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How Running Shoes Have Evolved

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The Evolution of Running Shoes

“Running is about as pure a sport as you can get.” says Mark Denny from Stanford University. He references to the fact that for almost three decades running has been about the body, the ground, and the shoes. Every runner is created differently, and so are the shoes for that matter. Each runner is built to run a certain distance and running shoes allows the runner to do that. Technological advances in the running shoes industry has continued to steadily impact and improve how runners run. Running shoes allows the runner to run and increase their speed while providing comfort.

Every runner is built to run a certain way and built to run a certain distance. Sprinters have shorter achilles tendons and longer toes than non-runners of a similar height, as a study published by the Journal of Experimental Biology shows. The runner, or sprinter in this case, is built a certain way which allows them to run a certain way. Sprinters rarely make good marathon runners, and marathoners hardly sprint because of his/her natural ratio of fast- and slow- twitch fibers. Sprinters tend to have about 75-80% of fast-twitch muscles which may be why they were drawn to this particular sport. Which is why steroids are banned, because they increase the fast-twitch fibers. Instead of turning to drugs to enhance the fast-twitch fibers, turn to the shoes. Running shoes allows the sprinter or marathoner to increase their speed. Even though marathoners don’t have a high ratio of fast-twitch fibers, shoes still allow them to increase their speed and run faster which improves time. How the runner is built ultimately determines what type of shoe they will need to achieve their maximum speed.

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The cushioning in a shoe is important because it affects how a runner is able to run. With help from Bill Bowerman, the first highly cushioned running shoe was created. Onitsuka Tiger Cortez, is developed in 1967. Which is then praised for their glove-like fit, barefoot feel, and flexibility that offered ground-breaking cushioning. Cushioning provides comfort to the runner, while adding bounce into the runners step as they run giving them the feeling of running on air. Bowerman then started to develop the waffle shoes, which he did so by melting rubber in his kitchen in 1981. The waffle shoes provide grip, flex characteristics, and a more defined cushioning. Unfortunately, waffles shoes don’t get the credit they deserve. They’re one of the first shoes to provide all of the things to make running shoes more efficient and comfortable. The creation of waffle shoes have had a big impact while setting the bar on how running shoes should be made.

Something still being used today is Ethylene Vinyl Acetate.Terry Turner, then president of Brooks, received a phone call one day from world class runner Marty Liquori who basically gave him an education on how shoes should be made. Turner then went to see a representative from the Monarch Rubber Company in Baltimore, and told him what characteristics he wanted in his shoe. The next day the representative came back and showed Turner EVA. EVA adds another step into the making the perfect shoe because EVA also adds a cushioning and spring. EVA is still the primary ingredient in most running shoe midsoles, which gives the runner a feeling of running barefoot. In 1981, Nike released the first shoe with a molded midsole made out of compressed EVA, called Phylon. EVA is still being used either as natural EVA or as Phylon to add even more comfort to running shoes. EVA has impacted the running shoes industry, and is still being used in shoes today.

There has also been other technological advances in the running shoes industry that has benefitted runners. “Very few running shoes were available, if they could be called that,” explains running shoes collector Dave Kayser, who started running in 1966. “They were heavy and stiff.” Comparing running shoes from back then to now, it is obvious to see that running shoes have come a long way and are still continuing to be improved. Companies started using new materials like expanded thermoplastic polyurethane foam in a race to improve rebound, creating a more bouncy feel that runner’s clearly appreciated. Thermoplastic polyurethane is usually used on the bottom of the shoe. It has a lightweight design that guarantees improvement in speed while also guaranteeing a long-lasting use. The knowledge of running shoes continue to grow and improve in order to help benefit all runners.

The running shoes industry has continued to improve and evolve in order to allow the runner to increase their while providing maximum comfort. Every runner is built a certain way and born to run a certain distance. Whether they’re running in waffle shoes that provided grip, flex characteristics, and cushioning or running in Adidas Boost shoes which uses thermoplastic polyurethane to provide even better cushioning and a bounce-back responsiveness. “A lot of what technology does is to improve the interaction with the environment so you lose less energy.” explains Thomas Roberts of Brown University. As of now, the runner picks the shoes. But, in the near future shoes may be constructed perfectly by a machine. Technological advances continue to improve the running shoes for runners and guarantees them the best fit, increased speed, and long-lasting comfort.


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