The shoes don’t make the runner, we know. But running shoes are still one of the most essential aspects to a serious runner’s day-to-day routine. We keep them clean like they’re a 1950s Corvette. We try to preserve the new-shoe smell as long as possible. And, I’ll admit it, that new-shoe smell and the spotless shine of the neon literally makes me feel like I’m a better, faster and stronger runner.
We take our running shoes seriously, and we’re always looking for the next design that that will be lighter still, that will improve the plyometric activities we enjoy, that will feel more and more marshmallow-y and supportive to our feet. But the truth is, we’ve seen some weird variations along the way. Here’s a list of some of the craziest running shoes produced by the known world.
1.) Vibram’s Five Fingers: Bikilia
I figure we ought to start with something modern; a weird running shoe you might have seen on the trails recently. These toe-fitting shoes came into the market in 1999 and are gaining popularity among runners and outdoor enthusiasts who want a full-foot experience. These fall under the category of “minimalist” shoes, the design of which is to enable a more natural running and walking experience. Be cautioned: Your feet will need time to adjust to the lack of cushioning and experts warn of running too much during the acclimation period.
2.) Invisible Shoe: Huarache Running Sandal
Going right along with minimalist-styled running shoes, the Huarache running sandal is based on the Tarahumaran design from Mexico. The Tarahumaras are known for their athletic prowess and their ability to run for days without resting. So, of course modern-world runners wanted to try out their shoes! The original leather design now replaced by rubber, these sandals are durable, light and designed to acclimate runners to a more natural leg and foot movement.
3.) ATI: Jump Training Plyometric Shoes
While not necessarily running shoes, the ATI Jump Trainers were just weird enough that they couldn’t be left off our list. And they are weird! Designed to build “mass and definition, while increasing quantity of fast twitch muscle fibers,” the makers of these shoes claim that using them will increase an athlete’s vertical jump.
4.) Reebok: Zigtech
Reebok says the inspiration for this shoe’s design came from a Slinky. The zigzag, “wiggly” sole moves energy from the heel to the toes, creating a more fluid running movement and protecting runners from injury. It’s shoes like these that go to show that shoe design is still improving—athletic engineers and designers are still experimenting—though the results sometimes have strange appearances.
Looking back on the evolution of shoes—from Huaraches to Converse All Stars to Reebok’s Zigtech—it’s interesting to observe how far we’ve come. The styles change, but one thing remains important: We’re still running.