I also want things to work the way they're supposed to. Over the years, my tastes in shoes have changed about as much as my body has. I've decided to take some time to outline (and rank) my favorite cushioning/support systems inside of running shoes. Typically speaking, a manufacturer has their proprietary substance and while it can morph over time, it mostly stays the same. (Disclaimer: just my feelings here - any shoe you try should support the foot from a mechanical standpoint...no amount of cushion will protect you from injury if the shoe isn't a mechanical match)
So, here's my top 5:
5. Asics GEL
The GEL (here illustrated in the Asics Gel-Kayano 15) is the red substance most prominently displayed in the heel of the shoe. Overall, my experience in Asics (Nimbus, 2140, Kayano) have been positive, but all of them started out with a firm feel. The Kayano probably less so, but that's due more to the Gel and the memory foam around the collar of the shoe working together. There's a part of me that always liked putting on the shoe, working the Gel into something a little softer and then bonding - almost like the relationship bakers have with bread. I have several fellow runners that have had great luck with Asics - and they do make a great shoe.
4. Skechers Resalyte
3. Saucony Pro-Grid Lite
My first foray into minimal footwear was in a Vibram KSO and while they were awesome (and a worthy conversation starter), 100 miles in, it didn't take long for me to love the ground feel and overall natural approach. It also didn't take me long to realize that I really needed some protection from the ground. At that time, I was about 15-20lbs heavier, and I needed the medial posting support, so I took a stab at the Saucony Mirage - basically a Kinvara with a medial stability posting, and I wasn't disappointed. It was incredibly forgiving throughout the entire gait cycle from heel strike to toe-off. What's amazing about the stuff, is as I made the transition to midfoot/forefoot strike, the support was just as nice. Just like most permutations of Asics Gel, it started firmer and eased up. Buyer beware - any shoe built with this midsole will only give you 250-300 (well documented by Kinvara wearers alike) miles before noticable breakdown, which (in my opinion) is too a short a lifespan.
2. Newton Forefoot Actuator Lugs
The Newton forefoot actuator lugs may be the only one of a couple proprietary shoe technologies that actually deliver on it's promise of cushion and energy return. Much of that does depend on running efficiency however. So, even though I love them (see my review of the Newton Distance here), they don't (and probably won't ever) have widespread appeal due in large part to the fact that there is not any kind of consensus on foot strike mechanics. For that reason, they reside at number 2, however they are my shoe of choice, nearly all of my miles are on one model or another of them. Amazing ride, great protection, and, frankly, really fun to run in.
1. Brooks DNA
The DNA found in most models of Brooks shoes over the past 18-24 months, only bumps Newton's lugs, because it accommodates every type of foot strike made my humans and frankly feels amazing. The ride in any shoe from the Pure line-up (I personally like the Connect and Flow) all the way to stability trainers like the Glycerin provide maximum comfort. The only drawback from where I sit really lies in the fact that there's no return of energy to the body. DNA is basically a non-Newtonian fluid (think that episode of Mythbusters when Adam walked on water) - its firmness is directly related to amount of stress applied to it. I basically want a mattress made out of the stuff, except I would sink into it, but, seriously - the stuff is awesome.
There you have it - I'm interested to hear any additions or experiences otherwise.