Runner's World (UK) - - Shoe History -

In the early years of the new mil­len­nium, there were rum­blings in the shoe in­dus­try. Re­searchers like Bar­told and biome­chan­ics ex­pert Benno Nigg re­ported that they had failed to find a con­nec­tion be­tween prona­tion and in­jury. Others, like Peter Brugge­man, were find­ing that feet get stronger when you re­move highly sup­port­ive shoes. Har­vard pro­fes­sor Daniel Lieber­man pub­lished an ar­ti­cle in the jour­nal Na­ture that helped pop­u­larise the idea that run­ning is nat­u­ral and that we need no ad­di­tional sup­port.

In Italy, Tony Post, who worked for sole maker Vi­bram, saw a con­cept shoe that fit like a glove. Post was a long­time run­ner try­ing to re­cover from knee surgery; at the time he could not run in tra­di­tional shoes for more than three miles without feel­ing pain. He took the Fivefin­gers out for a run. The shoe forced him to run more lightly, with a rapid stride. Af­ter three miles his knee felt fine.

‘I’m think­ing, Was my form bad? Was all that cush­ion­ing in­ter­fer­ing? Maybe this is my so­lu­tion,’ says Post. ‘Then I started think­ing, Maybe there are other peo­ple like me.’

Mean­while, de­sign­ers at Nike were con­struct­ing a shoe that would sim­u­late a ‘free’ feel­ing while still pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion. Else­where, run­ners were try­ing out novel ways to ad­dress per­sis­tent prob­lems.

In Utah, US, for­mer high-school cross-coun­try cham­pion Golden Harper put his shoes in an oven so he could pull them apart and re­move the built-up heel. In France, ad­ven­ture-racer Jean-luc Diard ap­plied ideas he learned de­sign­ing ski equip­ment and bike wheels to run­ning shoes, com­ing up with a fat, tyre-like shoe. In Colorado, Danny Ab­shire, ul­tra run­ner, run­ning coach and cus­tom-or­thotic spe­cial­ist, was work­ing on a new shoe that would re­ward a fore­foot-ori­ented stride.

Con­sumers were af­ter some­thing new, too. ‘ We were in an in­no­va­tion vac­uum – com­pa­nies were adding stuff and mak­ing every­thing heav­ier,’ says Bar­told. ‘Ev­ery­body was tired of rigid shoes. It was the per­fect storm.’

That storm broke in the form of min­i­mal­ism, which achieved the sta­tus of re­li­gion. Chris Mcdougall’s Born­torun was its bi­ble and over­built shoes were the devil.

Sales of Fivefin­gers sky­rock­eted. Every shoe com­pany scram­bled to in­tro­duce their own min­i­mal­ist of­fer­ings. But the trend wasn’t just for less shoe, it was also for a wider open­ing of minds as to how run­ning shoes could look and act. Those in­no­va­tors around the world gave us New­tons, Hokas and Al­tras – shoes with pods on the bot­tom, huge rock­ered soles, wide forefeet.

‘Min­i­mal­ism made ev­ery­body sit up and pay at­ten­tion, and made the big five [Adi­das, Asics, Brooks, New Bal­ance and Nike] get off their bums and stop be­ing so lazy,’ says Bar­told. The re­sult was a boon for run­ners.

THE RW GUIDES By the mid-2000s, with the in­ter­net adding to the bar­rage of con­tent avail­able to run­ners, RW set about rais­ing the bar (again) in in­de­pen­dent, ob­jec­tive shoe test­ing by em­ploy­ing biomech­a­nist Ray Fred­er­ick­sen to set up the Run­ner’s World Shoe Lab. ‘Now we had an ob­jec­tive mea­sure that fit like a spine to an­chor the sub­jec­tive com­ments of the wear-testers,’ says Fred­er­ick­sen.

2004 Vi­bram Fivefin­gers soon be­comes the sym­bol of min­i­mal­ism.

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