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History of the running shoe

Running & walking are just about the most accessible sports in the world are.

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    Anyone can walk or run (or so most people think). You need almost nothing for it. Except for running shoes, socks, a special pair of running or hiking pants. And of course thermal underwear, a thick and a thin fleece, a wind stopper, a waterproof jacket for rain and a down jacket for when it's really cold. Possibly also backpacks in 3 volumes depending on what trip you're going to make, a GPS watch, a smartphone for posting your achievements on Facebook, Strava and Twitter and other social media and of course an external battery for your smartphone so you definitely have access to those social media channels. So almost nothing...

    But today we are focusing on the shoes. Despite the many scientific (?) innovations in running shoes, more and more people are getting injured while doing their favorite sport. Scientific research shows that almost 80% of all runners face injuries sooner or later. To understand why this is the case, let's take a look at the history of the running shoe in this article.

    1949 - Adolf Dassler

    Actually, it started even earlier. Already after the First World War, Adolf (nicknamed Adi) Dassler started making sports shoes. In 1924, he started collaborating with his brother Rudolf under the name Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik. At some point, however, the brothers quarreled and in 1949 Adolf Dassler founded ADIDAS. At ADIDAS the seeds of the modern running shoe are unconsciously sown. At that time, athletic shoes were primarily associated with leisure and not with running. Fact: the three world-famous stripes in the ADIDAS logo initially serve simply to reinforce the side of the shoe.

    1963 - Bill Bowerman & Phil Knight

    However, the real start of the global advance of the running shoe starts in the 1960s. Bill Bowerman is at that time coach at the American Oregon University and is always looking for methods and materials to make his athletes better. Until then, most athletes run on completely flat shoes with a relatively thin sole.

    In 1963, Phil Knight gets the idea to import Asics Onitsuka Tiger shoes into America. The goal is mainly to break the German dominance in the athletic shoe market. Phil is one of Bill Bowerman's athletes. He also sees something in these shoes and together they found Blue Ribbon Sports. Blue Ribbon Sports then focuses primarily on distribution (and not on manufacturing) of shoes.

    As mentioned, Bill Bowerman was always looking for ways to make his athletes better. Legend has it that he got an idea when he saw his wife baking waffles. If he could transfer the light texture of waffles to the sole of running shoes, surely this should improve comfort and therefore performance? Bowerman gets to work and starts further developing his idea.

    1972 - Nike

    Nike's first collection was launched in 1972. (At that time Nike is only the name of the shoes, and not the company). The first really known athlete to wear Nike shoes is Steve Prefontaine ( at his death in 1975 American record holder at all distances between 2000 meters and 6 miles). Because the shoes and leave specific imprint in the (then) cinder athletic tracks, he soon gets a nickname: the Moon Shoe.

    Starting in 1974, Nike launches the "Waffle Trainer" to the general public. This quickly becomes the best-selling running shoe in the American market. After that, things move quickly. More and more athletes get sponsorship contracts with Nike. The good example set by these athletes causes "ordinary" athletes & people to start wearing these shoes as well. In 1978 Nike also comes to Europe and in 1982 the worldwide TV commercials start.

    Driven by the success of Nike, all sports brands launch shoes with a (variant of the) waffle sole. There will be air cushions, springs, heels centimeters thick.... The thicker the better seems to be the general trend. But no matter what is devised, the number of running-related injuries only goes up.

    Biomechanics of running

    Modifying the running shoe also affects the biomechanics of running. The thicker heel causes the weight and center of gravity of the shoe to change. As a result, the runner is quasi "forced" to land on the heel. The impact in this landing is particularly high. And let's be honest: the heel is not exactly the best point of the body to land hard on. The heel bone is protected by a fat pad, but this fat pad is minimal. Ideal for the much lower (and slower) impact when walking, but not at all suitable for the hard impact of a heel landing when running.

    And so the vicious circle begins: the athletic shoe industry starts looking for a new material to absorb the energy or cushion the shock (although this is obviously impossible - just think of the law of conservation of energy). The sole gets thicker again, the (wrong) running pattern remains....

    So is it impossible to run with a forefoot landing with classic athletic shoes? Of course not! Just look at today's well-known athletics stars. If you analyze their running style you will always end up with the same thing: none of these athletes land on the heel!

    But making shoes can be done differently:

    1999 - Robert Fliri

    In 1999, Robert Fliri (an industrial design student) sets out to find a way to move better. He soon experiences that he is more stable on bare feet. Therefore he wants to design a shoe that approaches the barefoot feeling as closely as possible. His idea is a shoe with toes.

    In the same year, tennis player Tim Brennan suffered from various injuries. He goes in search of the cause of his problems and comes to the conclusion that conventional athletic shoes are the problem.

    Robert Fliri meets a certain Marco Bramani in 2001 and he is very enthusiastic about the idea. Marco is the grandson of Vitale Bramani, the founder of the world-famous sole manufacturer VIBRAM. Together they continue to work on the concept of toe shoes.

    Tim Brennan is simultaneously developing an equivalent idea: a minimalist shoe with an ultra-thin puncture-resistant sole. A shoe to protect the foot but maintaining as much sensory feedback as possible to improve proprioception.

    2004 - Vibram Fivefingers and Vivobarefoot

    In 2004, Robert and Marco apply for their first patent for toe shoes. A year later, the first toe shoes are launched commercially. From Robert Fliri's original concept grows Vibram Fivefingers: inspired by barefoot walking and hiking.

    Tim Brennan in turn moves to shoemaker Galahad Clark and together they found Vivobarefoot in 2004. Thus, Vibram Fivefingers and Vivobarefoot become the founders of modern minimalist (barefoot) footwear.

    2009 - Born to Run

    In 2009, the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall was published. In it, McDougall follows members of a reclusive Mexican tribe: the Tarahumara (or Raramuri) in Mexico's Copper Canyons. McDougall himself is a runner who suffered recounted injuries. In the book, McDougall marvels at the running ability of these Tarahumara. They run ultra distances (>100 miles) at incredible speeds. This on sandals whose sole they cut themselves from old car tires (also known as huaraches). The book gives a huge boost to the barefoot running movement as McDougall's describes how he got rid of his injuries by adopting the running habits of the Tarahumara. He claims that modern cushioned running shoe is a major cause of the ever-increasing increase in running-related injuries since the introduction of modern running shoes.


    Barefoot or minimalist running is gaining popularity daily. In Germany, several brands have their own stores. According to certain sources, even 20% of German runners would have barefoot or minimalist shoes. In the Netherlands, there are currently about five physical stores. Belgium is still limping along behind. That's why I started this webshop in 2015: at that time it was quasi impossible to find barefoot shoes in Belgium. In 2018, our demo space opened in Roeselare and in 2020 we moved to Kortrijk. After three years, it was time to move again and since 2023 we have a 200m² retail space in the centre of Bruges. Within the IEDEREEN LOOPT shop you will also find the Vivobarefoot Concept Store Bruges.

    But then the eternal discussion remains where is the scientific evidence that finally shows which running shoe is the best? Well, there is no simple answer at the moment. There is already a lot of scientific research, but the general conclusion is that more research is needed, where the research runs long enough and the test audience is large enough.

    What we do know is that many people with foot problems (such as hallux valgus, hammertoes, heel spur,...) can be helped by barefoot or minimalist shoes. And that a lot of those problems can be prevented as well. The choice is yours...


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    IEDEREEN LOOPT 9,5 / 10 - 1849 Reviews @ WebwinkelKeur
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