The Running Shoe Pendulum Is Necessary

Joey with Altra Instincts 1.5
Joey with Altra Instincts 1.5

I have worked on this post for a couple of weeks now and I just want to add my two cents to this discussion.

What I have I learned about the pendulum?

I have been a running shoe geek since the late 1970’s, so I have seen many different styles, ideas and designs come and go in the running shoe industry, and tried more than a few of them.

Some of these ideas were ingenious, some were dumb, some worked for me, others did not, but it seemed there was always something new and different in the running shoe world for runners to drool about or try.

Then for about a decade (at the end of the 90’s) progress or innovation in running shoes seemed to stagnate, the swings of the pendulum were less pronounced and running shoes all seemed to look about the same and could be lumped into racing flats, traditional trainers and motion control categories, with an odd light-weight trainer or trail running shoe gaining popularity every once in a while.

We thought we were or at least we were told that we were happy with our running shoes, after all every year the running shoe magazines showed the newest and greatest running shoes.

Then “Born to Run” happened.

In my opinion and many others, this was the tipping point and when many runners began to question whether the running shoes we were running in, were the best for us or not.

Over the next few years there were new running shoe companies, old giants and even non running shoe companies creating running shoes that were different from what most of us thought running shoes were supposed to be.

Many, hell most of them were not anything I would/could run in, but they were definitely different and were challenging the status quo. They shook up the running shoe industry and the high-profile manufacturers had to move beyond their old traditional designs or get left behind. Some in my opinion are still struggling with this.

The pendulum started swinging again and the edges were getting further and further from the center and the designs grew riskier and riskier.

Minimalism

For a while it seemed that everything I read was about minimalism and how it could solve all your running problems. Even though many (not all) of these claims have been proved to be little more than marketing hype, than of real benefit to the majority of recreational runners.

Hell I even got on the minimalist running shoe bandwagon here and here. I quickly found that low stack height, zero drop, very little cushioning, extremely light-weight – the true minimalist running shoes do not work for me.

However, my foray into minimalist shoes did move me away from the so-called traditional trainer or heavy motion control, narrow toed shoes that specialty running shops recommended that I should be running in – to a medium drop, lighter-weight cushioned trainers.

Pendulum Swing to Maximalism

Now the pendulum is beginning to swing in the other direction towards maximalism, those running shoes which have more, hell let’s be honest mountains of cushioning and high stack heights.

At least that is what is being reported in the media and social media places where I hang out. Although I wonder just how many recreational runners are jumping on this bandwagon or not. However, many of the running shoe companies are beating the maximalism drum loudly as the next best thing.

Due to my personal preferences, I do not find this style of running shoe comfortable to run in. However, it does not mean that I will not ever use them, but they do not meet a need for me at this time.

What bothers me

Is when running shoe evangelists or even their detractors become dogmatic and do not let go of their positions or continue to push a personal agenda irregardless of  the studies, evidence, changes in opinions or personal preferences of the other runners they are spouting their version of their running shoe gospel to.

You know those who believe that their “ism”  is the only correct answer to what to wear when running and preach their “ism” message to all runners, without regard to whether someone else has different needs or wants from their running shoes. Then when they get push-back or get into discussions with a different evangelist, they aggressively defend their “ism” and feel the need to attack or ridicule other “isms” to justify their choices. From what I have seen it doesn’t matter if the evangelist is a supporter of minimalism, maximalism, traditionalism, motion controlism, dropism, rockerism, etc.

Then heaven forbid if you should ever change your  mind or learn more about one of the “isms”  that cause you to move away from a position that you previously held. Then you are ridiculed, reviled or challenged from both ends of the spectrum and others who might hold a personal reason to do so.

Let’s face it different runners have different needs or wants from their running shoes and in my opinion, no single “ism” that is the right style for every runner or even right for every running situation. Also as we learn more about what works for us, we do change our thoughts and beliefs regarding what running shoes we prefer to use. It is a natural result of trying new and different things versus becoming dogmatic or defensive in our approach to what we use for running shoes.

At least that is what my experience has been.

The reality is that

When I started writing this post, I was very negative about all the different swings that the running shoe industry seems to have, while chasing the next big thing in running shoes, especially how divisive it tends to become in some sections of the running community.

However, the more I thought about it, the more my attitude/opinion towards these swings of the pendulum changed.

From my view as a recreational runner, the pendulum needs to keep swinging wildly, it keeps the status quo at away. I know that some of the new designs will not work, but some/many of the designs from the 80’s didn’t work either and we do not know until we try, whether these new styles or designs will work or not.

There are companies out there on the edges, trying some amazingly different ideas: Hoka, Adidas, Topo, Skechers, Altra, Mizuno, Pearl Izumi, Skechers, Nike and so on. Yes, we/I make fun of some of the more extreme designs and no I will not be wearing some styles of running shoes (Springblade, Vibram, Hoka, etc.) they are too far on the edge for me, but they are part of the industry’s attempts to move forward and try new and different things in running shoes – which is a good thing for all runners.

It doesn’t matter if you like more traditional, motion control, minimalist, maximalist, split toe, light-weight trainers, racing flats, zero drop, medium drop or whatever works best for your style of running, there is now probably a brand/style (more likely multiple ones) that will meet your running needs.

It will be interesting to see what the next 10 years of advances in running shoes will be and how wildly the pendulum will swing during those years. Actually I am looking forward to it and can’t wait to see what happens.

However,  just because it works for you, does not mean that will work the same for others, so it does not cost us anything to be respectful of those who do not share your enthusiasm for a particular running shoe style. Just something to think about.

