Running is one of the most popular and practiced sports worldwide. In the United States alone, almost 60 million people participated in running, jogging and trail running in 2017.  More and more men and women are lacing up and pinning on race bibs. One of the advantages of running is that there is not too much that you need to buy before getting started. The most important piece of training equipment is your running shoes.

Footwear is the most important piece of running kit. It is always nice to have the latest gear to make you look and feel good but good footwear is essential to avoid injury.

Usain Bolt  –  The world’s fastest man

Today, runners have their pick of foot suit—ranging from minimalist options like Vibram FiveFingers as a more natural alternative to plush offerings like the Hoka One One Bondi 6.  Shoe companies offer shoe specific to runners’ individual gait type and shoes for those who need stability or have flat feet. But 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. If you’ve ever questioned what running shoes are, here’s everything you need to know.

What is a running shoe?  

Primarily the question seems simple to answer, but the moment you start to think about the answer, it’s surprisingly complex. Even for the experts, it’s hard to explain what is running shoe? What makes it different from any athletic shoe? 

Running shoes contain specialized technology and design features to help you run and provide stability for runners by having a built-up heel. Such shoe offers more cushioning in the heel and forefoot as Runners impact the ground with three times their body weight with each step. In other activities, your body may move from side to side, up and down, with blasts of speed and sudden stops. In running, your foot hits the ground in basically the same way with each step. Running shoes are designed to prevent injury from that repetitive motion and help you to move forward with greater ease.

 How much did you spend on your last pair of running shoes? 
Running shoes

The statistic shows the amount of money people spent on their last pair of running shoes according to a survey carried out in late 2017. A quarter of the survey respondents said that they spent between 101 and 120 U.S. dollars on their last pair of running shoes.


Running as a sport can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. During Greek athletic contests, runners competed barefoot and often naked. Later, the Romans mandated that their messengers wear thin-soled sandals. As shoemaking evolved through the centuries, leather became and remained the favored material because of its durability. The first event of the first-ever Olympics Games was a foot race. The first Running shoe was made of leather, which unfortunately tended to stretch when wet, and wore out very quickly. Those first running shoes were not meant to absorb the shock from impact and support an athlete’s joints – so, feet suffered from pain dramatically and the risk of injury was extremely high. 

History of running shoes

Wait Webster patented new process called vulcanization whereby, heat is employed to fuse rubber and cloth together, it led to the invention of the first plimsolls – a light rubber-soled canvas shoe, worn especially for sports.

In 1852, spikes were added to the bottom of Plimsolls for improved grip. Such running spikes were first pronounced by Joseph William Foster, the founder of the Boulton company (today Reebok).  The running shoes of the 1860s, found in a museum in Northampton, England—a town renowned for its shoemaking at the time, looked like someone had hammered nails through a pair of Oxfords.

For a very long time, sports footwear was admitted as an attribute of a luxury life – both the technology and the ability to spend free time doing sports referred to wealthy people only. Running shoes became inexpensive and popular only after the First World War.

Everything changed when people began to use rubber for industrial purposes and to connect a rubber sole with an upper from the canvas in 1892. Light rubber-soled canvas shoes worn, especially for sports. Known as sneakers because the rubber sole enabled the wearer to walk around without being heard, they became popular with athletes after World War I when companies such as Converse and Keds started selling them as sports shoes.

In the 1920s, brothers Adi and Rudolf Dassler started a sports shoe business in the small German town of Herzogenaurach that specialized in track and field footwear. Adolf Dassler, who invented running shoes in their modern design in the 1920s, developed different sneakers for long-distance runners and sprinters. In 1925 he manufactured the special shoes for athletics and patented spikes with a cushion underfoot.

Designed by Adi Dassler, the first running shoes were meant for short and medium distances. Such running shoes were internationally acknowledged as the best. Rudolf launched Puma in 1948. Adi opened Adidas with both companies are still based in Herzogenaurach.

In 1951, Japan’s Shegeki Tanaki wins Boston marathon with split toes shoe with a sperate compartment for the big toe.

