Fun facts about innovation, top brands and key players.
1. Let’s get right down to it: for years, many of the innovations in the technical fabrics used in running apparel and running shoe uppers have come from the innovations developed for women’s lingerie. Seriously. Think stretchy, soft, form-fitting and supportive.
2. The notion that runners should be fit into one of three types of shoes — neutral, stability and motion control — based on how much they pronate was probably always a flawed mechanism, one largely created and promoted by running shoe brands to sell shoes. Now a new study confirms it. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that ordinary shoes work fine for runners regardless of how they pronate. Finally in 2016, Brooks is launching a new program called Stride Signature which will address both what a runner needs and what a runner wants. Expect other brands (and hopefully running shops) to follow.
3. Nike was named after the Greek goddess of victory. But did you know that the image of that goddess was also depicted on the World War II victory medals and the hood ornament that adorns Rolls Royce automobiles? Or that, in the 1940s and 1950s, Project Nike was an anti-aircraft missile system? By the way, the company that became Nike was originally called Blue Ribbon Sports when it was formed by Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and former Oregon track runner Phil Knight in 1964 as a U.S. distribution company for Onitsuka Tiger shoes (now known as ASICS).
4. The correct pronunciation of adidas is “Ah-Dee-Dass,” not the Americanized version “Uh-Dee-Duhs.” Also, it is not an acronym for “All Day I Dream About Sex.” That’s pure urban legend. The German brand is named after the company’s founder, Adi Dassler. The correct way to pronounce HOKA ONE ONE is “Ho-Kah Own-ay Own-ay.” The founders of the company have explained it’s a Māori phrase that means “to fly over the earth.” Meanwhile, ASICS is an acronym for the Latin phrase anima sana in corpore sano which translates as “a healthy soul in a healthy body.”
5. Cadavers, robotic legs, high-speed video, 3-D modeling and, yes, even real runners are used in research projects to learn more about running gait patterns, which in turn sometimes lead to running shoe innovations.
6. Brooks Sports is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the Omaha-based conglomerate run by Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world. Buffett fired the starting gun at the second annual Invest in Yourself 5K at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in early May in Omaha, Neb. (Brooks even produced a custom Transcend shoe with Buffett’s likeness on the footbed.) Berkshire Hathaway also owns Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, GEICO insurance and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. Brooks became the top-selling brand at specialty running retail stores in 2011, taking over the mantle held by ASICS for many years.
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7. Aside from Brooks, many other brands are owned by multinational conglomerates or larger parent companies. For example, The North Face is owned by VF Corporation, a Reading, Pa., conglomerate that owns Wrangler, Lee Jeans, Smartwool, Timberland and, among other brands, Bulwark Protective Apparel, a Tennessee company that manufactures flame-resistant protective apparel.
A few others include Saucony and Merrell (which are both owned by Michigan-based footwear conglomerate Wolverine Worldwide); Altra Running (Utah-based ICON Fitness, which also owns NordicTrack, ProForm, iFit and Gold’s Gym); Zoot Sports (Seattle-based K2 Sports, which is known for several ski and snowboard brands); Montrail (Oregon-based Columbia Sportswear), Salomon (Finland-based Amer Sports, which also owns Suunto watches, Precor USA fitness equipment and Arc’teryx outdoor clothing); and K-Swiss (which was purchased in January 2013 by South Korean retail conglomerate E. Land).
8. Inov-8, a British brand of shoes, celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. The company got its start by building fell running shoes (a British version of trail running), but has made its mark in the U.S. with its lightweight trail running shoes and CrossFit shoes. (At the 2003 World Mountain Running Championships in Alaska, New Zealand’s Melissa Moon won the women’s elite race in a pair of Inov-8’s original Mudroc 290 shoes she borrowed after arriving in Anchorage without her luggage.)
