Running shoes haven’t always been there for us. In fact, before running shoes, we either ran barefoot or in sandals. The Born to Run people claim we’ve gotten soft, but have we?
The running shoe has changed the way we run. It keeps us protected in the mountains and keeps us from tearing our feet up on pavement. So today we’re going to celebrate running shoes by talking about five crazy things you probably didn’t know about running shoes.
1. The 1930’s Ritching Company’s Minimal Shoes
It’s been almost ten years since the notorious Born to Run phenomenon hit the running community. People thought they were doing something new by ditching thick soles in favor of either minimalist shoes or sandals. But this isn’t something new at all.
When people imagine footwear of the early 20th century, they often imagine stiff fancy shoes. They call the relics of the shoe industry “clod-hoppers.” But marathoners of the modern age still needed to run fast.
While runners like Clarence DeMar might have been tough individuals who lived through incredible times, they couldn’t run in heavy shoes and win marathons. The Ritchings Company of Lynn Massachusets came to the rescue.
They created super light minimal shoes made of leather and rubber. The upper was crepe-thin and so were the heels. This made the shoe certifiably minimal.
The lacing system was state-of-the-art and they featured a stretchy panel across the top to make for a snug yet comfortable fit.
2. Abebe Bikila and His Barefoot Marathon
Abebe Bikila was from Ethiopia. While always athletic, Bikila found his true love, foot racing, while serving in the army. His time for the marathon during his army days? A whopping 2 hours 39 minutes and 50 seconds.
He later entered the 1960 Olympics in Rome. This was his famous barefoot race. He won first place in 2 hours 15 minutes and 16 seconds. That’s a 5-minute mile pace with no shoes.
Why did he run barefoot? It wasn’t some hokey advantage thing. He merely had a blister from running in new shoes and it was more comfortable running barefoot that day.
The guy later ran the Tokyo Olympic Marathon shod. What’s crazy about that marathon? He had recently gotten his appendix removed and blew away all doctor expectations by winning.
I guess the lesson here is, you can do amazing things despite your body.
3. Running Researchers Use Cadavers to Make Better Shoes
It used to be illegal to cut up corpses. In the 1700’s, medical schools were poor when it came to getting their hands on actual human anatomy. While we might now think eviscerating corpses for medical purposes is great for the common good, common people didn’t think so back then.
Medical schools resorted to buying bodies from grave robbers. Some students and faculty members went even further and dug up the bodies themselves.
Today, people donate their bodies to science. Superstition about death is minimal. And that’s fortunate for runners and other sports that utilize shoes.
They study the forces running puts on the body and use that data to create better shoes and better surfaces to play sports on. It’s an ugly process, but you should grateful to the dead for their contribution. It’s not like they’re using the legs anyway.
4. Shigeki Tanaka and His “Ninja” Shoes
Six years after the bomb on Hiroshima, the Boston Athletic Association extended an olive branch to Japan. They allowed Japanese citizens to enter the race.
The Japan Marathon Association organized a trial race to send people to Boston. 20-year-old Shigeki Tanaka won the marathon in 2:28:16. He was going to Boston and he was fast.
But what caught people’s attention at the 1951 Boston Marathon wasn’t the fact Tanaka was fast. It was the fact he wore funny looking running shoes.
You might recognize these shoes from ninja movies or even The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But the unique shoes Tanaka wore were actually fairly popular in Japan.
They were called Tabi shoes and they split between the big toe and the rest of the shoe. In the 15th century, only rich people in Japan wore socks (nobody wore shoes). Poor people protected their feet with straw.
This was the law until the mid 15th century when cotton imported to Japan in abundance. Suddenly socks weren’t an expensive item for the privileged few. This is when the Tabi was invented.
The Tabi, like our modern day socks, had a split space for toes to add mobility and stability through the toes. This later graduated to shoes as shoes became lighter.
Thus, centuries later, Tanaka won the Boston Marathon in his funny and useful Tabi running shoes.
5. The First Mass Produced New Balance Was Supposed to Fix Shin Splints
You might take the grip on the bottoms of your shoes for granted. But you shouldn’t. It wasn’t until the 60’s that we figured out friction was a good thing for runners.
The funny thing is, we didn’t put grip on the bottom of running shoes to improve grip. We put it there to fix shin splints.
The New Balance Trackster was the first mass-produced running shoe to feature multiple widths for various foot sizes. But what really sold the shoe was the New Balance claim that ripples on the bottoms of shoes will fix your shin splints.
As we all know now, there’s only one thing that fixes shin splints and that’s never running. But the idea sold tons of shoes. So, now you can blame William J. Riley and Arthur Hall for making it possible for kids to go normcore with New Balance shoes.
Stay tuned for more crazy running facts. And don’t forget to check out Runoft on Youtube.