I remember racing in a pair of plastic bottom athletic shoes in my first 7th grade cross-country race. These were cheap shoes from Payless. Believe me, Payless wasn’t selling running shoes back in 1993. They did not have good traction, and I was slipping around the course. I still finished 7th that day but I knew I needed better shoes.
After asking my mom for running shoes, my first pair were the cheapest Nike’s you could find. White Nike “Decades” from 1994. These didn’t have the fancy “Nike Air” units in the heel or forefoot or the nicer foam EVA cushion. The uppers were also made of cheaper and less durable materials. They were light and fast but…they didn’t last long. They were still way better than those Payless shoes.
From there I fell in love with a pair of Reebok “Aztrek’s” with hexalite cushioning in the heel. These might have been my favorite pair of shoes in high school. A little bit heavy but well cushioned and they felt good on my feet. They lasted a long time as well.
I can remember running in several pairs of Nike’s and Reebok’s through high school and college. They were doing some really funky things back then. Nike had the “air max” and “shox” years. I did have a few pairs of Nike “air max” type shoes but the air pockets kept popping. They didn’t seem very durable for the long haul. I did not fall for those heavy and gimmicky Nike “shox” shoes. Reebok made DMX running shoes with air units that supposedly moved as you ran. I bought a couple of iterations of that shoe and rolled my ankles a bunch of times. I then switched to Asics and enjoyed the Kayano and Nimbus shoes.
It seemed like with the running boom of the 1990’s also came a boom in the shoe industry. All kinds of brands emerged and tried to mix fashion with some function. It seemed like style was more important though as a lot of the shoes were not light, durable, cushioned enough, or comfortable.
A few of the other brands I tried in high school and college included Etonic, New Balance, Puma, Adidas, and Brooks. I would say that none of those brands impressed me enough to win over my devotion.
After college I really grew to like Brooks. Especially the Brooks “Trance” series of shoes. I was bummed when they got rid of the Brooks Trance and moved to the Transcend and Glycerin. I did try a few pairs of both and in the end did not love either. I went through a few pairs of Pearl Izumi running shoes and then Hoka One One came into my life. I fell in love with the Clifton and Vanquish shoes. Unfortunately, the Vanguish is no longer made.
Today there are so many fairly new companies out there competing with the following older brands: Nike (1972) Adidas (1949), Asics (1949), Brooks (1914), New Balance (1906), Saucony (1898), Reebok (1895), Puma (1948), and Avia (1979).
Some of the newer running companies making running shoes include: Hoka One One (2009) Altra (2009), 361 Degrees (2003), On Cloud (2010), Newton (2007), Sketchers (1992), and Under Armour (1996). Then you have a lot of the outdoor gear companies also making running shoes (or trail running shoes): North Face, Salomon, La Sportiva, Arc’teryx, Merrell, and Innov-8. Note, this is not an exhaustive list as so many brands have come and gone in the running shoe business. There are lots of small brands out there that many people have not heard of like Enda (2015) a Kenyan founded shoe making company.
These new brands are exciting. They are challenging the older companies to innovate and to produce better shoes. Runners are discovering some of these smaller companies are willing to create products that answer the needs of today’s runners. Runners today mostly want good looking, light, cushioned, responsive, energy returning, durable, and comfortable shoes. As an example, we have runners who have different “heel drop” preferences, width preferences, and feel of the foam cushioning preferences. Some companies specialize in lower heel drop shoes (Hoka and Altra). Therefore, it can be fun to try different brands and models of shoes. Once you find what you like, I’d say try to stick with it for awhile and also be aware that sometimes the shoe you like one year might change the following year. This means you might like it more or it might become a shoe you want to abandon and begin to look for a different brand or model.
Lastly, if you are a newer runner, get fitted for the right shoe for your foot type. I am a neutral foot type which is the most common. However, today’s running shoes are divided into three categories: neutral/need stability and cushioning, flat footed (overpronator)/needs motion control, and high arched (supinator)/needs cushioning shoes.