9. Steve Prefontaine will forever be associated with Nike, partially because he was coached by Bill Bowerman, one of the company’s founders, and because he was Nike’s first sponsored runner. But Pre didn’t wear Nikes when he won the 5,000 at the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials and placed fourth in the event at the 1972 Olympics. He wore adidas, just as he had throughout most of his high school and early college career. He didn’t start wearing Nikes exclusively until April 1973, when he was in his senior season at Oregon.
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10. Several new running shoe brands have burst on the scene in the past several years, including Skechers, Newton, Under Armour, Hoka, Skoa, Zoot and Altra. But there have been numerous other brands that have come and gone through the years, including KangaROOS, LA Gear, Etonic, Diadora and Converse. (Yes, a few of those brands are still around in various forms.)
11. Several running brands have unsuccessfully tried to incorporate electronics into shoe models. Among those are the Puma RS-100 Computer Shoe (1986), LA Gear CrossRunner shoes with red LED lights in the heels (1992) and the adidas 1 (2005). The adidas 1, which sold for $250, had a small motor built into the midsole of the shoe that would turn a cable and change the compression characteristics of the cushioning between every stride. By early March, Under Armour’s Gemini 2 Record Equipped ($150) and the Altra IQ ($199) will debut as the world’s first two running shoes with built-in tracking chips.
VIDEO: First Look—Altra IQ
12. Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila famously won the marathon running barefoot at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. But he wore a pair of Puma shoes when he won marathon gold again in 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. However, ASICS still claims he wore a pair of Onitsuka Tiger shoes, but there seems to be confusion with Bikila’s victory in the 1961 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon.
13. New Balance, adidas and Nike are among the brands that have been working on ways to print parts of an actual shoe. Yes, that’s right, “print” parts of an actual shoe. Using a leading-edge 3D printing technology, each brand has successfully created shoe components out of nylon polymer materials. New Balance had already printed up parks of working samples of lightweight shoes for some of its athletes. The use of 3D printing has been used for years for prototype modeling, but in the past most of the models were printed with a water-based corn starch solution. But the use of stronger and permanent synthetic polymers could change manufacturing considerably, especially when it comes to custom-fitting to a runner’s exact foot size and shape. New Balance could launch its version consumer products in April 2016, but custom models are still down the road a bit.
14. In 2011, many athletes, running retailers and industry insiders rolled their eyes when Skechers, a huge lifestyle footwear company known for its casual shoes, it was going to enter the running market. It started by sending then-36-year-old Meb Keflezighi some of the early prototypes of its GoRun shoes and he liked how they performed. That summer, he signed a two-year sponsorship deal with the Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based company and helped jump-start that brand into the performance running category. Since then, Skechers has benefited from Keflezighi’s continued success (fourth in the 2012 Olympics, 2014 Boston Marathon win), built award-winning running shoes and slowly gained shelf space at specialty run shops. Plus, it recently signed American marathoner Kara Goucher.
RELATED: Skechers + Meb = Huge Success Story
15. Is Minimalism Dead? No, not hardly. The minimalist running movement isn’t dead, but the pendulum has certainly swung back the other direction. The once white-hot trend has cooled considerably, but it benefitted us all — no matter if you’re a barefoot zealot or a FiveFingers diehard or have always been content wearing a trusty pair of ASICS Kayanos or Nike Pegasus as your primary shoe of choice. Yes, a class-action lawsuit was just settled about some of the claims Vibram made about its FiveFingers shoes. A claim that any shoe can make you faster or stronger is ridiculous, but that being said, there are plenty of runners have adapted well to minimalism and have found those to be their shoes of choice. Other runners use more minimally designed models for certain types of workouts or drills. There are a lot of great shoes in every category now, from extreme minimalism to extreme maximalism.