In the 1960s, Trackster from New Balance was the first running shoe made in multiple widths. Supporting more runners than ever, they allowed for an ideal fit.

With a rippled outsole, the Trackster improved traction, absorbed shock, and prevented from injuries, which were common with the metal spiked sprint shoes of that period.

A shoe must be three things, It must be light, comfortable and it’s got to go the distance.

Bill Bowerman – Nike co-founder

Bill Bowerman was head track coach at the University of Oregon. With his vision to invent lighter, faster running shoes for his athletes, Bowerman took his designs to several manufacturers, no one would invest.

As long-distance running becomes more popular, Bowerman with one of his former student, Phil Knight, started a company called Blue Ribbon Sports. They bought shoes based on Bowerman’s designs from Japanese running shoe companies and sold them out of the back of vans at races. Their most popular shoe was the Cortez, with sponge rubber midsole, was one of the first running shoes that provide cushioning against the impact of the road. In May 1971, Bowerman and Knight formed their own manufacturing company called Nike, with Cortez become their flagship shoe.

The 1970s saw the appliance of sports science to running shoes. Bowerman came up with bright, lightweight, and expensive Waffle Trainer, which was called “the hottest symbol of status” by Vogue magazine. Bowerman made his first waffle sole using his wife’s waffle iron. The kitchen gadget was destroyed, but a technical breakthrough took place.

In 1972,  athlete’s Foot and athletic attic chains open. Running-centered stores mean runners have buying option beyond sporting goods and mail order.

In the same decade, Podiatrists (a branch of medicine devoted to the study, diagnosis, and medical and surgical treatment of disorders of the foot, ankle, and lower extremity.), now involved with research and design, identified different running gaits as well as proper shoes for each type. One of the most enduring innovations in shoe technology appeared. Ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA, still used in most shoes today, is an air-infused foam that provides cushioning and absorbs shock. Brooks, the first to use EVA, incorporated it in the Villanova shoes in 1975.

In 1976, 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 the impact. Rudy introduced air-cushion soles to the market, which are still used today, 40 years later. It wasn’t Nike’s only innovation. In 1978, they introduced the first female-specific shoes, designed on smaller lasts. In 1976, Brooks launched the first shoe to try and control pronation. The Brooks Vantage had a wedge inside to help the runner’s foot slant slightly outwards.

In the late 70s and early 80s, running was booming. Between 1971 and 1981 there was a 1,800 percent increase in marathon finishers. Nike, Reebok, and Adidas dominated the market of running shoes, lots of celebrities were found wearing and promoting new cushioned designs and technologies.

In 1984 Adidas Micropacer featured electronic pedometer stitched into the tongue – the first attempt to blend electronics with running shoes. First running shoe with GEL cushioning compound made of silicone was introduced by ASICS in 1986. It eliminates 28% more impact than traditional Air technology. GEL cush system is still featured in ASICS’ cushioned shoes.

In 1987 Nike makes a revolution in the world of running, designing Nike Air Max. It’s world’s first sneakers with a visible air cushion as a shock absorber also known as heel-cushioning bubble technology.

Kenyan Christopher Koskei wins world steeplechase title with nothing on feet except tape on a few toes. It’s most recent senior world or Olympic title won barefoot. 

An article in the journal Nature by Harvard Professor Daniel E. Lieberman suggested that barefoot running can be comfortable, for some people, even on the hardest surfaces. This idea grabs the attention of the running world. After noticing Stanford athletes training barefoot, Nike starts working on the minimalist shoe. In 2004 the first version of Nike Free minimalist shoe was offered to athletes, designed to remake the barefoot running feel by reducing shoe weight and employing a sole that made runners feel more connected to the ground.

In 2005, Vibram released the Five Fingers shoe with individual compartments for each toe and extremely thin rubber soles, which popularized among runners as a barefoot minimalist sneaker, allowing the foot to move naturally.

