While cushioning continues its comeback, runners are looking for more versatility and different experiences.
By Thomas J. Ryan
While minimalism may have taken a step back, it also opened many runners’ eyes to what shoes can do.
On the one hand, runners are increasingly looking for more multi-purpose shoes, including models that can handle a CrossFit workout as well as a road run, or a hybrid run/trail shoe. On the other hand, experimentation with minimalist and maximalist shoes is leading many to recognize that different shoes provide different experiences and benefits.
“Runners are beginning to realize different needs for different shoes,” said Claire Wood, senior product manager for performance running, New Balance. “It’s not a ‘be-all, end all’ to a certain offset, amount of cushioning or substantiation of shoe. There is something to be said for even the brand new runner having a toolbox of gear – different products for different days.”
Carson Caprara, Brooks’ senior footwear product line manager, believes the popularity of running experiences such as minimalism and maximalism has brought the importance of choice to the forefront of runner’s minds. He said that while runners have been told for decades what type of shoe they should wear based strictly on their biomechanics, preferences are starting to play a greater role in influencing their buying decisions.
“We believe the future of running shoes and the industry will allow the runner to choose their preferred running experience, while still providing support in new and smarter ways,” said Caprara.
Smarter support, according to Caprara, starts with the concept that the body has a preferred motion path where the joints are able to move with the least amount of effort and friction, which the runner recognizes as comfort. Footwear that is able to work together with the individual’s motion – not against it – will be the next frontier. Caprara continued, “The future is a 100-percent focus on the runner, providing them with the power to choose their running shoe experience, while celebrating their body’s unique way to run.”
Although classifications continue to blur, motion control and minimalism continue to lose ground while neutral and mild-stability categories continue to gain momentum.
“I think the run footwear category has found the bleeding edge of what is acceptable in the marketplace with minimalism and maximalism footwear trends over the past five to seven years,” said Michael Thompson, senior product line manager of Pearl Izumi’s run footwear & apparel. “You are starting to see brands and styles that represent both ends of that spectrum coming back slowly toward the middle. I believe there is a healthy space where you can offer a consumer a full range of run footwear that allows them to run in lightweight racing flats to high mileage trainers and everything in between.”
The ongoing popularity of mud runs, color runs, zombie runs and other casual runs are bringing newcomers to the sport. But Patrick O’Malley, SVP of global product at Saucony, said this puts responsibility on the industry to “make sure the customer has a real positive experience and stays injury free.” More debatable is whether the maximalism trend, initiated by Hoka One One, has peaked, but others see its influence just starting around running shoe construction.
“Maximalism continues to grow and evolve,” said Hoka One OnePresident Jim Van Dine. “As Hoka moves from niche to mainstream, we see our shoes and previous lines driving innovation among all brands. Runners are calling for dynamic stability, lightweight rides, and shoes that simply feel good – our Spring 2016 line responds directly to those requests.”
Hoka One One
Responding to runner’s requests for more stability with an entry-level price point, Hoka will be introducing the Infinite, $120. Built on a wider platform and featuring Late Stage MetaRocker geometry, the Infinite offers a strong balance of cushioning, stability and durability while remaining lightweight.
Another highlight from Hoka for Spring 2016 is the Speed Trainer, $150, a racing flat with the stability and cushion of a training shoe. It features Pro2Lite technology with a softer heel for cushioning and a firmer forefoot for propulsion. The RMAT outsole layer eliminates the excess weight of traditional rubber. While meeting the demands of its core runners seeking performance, the Speed Trainer is also designed to resonate with the young, fashion-forward consumer.
Along with greater sole padding, consumers also express interest in more styles and fashion colors. “Bright is the new black,” said Van Dine. “With hot new color ways in the whole Spring 2016 line, our products speak to a wider range of consumers.”
Brooks is redefining its internal footwear classifications based on learnings from its Stride Signature research project designed to build shoes based on individual needs and preferences.
In its Cushion Me category, the Transcend 3, $170, features a softer, co-molded GuideRail with less glue for a softer underfoot feel. The Nylon External Heel Counter is stronger and delivers support of calcaneal adduction. A three-layer Laser Cut Mesh is soft against the foot but engineered to be supportive where the runner needs it and breathable where they want it. The Transcend 3 also plays up an increased toe spring for smoother toe-off.
