February 17, 2015

Saucony - Running shoes without the crazy

Today's New York Times had an article about the emergence of "maximal" shoes, with a big picture of a pair of Hokas. It was essentially the same article I remember reading 5-6 years ago if you swapped in the term "minimalist" and a photo of Vibram FiveFingers (or someone running barefoot on the sidewalk).

There is always going to be anecdotal evidence of something at the fringes working for a select group, and that's always going to make a lot of noise, because people love to gravitate towards anything that is new and at the extremes. I view running footwear like a pendulum - it may swing far to the left or right, but for the most part, the majority of runners will thrive wearing something that falls in the middle (and that's a big range).

Back when running barefoot with the Tarahumaras was all the rage, Saucony (somewhat) quietly launched the Kinvara, which in my opinion was and still is the best all-around running shoe ever made (the Kinvara 5 is the best iteration yet). I remember hearing the phrase "minimalism without the crazy" to describe the Kinvara and thinking that was spot-on. Lightweight, flexible, low drop, durable - everything you want out of a running shoe, and something that meets the demands of a lot of runners.

Now that the pendulum has shifted to the other extreme (maximum cushion), Saucony has once again responded to what consumers want, without getting nuts. I've been loving the Cortana 4 this winter - it's lighter and more cushioned than previous versions, and a bit more "plush" than the Kinvara. The new ISO series (especially the recently released Zealot) has very light, highly cushioned models that stay within the bounds of reasonable shoe geometry. Saucony's designs are backed up by actual research, not just the desire to create buzz.
Saucony Zealot - a full cushioned trainer without the crazy!

Competitor profiled the Saucony Lab a few week's ago. If you haven't seen this article yet, I'd recommend checking it out:

An Inside Look at Saucony's Innovation Lab

Some highlights...
“Minimalism was the consumer asking for something different. Our job is to figure out what they’re really asking for and then deliver it,” O’Malley says. “We can do that because we have no pressure to invent things here. We do have pressure to innovate. With an invention you start with the shoe, but with innovation you start with the runner. We innovate around the runner.” 
O’Malley says Saucony has “a very defined bullseye” and one that allows employees to be courageous. “We have to answer one question: ‘Does this make it better for the runner?’ And when that is your bullseye it gives you the courage to try things. When we want to take a risk we can get everyone in the room and debate it and ask the question ‘What is better for the runner?’ And that allows us to take calculated risks, more so than anywhere else I have been.”
On that note, I'm pleased to announce that I was selected for the 2015 Saucony Hurricane team. This will be my 5th year representing the best company in the business. I don't think I can ever imagine lacing up a different brand of shoes or donning another singlet. I'm very proud to be a part of their team.

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