Elite Feet – Shoe Brand Spotting at the Western States 100-Mile Run
by: Martin Vilaboy
If the participants of the annual Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run are any indication of the brand preferences of the larger trail running enthusiast market, there appears to be some shake-up afoot in the trail shoe category. Along with a few upstarts extending leads, a few legacy brands are showing signs of struggle.
Hoka One One, once again, was the best represented brand among these elite runners, found on the feet of 26 percent of all finishers. Although Hoka did slip a bit from its seeming dominance in 2015, when it was found on 34.5 percent of finishers.
Altra, meanwhile, was arguably the biggest winner in 2016, becoming the second most popular shoe among contestants and found on the feet of 17 percent of all finishers and 20.4 percent of sub-24-hour finishers. That’s up from 5.8 percent of all finishers in 2014, when Altra was the seventh most popular shoe at WSER. Part of Altra’s gain apparently came at a loss for Brooks, which fell to third on the list after strong second place showings the previous two years. Brooks’ market share percentage among all finishers was essentially cut in half, while it remained less of a contender among the sub-24-hour group.
Along with Brooks, a few other veteran brands have seen their Western States stock slip. In 2014, Pearl Izumi was the second-most popular brand, at 12.8 percent, among elite sub-24-hour finishers and the fourthmost popular among all finishers. During the past two years, Pearl Izumi has fallen to sixth place among all finishers and was lumped into the “others” category among sub24 finishers in 2016. It should be noted that in August of this year, Pearl Izumi announced plans to shutter its “Run business” in an attempt to re-focus resources on the cycling and triathlon markets. Perhaps Pearl Izumi’s dip in popularity with trail runners is either a reason for or a result of (or likely both) this decision.
Even more dramatic of a decline is seen with Montrail, which all but disappeared from the WSER Runner Survey in 2016. After solid showings the previous two years among both all finishers and sub-24 finishers (the brand was among the top three most popular for both cohorts in 2014), Montrail also was lumped into the “others” category at the most recent Western States, falling below a 5 or 6 percent market share. Could it be that Columbia Sportswear’s plans to sub-brand Montrail under the Columbia brand does not sit well with harder core trail running enthusiasts? Perhaps Columbia is willing to forego that appeal for a more mainstream audience?
Salomon, for its part, as well as New Balance, have held their places rather well, if only seeing slight declines due to the rise of Altra and Hoka. Nike, meanwhile, has a rather unique story with WSER trail running enthusiasts. In both 2014 and 2015, Nike is the only brand that appears in the top five among sub24-hour finishers but does not appear at all on the list of top brands among all finishers. Call it the Nike inferiority complex, but things changed in 2016, as racers possibly noticed the Nikes on elite finishers during the previous few years. Indeed, Nike made a sudden and strong appearance among all finishers surveyed in 2016, coming in fifth place and found on 7.6 percent of their feet (the same percentage as Salomon).
If nothing else, the results of the 2016 Western States runner survey suggests the trail runner category is anything but staid or impenetrable by emerging brands, and it’s not consolidating the way maturing markets tend to do. In 2015, for instance, the top three brands were found on 70.6 percent of all finishers. Those same three brands showed up on only 52.5 percent of finishers at the 2016 event.
At the same time, more than a quarter of finishers were sporting brands (the “other” category) with less than 6 percent market share.
We surveyed Spring 2017 trail shoe introductions and asked a few brands to recommend models for participants of trail runs such as theWestern States 100-mile Endurance Run. Here are some candidates likely to be spotted at futureWSERs.
Altra Lone Peak 3.0
Already a common sight on the WSER route, the latest version of the Lone Peak features a new overlay design on the upper that reduces intrusion from dirt, sand and rocks and offers an overall lighter weight (now just 9.7 oz for men’s size 9 and 8 oz for women’s size 7, pictured here). SRP is $120.
Salewa Ultra Train GTX
Developed to provide excellent traction and stability combined with Gore-Tex water protection, the Ultra Train is built around Michelin Technical Soles’ Ultra Train outsole, developed exclusively with Salewa. The outsole’s special compound is ideal for low temperatures and has a sculpted and grooved design, inspired by mountain biking tires. SRP is $169.
Arc’Teryx Norvan VT
Light and fast, flexible and supportive, this is a trail running shoe built for vertical terrain, says Arc’teryx. The Norvan VT is designed for alpinists and climbers who use trail running to increase their performance and dedicated trail runners looking for new territory to explore. Sounds perfect for WSER. SRPs start at $170.
Hoka One One Clayton
Hoka-sponsored athlete, Devon Yanko, who placed third at the recent Western States race, wore Claytons for the second half of the race. Said Yanko: “That is a road shoe, yes, but it was perfect for the WS trails from that point on, which are so buttery smooth and runnable. I choose them because they are lightweight but still provide the signature Hoka cushioning that protects you on the very long races.”
La Sportiva Akasha
The Akasha is a neutral, highly cushioned shoe designed to deliver comfort for long runs in challenging terrain. La Sportiva’s Trail Rocker outsole promotes a rolling heel-to-toe motion for smooth performance, while ProTechTion HF reinforcements provide lightweight flexible protection. SRP is $140.
Topo Athletic Hydroventure
Billed as the “lightest fully waterproof trail running shoes on the market,” the women’s Topo Athletic Hydroventure shoes combine cushioning and durability with highly breathable eVent patented DVdryLT footwear technology.
Dynafit MS Feline Vertical
A unique lug design combined with Megagrip by Vibram provide grip on wet surfaces and the continual perception of good friction underfoot in a trail runner engineered for fast off-trail runs on rough terrains with steep gradients, mud and rock.
Lowa Areox GTX Lo
Not exactly known for light and fast footwear, Lowa’s Aerox GTX Lo sports an enhanced Gore Surround concept, using a directinjection system of midsole ventilation channels, Lowa’s MonoWrap frame and dual-density midsole. The result is a breathable/waterproof, lightweight, do-it-all athletic shoe. SRP is $220.
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