How Asics is Leading the “Runnaissance”
The “runners high” is the stuff of legend. Those that have experienced it develop an unquenchable thirst for its mood-boosting effect, while those that are yet to experience its ecstasy listen on to tales of breaking through the wall with shining eyes. During the many lows of worldwide lockdowns, running has been providing natural endorphins for those looking to reclaim their mental health. From setting the pace during the running boom of the 1970s and leading the pack during the renewed spike in running happening now, Asicshas seen pavement-pounding enthusiasts through it all and continue to evolve footwear for running in the new age.
The pursuit of wellness is captured in Asics’ slogan, which touts the ancient ideal of anima sana in corpore sano - “a sound mind in a sound body”. This encapsulates Asics’ goal to enable people of all ages to pursue a healthy lifestyle through the manufacture of cutting-edge sportswear. Decades after embarking on this ideal Asics remains at the helm of the Runnaissance, a second coming of the running boom which first reared its head during the athleisure crazed 1970s.
It All Started In The 1970's: When Running Became Groovy
In the '70s, running was heralded as a way for middle class pencil pushers to wind down after a day at the office. A Washington Post article published in 1979 quoted Paul Milvy, professor of Community Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical School, who typified runners as, “extremely professional, they are nine times as likely to be scientists, they are rich, they don't smoke, they are thin, and possibly compulsive about their sport." Strikingly, the perception of this trend as belonging to the wealthy, dissipated quickly as people from all walks of life began to pick up on the benefits of jogging. During a decade of increased awareness around health and wellness, running stood out as the “most democratic sport”, being completely free to partake in, requiring no skill and accessible to anyone with so much as a nature strip out the front.
Increasingly, more people were becoming inspired to take up jogging as daring figures took to the world stage in competitions. In 1967, an entrant under the name of K. V. Switzer took off as the start gun sounded at the Boston Marathon along with thousands of other competitors. As soon as a woman was spotted running the course, officials stepped onto the road to tear the number from her back and drag her away. She finished the race and in doing so, brought interest to the sport and to women’s involvement in it.
While athletes were legitimising running as a competitive sport, Jim Fixx’s 1977 book, “The Complete Book of Running” spent 90 weeks on the bestseller list. The bold red cover was unmissable with Asics’s Onitsuka Marathon Shoes on the toned legs of a jogger, and went a long way to bring the psychological benefits of running, into common knowledge. Before long, it became normal to see men and women, sweat-beaded and panting, jogging through the suburbs decked out in Asics runners.
By the 1990s when performance wear was being demanded by recreational joggers as well as athletes, Asics opened their Research Institute of Sports Science in Kobe City, Japan. Built for the development of state-of-the-art sportswear technology, the facility includes athletics tracks, tennis courts, a pool, an experimental gym, a training room, as well as a myriad of temperature-controlled labs. Today, these facilities serve as the birthplace for innovations in sportswear that we are continuing to reap the rewards of.
2020's: The Second Coming of Running
Lockdowns and gym closures have lent to the growth of running for leisure, and the awareness that running can enhance not only your physical, but also mental health, is in its prime. The Sports and Fitness Industry Association reported that in 2020, 50 million people in the US took up, or continued jogging, marking a sharp increase in popularity since 2019, when RunRepeat found that race registrations had steadily declined since 2016. Not only that, but running has recently been dominated by those who pursue it as a leisure activity as opposed to serious racers trying to make a personal best, as suggested by the slower race finish times overall and the wider variety of ages who compete. These findings mean that there has never been a better time to take up running for mental health and wellness than right now.
In 2021 the Runnaissance is so crowded with brands and gear that it can be overwhelming to know where to start. But Asicshas remained elite in its pioneering of footwear technology for the ultimate cushioning, traction, and support for all types of runners - from marathon devotees to middle distance fanatics and sprinting enthusiasts. As the uptake of running increases, Asics has become more relevant than ever.
Right now, people interested in running for fun and reclaiming their mental health are looking for the right footwear that is durable and will save them needless injury. Firstly, runners must seek out a shoe with cushioning properties, ideally in both the sole and midsole. This will ensure that the repetitive, pounding nature of running will be alleviated, with most of the impact absorbed by your shoes, not your knees. Secondly, it is important to find a shoe that will cater for your specific gait. Of the most common characteristics likely to cause injury are overpronators, whose feet roll inwards when they walk. Over a sustained period, this can cause knee, hip, and back pain. Similarly, supination occurs in people whose feet roll outwards when they walk. Asics pioneered the technology to support these gaits back in 1982, which has become a mainstay in their most popular designs today, to the glee of podiatrists everywhere.
While run styles are available in different fits and silhouettes, Asics stand out as a brand who have stayed true to the most tried and tested shape for runners. The ideal running shoe is widest near the toes and a half size bigger than normal, allowing for the inevitable slippage which comes with running, without crushing your feet. The laces should allow you to tighten the shoe to a snug fit, creating a thinner fit at the mid-foot, while the heel should also be snug with no slippage.
Cushioning and Asics go hand in hand. Revealing the GEL running shoe in 1986, this design pioneered the use of silicone for cushioning and has become an ever-evolving element of Asics shoes since. By 1993, Asics went all-in on enhancing performance for not just elite athletes, but amateurs as well. The GEL-KAYANO was unveiled to support overpronators to clock in at faster times over longer distances. Following the success of this model, the GT-2000 was released in a lighter construction with increased speed in mind and has remained a coveted style to this day.
At the end of the 90s, Asics revolutionised EVA with the SpEVA midsole, giving 20% more resilience and increased cushioning. This technology converts the absorbed energy from landing into “recoil”, giving upwards propulsion into the next tread, increasing speed and ease of running.
In 2002, the brand revitalised its Onitsuka Tiger offshoot and brought the iconic Mexico stripes back into collective consciousness. Arguably it never left. Tigers made it possible to rep the history of innovation in performance wear, and cultural relevance in urban wear all at once, capturing what it means to go to track and back with one brand. As customers continue to demand increased versatility in their shoes, Asics have rolled out a variety of street-ready shoes in low and platform styles. The inclusion of the Mexico stripe harks back to not only the Marathon Shoes, but styles from the 80s which capitalised on bright, garish colours in unexpected combinations. New inclusions of court styles which scream of golden age basketball sway towards modernised, slimmed-down silhouettes which evoke not only sports stars, but the likes of Bruce Lee and Kill Bill.
Throughout the decades of running fanaticism, the rise of jogging as a health pursuit and its being embraced as a mental health activity, Asics has not only created the blueprint but pushed innovations in the cutting edge of running and casual footwear for the generations to come.