The Evolution of Shoes During My Lifetime

Brief observations by business owner Frank Giannino

My first pair of running shoes in spring 1967 had a gum rubber outsole and a black canvas upper. I was a high school freshman. The shoes were a joke! Prior to that pair, I was running in Converse Chuck Taylor high tops. Rubber soled shoes first appeared in 1876 in the UK. By the time I began running competitively in high school in 1967, running shoes had not improved much. They caused my legs to ache, especially my shins.

The Adidas Gazelle was my next pair. They felt a little better but they still caused pain. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my personal journey as a lifelong "Sneaker Head" had begun. My first real running shoes were by Onitsuka called the Tiger Marathon. I purchased the pair for $9 at the end of the summer 1968 while in attendance at Blue Mountain Cross Country Camp in Pennsylvania. It was my first shoe using modern lightweight nylon materials. Remember the prophetic statement, "There is a future in Plastics", during the 1967 movie The Graduate. All of us who began running when I did have enjoyed the benefits, and suffered from the side effects, of running in light weight cushioned running shoes. The following summer I purchased that same shoe design with a Nike Swoosh on it. After high school I experimented with a shoe called the New Balance Trackster. I traced my feet and mailed the tracings to New Balance. They sent me the pair of Tracksters which featured deep ripple outsoles and a Suede leather uppers.

I wore down the rear outside of the heel area and ripped through the upper in no time. After that I switched to Adidas. First I tried the Adidas SL72, the Dragon, and then the SL76. Then I found my way back to Tiger again. I flirted briefly with Nike again wearing one of the first Nike Air shoes – the Tailwind. I moved onto the Brooks Vantage, the New Balance 220, the Saucony Jazz and the list goes on to the present day. I have spent a lifetime running on the different designs and experiencing different results from all of them.

I literally could write a novel just recounting the experiences of wearing the different models of shoe over the last four plus decades. No design idea has influenced present day running shoes more than Vibram FiveFingers. Vibram is a soling company. In 2007 Time Magazine called Vibram FiveFingers the "Best Invention of 2007." For 35 years I have seen how running shoes not only affect the body's foot/ankle system, but also the lower leg, knee, upper leg, hips, and back. Even with all of today's latest technology, 80-90% of runners still get injured. I feel this is largely due to ill-performing shoes. At present, running shoes are in one of two camps: which I commonly refer to as the Minimum or the Maximum. The main difference between the two is "the drop." The Drop refers to the difference, in millimeters, between the height of the shoe under the heel versus the lower height under the forefoot.

Minimal footwear includes the zero-drop of Vibram FiveFingers, zero to 4 mm drop designs like the Saucony Kinvara, the New Balance Minimus or the Brooks Pure Series. Minimal footwear allows the foot to function more naturally. As we run in minimal shoes our weight-bearing is less on the heel and more on the forefoot. As a result, the negative referred effect to the knee, hip and back is much less. Maximum running shoes feature at least an 8mm drop. They are designed to help you survive the heel strike and perform better. Max running shoes also feature a variety of midsole options to deal with pronation.