In the Energize Me category, the Ravenna 7, $120, plays up Brook’s Forefoot Response Pod Construction for a springier ride and sidewall geometries. A rear-foot saddle adjusts the foot as runners lace up.
The PureFlow 5, $110, in the Connect Me category, combines the sharp silhouette and flexibility of the PureConnect with the cushioning and run-ability of the PureFlow. The Midsole Flex Grid provides improved forefoot flexibility while a 3D Fit Print upper reduces seams and overlays,
The Neuro, $130, in the Propel Me category promises to deliver responsiveness, speed and strength to the runner although full details won’t be revealed until the Outdoor Retailer show.
For Spring 2016, Topo Athletic will introduce the MT-2, $100, an evolution of its popular hybrid road/trail shoe platform: the MT. The MT-2 retains the same rugged multidirectional lug traction; a fully gusseted tongue and forefront flex grooves while including more robust mid-foot overlays, better mud release, and added underfoot protection (a 23mm platform, 3mm drop).
“Although some consumers look for activity-specific shoes, most workouts these days are not absolute,” said Tony Post, CEO, ToPo Athletic. “There’s a good chance a runner will need to be on the road for a couple of miles before hitting the trail or a CrossFitter will be doing a WOD (Workout of the Day) that involves both lifts and sprints. People want a platform that will support these combinations, like the MT-2: rugged enough for the trail but flexible enough for the road.”
Saucony is looking to build on the strong response seen this spring to its ISOFIT technology, a system that adapts to the runner’s foot in action, with the launch of Everun, a resilient foam that delivers continuous cushioning no matter how long the run.
Using a new patent-pending construction method called Topsole, the Everun material is placed directly underneath the sock liner, tacked to the strobel board instead of embedding it in the midsole. Patrick O’Malley, SVP of global product at Saucony, said this brings the foam closer to the runner’s foot for a more lively and responsive feel. Everun has shown an 83 percent energy return and maintains its property three times longer than traditional EVA.
“Runners are really going to notice it later in their run,” said O’Malley. “Typical EVA foam heats up and gets softer the longer the run, just when the body gets tired and needs impact protection the most. Everun has the same plush feel in mile one as mile twenty.”
Everun technology will be featured in the Triumph ISO 2, $150, Hurricane ISO 2, $160, Guide 9, $120, Kinvara 7, $110, and Peregrine 6, $120.
O’Malley said Saucony is addressing the maximilism appeal with the new Triumph ISO 2, which provides ample cushioning in a more traditional model.
Minimalism has softened overall but Saucony’s Kinvara continues to find growth with its focus on providing a “little less structure to let the foot work naturally.” O’Malley is interested to see whether minimalism gains a bounce back once filming ensues for the major motion picture “Born to Run,” starring Matthew McConaughey as Caballo Blanco.
Overall, O’Malley likewise sees cushioning gaining ground over more stability-based models but also noted that many cushioning shoes now pack inherent stability. Said O’Malley, “Many runners can now wear cushioning shoes where in the past they could only wear stability shoes.”
From New Balance, the major launch for spring 2016 is the Fresh Foam1080, $150.Claire Wood described Fresh Foam 1080 as the “most pinnacle execution of Fresh Foam” yet, capitalizing on the brand’s data-to-design approach.
First used to build customized shoes for its athletes based on their landing patterns, New Balance’s design team used sensors inserted into the bottom of runners’ shoes, high-speed cameras, and tiny reflective balls pinned to shoes, to measure the stride of a number of active New Balance employees. The loads of data collected are now enabling New Balance to fine-tune the midsole.
Wood said New Balance’s ability to collect data and apply it to these products “delivers an incredibly authentic ride and a point of view around cushioning,” and the engineering and science behind the different experiences of the Fresh Foam collection.
“There is a beauty in the simplicity of Fresh Foam,” added Wood. “Our premiere cushioning shoe hits the scores we benchmarked it to, and does this in a very clean way. No parts, drop-ins and glues, but a singular platform we can alter through the data collected. It’s a pretty cool thing.”
Wood added that the Fresh Foam 1080 compliments its Fresh Foam platform by being the pinnacle offering, and offering a different ride and feel to the proven Fresh Foam Zante. Staples, like the 860 series, continue to be a focus of modernism and innovation. Said Wood, “No area of a line should lack forward thinking and movement, there is nothing that should be ‘preserved’ only for preservation sake if we know how to make better running shoes.”
