At some point, running shoes became complicated. I don’t know exactly when that was. I mean I don’t have an exact date or anything, but I’d bet that it happened not long after it was discovered that tons of people run, call themselves “runners”, and participate in events during which there may or may not be some running involved. This includes people who don’t, for whatever reason, consider themselves runners.
Anyway, at some point during running’s Second Boom, marketers all over the place got real, real, real excited.
And marketers within the running shoe industry pretty much collectively wet themselves because it meant, of course, that there were going to be a ton of runners who would need a ton of shoes. And so for the past, oh, I don’t know, almost 20 years, the running shoe industry has gone pretty much crazy. Even during the really hard parts of the recession, running shoe sales increased and event registration numbers climbed, which was a pleasant and welcome surprise for everyone in the business.
Alcohol sales did, too. So there’s that.
And because many of us tend to be a little, you know, geeky; and because many of us tend to be a little, you know, OCD about things, we got all crazy for our running shoes. Neutral. Stability. Motion control. Race flats. That’s pretty much it.
All of a sudden, Minimalism!
Minimalism was a direct result of people wanting something new in their running shoes. It was the result of people looking for something new to help them reduce injuries – good luck with finding some thing that will help that. And it was the result of people latching on to the book Born to Run. (Which had only one chapter about shoes, so maybe they just latched on to that chapter.) It was a confluence of several things happening at more or less the same time; it was the proverbial “perfect storm.” And that’s where minimalism came from, nutshelled for lack of space.
The term “minimalism” was never really right, I thought. If we’re going to apply it to art or music or architecture, fine. And I don’t know of a better alternative, but I felt that we’d automatically labeled something that hadn’t even yet been defined (and still hasn’t, definitively) and that would in turn polarize the whole discussion. And the discussion was the most fun we, in running shops, had seen in years. Never before had we, in running shops, seen at once so many brand new runners at once wanting to know about running, wanting to give it a go. Shoes got lighter and lower and more flexible. And like with almost every other magic bullet, people threw reason and logic on the ground and went head first into something new without first testing the waters a bit.
And then the pendulum swung back, like all good pendulums do, in the opposite direction, even to the point that now we have “maximalism.” Think HOKA. But maximalism incorporates many of the design features that were born of the minimalist movement—lower heel to toe offsets, lighter weight materials. And maximalism has given us the “bucket” midsole, in which the foot sits beneath the top line of the midsole and is effectively supported from heel to toe. So it goes both ways. What we see is that it really isn’t a polarized ideology or design ethic. It is a spectrum, along which we have any number of options or variables, and is the case for just about anything for which you could create a topic sentence; and we as runners are all the better for it.
We have so many options that sometimes, when I’m thinking about it, it seems possible that my brain might fall out. There are – I think – too many options. But that likely won’t change. The shoe companies, by way of competition, have to develop proprietary technologies that can be marketed to sell their shoes. It is much, much easier to sell someone on something that is tangible or easily identifiable than it is to sell someone a shoe that uses simple, clever and functional design and engineering. People don’t get that. They get gels, they get waves, they get medial posts.
Most running shoe stores have, at the very least, 25-30 styles each of men’s and women’s running shoes. Many have even more. I’d bet that if we had half that, if there were only about a dozen shoes to choose from, having culled all the models down within all the brands to maybe two per brand, people would still be able to run just fine, with no more or no fewer injuries than they have now. No, I don’t have a peer-reviewed study to show you, but I just know. Yeah, I know that you need this or that or you absolutely can’t run, but I bet that for most people, and by most I mean greater than 90% of us, we have more on our feet than we actually need. Need. I didn’t say want. But then again, that plays an important role in the whole discussion too, doesn’t it?
But it shouldn’t sound like I don’t like the way things are; that’s not the case. It means we have greater number of opportunities to connect with people who are like us, who have similar goals, even if we’re on different paths.
The question that I’d like to ask you then, is, how can we simplify our running?