This barefoot principle, that shoes should work with the foot’s movement rather than against it, was settled firmly when Christopher McDougall published the book “Born to Run,” states his time living with the  Rarámuri or Tarahumara, a group of indigenous people of the Americas living in the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. They are renowned for their long-distance running ability, who wore only thin sandals to achieve extraordinary feats of endurance such as covering hundreds of miles on one run.

In 2006, Nike introduced the Air Zoom Moire, the first footwear designed to talk to Apple’s iPod® nano. The Air Zoom Moire connects to iPod through the wireless Nike + iPod Sport Kit. With Nike+ footwear connected to iPod nano, information on time, distance, calories burned and the pace is stored on iPod and displayed on the screen; real-time audible feedback also is provided through headphones.

In 2012, Nike introduced Flyknit. Ten years in the making, Employing a new technology called Nike Flyknit, yarns and fabric variations are precisely engineered only where they are needed for a featherweight, formfitting and virtually seamless upper. With all the structure and support knitted in, the Nike Flyknit Racer’s upper and tongue weigh just 34 grams (1.2 ounces).

In 2013 New Balance introduced 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.

Adidas introduced their Boost technology, a cushioning system designed with leading chemical company BASF. The idea was to create something “better than EVA.” The thermoplastic polyurethane midsole, made of thousands of energy-returning capsules, arguably does the trick. It compresses under pressure to absorb shock and bounces back instantly to provide energy return with every stride.

Running Shoes Today

These days there are lots of running shoe companies that offer a very broad choice of sneakers for any tastes and needs, to suit different surfaces, distances, and styles: shoes available in different widths, top training shoes for flat feet, minimalist and barefoot shoe. What will runner wear 30 years from now? Shoes made from protocells? Are shoes capable of self-repair? Synthetic materials that have properties of organic matter? Only time will reveal.

Running shoes can be spotted on just about anyone who wants comfort in a shoe. In 1990, consumers spent $645 million for 15 million pairs of running shoes, and experts note that the majority bought were used for comfort rather than running.


Is it necessary to understand the making process of running shoe? Yes, it helps you learn the language of running shoes. To get things started, it’s helpful to understand the purpose of each element of a running shoe and how even the slightest differentiation may affect your running experience. Running shoes are made from a combination of materials. The sole has three layers: insole, midsole, and outsole.

Row material

Running Shoe Uppers

The Running shoe upper covers your foot to ensure a snug, secure fit while providing stability.

  • Synthetic leather is a flexible, durable, abrasion-resistant material obtained mainly from nylon and polyester. It’s lighter, quicker drying and more breathable than real leather. Plus, it requires very little break-in time.
  • Waterproof/breathable uppers use a membrane bonded to the interior of the linings. This membrane blocks moisture from entering while allowing feet to breathe. Shoes with these membranes keep feet dry in wet environments with a slight trade-off in breathability.
  • Nylon and nylon mesh are durable materials most commonly used to reduce weight and raise breathability.

Running Shoe Midsoles

The midsole is the cushioning and stability layer between the upper and the outsole. Composed of rubber-like foam, the midsole is the core of the shoe and provides cushioning and energy return.

  • EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) is a type of foam commonly used for running-shoe midsoles. Cushioning shoes often use a single layer of EVA.
  • PU: Compared with EVA, polyurethane is less sensitive to temperature, is more durable and has a bouncier feel. However, PU is roughly 50 percent heavier than EVA.
  • TPU: Thermoplastic polyurethane is heated and reformed. Companies like Adidas and Saucony use a two-step process, making TPU beads and then fusing them to create a more durable, flexible, and bouncier foam than EVA and PU. However, TPU is still a heavier foam compared with EVA.
  • Posts are areas of firmer EVA  added to create harder-to-compress sections in the midsole. Used in stability shoes, posts are used to decelerate pronation or boost durability. Medial posts reinforce the arch side of each midsole, an area highly impacted by overpronation.
  • Plates are made of thin, somewhat flexible material that stiffens the forefoot of the shoe. Plates, often used in trail runners, protect the bottom of your foot when the shoe impacts rocks and roots.
  • Shanks solidify the midsole and protect the heel and arch. They boost a shoe’s firmness when traveling on rocky terrain. Ultralight backpackers often wear lightweight trail runners with plates for protection and shanks for protection and support.

