'It's like walking on the moon' - is this the future of distance running?


Runners, including professional athletes, set off at sunrise in the Eternal Run at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, USA. (Credit: ASICS).

Liz McColgan is no stranger to running. The British former middle-distance and long-distance runner won a silver medal in the 10,000 meters at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and captured gold in the same event at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.

But those days are a thing of the past for McColgan, who retired in 1996—or so she thought.

McColgan was part of a select group of athletes, runners, influencers and media who tested the new ASICS GlideRide running shoe at the ASICS Eternal Run in the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA.

The 55-year-old mother of five who runs five miles a day to keep in shape shattered her expectations by running 23.46 miles—the furthest she’s ever run—in over four hours.

“Although I was an elite athlete I’m so far removed from that,” McColgan said. “My expectations weren’t high at all; if I got to 10 miles I thought that would have been really, really good for me. A lot of my old traits as a professional runner kicked in which was really strange because I hadn’t faced that for about 18 years.

“I was absolutely gobsmacked when I finished.”

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The GlideRide is the second iteration in ASICS’ line of energy-saving running shoes. The shoe features a curved midsole construction to help minimize movement in the lower leg, particularly at the ankle, during all three stages of the gait cycle.

The Asics GlideRide aims to reduce energy loss and improve performance for distance runners. (Credit: ASICS).

Masanori Sakaguchi, principal researcher of the footwear function development team and research department, explains the key benefits: “We did motion analysis for how people run and move and developed the GuideSole to minimize the ankle joint angle which led to the energy-saving function.

“The main idea is to control the ankle joint while running.”

The shoe and its energy-saving technology gives humans another advantage in distance running, a feat we’ve evolved into succeeding at. While cheetahs are the fastest land animals on the planet, humans can out-run them over distance. One major advantage humans have, especially over long distances, is the ability to sweat, so we can cool our bodies while running thanks to our 2-4 million sweat glands. Our running gait is also better suited for distance rather than sprinting.

Due to this and various other benefits, more and more people have gotten into distance running. The 2018 New York City Marathon featured 52,813 finishers completing the 26.2-mile race through the city’s five boroughs at an average pace of 4:40:22. In contrast, the 2003 event featured 34,856 finishers averaging 4:45:44. According to Running USA, 76 percent of runners surveyed run 12 months per year with 57 percent lacing up their shoes at least four times per week, averaging 23 miles per week.

“From a training perspective, we’re providing a shoe that will allow you to push the limits of performance training whether you’re an elite runner, semi-professional or looking to break 5-6 hours in a marathon,” said AJ Andrassy, ASICS global director of performance running footwear. “It gives you some ability to potentially maximize your aerobic training and anaerobic training which means you can run faster or do races you never thought were possible. It’s all about pushing the limits of what people are capable of doing.”

Liz McColgan ran the furthest she's ever ran. (Credit: ASICS).

For Dr. Michael Sachs, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology, College of Public Health, at Temple University in Philadelphia, the mental aspect of these—or any—running shoe is just as important as what it may aid a runner with physically.

“If I have a certain pair of shoes I believe will help me run further or a bit faster, that might talk my body and my mind into being able to perform at that higher level,” Dr. Sachs said. “Generally, we find we are physically capable of doing more than we allow ourselves to regularly do.”

McColgan wasn’t the only runner to benefit from the shoes as she took to the vast Salt Flats, running without any motivation or distraction besides needing to maintain a personalized pace. On average, the 22 participants, who were without music, distance/time metrics, an actual course or a finish line to race toward, gained a 24 percent increase in endurance between the specialized race format coupled with the shoes, according to data collected by sport scientist Samuele Marcora of the University of Bologna, Italy.

Former Chelsea and Manchester City defender Wayne Bridge also ran the furthest he’s ever run, clocking in at 21.2 miles, nearly doubling his predicted distance of 11 miles. While he admitted he wasn’t basking in the otherworldly landscape of northwestern Utah as the sun was rising, Bridge got in a zone and remained mentally steadfast by keeping his head down while focusing on repetitive breathing.

“I describe it like walking on the moon because it put a bit of a bounce in my step,” said Bridge, a former England international. “I felt it made it easier to run because it almost pushes your foot for you by giving you something to push off on, so straight away I found it easier. I loved them. They definitely helped me because I’ve never run that far.

“Trying to convert it to a football boot might be a bit difficult, but I would say anyone who is doing any running to definitely get a pair. Even if you’re using it for walking, it gives you that little bit of extra.”

Liz McColgan and Wayne Bridge relax after the run. (Credit: ASICS).

Comparing 90 minutes in the Premier League to four-plus hours in the Salt Flats is like comparing apples and oranges. Football is a higher intensity sport with more stopping and starting, while the ASICS Eternal Run was running as close to a consistent speed as possible with few permitted breaks.

Taking the technology and assets of the shoe and incorporating them into a boot or shoe for football, tennis or basketball isn’t as easy as it sounds with each sport needing support for different functions.

“These shoes are energy-saving and other sports also need energy saving, but the design is different from running shoes,” said Kenichi Harano, executive officer and senior general manager at ASICS Institute of Sport Science.

ASICS sports scientists, researchers and developers are already crafting the next shoe in their energy-saving product line, set to debut in 2020.

Until then, McColgan is more than happy to continue to run in her GlideRides, finally finding a shoe that accommodates her various foot needs and obstacles; she has a rigid foot and reconstructed big toe that forces her to run on her heel and push off her fourth metatarsal, which is also a main reason she doesn’t run long distances anymore.

“It was the first time I felt as though I was landing and pushing off on my foot in a way I hadn’t been able to do for many, many years,” she said. “The curve in the shoe really suited my type of running and I felt they were really cushioned and light. I felt I had a bit of an energy back. I find them really comfortable and surprisingly effective for me and my running style.”


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