Memorable Developments in Running Shoes – Thinking Back with Store Manager & Shoe Buyer Craig

As we close in on our upcoming 25th store anniversary this summer, we thought it would be fun to get some insights from beloved store manager and shoe buyer Craig, who has been here since the beginning on changes he has seen over the years.
Craig, what have been some of the most memorable developments in running shoes since the store opened almost 25 years ago?

I find it fascinating that 2 seemingly opposite trends (“minimal” footwear vs. “maximal” footwear) both had their genesis in 2009. Christopher McDougall wrote “Born To Run” in 2009, and his highly entertaining tale sparked the whole barefoot-minimal movement. The running shoe brands reacted with dozens of “barefoot” styles….remember the New Balance “Minimus” line, or the Brooks “Pure Project” series, or the Vibram “Five-Fingers” gloves for your feet? Also in 2009, the French founders of HOKA were inventing their super-thick foam-cushion shoe, designed to let racers “fly” down steep mountain trails. It seemed that from 2010 through 2012, most runners were obsessed with low-drop, barely there shoes……but the “Hoka Effect” is still expanding today! It took 7 or 8 years to really catch on, but eventually the pendulum of perceived comfort swung away from low cushion and over to MAX cushion. Hoka popularity exploded. Now all the other brands are following with their versions of a light shoe touting thick mid-soles for more and more shock absorption.
Another development that grew out of Minimalism has been the focus on toe-box shape. The brand Altra combined a zero-drop (no difference in the underfoot thickness between heel and ball of foot) design with a rounder (“foot-shape”) forefoot shape. When we opened in 1999, we needed to stock more shoes in narrow (2A for women and B for men) sizes. Today we have numerous options in wide or extra-wide (including brands like Altra and Topo which have a rounder forefoot shape)…..while our collection of narrow shoes has diminished. I feel that this is a good trend, as the emphasis is more on foot comfort and health as opposed to a slender-looking profile. Function over fashion!
Yet another area of growth has been the impact of science in the form of chemical engineers constantly tinkering in laboratories to develop better midsole materials. Polyurethane used to be a common material used for shock absorption in running shoes. By today’s standards, polyurethane is shockingly heavy….and it devolves into crumbly chunks after a few years! Next came EVA (“ethyl-vinyl-acetate”)…TPU...Pebax…supercritical foam (where gas such as nitrogen is injected into the foam during the moulding process)…..the result is a midsole material that checks all the boxes (light, soft, energy-return/bouncy, durable)!!
Lastly, the advent of PLATED footwear is an interesting development for folks looking to increase speed and performance. Whatever you think of Nike, they have always been a brand steeped in innovation and technology. Nike’s Vaporfly 4% racing shoe, which was introduced in 2017, became the first mass-produced carbon-plated running shoe. The carbon plate imbedded in the shoe’s foam midsole acts as a spring-plate to boost the runner’s forward momentum. Nike’s research concluded that the shoes would help a racer drop their time by approximately 4%. Since that introduction, nearly every running shoe brand has followed with multiple versions of plated footwear, all designed to increase the amount of energy-return. Do you plan on entering a hilly trail race and want to crush the uphill section?….Try racing in a carbon-plated trail runner such as Nike’s UltraFly!
Can you talk about the importance of color when it comes to our shoe selection and how things have changed over the years.

One change that really jumps out at me is the importance of COLOR when it comes to our shoe selection. When we opened in 1999, most of the shoes were predominantly white with some blue, black or silver trim. Some crazy shoes had a bit of red trim! We generally carried shoe styles in one color option. Nowadays, we need to stock multiple colors in our core shoe styles. In some cases we will have 6 or 7 color options in a women’s size 8 in a key Hoka or Brooks shoe style! The advent of the internet and ubiquitous use of smart phones really helps the consumer search and find color options while they are shopping. This results in more “Special Orders” for a fresh color, even though we may have 3 color options in the right size in stock.
We’ll have more insights and reflections from Craig in the future. 

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