Americans are fixin’ for a sufferfest, it seems. In 2013 there were more than half a million finishers of marathons, an all time high, according to Running USA. And a report by the Outdoor Industry found that trail running grew 13 percent in popularity in 2013.
While running more than 26.2 miles still remains fringe, participation in classic ultrarunning events has skyrocketed. Here’s a sport where the trend is contrarian to the rest of the industry — athletes are staying out longer and pushing more miles versus the quick outdoor escape.
For summer 2016, running enthusiasts will seek a unique feel that emphasizes smart innovation and fusion of design and technology for a nimble, sprightly ride.
“What we see in trail running is that it’s getting more exacting,” said David Dombrow, vice president, design for footwear and accessories at Under Armour. “In the past, people had one arrow in their quiver. Now they have four arrows ... consumers want different running shoes for different running experiences.” Stop by UA’s booth to see its Verge Low GTX (MSRP $139), which contains a newly developed material that fuses mesh with EVA for a lightweight, structurally sound running shoe.
While high-cushion shoes still resonate with consumers, brands are trying to combine aspects of these maximalist styles (high-cushion, pocketed heel) and components of minimalist styles (lightness, proprioception). “One thing we’ve been very careful to do is not chase trends,” said Brian Moore, The North Face’s vice president of footwear product. “There needs to be a balance between performance and comfort. We didn’t want to go pure minimal at the expense of protection — we drive that middle line really hard.” The North Face’s new Ultra Endurance trail runner (MSRP $125), a lightweight, fast shoe with a luggy, Vibram sole, borders on minimal, but is designed for long distances. In terms of waterproofing, Moore adds that the running category will see more trail running shoes designed to get drenched, and drain quickly. “If a long-distance trail running shoe is waterproof, the heat generated from running is going to make your feet too hot,” he said.
Similarly, the Brooks Neuro (MSRP $130) epitomizes the 2016 trend of employing smart design for ultimate speed. Suitable for a wide variety of runners, Brooks employs sophisticated biomechanical insight to enhance how a runner’s foot naturally needs to move for high-energy return. For example, Neuro’s footbed is uniquely grooved to align with each bone in the forefoot for improved proprioception and high propulsion. “In general there’s a trend toward the idea of smarter footwear that learns from the lessons of the last five years — we’re using these key technologies to deliver on speed and to provide a fast shoe you can run in every day, ” said Carson Caprara, senior footwear product line manager for Brooks.
Keep an eye out also for suped-up, stealthy, Bond, James Bond-worthy shoes that optimize consumer performance using a variety of trail technologies.
Described as a Ferrari for your feet, Scarpa’s 10-ounce Neutron (MSRP $129) can power up uneven terrain for miles — and has enough protection to allow you to still come home with happy feet (i.e. toenails intact). Neutron’s dual-density injected EVA midsole paired with arch-wrap construction provides a secure and comfortable fit; a quick-drying synthetic leather and mesh upper encourages runners to forge through streams without fear of running in soggy shoes for the next hour. This is one race-inspired trail staple. Likewise, Adidas Outdoors’ new Terrex Agravic GTX (MSRP $150) is a talus-slaying runner with abrasion-resistant TPU welding, excellent traction and Boost, Adidas’ proprietary cushioning for maximum energy return.
Mammut’s MTR 201-II Boa Low (MSRP $169) for men and women is trimmed with a slew of high-tech attributes, including a one-handed Boa Closure System and D30 impact protection in the sole that remains soft and flexible upon each foot strike — technology that trumps traditional EVA. “We see the maximalist trend continuing as well as lightweight, vibrant and clean design aesthetics,” Mammut Apparel Category Manager Joanna Tomasino said. Also check out the brand’s new MTR 201-II Max Low (MSRP $149), a higher-cushioned shoe engineered for long-distance trail running in alpine environments. Training for the Leadville 100 Run? Check out the MTR 201-II (just don’t ask us to pace you).
Super-comfy rides born from thick soles continue to innovate with added stability. Hoka One One, for example, appeals to consumers smitten with knee-friendly cushioning in its attention-grabbing Infinite (MSRP $120) — a 9.7 ounce shoe that prioritizes steadiness — and the Vanquish 2 (MSRP $170), Hoka’s lightest shoe to date.
Both New Balance and La Sportiva also go plush to woo shoppers that love cruising long-distances. With Fresh Foam 1080 (MSRP $150), New Balance delivers a smooth ride while maintaining ample proprioception for high-mileage. Shoe designers examined running wear tendencies to create a bootie that securely wraps the mid-foot while also allowing the toes to naturally splay for increased stability.
“Cushioning doesn’t mean unstable,” said Claire Wood, senior product manager for performance running at New Balance. “Runners can enjoy a new take on our pinnacle cushioning offering, bringing new heights and great intelligence behind the engineering of Fresh Foam, allowing us to rejuvenate and refuel such a special space in performance running.”
And don’t miss La Sportiva’s Akasha (MSRP $140), a crimson-hued beauty jammed with technology including a dual-density, rockered sole for easy engagement, roll off and traction; an injection-molded MEMlex midsole (80 percent EVA, 20 percent SBR) for comfort and stability, and a reinforced toe bumper to protect against unexpected sticks and stones. Also investigate La Sportiva’s highly breathable Helios 2.0, thanks to its HyDrain Mesh wicking upper and a MorphoDynamic Injection molded EVA midsole.