Running Shoe Outsoles

  • Carbon rubber: The most durable (same material as tires). Most of the running shoes are made with rugged carbon rubber in the heel. Trail runners tend to have all carbon rubber outsoles to better resist trail wear.
  • Blown rubber provides more cushioning and usually used in the forefoot. Road-racing shoes are generally all blown rubber to reduce weight.

The production process of running shoes.

Running shoes
  • Prepared rolls of synthetic material and rolls of dyed, split, and suede leather (used as part of the foxing) are sent for cutting of specific components (Die-cutting or Lectra cutting). The cutouts will be used to make the upper part of the shoe. After cutting, these pieces are labeled with their names as Vamp, Toe tip, Heel counter, Insole, Quater, Insock, Tongue lining, Tongue, Quater reinforcement, Collar lining, Eyestay,  Vamp O’lay, Quater O’lay, Heel cap, Heel cap O’lay and Toe puff.
  • Stitching (a labor-intensive process). A seamstress toes together the cutouts creating the basic shell of the running shoe.  Each phase of this step requires precision and skills, and taking shortcuts to reduce costs can result in an inferior shoe. After the complicated task of skiving and attaching different components, the upper part of running shoe is developed with some extra material called “Lasting margin” which will be folded under the shoe when it gets bonded to the sole.
  • The completed upper is heated and fitted around “a last” which is a plastic replica of the foot provide shape and structure to the shoe before it’s ready to pound the pavement.
  • Now it’s the time for the foam midsoles. It can be EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate), PU (polyurethane), TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane) or Pebax. After cutting, a worker sands each sole beveling the tips to ensure smoother landing when the foot hits the ground.
  • Next, the outsoles. A worker sculpts the rubber soles along the same line as the midsoles. Worker glues the mid and outer sole together before squeezing them in a hydraulic press.
  • Next, the soles are aligned with the upper and placed over a heater to reactivate the cement. As the cement cools, the upper and bottom are joined. The sole is made little larger than the upper which allows it to fold around the upper part for a neat finish.
  • After removing the last and a few inspections, the running shoe is ready to pound the pavement.
  • Companies can test their shoes using methods developed by the Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association (SATRA), which provides devices invented to test each component of the shoe. The shoe then goes through various checks for defects such as poor lasting, incomplete cement bonding, and stitching errors. Because running can cause several injuries to the foot as well as to tendons and ligaments in the leg, another test is currently being developed to evaluate a shoe’s shock absorption properties.

Type of Running Shoes

So you run on down to your local running shoe store and see that wall of running shoes, your vision blurs, your head pounds. You ask yourself: “What do I need to run comfortably and stay injury-free?” The “wall” has shoes with all sorts of technical features. Each seems to surpass the other with trademarked claims for stability, cushioning, maybe weight loss and whatever this motion control stuff is. The whole process can be unnerving and might leave you feeling overwhelmed, especially when you are just starting out and/or don’t know what type of kicks works the best for you. Understanding the types of runnings shoes may help you get rid of such situations.

56.6% of consumers don’t utilize different running shoes depending on the surface, worldwide in 2017.

This classification is based on structure, form, and function. Every shoe type is different and designed to serve different objectives either biomechanical or training-wise.

Type of Running shoes

1. Lightweight Shoes

Light and with just enough cushioning to disperse shock, lightweight running shoes (which are useful as both everyday trainers and racing shoes) have come a long way since the minimalism boom nearly a decade ago. Specially designed for speed work or race, also known as racing flats, or cross country spikes, these shoes are ideal for speed workouts, like sprints, intervals, fartleks, and competition.

Lightweight shoes are created with less foam and cushioning features under the foot, provide more natural and dynamic motion for the feet. But there is a downside to the lightweight shoe.

