I am now in my 40th year of competitive running and depending on decades have worn many of Sneaker Reports picks especially those from the 1970's and early 1980's and those from the last ten years. Quite frankly, I did not run as much from the mid 80's through about 2000 and even when I did looking at the shoes from that period they are not exactly memorable: heavy, over built with lots of "control.
The 1970's : Light, Low Drop and Fast. Sound Familiar?
Before the early 1970's running boom running shoes were leather, heavy and clunky. I was lucky that my hometown had not the only East Coast sales guy for the iconic Onituska Tiger Marathon and trainers but the same fellow, Jeff Johnson along with Phil Knight both went from being Tiger distributors to starting Nike. Jeff Johnson located original Nike R&D facility in my hometown of Exeter NH.
|Tiger Marathon (runningpast.com)|
|Nike Boston circa 1973 www.sneakerreport.com|
This shoe while still light was a big improvement over the Marathon as it had some cushioning. I suggested to Nike they waffle my Bostons, and they did, and this is to this day it is my favorite all time racing shoe, great from short muddy cross country races to marathons. Not really much different than today's minimal Brooks Pure Project, Saucony A4, Inov-8's, etc...Note the low drop and roomy seam free toe box.
Most Timeless Running Shoe: Brutting Lydiard Marathon and Road Runner How about a running shoe that remains totally unchanged since about 1970 and is still on sale? Arthur Lydriard, the famous New Zealand coach designed a shoe in collaboration with a small German shoe maker Brutting sometime in the late 1960's. Very lightweight, made of natural materials with a supple suede (kangaroo then ouch!) leather and gum rubber outsole they are still handmade on a crescent shaped anatomical last. I had several pairs of these in the 1970's and they were fantastic trainers and racers, stylish then and now to boot. They can be purchased from Manufactum in the UK
|EB Lydiard Marathon (Manufactum)|
|EB Lydiard Road Runner (Manufactum)|
The 1980's: New Materials and Technologies
1979-1981 were big years for running shoe innovation. Nike's Exeter labs came up with 2 shoes that should be on anybody's top 10 list of greatest running shoes. Both shoes addressed the issue of compacting of the midsole and cushioning, yet in different ways. Early midsole materials compacted very quickly. Hard to imagine this today with the various EVA's, gels, plastic plates etc... allowing shoes to appear almost new after hundreds of miles.
The Nike Tailwind (not on Sneaker Report list) , with a retro reintroduction in 2012, was the first shoe to incorporate Nike Air. I had several pairs and they made big miles day after day far less painful.
|Nike Tailwind (Nike Inc.)|
|Nike Terra T/C (sneakerreport)|
The Late 1980's, 1990's, early 2000's
I ran less in these years and looking at Sneaker Reports many top shoes from this period I quite frankly don't remember any of these increasingly heavy and clunky shoes as memorable. Mostly cartoonish design statements. And while Sneaker Report has done an admirable job in creating this running shoe top 100 list it feels their choices are heavily influenced by the retro collectible fashion market and not performance innovations as many many top shoes are from this "dark" period of overbuilt shoes. Witness their #1 overall pick the 1995 Nike Air Max 95
|Nike Air Max 95 (sneakerreport.com)|
In my next post I am going to roll forward to the last 5 years or so. After a good 20 years or so of stagnation the wonderful increasing popularity of running, coupled with recent innovations and changes in running shoe design and running philosophies have us in a new golden age of running shoe choice, much like I saw in the earlier 1970's running boom.
Update: Here is my post about the top trends and shoes of what I am calling a new Golden Age of Running and... shoes.