If you’ve ever tried to run with a group whose pace you can’t quite hold, you know how it feels chasing trends in the running industry.
Thin-soled shoes one year, thick-soled shoes the next, and all kinds of products inventors hope runners can’t live without in between. (Remember the Walkman, anyone?)
Running gear manufacturers from around the world converged at the Austin Convention Center this month for the Running Event, where they unveiled their newest products before an audience of buyers, media representatives, race directors, running pros and more. Their goal? Get their goods stocked in stores that cater to the 51 million runners who live in the United States.
Running shoes that adapt to individual wearers, lighting systems to keep runners visible after dark and anything designed for obstacle racing got the most buzz this year — the 10th edition of the annual show. A mini Spartan Race course was even set up in an “experiential zone” at the back of the exhibit hall.
Obstacle racing “seems to be a new gateway into the sport of running and fitness,” says Mark Sullivan, executive editor of Running Insight Magazine, published by Formula4 Media, which puts on the Running Event. “People say they’d never go out and run a 5K or marathon, but if they can run through fire and mud and all that, they want to.”
Shoe sales make up about 65 percent of revenue at running stores, so the focus at the show remained on shoe manufacturers like Adidas, ASICS, Brooks, Hoka One One, Mizuno, New Balance, Nike and Saucony. This year’s models hovered somewhere between low, flat and minimalist ones and high-rise, thick-soled ones, and hinted at a future with footwear as smart, in some ways, as the runners who wear them.
“It’s swinging back to different types of shoes for different types of runners,” says Austin-based Mizuno representative Bob Wishnia. “Shoes designed for them, rather than getting sucked into a trend.”
Sullivan, with Running Insight, compared the latest running shoes to cars with so-called smart technology, not that our shoes will be running themselves. “What you’re going to see is the next generation of smart products — shoes that take advantage of digital and electronic technology,” he says.
Some shoes already feature technology that can adjust to an individual runner’s foot. “The materials in them adapt to your weight and stride and impact,” Sullivan says. “We could go to a store and buy exact same pair of shoes. They’d both respond differently and we’d have a customized experience.”
One trend that’s carried over the past few years? Brightly colored shoes. Zoot even showed models inspired by California surfing style, with checkered panels reminiscent of old-school Vans sneakers.
That color trend has carried over into accessories, too. Round Rock company Soleus Running enlisted the help of three 2016 Olympic hopefuls — Kara Goucher, Nick Symmonds and Alysia Montaño — to design its first ever Signature Series of running watches, drenched in the colors of the American flag.
“We bring a fashion element to the running watch picture,” says company founder David Arnold, who worked at Nike before starting his own company six years ago. Now the company sells activity trackers that come in a rainbow of colors and monitor everything from heart rate to sleep quality.
But running industry growth, which had been cranking along in the double digits for the past decade, is finally starting to slow, Sullivan says. “The market’s saturated and there are a ton of people in business. If you want to go out and buy running shoes, there’s a bunch of places you can go buy them, including online,” Sullivan says.
That means to stand out, a store has to sell cool accessories, too. A stroll through the trade show turned up everything from a band worn above a women’s breasts to prevent bouncing to special hangers for technical shirts, a tracker to alert runners when their shoes are worn out, and laundry detergent that promises to remove the smell of sweat.
Olympian Symmonds, 31, and his coach, Sam Lapray, showed off their invention, Run Gum, which delivers a 50 milligram sublingual blast of caffeine, so it doesn’t cause stomach upset and takes effect more quickly. “For me it’s exactly what I needed,” Symmonds says.
At the Skratch Labs stall, employees of the company best known for fruit-flavored energy drinks handed out hot cookies made with the company’s new preservative-free baking mix.
“Athletes were getting gut rot,” Annie Dwyer says. “This is real food.”
One booth showed a rubbery little lid called a RunSip, designed to stretch over the paper cups handed out at aid stations during races. Another demonstrated a streamlined pack with flashing neon lights. Show attendees climbed aboard an odd-looking mashup between a treadmill and bicycle called an ElliptiGo. Author Matt Fitzgerald promoted his latest book, “How Bad Do You Want It,” which he says “can help you compress the gap between physical limitations and psychological ones.” And Austin-based SPIbelt founder Kim Overton displayed new 6- and 8-ounce clip-on bottles that fit on her company’s running belts.
You’ll just have to remain patient before you can buy everything. While some products are available now, most won’t make it onto store shelves until spring or fall of 2016.