The running craze of the 1970s didn’t just inspire a generation of joggers. It also triggered a revolution in the shoe industry. Running shoe manufacturers around the world can trace the origins of their current models to this period of time, and the evolutionary period that followed was nothing short of remarkable.
In the process of developing shoes that enhanced the running experience to enhance both practicality and safety, not every idea was a success. And even some that did effectively serve runners never outlived their public perception as outlandish and—to put it bluntly—crazy. In honor of these bold creations, here are some of the craziest approaches to running footwear we’ve ever seen.
Pumping it up
The Reebok Pump was originally designed as a high-top basketball shoe, but once its popularity exploded, additional versions were made to serve a variety of athletes—including runners. The original version featured a finger pump built into the shoe’s tongue, making it easy for athletes to quickly add some air into the inflated cushions built into the shoes.
Although Pumps were a fad unique to the late ’80s and early ’90s, they’ve been making a comeback in recent years. Earlier this year, Reebok re-released the Twilight Zone, a classic version of the shoe, in anticipation of the upcoming basketball season.
Zigging, not zagging
Much like its innovative Pump, Reebok again tried to reinvent the modern running shoe years later with the ZigTech, a shoe featuring a wiggly sole that appeared more like a spring laid horizontally to replace traditional shoe soles. The idea behind the shoe was that energy would be able to travel easily throughout the springy sole, engendering heel-to-toe inertia and ultimately allowing the wearer to move more efficiently. The shoes are very eye-catching and continue to be worn among runners—and let’s not forget all the bright colors that have graced the zigzagging soles.
Toeing the line
Originally designed as footwear for working on boat decks, Vibram FiveFingers are a shoe whose design is as distinctive as any other. This footwear blazed new trails in the shoe industry by creating running shoes wherein each individual toe had its own sleeve. The concept driving this shoe was that the human foot’s construction already supported running—it just needed an extra layer of protection to avoid injury on harsh terrain. FiveFingers remain popular among some runners today, although some have graduated to more extreme measures….
The craziest shoe: No shoe at all
Yes, some runners actually feel the best shoe is no shoe at all. While this introduces foot injury risks from exposure to harsh surfaces and other hazards, even professional runners have been effective in transitioning away from standard footwear to win major races while running barefoot. One downside: barefoot running requires a long period of conditioning to help your feet acclimate to the stresses of running with no footwear to offer protection and support.
As with most efforts to innovate, not every new venture in the development of running footwear has been a home run. But all have been helpful in experimenting and helping the industry progress to producing more effective forms of footwear. Today, runners have a wide range of footwear options that can account for running styles, terrain types and even chronic injuries, making it easier than ever to find shoes that will help you reach your goals. For that, you can thank those wild and wacky shoes that ultimately informed the shoe designs that followed.