AGE OF COMFORT M
inimalism exploded like a supernova, but then burned out. It promised too much and failed to deliver. People still got injured. The shoes didn’t turn us all into David Rudisha.
It ended badly. When Vibram was sued in the US in 2012 for false advertising, the heel-striking masses were gleeful. More than 150,000 claims were filed in a lawsuit.
However, while the fervour died, some of the ideas lived on. Shoes got lighter and simpler. Heel-toe drops came down, even as the pendulum swung back toward thicker, ultracushioned soles. Many of the new companies that were born in the great disruption thrived.
Companies are using materials such as expanded thermoplastic polyurethane foam in a bid to improve rebound, creating a bouncy feel runners appreciate, as proven by the success of Adidas’s Boost models. And designers are creating uppers with innovative knits, redefining running-shoe comfort.
Perhaps soon, companies will be able to print and knit shoes to account for asymmetries in each runner’s anatomy and stride, as well as personal preferences. We’re not there yet, but in the current expanded universe of models – from max-cushioned to minimal, soft, firm or bouncy ride, traditional fit
to high-top knit, and shapes for all sorts of feet – it’s hard to imagine we can’t all find one to take us on hundreds of happy miles.
THE RW GUIDES With minimalism disrupting design and new materials changing performance, the categories that had served well for nearly three decades began to feel inappropriate. So, in 2009, Martyn Shorten, who had run the Runner’s World Shoe Lab in Portland, Oregon, since 2008, began a study to group runners using easy-to-identify characteristics such as body mass index, years of experience and how prone they were to injury.
In 2012 the results of this study led to a flowchart that opened RW Shoe Guides by asking runners questions about themselves and their running, and directing them to appropriate clusters of shoes arranged from ‘more shoe’ to ‘less shoe’. In 2015, we refined the questions again and added a cushioning dimension to the way shoes are arranged, providing morenuanced clusters of models with similar performance characteristics.
And at the RW Shoe Lab in Portland, all shoes are weighed, their tops are cut off and they’re pounded and flexed by machines taking precise measurements.
This combination of data with weartesting feedback is the most effective way to help you find the best shoes for you. They’re still the most important purchase a runner will ever make.
2012 Nike releases the Flyknit Racer, its first shoe with a knit upper.