The 1980's through about 2000 was really a dark age as shoes became heavier, more gimmicky, larded up with all kinds of control mechanisms. Just contrast what Sneaker Report considered the top shoe of all time, the 1995 Nike Air Max 95 with some of my early favorites the 1973 Nike Boston, the 1981 Terra T/C and today's Vibram Spyridon, Saucony Kinvara, and Hoka One One Tarmac. We are lucky to have so many quite different but in many ways related choices!
1970's and early 1980's
|1973 Nike Boston (Sneakerreport.com)|
| 1981 Nike Terra T/C (sneakerreport.com)|
|1995 Nike Air Max 95 (sneakerreport.com)|
|2012 Saucony Kinvara (sneakerreport.com)|
|2012 Hoka One One Tarmac (hokaoneone.com)|
We're in a Golden Age of Running: The first since the 1970's
There is no question that 4 factors have us firmly in another Golden Age of running participation and innovation: the book Born to Run, the Vibram 5 Fingers craze, the popularity of trail running, and the dramatic increase in women runners, now around 50% in most races. The first 2 factors brought into question the need for all the over built control of most running shoes of the 80's, 90's and 00's. The increase in participation and interest in shoes to practice "new" forms of running allowed smaller companies to spring up and invest in innovation. In a nutshell the new paradigm became:
- a focus on reducing heel striking and running more naturally
- lighter shoes: seamless uppers, lighter midsoles, less stuff in general
- lower heel to toe drop ratio coming down from the long standing 10mm+ to 0 to 8mm.
- completely new ways of thinking about running shoes
The Innovators: These small companies in my view became the equivalent of Nike, the nimble start up innovator of the 1970's, running so to speak with the trends.
- Vibram-Near barefoot running
- Newton Running- actuator lugs leverage the mid foot, educated the runner on natural running.
- Inov-8- lighter weight, more anatomical trail shoes, purpose built for terrain and distance
- Hoka One One-oversized, super cushioned natural running, another way to the same goal.
As this is a top shoes post I guess I have to decide. I will break my rankings into 2 sections, most influential and my personal favorites from the recent past.
1) Vibram Five Fingers, or your bare feet. You won't ever see me running the roads in these but clearly practicing with what we were given was a radical shift from orthodoxy.
2) Saucony and Kinvara. Not really a great innovation but just the right combination of lightness, low drop, and cushioning to jettison the old clunkers for many. First company to "drop the heels" on most shoes.
3) Hoka One One and Tecnica. A radical take on more natural running for trail and now road. Low drop at 5mm, oversized footprint, rocker profile really gets you on the mid foot, light(ish) despite appearance, superb cushioning even on rough terrain. For long miles and for an aging running population, absolute heaven for legs and feet. Still a work in progress but getting better all the time.
4) Inov-8. Far lighter purpose (terrain and distance) built trail shoes. Got runners away from over built near hiking boots or road running shoes with a heavily lugged sole. Now innovating on the road.
My Recent Favorites:
1) Hoka One One Tarmac (road) review Tecnica X-Lite (trail) review
2) Inov-8 Road-X 255 (road) review: 2007 Inov-8 RocLite 315, F Lite 300 (trail) review
3) Brooks Pure Flow (road) review; Newton Gravity (road racing)
Yours? Please comment.