by Christine Bishop
I may not be as old as a rock but close to it. I started to run in 1974 and have seen massive changes in running shoes. When Bobbi Gibb ran the Boston Marathon in 1966, two months after receiving a rejection to enter because “women were not physiologically capable of running marathon distances and that under the rules that governed amateur sports set out by the AAU, women were not allowed to run more than a mile and a half competitively,” she ran in nurse’s shoes because there were no sneakers designed for women then. Women’s running shoes were first introduced with Nike’s Waffle Trainers in the late 1970s, and since then the changes for both sexes in color, comfort, and weight have been phenomenal.
I have always loved color, as anyone can see who looks at my Facebook homepage with pictures of me in a tie dye shirt and a hot pink winter jacket. The early running shoes of the seventies could best be described as blah. I remember being thrilled by a red Nike Whoosh on a white background, which today would be considered beyond dull. Nike went on to kickstart the color revolution as their bold and sassy colors went from beyond the colors in the rainbow to brightly radiant neon, ultraviolet day-glo colors that can probably be visible from other planets. Men’s shoes were dull for decades being different shades of gray, but slowly that changed to the point that today seeing men in day-glo pink or lemon colors doesn’t even get a glance. In fact, certain brands offer more spectacular colors for men than women. For example, my hunt for day-glo yellow shoes has still not been successful.
Comfort has been another huge area of change. The days of Keds’ cushioning have seemingly been replaced by pillows. Again, Nike led the way in the cushioning craze. I remember literally bouncing as I ran or walked in my first pair of Nike Zoom Vomero shoes. What a heavenly feeling. It was so much fun. The cushion craze swelled until Hoka brought it to its zenith with the Bondi shoe. The designers wanted to bring a “floating feel” to running and they succeeded.
As running shoes were developed, technological advances were incorporated that made it possible to reduce the weight of shoes while retaining their strength, which is amazing considering the wear and tear of running with its attendant pounding. In the beginning, running shoes were clunkers, with soles of some models wearing out quickly, and then gradually they began to get lighter. I remember the first time I bought an ultra light racing shoe in 2014, my husband advised me not to buy them, that it was a fad. How could I not purchase them because they were a bright day-glo-pink? I wore the shoes at the Last Run race and actually beat my husband. He said after the race, which is run at night, “I thought that was you but knew you couldn’t run that fast.” From then on, I realized the importance of shoe weight when running. Today’s best racing shoes weigh on average 6 ounces and are brightly colored.
I intended to end my essay here but saw a new feature of running shoes that is very important in today’s world: shoes that are environmentally friendly. It is thought by many that the dumps are full of used running shoes. To combat this, many companies are now using recycled materials to make shoes. For example, Newton shoes contain 4 plastic bottles in one pair and additionally the sole is biodegradable. On Running launched a shoe made from Cyclon, a material made from castor beans. Hoka is incorporating sustainable fabrics in materials in its shoes. Merrell and Vibram have teamed up to make trail shoes that include 65% recyclable material in the upper part, 100% recycled laces, and 100% recycled webbing.
In the future, there will be more exciting trends in running and training shoes that will make them better and faster. Time is approaching when a marathon will be run in less than 2 hours and that will be because of, among other things, the advances in running shoes. Enjoy experiencing these changes as I have.