The appeal of lightweight shoes is based on speedier running performance and biomechanical science. Flexible knit uppers and thinner, bouncier midsoles, zero-drop platforms, and wider toe boxes are all innovations that have created the present-day lightweight trainer.

But the main problem with Lightweight shoes, in general, they do not offer the same degrees of cushioning and shock absorption as regular road shoes classified in the neutral or stability categories. That’s why they should not be used for general training.

2. Trail Shoes

Trail running shoes are specifically built to venture beyond the pavement. These shoes offer more traction, protection, and stability as trail runners have to move across mud, dirt, rocks and other off-road obstacles, therefore, they require the best in support, stability, and protection.

Over 9.15 million people participants in trail running in the United States in 2017.

It’s better to describe trail running shoes as a mix of running sneakers and hiking shoes. Grants complete protection around the ankle and the tongue against all the roots and rock found on hilly and rocky regions.

Through aggressive soles and stickier rubbers, these also provide excellent grip for greater traction and control on softer, often uneven, and slippery surfaces.

3. Stability Shoes

Stability footwear combines cushioning features and support features into its design. These shoes are designed with supportive features in the midsole (specifically under the arch area) of the shoe for people who mildly or moderately overpronate. These athletes tend to require shoes with a good mix of midsole cushioning and good support. The technology in stability shoes helps bring the foot into a neutral alignment.

There is nothing wrong with overpronation, it’s, in fact, part of human movement. But too much pronation might be problematic. Industry professionals had taken their time when it came to providing products that are meant to maintain the structural balance of the wearer’s foot. Stability shoes are designed to deliver something more than the usual cushioned variants; they have physical differences that are technically agreeable to the overpronator.

4. Motion Control Shoes

Pronation is part of the body’s natural movement. But not all runners pronate equally. Some of them do it to excess. That’s why they might need a pair of shoe to help them limit, or even prevent this.

Motion-control shoes are built for runners who have moderate or severe overpronation, which is the excessive inward rolling of the foot following a foot strike. These running shoes have stiffer heels and medial supports to counter overpronation.

Motion control running shoes are best for flat-footed runners because they are designed to give the feet support and stability. These are also ideal for heavy individuals looking for shoes that provide high stability and durability.

5. Cushioned Shoes

Cushioned footwear emphasizes enhanced shock dispersion in its midsole and/or outsole design. Many shoe companies add materials to the heel and forefoot areas to enhance the cushioning properties of the shoe i.e. air, gel, hydro flow, etc.

Cushioned shoes are recommended for runners with high arches what’s known as a supinator, or under pronators in the running circles. Relatively few runners supinate, but those who do need shoes with plenty of cushioning and flexibility.

6. Neutral Running Shoes

As the name suggests, neutral shoes are designed for people with a neutral gait. Neutral running shoes have a uniform density of cushioning material beneath the entire shoe. The outer pinky side and inner big toe side of the shoe have the same level of cushioning. Neutral running shoes make up about 80% of running shoes. These models offer the largest selection and are suitable for most runners.

Neutral running shoes are for those with neutral or basic pronation. But mild pronators will do well in neutral shoes as well. Neutral shoes offer some amount of shock absorption, as well as an arch-side or medial support. They are generally lighter compared to stability shoes. They have a curved or semi-curved design that feels soft on the under-foot. This design also supports more speed and movement while reducing the risk of pain and injury.

7. Barefoot shoes

Barefoot running shoes provide minimum in protection from potential hazards on the ground. Many have no cushion in the heel pad and a very thin layer (as little as 3 4mm) of the shoe between your skin and the ground.

All barefoot shoes feature a “zero drop” from heel to toe. (“Drop” is the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the toe.) This encourages a mid-foot or forefoot strike whereas traditional running shoes feature a 10–12mm drop from the heel to the toe and offer more heel cushioning.

8. Minimalist shoes

Minimalism was born from the simple “less shoe, more you” premise. The ideas behind it are simple – less cushioning and support from your kicks means you’ll engage your feet more, and strengthen the muscle fibers that get neglected when you’re all laced up in traditional running shoes.

