Every athlete is looking for ways to improve their performance in the competition. In competitive sports, there are many ways to achieve good results, such as increasing your endurance limit and adopting a comprehensive and safe regimen to achieve healthy training. In addition, there are dietary supplements and performance-enhancing equipment such as swimsuits, baseball bats, golf balls, and more.
For runners, running shoes are their most important equipment. Good quality running shoes will protect the runners’ joints while exercising. They will also help runners achieve better results in the race and even win a race medal. The brands of sneakers worn by runners who have won running medals in the race will be in the spotlight the same as the athletes. The history of running shoes isn’t a long story. But it develops very fast.
The first running shoe is a relatively new invention – it dates back about 200 years. However, it’s much older than you could probably imagine.
The first sneakers were made of leather, which unfortunately had the tendency to stretch when wet, and wore out very quickly. Also, the first runners were not really meant to absorb the shock from impact and support an athlete’s joints – so, the risk of injury was extremely high, and feet suffered from pain dramatically.
Ancient civilizations and early footwear for running
Running has been a fundamental human activity since the beginning of time. From the Greeks to the Egyptians, civilizations all over the world recognized the need for protective footwear for a variety of purposes, including running. However, the concept of specialized running shoes as we know them today has its roots in necessity and practicality rather than improvement in performance.
In ancient Greece, athletes participated in various foot races during religious festivals like the Olympics. Their shoes, known as “krepides,” were simple, made of leather or woven materials and fastened to the foot with leather thongs or straps. These shoes were designed to protect the foot’s sole rather than provide cushioning or support for running efficiency.
Similarly, the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico is known for their running prowess in Central America. They made “huaraches,” which were sandals made of woven plant fibers or leather that allowed them to cover long distances with remarkable agility and endurance.
In 1832, Wait Webster patented a process that allowed rubber soles to be attached to shoes and boots, leading to the creation of Plimsolls, primarily worn by children.
In 1852, the first running spikes were introduced by Joseph William Foster, the founder of the Boulton company (now known as Reebok). These spikes were added to the bottom of Plimsolls to enhance grip.
The running shoes from the 1860s, currently housed in a British museum, feature spikes on the sole—a distinguishing feature from the casual men’s footwear of that era. Later, in 1890, Joseph William Foster, known for crafting handmade running shoes, innovated a spiked running shoe aimed at helping runners reduce their times.
During the 19th century, companies like Goodyear and Dunlop manufactured rubber-soled shoes.
For a considerable period, sports footwear was considered a luxury item—both the technology and the leisure to engage in sports were associated with the affluent. Running shoes only became a popular and affordable commodity after the First World War.
A significant shift occurred with the utilization of rubber for industrial purposes in 1892, allowing the fusion of a rubber sole with canvas uppers. These flat-bottomed, lightweight, and flexible shoes facilitated nearly silent movement, leading to their moniker “sneakers,” derived from the verb “to sneak.
Beginning of the 20th century: The Dasslers
Adolf Dassler, who is credited with modernizing running shoes in the 1920s, created distinct sneakers for long-distance runners and sprinters. In 1925, he began producing athletic shoes for sprinting and long jump, and patented spiked footwear with underfoot cushioning.
Adolf Dassler’s initial running shoe designs targeted short and medium distances, typically up to 800 meters. His innovations received international recognition for their superior quality, and he was endorsed by notable athletes such as Jesse Owens. Lina Radke won the first Olympic gold medal in the Dassler brothers’ shoes during the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, clocking a time of 2:16:8 in the 800-meter race.
- In 1948 the Dassler brothers founded Addas, which later split into Addas (later Adidas) and Ruda (later Puma).
- In 1949 Dassler added three side stripes to give support to the running shoe.
- Popular models of the period included: Adidas Waitzer, Adidas 10.0, Adidas Tokyo 64 and some others.
The 1960s: New Balance Produces the Tracksters
In the 1960s, New Balance introduced the Trackster, marking the first running shoe produced in multiple widths. This advancement accommodated a broader range of runners, ensuring an optimal fit for more people. The Trackster’s outsole was rippled, which improved traction, shock absorption, and injury prevention. This was especially important because injuries were common among athletes wearing metal spikes sprint shoes at the time.
The 70s and the World of Running
In the 70s running became one of the most fashionable types of active leisure, even with wealthy people, so the manufacturers of sports shoes could not pass by. It was the running shoes that the history of Nike began: one of its founders Bill Bauerman, athletics coach, was obsessed with the idea of making shoes for running lightweight as much as possible and experimented with technology a lot. In 1974, he came up with a bright, lightweight, and expensive Waffle Trainer, which was called “the hottest symbol of status” by Vogue magazine.