16. Many fast American runners from previous eras work at running shoe brands. For example, Mark Nenow, the former American-record holder in the 10,000-meter run is president of Columbia’s Sorel boot brand. Previously, he was vice president of global footwear merchandising for Columbia (which owns the Montrail trail running brand); Tom Carleo, the vice president of New Balance Running was a standout middle-distance runner in the 1980s who qualified for the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 1,500-meter run. Same goes for Gene McCarthy, Asics America group president and chief executive. He ran a 3:42:06 PR for 1,500 meters and competed in the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials; Danny Lopez, a senior manager of sports marketing at adidas America, was the third-place finisher in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials and ran in the semifinals of the 1992 Olympic in Barcelona; Three-time Olympian and former 3:49 miler Jim Spivey works for ASICS in its college sports sales division.
Mizuno’s global director of running footwear Todd Lewis was an All-American at Arizona State in the 1990s and competed in the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 5,000 and 10,000 while competing for Nike; New Balance also employs Keith Kelly, the 2000 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships while at Providence College, as a marketing executive; At Nike, Oregon Project Elite head coach Alberto Salazar was the 1980-1982 New York City Marathon champion, 1982 Boston Marathon champion and 1984 U.S. Olympic marathoner, and Pascal Dobert, the strength conditioning coach for Nike’s Bowerman Track Club, was a three-time U.S. champion and 2000 Olympian in the 3,000 steeplechase. Claire Wood, a former James Madison track standout, is the senior footwear product manager for New Balance.
17. Skechers Performance has made some pretty savvy TV commercials to advertise its running shoes in recent years, including both the ridiculously silly Super Bowl ads that featured a French bulldog named Mr. Quiggly wearing running shoes and a man wearing Skechers outrunning a cheetah, as well as its more straight-up ads with Kara Goucher and Meb Keflezighi. Other top TV spots in recent years include Nike’s unforgettable “I Would Run To You” and “Last” TV spots. Brooks had a great ad for its Gore-Tex shoes recently and this one from ASICS that parodies African tribesman trying to outrun a lion got some laughs. Interested in more? Here’s a link to 5 great running shoe commercials.
18. Hoka was started by a group of Frenchmen that formerly worked at Salomon. They started out to make modern trail running shoes for the rugged mountain races in the Alps, Pyrenees and Dolomites. The widebody design concept was somewhat based on the oversized technology that had been successfully used in powder skis, mountain bike tires and tennis rackets. A bigger sweet spot, the believed, would apply similarly in running. Early on, they considered making a downhill-only, slip-on overshoe of sorts, one that could be carried in a pack on uphill sections and attached for long, rugged downhills. But once they developed such a lightweight working prototype, they knew they weren’t making a technical accessory but a real running shoe. At the time of Hoka’s launch, uber-minimalist running shoes were just making headway in the mainstream and at running stores, but here was Hoka going in the opposite direction of “maximalism.” (Read more about Hoka’s inception here.)
19. There are more running shoe brands than ever before. More than 35 shoe manufacturers are selling legit running models in the U.S. this year and many more are selling something they call running shoes. Why so many? The short answer is because running has become increasingly accessible to an ever-growing fitness-conscious population. From newcomers to longtime runners to CrossFitters, obstacle racers and novelty-run participants, the common denominator is that everyone is wearing (and buying) running shoes. Running shoes have also become the de facto casusal shoe of choice for non-runners. “Everybody wears running shoes,” says Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running Co. in suburban Chicago. “There are more shoes out there than ever, but there are better shoes now than ever before too.” (Read more here.)
20. It’s been well-documented that Nike co-founder and former University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman used a waffle iron to develop his first outsoles. Nike thrived because of Bowerman’s innovation and has since become a $30 billion company, a worldwide leader in sports apparel, equipment and footwear. Bowerman passed away in TK, but his original waffle iron shoe mold was found in 2011 buried near his former home in Coburg, Ore. “It truly is the headwaters of our innovation,” Nike historian Scott Reames told The Oregonian newspaper in 2011. “From a historian’s standpoint, it’s like finding the Titanic.”