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C8 Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Hot on their


Running shoes are a lucrative global business, and that drives innovation and novelty. Jeanette Wang runs through the latest footwear trends


eople are taking to running in record numbers, so it’s no surprise that selling running shoes – the only essential gear you need for the sport – has become a lucrative business. Research company NPD Group reported that consumers worldwide spent US$15 billion on running shoes in 2011, up 13 per cent over the previous year. Running is worth almost twice as much as soccer globally, driven by hardcore runners, newbies and fashionistas alike, according to a recent report by Bloomberg. In the United States, which accounts for 40 per cent of the global total, running shoe sales grew 8 per cent last year. More than 38 million pairs were sold in America in 2011, according to a US National Sporting Goods Association report. In a highly competitive market where traditional footwear giants are being challenged by niche brands, innovation is flourishing. Here’s a look at the hottest trends. Minimalism continues Featherweight road racing shoes, also known as “racing flats”, have been around for decades and are used mainly by distance runners. But it was the glove-like shoe Vibram FiveFingers that really sparked the minimalist running shoe trend and made it mainstream around 2005. This year, pretty much every major brand has its own range of super-lightweight trainers. These include adipure by Adidas, Brooks’ Pure line, Nike’s Free and Saucony’s Natural range, among others. Compared to traditional running shoes where the difference between the height of the heel and forefoot (known as a “heel-to-toe drop”) could be 10 to 12mm, minimalist shoes feature a drop of between zero and 6mm.

Triathlon coach Bevan Colless (left) says that runners want flexible shoes. Photo: Nora Tam

The demise of motion control Controlling how your foot rolls between landing and pushing off the ground – a motion called pronation – had been a focus of running shoe designers. If your foot rolled in too much (overpronation), you’d be told to get a motion-control shoe that was stiff and heavy, with plastic inserts and/or extra-dense foam (“medial posts”) in the sole under the arch. Now, influenced by minimalism, such shoes are getting svelter. For example, the latest incarnation of Nike’s 17-year-old Sense Ultra. The amount, in US dollars, flagship stability “This is an spent worldwide on running shoe, the Structure inevitable shoes in 2011 Triax, loses the very change from technologies that the superchanged the industry in its skinny early years. A new type of foam minimalist shoes, which was that enhances the foot’s natural mainly marketing led, to mechanics has replaced the something a bit more useful to a medial post. Lightweight mesh greater percentage of runners,” has replaced restrictive materials says Horne. “Not everyone has in the upper of the shoe. The the mechanics or the body Nike Air sac in the heel has weight to run on concrete with a disappeared. The result: a shoe 3mm sole on their shoes.” that’s 15 per cent lighter. Karlyn Harfoot, a private “[Christopher McDougall’s] practice podiatrist in Hong book Born to Run caused a lot Kong, adds: “Due to the amount of people to question whether of cushioning in previous they needed motion-control running shoes, the natural technology in their shoes,” running style is altered and says Japan-based sports becomes a habit. Like any habit, physiotherapist and triathlon it is difficult to break. Some will coach Bevan Colless. “Now, find it easier to make the most serious runners are looking changes than others. But due to for more flexible shoes to allow hard surfaces with no give, such the foot more of its normal as marble granite and concrete, movement, and hence to let the we do need some cushioning.” body become stronger and more Transitioning to a minimalist adept at absorbing shock.” shoe takes time – more than 10 weeks of low-intensity running Game changers is advised, according to a new Brigham Young University study New materials for cushioning in the journal Medicine & Science and shoe uppers, and new manufacturing processes such in Sports & Exercise. It’s a lot of as welding instead of stitching, effort for the regular runner, have led to lighter and more notes Horne, “most of whom comfortable shoes that shoe just want to run”. companies claim perform Horne also suggests that “the better than ever. science which was touted as the Last month, Adidas launched reason for moving towards a the Energy Boost in Hong Kong, more forefoot strike [as which features a type of promoted by minimalist shoes] cushioning said to return energy is now being questioned and to the wearer. Instead of the challenged by other research, standard ethylene-vinyl acetate which in some cases seems to (EVA) foam, Adidas partnered say the complete opposite”.



