unfortunately, they do not work for me. Maybe they do indeed work for others, I cannot say. But I definitely get the impression that ultra runners were not on their potential list of clients when they started the design process.


  1. Thanks for the honest review Thomas.

    But wow, just looking at the video I'm very impressed at just how bad shoe design can be. That toe spring is crazy and will directly undermine foot function. For the majority of time on stance the big toe is supposed to engage with the ground to stabilize the foot, it's not wonder you felt unstable running in them.

    I can't believe how much hype that put into the promo video too, what BS from start to finish. You can't make people more efficient at running by creating a heavier shoe and undermining normal foot mechanics.

    I'd much rather run in a pair of HOKA's that one of these Airia, and that is saying something...

  2. Trying to figure out if I can use them during Warsaw Marathon (28th of September) knowing that I used them during half of my training plan (the other half was dedicated to adidas Boston Boost). Found them perfect for interval trainings (short and long) but note sure they will be comfortable enough after the 30 th km. What are your thoughts ? The longest run so far with them was 32 km.

    1. My longest run in them was just under 27km and personally I won't wear them for any more long runs. It's up to you to decide what shoes you feel more comfortable in, and that's the shoes you should wear in the marathon.

  3. Wow. Interesting shoes. Having gone through Vibrams, Newtons and just about everything else it is tempting to try these. alas, I am in love with my Hokas (which are almost the opposite) The geometry would at least help me from tripping on side walks :) Mark from Runners choice