I had always been skeptical of the shoe industry. Like any business, their goal is to make money. At some point, I got sick of the crappy high tech” running shoes” (and accompanying marketing) that made absurd marketing promises. I decided to embrace the minimalist shoe market, promote it, and attempt to sway public opinion towards a minimalist approach. This led to many conversations with both barefoot and minimalist shoe runners, lots of testing of minimalist shoes, and many conversations with industry insiders.
My goal was to educate people about the characteristics of a good minimalist shoe, how to fit them to you individual needs, and how to adapt running gait to run with more natural form. The result of my efforts (and the efforts of my many awesome peers) has been the development of a renaissance of good running form. Many manufacturers have not only started developing effective minimalist shoes, but also have embraced the fundamental philosophy of the barefoot/ minimalist shoe runner:
“Good running form makes a good runner, not the shoes a runner wears. Shoes are tools that provide protection but still allow good form.”
My decision to help Merrell develop their educational materials was heavily influenced by their entire organization fully embracing this ideal. Since they released the education stuff, other companies have followed suit. Not only does this acceptance legitimize what many of us have been saying for years, but it also has the potential to REALLY create an entirely new wave of interest in running among the non-running public. It will also shift the focus from selling shoes that are supposed to correct shitty form to teaching great form, then provide shoes that allow runners to maintain that great form. <bias> While I think Merrell’s education stuff is the best, the materials from other companies like Vibram, Terra Plana, New Balance, Newton, Kigo, etc. is really good and will only help to spread this wave of teaching good running form. </bias>
THAT EXCITES ME!
Sadly, not all companies seem to have embraced this ideal. Some are still just jumping on the minimalist bandwagon to make a buck without actually embracing the ideal. As I mentioned earlier, ALL companies exist to make money… that’s the nature of business. Some companies, however, will also work towards a greater good. In this case, it is easily identifiable by the press releases companies send out. There are still some bad apples out there looking to exploit the minimalist shoe market. Take a look at this post by Pete Larson over at Runblogger.com.
I’ve always been skeptical of Brooks despite the fact that they sponsor one of my heroes (Jurek.) To me, it seems their CEO is clearly attempting to convince an unsuspecting public that Brooks’ new shoes are superior while still defending the status quo. Their statements are filled with internally-contradictory statements. They cite unpublished research. They fully admit that marketing fueled the development of the shoes. Their message has more red flags than a Bolshevik rally. Pete sums up my thoughts perfectly with his last two paragraphs:
“At the end of all of this, what I really want to see is a more honest approach to the design and marketing of running shoes. I want companies to put science before marketing, and to publish the science that is done no matter what the result – after all, we are dealing with products that are designed to help people run safely. I want to know that marketing claims that are made are backed by sound data, and that they are not simply sound-bites that appeal to new runners lacking the experience to know any better. I want the shoe fitting process to be looked at in detail, and revised if what we are doing know is wrong (as recent science seems to suggest). I’ve singled Brooks out here in this post because I’m tired of reading the same-old rhetoric, but they are by no means unique in their approach. Industry-wide change and re-evaluation is needed. Injury rates are high and have not changed for decades – why is this? Is running just an inherently dangerous sport, or might shoes be part of the problem?
We need answers, and it’s time for shoe companies to take risks because it’s the right thing to do, to be truly innovative. Don’t settle for the status quo because it’s easy. Question dogma, do research, and publish it. We will all benefit as a result.”
I would encourage all of you to CAREFULLY evaluate any shoe company you decide to support. Some are making a genuine effort to redefine the way shoes are developed, manufactured, marketed, and used. Others are just looking to make a quick buck off the hard work of others. You know my opinions, but don’t automatically trust my analysis… go out and do your own investigations. Before buying into the marketing hype, carefully evaluate the landscape. Ask why this company is developing this shoe. Look at the other stuff they are doing. Do they internally contradict themselves? Is their marketing filled with buzz-words with little substance? Are they marketing to an educated audience, or are they hoping to take advantage of brand new runners that have not done their research? Are they trying to teach runners to run with better form?
It’s not too difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Be skeptical. Do your own research. Question marketing statements. Draw your own conclusions.