Last month, we took Mizuno’s WaveKnit R2s through our 100-mile testing process to see how they held up after pounding the pavement day after day. Our verdict? They bring a light, cushioned experience to your everyday run while packing a punch for heel strikers.
After this extensive testing process, we’re taking a look at how they came to fruition starting from their initial conception to testing phases and finally, the product on your feet today. We spoke with Chuck Couch, vice president of the Running Division at Mizuno North America (NA), to better understand what went into the making of these road warriors.
Rebuilding Mizuno Run
“I’ve been with Mizuno for 26 years now. I started in customer service and spent the first 23 years in the golf division,” said Couch during a phone conversation last December. “I ran a lot at lunchtime with Fritz Taylor who was in charge of the running division, Rob Foley…and Dave Lambert who was in charge of sales in running. I watched all three of those people leave Mizuno for reasons of their own, and the running division was a rudderless ship, no captain and no direction.”
This was the moment Couch decided to leave his VP title with the golf division and moved into the running side of the brand. Now, three years into his tenure with running, he and his team have brought new life into the division and are committed to putting out products that are not only based in performance but also in comfort for everyday wearing.
As we began speaking about the WaveKnit R2s, Couch shared that the North America division actually skipped the R1 launch of the model in 2017. If you’ve been following the brand, you may have noticed that the R1s were not widely available in the States. “When the globe was ready to go, we were not,” said Couch. “Some of that was rebuilding the North American brand and some of the things we already had in place. We didn’t feel like launching the R1 was the proper time for us.”
Creating The WaveKnit R2
Come 2018, however, Mizuno was ready to launch the WaveKnit R2. Following global meetings discussing strategy and what they wanted to focus on that year, Couch and his team were holding and running in the first iteration of the shoe in about 60 days.
Mizuno WaveKnit R2 Specs
Weight: 8.7 oz. (W), 10.0 oz. (M),
Heel Height: 30mm (W), 32mm (M)
Forefoot Height: 18mm (W), 20mm (M)
“Some of that was because we already had the sole from the [WaveKnit] Rider so we weren’t reinventing the wheel there,” said Couch. “We feel like we dialed that in and tried not to change it too much.” What they did change was the R1’s upper in an effort to make it more comfortable. Their thought was that if you wanted to walk around all day in them or head out on a long run, you’d be comfortable in either scenario. This meant going from an engineered knit to an enhanced knitted wave construction.
Vector shapes in the knit are meant to help give you extra stretch and hold. “As you land and you’re in motion, your foot hits the ground and spreads out. The WaveKnit wants to go with you and give you that nice, sock-like feel,” said Couch. “When you look at the vector pattern in the up-down, longitude way, it wants to hold. So it’s going to stretch in a dynamic fashion, but it’s not going to keep going. The vectors take over and it holds your foot. So you get this combination of great, soft flexibility but enough hold so that during my run, I get the best of both worlds.”
The R2s also use two different foams for a better underfoot experience and includes a wave plate that is meant to help disperse energy from impact to a broader area, allowing for a more stable and smooth front ride.
“The wave plate does three amazing things. When you come down and you land on your heel—we have a concave shape to that—and it takes all that shock that you’re landing on in that crash pad and disperses it through the shoe,” said Couch. “Then it centers your foot as quickly as possible. So we’re trying to get as much efficiency in your stride as possible.” After that, because the energy gets pushed down when you land, the wave plate works to push it back up so that you get a snappy ride.
Testing & The Future of WaveKnit
Once they were happy with their product, it was time to get testers in them. Mizuno NA’s testing sites are located in three different destinations around the globe: Melbourne, Australia; Vancouver, Canada; and the Atlanta Track Club in Georgia. “The great thing about having those three places is that even when it’s winter here in Atlanta, you’re in summertime in Australia. So we’re able to really do two good tests in two different seasons at the exact same time.”
Understanding that their consumers aren’t typically elite status, Mizuno ensures that real, everyday runners test out their products to provide feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Following small adjustments such as shortening the laces and some aesthetic changes, the R2s were ready to go to market and were launched in October.
For those who are looking for a specific distance or racing shoe, Couch states that the benefit of this model is that it’s an overall running shoe that you can throw them on for anything from a 5K to marathon or a high-intensity gym session. It’s not just about one distance or race. “We didn’t just make it to be your snappy, real quick 5K pace; it can do that but also, you can put it on and run 26.2 miles in it if you want,” shared Couch. “It’s our everyday, number one, home run neutral shoe.”
Downstream, the brand plans on expanding their WaveKnit technology and introducing it into other models including support, max, minimalist and racing styles. This October, they’ll release the Sky WaveKnit R3 which will feature the new knit upper (previously it was made with an engineered mesh) and some added updates.
The WaveKnit R2 is available online and in stores nationwide now. For an in-depth review of their performance, see our Rundown piece here.