“The theory behind this is that it allows, or promotes, a more natural running style, with a smoother transition from rear-foot to mid-foot to toe-off,” explains podiatrist Douglas Horne, who runs a private practice in Discovery Bay. “This lower heel-to-toe drop reduces the occurrence of the two-beat foot fall – a heel strike followed by an uncontrolled shift of the foot into a forefoot slap on the ground – which can become painful on the ankles and shins.” These shoes range from the extreme “barefoot” shoes to slightly more cushioned variations. Barefoot shoes, such as the FiveFingers or New Balance Minimus, have a very thin rubber sole (just 3mm) for protection. They weigh about 140 grams per pair, or less than half the weight of a typical running shoe. Other minimalist shoes offer a bit more cushioning, while still allowing the foot to flex naturally. Mizuno, considered a brand for serious runners, for example, finally jumped on the trend, designing from scratch two new models: the Wave Evo Cursoris and Wave Evo Levitas.

Both shoes have zero drop, but offer 18mm and 14mm of cushioning respectively. In comparison, the brand’s traditional staple, the Wave Rider 16, has a 28mm high heel and 16mm high forefoot, and weighs 283 grams. User-friendly styles The minimalist trend is not for everyone – and may cause injury. Hence, brands are responding by producing more forgiving models while still allowing for the sensory connection between the foot and the ground. The result is the proliferation of the lightweight running shoe, whose market share in the US has more than tripled year on year to reach 14 per cent in February last year. This growth contributed nearly 60 per cent of the total gain in running shoe sales in the US, according to NPD. Examples include the Saucony Virrata, Brooks Pure Flow 2 and Salomon S-Lab

The science [behind the move to minimalist shoes] is now being questioned and challenged DOUGLAS HORNE, PODIATRIST

with German chemical giant BASF to create a thin, lightweight yet bouncy midsole made of tiny melted “energy capsules” that help the wearer run for longer with less effort. The material is also said to have tremendous resistance to heat and cold, and is more durable than EVA. The upper on the Energy Boost features a stretchy, breathable mesh material that fits like a sock, while elastic polyurethane strips across the upper provide targeted support and stabilise the foot. Nike, too, launched its own sock-like upper called Flyknit last year. The material is made in one piece, using polyester yarns and cables that are threaded together. The FlyKnit Racer made Time magazine’s Best Inventions of 2012 list. Nike recently launched the “Steaming Lounge”, where FlyKnit shoes are heated in a machine and then slipped onto customers’ feet, moulding to the exact shape of the wearer. For New Balance, welding ultrathin synthetic overlays instead of sewing heavier ones helped the brand make the 91gram RC5000 flats. Emerging brands Newton Running, Hoka One One, Inov-8, On, Skora, Topo Athletic and Altra – you may not have heard of these brands, but you should probably keep them on your radar the next time you go shoe shopping. “These new trends have opened up the market for new companies to come in and challenge the established heavyweights,” says Colless. “Some big companies are trying harder to adapt, such as Brooks and New Balance, and other companies have been sitting back and waiting for the fad to end. It is going to be really interesting to watch it develop.” Horne adds: “The rise of niche brands, often with their own specific scientific approach – or gimmick – shows that not all shoes work for everybody. Many

of the niche shoes have moved away from the forefoot/mid-foot strike theory to the more natural running style – a simple claim to make, as what is natural has yet to be properly classified. For me, it’s running in a way that’s comfortable for you, fulfils your needs and doesn’t cause injury.” The type of shoe can immediately change your running style. A University of Kansas study to be published in the Journal of Paediatric Orthopaedics put 12 teenage track athletes on a treadmill at four speeds, wearing different shoes from classic cushioned running shoes with a heel or racing flats, or even barefoot. The change in gait was instantaneous. For those with cushioned shoes, their heel struck first nearly 70 per cent of the time, compared to less than 35 per cent of the time while in racing flats and less than 30 per cent of the time when barefoot. Harfoot’s advice: find a shoe that fits you, is suitable for your sport, and disregard the brand.



