The future of running shoes
You’ve learned about the history, but what happens next?
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.