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9 thoughts on “The Running Shoe Pendulum Is Necessary

  1. People do get a little wound up in their own opinions, often!
    There always seems to be something new to try. As a runner, when I find a shoe that works for me I stick with it. I don’t buy shoes like you do, but I have strayed from Brooks twice over the past two years. I tried New Balance and they were okay. I may not have had the perfect model for me.
    Last summer I bought a pair of Newtons. When I first saw them I was skeptical but a friend of mine had great success with them. They seemed to work for me also.
    I wore them at the Bay State Marathon last year and I don’t think they were that helpful. Running on the flats I found the lugs to be awkward to run on and they may have slowd me down.
    But, I tried something new. I still wear them sometimes, would wear them for a 5K or 10K and think they are good on a hilly course.
    Innovation is a good thing and these companies need to sell their shoe as the next best thing in order to make a profit. As you know, innovation over the years has given us many of the great shoes we wear today. As always, it’s best not to get caught up in the hype.

    • They sure do, I am slowing down on the number of shoes that I am buying lately and have really only bought 5 pair of shoes since September and wore one pair out, and am currently running in three of them and got rid of a pair that didn’t work for me :-) I am getting better :)

      I didn’t have good luck with the Newtons, until I performed extensive surgery on the plastic heel cap, which left a scar, which I can still see. After that they worked quite well, but I swore I wouldn’t buy another pair, as long as they had the plastic heel counter.

      I love to see new innovation, but it doesn’t mean that I will be using it, but hey if it works for some runner that is all that matters. :-) But you are correct, the secret is not to get caught up in the hype and just use the shoes that work for you.

  2. Another great running shoe post! I totally agree – I got swept up when I ‘got serious’ about running, and kept trying to move more and more minimal. But what I found was that light weight, zero drop, and low cushion were not all the same thing – some shoes have one or two of those things, others have all of them … and each feels very different!

    I think it is very hard for runners to really figure out what works best for them – because shoes cost so much and it can take a while to really figure out if they work. Like you, I have been working on what does and doesn’t work for me.

    Like you I think that all of the pendulum swinging is good because at each node a certain set of runners finds what works for them!

    As for the ‘evangelizing’, it really does get out of control – and I find it to be very like the ‘clean eating’ crew. It is one thing to say ‘eat real foods and stay away from junk and processed stuff’ and to be helpful about good and bad choices (since new information means many things that USED to be considered good really aren’t) … but another to go around making claims about how not being vegan or vegetarian makes you a bad person or whatever. Again, what works for some folks will not work for others.

    And that is OK.

    • Thanks Mike – I am just going through taking thoughts and getting them out of my head, doing a little house cleaning up there on things that I haven’t felt comfortable moving on to until now. Especially since I no longer worry about impressing others to get writing gigs ;-).

      Luckily I have found two Brands and some styles in those brands that do work for me and my running has been more consistent and with the exception of my Achilles, doing better than it has in a long, long time.

      I just get tired of the evangelists always believing they right and everyone else is wrong or if you have changed your mind that they rip you apart or put in your face how you “changed” directions.

      It all comes down to using whatever running shoes work for you, not someone else. :-)

  3. I love this post. As someone with a biomechanical issue that only lets me run in Vibrams/minimalist shoes pain free, I felt somewhat intimidated posting about them in one of the running shoe groups after all the Vibram bashing. This article presents a rational voice. I think whatever shoe works for a runner is the right shoe – whether it be minimal, maximal, or traditional.Thanks for saying what needed to be said.

    • You have to run in what works for you and if works for you don’t be intimidated by those who have different positions. They are not the one running in your shoes and don’t know how the wrong shoe feels/hurts when you run in them. Thank you for the kind words.

  4. g’day from down under Harold. For almost 25 years I was involved with one of the “big 5′ running shoe companies, and as a consequence, I have seen many of those trends you report on come and go. I have also seen the stagnation you comment on, and personally witnessed the vitriol spewed by individuals on both sides of the discussions. I liked to think of myself as someone who followed the science, who understood the science, and in my role with the “big 5′ company, I saw myself as the bullshit detector who held the company to account on more than one occasion when things looked like going off the rails. When the barefoot and minimalist trend hit hard 4 -5 years ago, I thought it was a big worry, and a problem waiting to happen for the runner. With my clinical sports medicine hat on, I just could not see how this would not all end in tears. I was vocal in my opposition, and took a few hits for it, but the whole thing seems to have shaken itself out now, and a degree of rationality has returned.
    I also read.. everything from crazy blogs (which I still read and wonder at every single day), to a daily diet of scientific papers.. and I think I came to understand the progression within the industry pretty well. Amongst all those reading, I never came across a clearer expression of the runner’s perspective than the one you have just penned above. Inclusive, respectful, informative and optimistic for not only the athletic footwear industry, but for us runners. Thanks very much Harold!
    best
    Simon Bartold.

    • Simon – thank so much for your kind words and the many insights, you provide in this comment and on your website. I am just a guy who has been around a while, know that fads come and go, but also know that many of the running shoes today are better for how I run than the ones I ran in 5, 10, 15 or more years ago.As a non-running manufacturing/brand related guy, I can only offer the my experiences as a runner and think that others share my experiences, frustrations and hopes. Hope is the one that I have for the running shoe industry, they appear to have come out of their malaise and are attempting new, different ideas and some are willing to step out of the mainstream and try something that many of us consider “out there” as an experiment – that might reap benefits 5 years down the road, if it doesn’t work today. I really believe that we are in a golden age of running shoes and will be surprised and impressed with the future of running shoes – a least that is my hope.

      I just get tired of the vitriol and negativity towards those that do not agree with others that is directed by some out there who have their own agendas or have axes to grind with other members of the running community for whatever reason and use public forums to belittle or humiliate others.

      Simon I look forward to your articles and comments on the social media site where I get to follow you, you provide fact-based insights that are difficult to find out here in the wild sometimes :-)

      Thank you again,

      Harold

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