WHENEVER I return back home to Australia one of the first things I do is head into some running shoe stores, (after I buy a collection of Bonds underpants and eat some Moreton Bay Bugs). Aside from enjoying the thrill of being in a store that actually has shoes in my size, I am always eager to see the local trends in the running shoe market and get an idea of what the staff are recommending.
Running shoe retailers fill a very important role and some are excellent professionals who have a great depth of knowledge. We generally recommend people to go to the smaller running specific stores that are often staffed and owned by passionate runners who have a good understanding of the needs of casual and competitive runners. I love to have a chat with them, try (and often buy) some shoes and do some quality eavesdropping . It’s nice to be able to eavesdrop again when back home = ) but it’s also nice to be back in the bubble in Japan, where others conversations float blissfully over your head.
I was disappointed, but not surprised to see that still 90% of most running shoe shelf space is taken up by maximalist running shoes. It was interesting to see that there were sections of the shelf dedicated to ‘minimalist’ and ‘bare-feet shoes’, even if they only housed a few shoes. The staff I witnessed were almost exclusively recommending the big bulky shoes, including for beginners and children. As far as I could tell the recommendations seemed to be based on the following:
1. Type of arch/foot (motion control or stability for flat feet, neutral cushioning for high-arch feet)
2. Training volume (those who run more can use thinner shoes while others need to resort to maximalism)
3. Runner’s weight (big bulky shoes for bigger persons).
For a long time, I thought that such recommendations were the result of a lack of understanding of running and also out of habit, from years of prescribing maximalist running shoes. However it seems clear that what lies beneath is the business that has developed around these big bulky shoes. Running shoe companies and even some running specialty stores have their businesses tied to the promotion of the shaky scientific claims of their shoe technology, and they are not going to give them up easily.
Would it be possible that marketing has prevailed over science?
It wouldn’t be the first time.
I know we (running specialist physios, shoe retailers and running shoe company employees) love running and want more people to run regularly, but the commercial stimuli is ever-present and influential.
We need to consider if it is possible to integrate science into an artistic/marketing approach so deeply rooted that it fails to understand the changes that science is putting forth for the benefit of runners.
My take home messages from this are:
- If you are a parent of young children – get your kids in barefeet or minimalist shoes.
- If you are embarking on a training program for the first time, opt for light shoes with less interference between your foot and the ground, even if you are overweight.
- If you are interested in improving your performance and wear big bulky shoes in most of your training and racing– progress towards lighter shoes such as ‘racing flats’.