According to the story, Bauerman made his first waffle soles using his wife’s waffle iron. The kitchen gadget was destroyed (now it is stored in the Nike museum), but a technical breakthrough took place. It’s incredible how footwear has evolved over the years.
1976: Space Age Running Shoes
This year Frank Rudy of NASA designed the first air-cushioned athletic shoe in collaboration with Nike. He offered the idea of bags filled with pressurized gas that compress under impact. Thus, Rudy introduced air-cushion soles to the market, which are still used today, 40 years later.
The 1980s: Midsole Technologies Era
Nike, Reebok, and Adidas shoes dominated the market of running shoes, lots of celebrities were found wearing and promoting new cushioned designs and technologies.
In 1981 Saucony launched the Jazz trainer with the triangular tread blocks on the sole, which was a new way for footwear to absorb the impact on the runner’s midsole during long runs.
In 1984 Adidas Micropacer featured an electronic pedometer stitched into the tongue – the first attempt to meld electronics with running shoes.
In 1986 ASICS launched their first trainer with GEL cushioning compound made of silicone. It was found to displace 28% more impact than traditional Air technology. The GEL cush system is still featured in all of ASICS’ cushioned shoes. This time also saw the shoe world taken by storm with the release of the Air Jordan I by Nike and shoe tech became fashionable as well.
In 1987 Nike made a revolution in the world of running, creating Nike Air Max – the world’s first sneakers with a visible air cushion as a shock absorber.
Our century has become a time of accelerated development of running shoe technologies:
- In 2004 first version of Nike Free minimalist shoe was offered to athletes, however, non-runners also wore them in everyday life;
- In 2005 Vibram released the Five Fingers shoe for kayaking, which, actually, popularized among runners as a barefoot minimalist sneaker, allowing the foot move naturally;
- In 2006 Nike launched the Nike+ Air Zoom Moire, which allowed to sync your running shoes with your iPod to record time, burned calories, and distance;
- In 2013 New Balance presented the first running sneakers, manufactured using 3D-technologies: the laser scanner determines the individual characteristics of your foot, and the sole of your ideal runners is printed on the special 3D-printer bearing those characteristics in mind;
- In 2015 companies offered super lightweight models, which weighed less than 3 ounces.
- And even more options came about like running shoes for flat feet.
Running Shoes Today
Running shoes have undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, combining cutting-edge technology, innovative materials, and specialized designs to meet the diverse needs of athletes, enthusiasts, and everyday runners.
Integration of technology and performance enhancement
Running shoes today are a synthesis of science and athleticism, with advanced technologies aimed at improving performance and lowering the risk of injury. These shoes frequently include:
Cushioning Systems: Cushioning technologies such as Nike Air, Adidas Boost, and Hoka’s maximalist cushioning aim to provide responsive and comfortable rides while minimizing joint impact.
Supportive Features: Pronation control, arch support, and stability elements cater to various foot types and running styles, ensuring a more personalized and comfortable fit.
Energy Return: Many shoes now feature materials designed to return energy with each stride, such as Adidas’ Boost and Nike’s React foam, which improves efficiency and reduces fatigue.
Specialized Designs for specific needs
Running shoes are no longer one-size-fits-all; instead, they come in a variety of styles tailored to specific terrains, distances, and running preferences:
Road Running Shoes: Designed for pavement and consistent surfaces, these shoes provide a good balance of cushioning, responsiveness, and durability.
Trail Running Shoes: Designed for off-road terrain and variable conditions, with rugged outsoles, protective layers, and enhanced grip.
Racing flats: Lightweight, minimalist shoes designed for speed and competition, often sacrificing cushioning for agility and responsiveness.
Personalization and customization
Technological advancements have enabled greater personalization of running shoes. Some brands offer personalized midsoles or components based on individual foot scans or specific running requirements. Moreover, shoe companies provide personalized recommendations for the best shoe type based on running gait, foot structure, and preferences using data analysis.
Incorporation of Fashion and Lifestyle
Running shoes have evolved from a functional necessity to a fashion statement and a lifestyle choice. Collaborations between shoe brands and celebrities or designers have resulted in limited-edition releases that appeal to sneaker enthusiasts and collectors as well as athletes.
From their humble origins in ancient civilizations to the sophisticated and specialized designs of today, the historical trajectory of running shoes embodies an incredible narrative of innovation and adaptation. Starting out as simple foot coverings, these shoes evolved alongside human athleticism, driven by the desire for improved performance and comfort. As these shoes continue to evolve, they reflect not just advancements in technology but also the enduring spirit of human achievement and the ever-expanding boundaries of athletic potential.