Fine to wine

The ultimate test of mettle

Triathlete Martin Lieberz has stamina in sport and business. Photo: David Wong

After giving up sport to pursue his career, Martin Lieberz returned to triathlons and now represents Hong Kong ................................................ Ben Sin Growing up in a small village in Cologne, Germany, Martin Lieberz fell in love with sport at an early age. At 16, he entered a cycling race on a whim and finished first. Veteran cyclists, impressed by the teen’s athletic prowess, persuaded Lieberz to join a triathlon club. By 19, Lieberz got so good at the sport – which consists of swimming, cycling, and running – he represented Germany’s youth team. A year later, in 1997, the 20-year-old was offered a gig as an international salesman for a Hong Kong-based watch company, Madison New York. He faced a tough decision: take the jet-setting, exciting job with high earning potential, or stay in Germany to chase his dream of being a professional triathlete? He took the Madison job. “It was the safer route,” he says.

Lieberz fell in love with the bright lights of Hong Kong immediately. Over the next decade or so, he bounced back and forth between Hong Kong and Grünwald, a municipality in Munich. As in sports, Lieberz’s rise in the company was swift: he was promoted to management level in 2004, and two years later became managing director. But there was always a tiny, but nagging, regret inside his head: “Did I give up sports too easily?” About three years ago, he decided to jump back into triathlon. “It was tough,” he says. “The first few sessions left my whole body aching.” But he kept at it, and soon that feeling of invincibility he felt as a young athlete returned. He set his sights on the big one: the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii – a triathlon that consists of a 3.8-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre bike ride and 42.2-kilometre run. In May last year, he took

the first step in chasing the dream by participating in a Kona-qualifying event in the Spanish island of Lanzarote. Suffering stomach cramps on the run leg, he ended up walking and finishing the race in 180th position – a long way from qualification. He tried again six months later at another event at Panama City Beach in Florida. This time, fully fit, he finished 37th out of 2,580 participants, and earned his ticket to Kona, held on October 12 this year. The best part? He’ll be representing Hong Kong – his adopted home. How often and how long do you train? I train two hours on weekdays, one session before work and one after. At the weekend I do two to three hours a day. I train anywhere between 12 to 20 hours a week. I would love to train every single day if I could, but you only build better endurance and stronger

Alcohol consumption has no impact on breast cancer survival, according to a new study published yesterday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. This finding, based on data gathered from nearly 23,000 women, goes against previous research that linked alcohol consumption to an increased risk of developing the disease. In fact, the study found that moderate consumption of alcohol (three to six drinks per week – in particular, wine) before developing the cancer was actually linked with a 15 per cent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Alcohol poisoning?

muscles during rest, so I take one day to recover. Is it tougher to train now than when you were in your teens? I don’t think so. I understand that logic for an explosive sport, like basketball. But for endurance sports, I’d say it’s never too late to participate. I feel like between 30 and 40 is a good age to train, because competing in a triathlon doesn’t take just physical prowess but mental toughness too. And I think we’re all stronger mentally in our 30s than when we were 17. What goes on in your head during the race? At the starting point, it’s pure excitement. During the race, I don’t think much, I’m just concentrating on breathing and keeping hydrated. Near the end, it becomes a battle with yourself, because at that point, your entire body is past the point of

exhaustion, but you have to fight it off. I start projecting this mental image of finishing the race and hugging my family and eating a burger. How do you motivate yourself to work out? It’s easy in the morning because my son has to go to school so he wakes me up. At night? The city of Hong Kong motivates me. It’s such a fast-paced city, it’s always moving. Are you going to push your son to participate in triathlons? I won’t make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. I’d be supportive if he participated in any sports. Sports, to me, are like a metaphor for life. My whole business career, going through up and downs … you have to keep going, keep pushing, and not let obstacles stop you.

Healing by example Patients are more likely to take preventive health steps, such as getting a mammography or flu shot, if their doctors do likewise, say University of British Columbia researchers. The team looked at the screening and vaccination practices of 1,488 physicians in Israel and their almost 1.9 million adult patients. They found 49 per cent of patients whose physicians had received a flu shot also took the vaccine, compared with 43 per cent of patients whose physicians did not take the jab.

How could beer sold in Germany have arsenic levels higher than the ingredients used to brew the beverage? The culprit is kieselguhr, a filtering material also known as diatomaceous earth, used to remove yeast, hops and other particles, say Technische Universität researchers in Munich. Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilised remains of diatoms, a hard-shelled algae that lived millions of years ago. But rest assured, the arsenic is at low levels – a nasty hangover is a far more realistic concern.

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