Spring 2016 for New Balance also includes an update to its 1500, in the 1500V2, as well as updates to all three of our road flats – the 1500v2, 1400v4, and 1600V3.
Wood added that classifications continue to blur with New Balance’s neutral lines often tough to compare with other neutral shoes.
“We work to engineer shoes on what we call ‘inherently stable platforms.’ We don’t want an unstable shoe,” said Wood. “That said, the additional parts, densities, etc. continue to steer the classification – but the way a line is set up, the experiences products can offer have dimensionalized dramatically. It is the classification we all need to nudge forward into a more modern realm.”
At Pearl Izumi, spring 2016 will find new updates to the Road N0 v2, $100, Road N2 v3, $120, and Road M2 v3, $125, styles. The upper gains an advance with the use of the brand’s 3-D Seamless Print technology.
“Most run shoes are designed like a tech pack, with medial and lateral views,” said Michael Thompson. “I wanted to look at the new upper designs in a 360-degree way and have the consumer be really engaged with the upper design and where it starts and ends.”
The updates also paid attention to reflectivity. Reflective tongue mesh and laces, as well as heel welds incorporated into the shoes enable runners to be seen by drivers from over 800 feet away. The reflectivity is purposely added in “subtle ways” to give the shoes a natural look. Said Thompson, “We want these features to compliment the overall aesthetic and not dominate it.”
On the midsole, a new platform softens the underfoot experience of the Road N2 and M2. Said Thompson, “We have developed a new lasting board that allows us to use significantly less adhesive versus a traditional lasting board and it allows our 1:1 Energy Foam cushioning technology in the heel and forefoot to be amplified. The end result is a softer heel and a more responsive forefoot cushioning experience.”
From On, the Cloudflyer, $150, brings extra cushioning and stability. The shoe continues to feature the Swiss running company’s patented CloudTec system that allows for a softer landing and a more explosive take-off. But the Cloudsurfer is even lighter and more agile, transforming more running energy into forward motion. The patented Speedboard promotes a fast transition and propels the runner forward. To prevent slip in wet conditions, an arrow pattern on the outsole promises outstanding grip and traction. Around the upper, a uniquely engineered mesh puts breathability and support exactly where the foot needs it.
Ted Goodlake, On’s director of North American sales, believes the two talked-about trends aren’t offering wide appeal, with minimalism offering limited appeal to the gym or CrossFit-type consumer and maximalism proving to be a niche yet small category. As such, specialty run shops are still looking for products or a classification that can complement the dominant stability category.
“Neutral products that still offer cushioning but geometry that offers some support/not a post still seem to be a viable idea,” said Goodlake. “No one has really nailed this yet or has ownership over it. The new On Cloudflyer and the updated On Cloudsurfer are looking to improve on this classification of shoes.”
Altra’s biggest road launch is the Adapt Smart Shoe, $200, which senses a runner’s foot-strike, cadence, and pressure on each foot. The shoe then offers real-time feedback to a watch or smartphone and communicates that information along with coaching tips to help runners run with low impact and efficient running technique, said Golden Harper, Altra’s founder.
In the stability category, Altra’s Provision 2.5, $120, offers stability with the use of a full length Varus Wedge and StabiliPods in the midsole to keep the foot stable through all phases of the gait cycle whether walking or running.
Altra’s Olympus 2.0, $145, also gains a strong upgrade on the maximal side, while the new Instinct 3.5, $115, and Intuition 3.5, $115, feature updates on the lighter, firmer side of the spectrum.
“In spring 2016, Altra is continuing the course of offering everything from maximal to minimal to match the diverse needs and preferences of the modern runner,” said Harper. “Many customers are wearing and buying both a maximal and minimal shoe simultaneously and using them for a variety of purposes. I think this is a great thing.”
Technical apparel and footwear brand Salewa creates cross-genre footwear for mountaineering, climbing, hiking, trekking and other outdoor sports. The new Men’s and Women’s Ultra Train is designed for long, aggressive days in the mountains, made in partnership with Michelin tire brand to offer a cushioned sole similar to ultra-running shoes. Michelin’s Salewa sole offers a unique tread pattern and rubber compound promising a strong platform for hard-packed ground and double density EVA for ‘sole-unit’ interaction. Salewa’s new Women’s Firetail 3 is also made for mixed terrain, with a flat Vibram Megagrip sole designed for comfort and control. Although Salewa’s maximalist options do not conform to the foamy padding ordinarily associated with the term, they are durable and stable – two traits inherent in the maximalist category.
