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High-Tech Running Shoes Now The Norm

April 20, 1986

BOSTON (AP) _ When Ingrid Kristiansen leaves the starting line of the Boston Marathon Monday, the feet of the leading women’s contender will probably look a bit strange.

That’s because her shoes will resemble something that could be worn after foot surgery. Called the Sock Racer, their cushiony white soles are topped with thin, yellow, bathing suit-type stretch material, with only two black cross-straps to anchor the foot inside.

″We like to think of it as the shape of things to come,″ said Thomas Hartge, product manager for Nike, the shoes’ manufacturer.

The Beaverton, Ore., company is so confident that the unconventional shoes will sell, that it is introducing a sturdier training version of them Monday, Hartge said.

The Sock Racer, which retails for $50, is perhaps the most obvious example of how technology, research and the growth of sports medicine have changed running shoes. And with these changes have come shoe price tags of up to $165.

″The shoe market has changed. There has been really dramatic strides in the biomechanics of the running shoe,″ said Mary Farrell, an analyst at Paine Webber Inc. in New York.

In the mid-1970s, when jogging became widely popular, the running shoe became fashionable in its own right. But as runners and recreation diversified, the market began to demand athletic shoes tailored to different activities such as aerobics and walking.

″The proliferation of other forms of exercise has detracted from the running shoe market,″ Ms. Farrell said. ″Sales of running shoes were down last year, across the board.″

Now the effort to continually update the running shoe is a matter of economic survival, she said.

Forty-five new models of running shoes, ranging in price from $26 to $165, have been introduced in the past seven months, according to the testing center for The Athlete’s Foot, a chain of athletic-shoe stores.

″Our knowledge of the biomechanical makeup of an athlete’s foot has become very sophisticated,″ said Tom Brunick, director of the test center and footware editor of Runner’s World magazine.

″There are very few bad shoes on the market,″ he said. ″If an athlete has a negative experience with a shoe, chances are that the shoe doesn’t match his or her biomechanics.″

Hartge said one benefit of new designs is that technological advances work their way down in the product line.

″A $40 shoe today might feel like a $70 shoe of a few years ago, which is why there is less and less of a market for the high-priced shoes these days,″ he said. ″I think people are less inclined to play the ‘I’ve got the most expensive shoe on the block’ game.″

Nevertheless, Hartge and Elise Klysa, spokeswoman for New Balance Athletic Shoe of Boston, both said even a once-a-week runner could tell the difference between a low-priced shoe and a top-of-the-line model.

But they said you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a serviceable shoe.

″Runners wear what makes them perform best,″ said Ms. Klysa. ″It doesn’t make any difference to them what the price is.″

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