The fu­ture of run­ning shoes

You’ve learned about the his­tory, but what hap­pens next?

Trail Running (UK) - - The Science Behind... -

As you’ve read on the pre­vi­ous pages, run­ning shoes have come a long way since their ear­li­est in­car­na­tions, and the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances show no signs of slow­ing down.

TR caught up with lead­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers Inov-8 and Hoka to hear all about their lat­est re­leases, and the re­sults were pretty mind-blow­ing...

Lighter, stronger, fur­ther

When it comes to ad­vances in run­ning shoe tech­nol­ogy, it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a big­ger quan­tum leap than the one re­cently an­nounced by Inov-8.

The Cum­bria-based com­pany have re­cently added graphene – thought to be the strong­est and thinnest ma­te­rial on Earth – into its shoes, and it could be the start of a revo­lu­tion in sports­wear.

Graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of graphite, which was dis­cov­ered in the early 1500s near Inov-8’s head­quar­ters in the Lake District. Graphite has many uses, for ex­am­ple in pen­cils, but a huge break­through came in 2004 when sci­en­tists broke it down to a sin­gle layer to cre­ate a su­per-ma­te­rial. Graphene has al­ready been used in tyres, and is so light that a layer the size of 320 foot­ball pitches would weigh the equiv­a­lent of a 1kg bag of sugar, yet it’s also 200 times stronger than steel.

Af­ter 18 months of col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Uni­ver­sity of Manch­ester, Inov-8 un­veiled the G se­ries in sum­mer 2018. The Ter­rarul­tra G 260 (see re­view page 89) and Mud­claw G 260 – out this au­tumn – are joined in the range by a crossfit shoe. It took sci­en­tists 20 dif­fer­ent at­tempts to come up with the se­cret recipe for mix­ing graphene with rub­ber, which has been sci­en­tif­i­cally proven to last 50% longer than tra­di­tional out­soles.

For grip­pier shoes, there usu­ally has to be a com­pro­mise on dura­bil­ity, but Inov-8 claim this new se­ries could be the world’s first 1000-mile shoe. As Michael Price, Inov-8 prod­uct and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, said at the launch: “It de­pends what con­di­tions you run in. Can I say every shoe will last 1000 miles? No, not at this stage, but Jim Mann’s (for­mer Dragon’s Back win­ner) shoes lasted over 1000 miles.”

Inov-8 are tight-lipped about what else they’re work­ing on as part of the four-year link-up with the Uni­ver­sity of Manch­ester, but we can as­sume they’re look­ing at us­ing graphene in other ap­parel too. They also hope to have it in 50% of their shoe range by 2020.

“Graphene has lim­it­less po­ten­tial,” said Michael. “We’re at the start of a fouryear pro­gramme and over that pe­riod we think we can sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the weight of run­ning shoes.”

Of course, this tech­nol­ogy doesn’t come cheap and the ex­tra cost per shoe to the cus­tomer is around £20, some of which is due to the strong Kevlar in the up­pers – also used in bul­let­proof vests.

“It’s not an ex­ces­sive pre­mium,” ar­gues Inov-8 chief ex­ec­u­tive Ian Bai­ley. “Ath­letes wear out shoes very quickly and this is go­ing to last a lot longer, so the net cost over a pe­riod of time will come down.”

Softly, softly ap­proach

Run­ning in new tech­nol­ogy is one thing, ac­com­pa­ny­ing (in Tring of all places) the man re­spon­si­ble for an en­tire new brand com­plete with its revo­lu­tion­ary take on what a com­fort­able and cush­ioned shoe should look like is some­thing else.

Ear­lier this sum­mer we were lucky enough to put some miles in over the rolling hills of Hert­ford­shire with Nico­las Mer­moud, co-founder of Hoka One One (along with Jean-Luc Diard). Nico­las was in Bri­tain to high­light new shoes in Hoka’s range and, more im­por­tantly, talk about how he cre­ated such funky look­ing footwear with 50% more cush­ion­ing than com­pa­ra­ble mod­els. “Rad­i­cal change of­ten comes from try­ing to solve a sim­ple prob­lem,” he says. “Our orig­i­nal goal

was to im­prove en­durance race times by de­sign­ing a shoe to go down­hill faster. In do­ing so, we in­ad­ver­tently rein­vented the run­ning shoe. “Our new shoe im­proved the ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing up­hill too. And down again. And up again… It turns out re­design­ing a shoe that helps an ath­lete tackle 100 miles in chal­leng­ing con­di­tions can help all run­ners per­form.

“While trail run­ners by night, our day jobs were in grav­ity sports. We had a hand in sev­eral snow sport and cy­cling in­no­va­tions – in­clud­ing the par­a­bolic ski – and every day we’d ask our­selves the same ques­tion, ‘how do we go faster’? When we im­posed a form­fol­lows-func­tion dis­ci­pline to de­sign­ing a trail run­ning shoe, we asked the same ques­tion. We an­swered it with a shoe that was met with ridicule by the es­tab­lish­ment but em­braced by run­ners who started win­ning races – then shoe buy­ers started pay­ing at­ten­tion.

“Our de­sign ethos owes as much to surf­ing, ski­ing and cy­cling as run­ning, and the patented el­e­ments we in­cor­po­rated into the orig­i­nal shoe – aka the Hoka Dif­fer­ence – in­flu­ence every shoe we build.”

In case you’ve missed their shoes, Hoka work to the the­ory that cush­ion­ing is what you need most and as a re­sult build shoes that essen­tially sit on a plat­form that can be up to 30mm higher than stan­dard shoes. Min­i­mal­ism has been a trend in run­ning shoes, but now Hoka

lead the way in max­i­mal­ism.

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