What's Up with these Shoes?At the end of the day, running shoes are no different than any other wearing apparel. What is ‘in’ today will be ‘out' tomorrow. Manufacturers spend many millions of $ annually for trend reports and color stories. The same holds true with technology, whether it be the newest foam designed to reduce pounding to the newest mesh developed to position our feet with a minimum of weight and restrictions. It’s fair to say that in the running shoe category, the only thing that remains constant is ‘change’.
Those of us on the selling floor will hear a lot of comments, observations and complaints but without a doubt, the most common statement will relate to color as in “what’s up with these shoes”? Walk into any store that sells running shoes, be it a big box giant or an independent running establishment like Miles Ahead and the first thing that you notice is color!…Lots of it. The selling wall resembles a jelly bean jar. We hear you. In my almost 40 years of running, I can never recall the variety of bold colors and exotic design. The irony to this expansive mass of color is the fact that if someone is looking for a plain, white shoe, you’re out of luck. They’ve come up with colors that don’t even have names but should you want a basic color, oh well. I suppose you could make a case that an all-white shoe will get dirty quicker but truth be told, I suspect the reason is more to the fact that white is boring. That’s a word that no shoe brand wants associated with their product. The industry is hard at work pursuing the age demographic that every business covets, the kids. It doesn’t matter that we ancients have more disposable income. Kids want color and flash, brands wants kids wearing their product, older runners better get used to it. Look at the bright side; if you’re worried about standing out if you wear flashy shoes, you’d probably stand out more if you didn’t!
The other big change we’ve seen in recent years is the basic design of the shoes themselves. When the running boom took place back in the 70’s, it was thought that the shoes had to be attached to an elevated platform designed to dampen the shock of the foot strike. Made sense, right? We ambled along blissfully under the conception that we were protecting our most vulnerable body part, our knees. Next thing you know, some guy writes a book about a tribe of Mexican Indians who run unheard of distances daily in leather sandals and get this, they never get hurt! The author then postulates that the reason so many of us get hurt is BECAUSE of these over-stuffed shoes and that all of us should learn to run as we would if barefoot. A simple slab of rubber for protection is all we need to run safer, faster and longer. Simply drink the cool-aide, adios your Kayanos, squeeze into some Vibrams and sure as Bob’s your uncle, you’re in running Nirvana!
Well, after making every sports podiatrist in the western world rich, people came to realize that barefoot running was NOT the answer to injury free running. While there were runners who benefited from the switch and have been happy with this new style, many others found that while their knees may have benefitted from this minimal style, other parts of their body didn’t. Injuries to feet and ankles proliferated. Sure, we weren’t designed to run with the heel-striking pattern traditional running shoes caused but we weren’t designed to run on concrete and asphalt either. Back to the drawing board.
If you’ve been in Miles Ahead within the last 6 months or so, you’ve probably noticed some shoes that more resemble moon boots. These oddities are from a brand called HOKA ONE ONE. They are at the forefront of a trend that is the polar opposite of the minimalist shoe. These shoes appear to sit on a mountain of foam and at first glance, they seem like their weight should be quoted in pounds, not grams. It’s fair to say that this is a very strange looking shoe.
At closer glance however, the concept has a lot of merit. Developed initially by and for ultra marathoners, the large foam platform is designed to absorb almost all the shock caused by the heel strike. Further, by examining the components of these shoes, you see that your foot is cradled in the shoe so your height off the ground is not nearly what it appears to be. It also borrowed a concept from the barefoot trend of having your heel height much lower to the ground than a traditional shoe. We refer to the “drop” in a shoe as being the height difference in millimeters between the heel and the forefoot. A traditional shoe might have a 10 or 12 millimeter drop while a minimalist shoe would be 0 or 2. These Hokas have a drop of 4 or 6. This lower drop encourages a more mid-foot strike as opposed to a heel strike. This is a more efficient stride that reduces shock to the body but doesn’t shift it to other vulnerable areas of the foot and lower leg. Oh yea, one more thing, the lightness of these shoes is astonishing. If you haven’t tried one of these on, you owe it to yourself to do so. Admittedly, these things aren’t going to win any fashion contests but they may save your knees.
Let’s summarize all this by saying that no “one” thing will work for and appeal to everyone. Any shoe company or retailer that tells you differently is fibbing. Change is inevitable. Companies must continually update styles, colors and technology to stay relevant. When considering a change to your running shoes, it’s wise to do some research and talk to your running shoe sellers in person. What may work for your best friend might not work for you. Only a fair and thorough assessment of your running style, foot and arch profile and goals hoped for with the change will reduce your chances of getting injured. There’s a lot to be said for sticking with what works but hey, we’re human, sometimes change is fun. Unfortunately, the expertise at Miles Ahead can only go so far and while we feel your pain, we can’t tell you when they’re going to come out with an all white shoe. What the heck, buy that chartreuse trainer with the neon laces and enjoy the looks you get on the boards. Hey, at least they’re looking!