9 innovations that changed running

9 innovations that changed running

The sport of running has changed dramatically over the last hundred years.

Running used to be a form of transportation or a mode of survival, and it still is for some. In the West, however, it is a hobby, a passion, or even a career. The popularity of running has led to transformations in the sport several times and in this post, we'll take a look at several of the biggest innovations that have changed running in modern history.

1. Rubber Soled Shoes

Dozens of new running shoes are released every year with new technologies that are meant to help us run faster and avoid injury. The first running shoe that anyone really knows about was found in England and dates from the mid-1860s, but that was basically a leather dress shoe with some small nails driven through as make-shift track spikes. Clever as that was, the real innovation began in the early 20th century, when companies like Keds and Converse began producing "athletic" shoes, marketed to women and "Basket Ball" players respectively. The shoes using vulcanized rubber soles, patented by Charles Goodyear, and fixed them to fabric and canvas uppers. The mix was a real hit, and innovation in the field began in earnest.
Two well-known modern running shoe companies started with two brothers in Germany in the late 1930s who began making running shoes together, but after a feud, they each continued independently. Rudolph Dassler's company would eventually be called Puma, while his brother, Adi formed Adidas. In the decades since, companies have started to work with new materials like foam, polyester and carbon fibre, and are pushing the boundaries of shoe tech forward into the future.

2. Photo Finishes

The first Olympic event to use photography to capture race results was the 1912 Stockholm games. It wasn't until the 1948 Olympics in London, however, thata race outcome was determined by looking at the photo finish, with the men’s 100m event was too close to call (the race was won by the great American track star Harrison Dillard). Camera technology has evolved very quickly ever since, and we now employ some of the most advanced recording machines ever seen. This has become more and more necessary as short and fast races like the 100m dash often have finishes that are so close they are impossible to determine the winner just with the human eye.


3. Synthetic Tracks

Prior to the 1960s, track events would take place on a variety of surfaces. Dirt, grass, and anything in between were often used, with the Olympic standard being red cinder. The creation of synthetic, or Tartan tracks not only brought an advantage to runners by giving them a small bounce to their step, but it also brought consistency and regulation to international competitions. The Mexico City Olympics of 1968 were the first international competition to run all of the track events on a synthetic track. American track and field coach Bert Bonanno worked with Mexican officials and synthetic track manufacturer 3M in 1968, who hired track star Jesse Owens to help from their side. Nine world records were set at the Games, including in all the track events from 100m-800m, both relays and both horizontal jumps, with U.S. sprinter Jim Hines becoming the first man to officially run under 10 seconds with electronic times being published for the first time.  Since then, every Olympics has used all-weather synthetic tracks, with regulations in place as to the type of material that is allowed to be used.


4. The Running Boom of the 1970s

The sport changed in leaps and bounds during the 1970s as running became popular with amateur athletes and everyday people. Prior to that era, running was an elite sport. It wasn’t the form of enjoyment or pastime that it is today. Celebrity runners, international prestige, and sports media coverage all had a hand in bringing the popularity of the sport to the masses. When people started jogging as a form of exercise and entertainment, the market followed suit. Suddenly there were tons of new running gear options to buy. Organized races also became very popular. That is why many major marathons that are around today recently celebrated their 40th anniversaries – the late '70s saw the inaugural runs of the Chicago Marathon, as well as New York, Berlin, and many more.


5. Chip Timing

[via mylaps.com]

The introduction of hip timing (or transponder timing or RFID timing) during races allowed thousands of runners to participate in a race without anyone having to manually count or calculate their finishing times. Small chips are attached to race bibs, wristbands or shoelaces, and these are automatically registered when runners cross checkpoints throughout a racecourse, and at the finish line. This change came about in the 1990s and revolutionized the scale at which races could take place. It also gave a lot more credence to everyone’s Personal Record goals, as the chip timing was far more accurate than self-calculated results. 

6. Barefoot Running

Barefoot, or "natural" running has been happening at least since the first marathon in Ancient Greece, and continues in cultures and societies around the world. As a leisure running trend in the West, it really started to take off in the 1960s. It's popularity increased in 2009 due to Born To Run, a book that came out that focused on the natural form of running and its associated health benefits (there still isn't consensus on that, though). Shoe companies seized on the popularity of the style, and a whole range of barefoot shoes were created, which fit like very thin gloves and usually had individual toe holders (like the Vibram FiveFingers Classic), and were designed to take advantage of the change in heel strike that comes with barefoot running. The popularity of the trend has quieted in recent years, but many remain dedicated and convinced of its positive qualities.

7. Smartwatches

Many runners today could never imagine going for a run without their smartwatch. Tracking your distance, pace, cadence, and heart rate all used to be manual calculations. Gone are the days when you would see runners on the trail holding two fingers against their necks to check their pulse. The early 2000s saw several watch models released that gathered all the basic data. With the addition of integrated GPS, smartwatches have allowed runners access to data they’d never seen before. Runners love analyzing (obsessing over?) their pace and mileage, and are always looking for ways to improve. The data available from smartwatches has provided a really easy way to dig deep. 

8. Earbuds

Headphone technology has advanced a lot over the last 40 years or so, but now we’re at the point in which runners can have superb sound quality placed directly into their ears with no cords and no added weight. Perhaps an additional innovation that came from the earbud technology was the creation of in-ear trainers. There are several apps available that interact with your watch to give you prompts about when to speed up and slow down. These prompts are meant to help maximize your run, and with all of the data available, the impact on training has been impressive.

9. Strava

[Via Stephen Lund]

Strava, along with several other running apps, has had a huge impact on the sport. Running is generally an individual activity, but apps like Strava allow runners to connect with their friends and share their passion for running. Runners can post their routes, statistics, and pictures they took along the way. Strava also has several groups available that are formed for people with similar interests or similar running abilities and use them to connect with others. And it won't be long before you see a Strava post on Instagram if you scroll the #AllSznRunner hashtag. And don't miss those super creative runners who level up their Strava runs with Strava route art like the one pictured above.


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