These feature extremely lightweight construction, little to no arch support and a heel drop of about 4 to 8mm to encourage a natural running motion and a midfoot strike, yet still, offer to cushion and flex.

Heel-Toe Drop

When you read about a running shoe’s details you’ll often see the phrase “heel-to-toe drop” (HTT drop) and measurement in millimeters.  The Terms “Heel-Toe Drop” or “Heel to Toe Drop” a relatively new buzzword to the running shoe industry. But what exactly is Heel-Toe drop and is it critical to take into account when you purchase your next pair of running shoe? Here’s what you need to know about HTT drop:

Heel-Toe Drop is short for “heel to toe drop,” often shortened to just “drop.” It’s often called “offset,” and sometimes called a “ramp angle.” Here’s what you need to know about HTT drop:

Heel-toe drop is the difference in the amount of material under the heel and the amount of material under the forefoot of a shoe. Drop is usually given in millimeters. In short, it just tells you how much taller the heel is than the forefoot. A shoe with a 20-mm thick heel and a 10-mm thick forefoot will have a 10-mm heel-toe drop. A shoe with a 10-mm-thick forefoot and a 10-mm-thick heel would have a 0-mm heel drop (called “zero drop”).

Stack Height and Heel Drop

For a better understanding of Heel Drop, First of all, one needs to know what the “stack height” refers to; and that is simply a measure of how much material is between the bottom of your foot and the ground. Stack heights can range from barefoot or minimally cushioned, to maximal, or highly cushioned. Most running shoes fall somewhere in the middle of the stack-height spectrum.

Before drilling too deep it’s good to know, why Heel Drop exists. 50 years ago, running shoes didn’t have an HTT drop. Almost all the shoes were flat or almost flat. HTT Drop comes in existence during the first running boom of the 1970s when a broader cross-section of the population, including many previously non-athletic individuals, took up running, so to make running more comfortable for more people; shoe companies developed more cushioned midsoles.

Putting additional cushioning in the heel compared to the forefoot was done to reduce stress on calf muscles and Achilles tendons – Jonathan Beverly, author of Your Best Stride and former shoe editor for Runner’s World.

An HTT drop of 10 to 12 millimeters remained standard until; Vibram released the Five Fingers shoe with individual compartments for each toe and extremely thin rubber soles, which popularized among runners as a barefoot minimalist sneaker, allowing the foot to move naturally.

This barefoot principle, that shoes should work with the foot’s movement rather than against it, was settled firmly when Christopher McDougall published the book “Born to Run,” states his time living with the Rarámuri or Tarahumara, a group of indigenous people of the Americas living in the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. They are renowned for their long-distance running ability, who wore only thin sandals to achieve extraordinary feats of endurance such as covering hundreds of miles on one run.

Barefoot running is not as popular now, but its impact can be seen in many current running shoes such as Hoka One One offers a 4-millimeter drop throughout its line. 

Why do you need to pay attention to Heel Drop? Or Does Drop matters?

Like many other running-related factors, it all comes down to personal preference. Some runners always recommend shoes with high cushioning or high drop. Other, after reading Born to Run, jumped on the minimalist or even barefoot running.   Heel-Toe Drop effect on injury risk has never been investigated; therefore, the reasons for such variety in this parameter are unclear till 2016.

A study published in 2016 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in which three groups of runners are followed for six months. The shoes they ran with a heel-to-toe drop of 10 mm (D10), 6 mm (D6), or 0 mm (D0). Conclusion: Overall, injury risk was not modified by the drop of standard cushioned running shoes as about 25 percent of each group suffered a running injury during the study.

Heel-toe drop is not a highly important factor when selecting your first running shoes. Instead, your biggest consideration should be about the comfort level of the shoe. Heel-toe drop is something you can start to think about when it comes time to replace your shoes or broaden your running shoe lineup. And whether you are shopping for the shoes with no drop or low drop, minimal cushioning or the maximum cushioning, make sure that you are fitted by someone extremely knowledgeable.

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