Salewa’s new Men’s and Women’s Lite Train, also made in partnership with Michelin, feature a tread pattern and rubber compound for “slope-traverse” stability and aggressive braking power. For minimalist performance shoes, it’s all about balance between durable and light.
The new Wave Catalyst, $110, reintroduces Mizuno into the lightweight support shoe category. Weighing 9.0 oz. with a 10mm ramp, the Wave Catalyst provides runners with a smoother landing and heel-to-forefoot transition due to a newly engineered pebax fan Wave Technology platform. The classic 3D fit Mizuno is known for offering a conforming, supportive upper while new stretch laces enhance the dialed-in precision fit feel.
A big upgrade comes with the Wave Inspire 12, $120, featuring a new design with the introduction of Mizuno’s latest material innovation, the U4icX (pronounced euphoric-X). The new midsole foam located in the heel wedge delivers a smooth, soft landing. A premium sock-liner and U4ic-X strobel material enhances the under-foot experience.
Mark Sheehan, VP product management, running, Mizuno USA, said Mizuno’s team isn’t seeing any new trends in the run space emerging in Spring/Summer 2016.
“Innovation is in the air though,” added Sheehan. “The race is on for the next big thing to arrive in the market. Mizuno is working hard in this arena. Runners searching for great running shoes are not going to be disappointed. The sport of running is multi-faceted with new runners getting the best each brand has too offer, and the experienced runners are able to really enjoy the products they have trusted for many years.”
At Newton Running, the Gravity V, $175, adds additional flexibility and durability with an entirely new midsole design.
“The upper of the new Gravity is also one of our best uppers to date,” said Mike Nesladek, VP of marketing for Newton Running. “It combines the flexibility and breathability that Newton uppers are known for with an all-new, four-way stretch mesh around the metatarsals. The design makes big strides in looks, fit and function.”
Newton will also introduce the Fate II, $129, and Kismet II, $129, in 2016 – both styles blending new upper designs, enhanced materials and new colors.
“Newton has remained true to its purpose and product architecture since its inception,” said Nesladek. “Not minimalism, not maximalism, but a true dynamic cushioning system that absorbs impact, loses less energy and propels a runner forward thus reducing effort and improving the ‘feel’ of the run.”
At Asics, a major update for Spring 2016 is the GEL-Nimbus 18, $150, with its new GEL placement offering modernized geometry of cushioning designed to increase shock-absorption, shock-attenuation and mitigate impact. The improved Guidance Line technology syncs componentry to the motion of the runner’s gait cycle. New colors for men and women will also be introduced.
With a mantra of “One Degree Beyond,” 361 Degrees, the second-largest athletic brand in China, launched this year in the U.S. with the help of ex-Asics Americas’ execs, Rich Bourne and Jim Monahan, is already earning accolades from the running consumer press.
For spring 2016, a highlight is the 361-Spire, $140, a high-mileage shoe with extensive cushioning, without the loss of responsiveness. The breathable air mesh upper with strategically positioned welds provides a comfortable and secure fit. The midsole is a three layer QDP system utilizing the brand’s coated QuikFoam with interlink construction to maximize softness and maintain responsiveness. The outsole is an ergonomically designed platform featuring forefoot cushioning with lightweight traction and flexibility.
Zoot Sports will introduce the Makai, $135, a neutral lightweight racing shoe. The midsole is a dual density Z-Bound with ZVA placed in a heel-to-toe configuration for support throughout the stride and late-stage pronation. Carbon rubber treads give the outsole lightweight, durable traction. A BareFit lining combined with the internal support structure feeds a close-to-the-foot fit while the breathable mesh upper allows for drainage and cooling.
A key update from Zoot is the Solana 2, $100, which gains new heel construction, durable breathable mesh, and a new sole unit with enhanced Constant Ground Contact technology.
“We strongly feel that maximal cushioning shoes will continue to penetrate the market, for that we will be continuing to support the Zoot Diego and Del Mar,” said Molly Kline Romais, marketing manager, Zoot Sports. “The “rocker” or what we call Progressive Forward Roll which will also be strong in 2016 as runners can visually see and physically feel the benefit. As far as upper construction, engineered mesh and 3D printing will continue to be strong throughout 2016.”
See this and other articles in the SGB 2015 Retail Top 100 magazine.