America's only certified Skyrace course. Race Beast of Big Creek on Mt. Ellinor in Hoodsport, WA on Aug 3rd, 2024.

America's only certified Skyrace course. Race Beast of Big Creek on Mt. Ellinor in Hoodsport, WA on Aug 3rd, 2024.

While on social media it might look like everyone’s wearing HOKA’s these days, toeing the line at a trail race still shows a very different picture. I’ve always been fascinated how diverse the gear, and especially the shoe selection still is among trail runners of all shapes and sizes.

Today’s announcement by Jason Schlarb is just the latest in a string of new to the scene shoes makers pushing into the trail space with new gear, marketed by pro athletes and often sold at an eye-popping price previously not seen in trail running shops.

Here’s the current rundown of athletes running (literally) on new shoe sponsors:

  • Kilian Jornet, Emelie Forsberg, Dakota Jones on NNormal (Kilian’s own brand in partnership with Camper, Spain) – all previously on Salomon.
  • David Laney on Craft (Sweden) – previously on Nike
  • Dylan Bowman on Speedland (USA, Portland, OR) – previously on The North Face
  • Jason Schlarb on Norda (Canada) – previously Altra
  • Florian Neuschwander and Xavier Thévenard on ON1 (Switzerland) – Xavier was previously on Asics, Florian on Brooks, but this change happened already four years ago.

Did I miss anyone?

I have been fascinated, and a bit worried about that development.

Why I’m fascinated:

Getting new brands established in our sport is a very good thing. New companies means new cash for athletes, new stories told from different perspectives, and new possibilities for better gear (innovation!)

Established brands2 seem to struggle with innovation on top of their customer’s expectation.

  • Altras have always been zero-drop. How does a company innovate from there?
  • La Sportiva should release a more street worthy running shoe, but they are stuck in the mountains and can never provide every shoe for a trail runner who clearly still runs lots and lots of miles on roads.
  • If HOKA changes the material or width on an established shoe Youtube gear reviewers will throw a fit.

The marketing around these new shoes relies heavily on athlete/influencer social media promotions. This to me seems to be a clear acknowledgment how effective this type of marketing in our sport is, and probably also how reasonably inexpensive. Vying for prominent shelf space will require a more longterm effort. And sponsoring events might also be more of a longterm deal/has lower ROI?

Here’s what worries me:

The prices of these shoes – and the limited availability – are currently distorting the market. At twice the price of shoes previously worn by top athletes it creates a huge price ceiling. If these new companies are even a slight bit successful in changing the customer expectations we can expect price increases among our current shoe providers and thus making our sport unnecessarily more expensive. And this is more than just the inflation everyone talks about, this is turning an accessible sport into a luxury sport. If an athlete won races in $200 shoes the $375 shoe doesn’t make the difference.

  1. On Running entered the market not at an almost 100% premium price, just a 20-30% increase.
  1. Where are the two biggest shoe manufacturers Adidas and Nike in all this?