Running Shoes

This article is used in the questions and learning activities that follow.

There are many English words around the world for sports shoes: plimsoles (or plimsolls), trainers, joggers, sneakers, tackies, keds, sandshoes, gutties, canvers are just a few of them.

The name plimsoll was widely used in England to refer to a rubber-soled shoe intended for sports activities indoors, although the shoe was also more widely used for general sports and for running. There was no cushioning on the sole and many young runners suffered from having to do cross-country running in these very light-weight shoes. In the US similar shoes with thin soles (though sometimes with some ankle support) were known as sneakers. The word sneaker is often attributed to Henry Nelson McKinney, an advertising agent, who is said to have coined the term in 1917 because the rubber sole meant that the wearer could walk very quietly. However, the word was in use at least as early as 1887 when the Boston Journal of Education made reference to sneakers as “the name boys give to tennis shoes.” The British English term trainer probably derives from general expression training shoe and this expression first came into general use in the 1960s.

The idea of a rubber-soled shoe came along after an American inventor, Charles Goodyear, patented the process for the vulcanisation of rubber. By the early 1900s, sneakers were being produced by small rubber companies who specialized in the production of bicycle tires. U.S. Rubber introduced Keds in 1916, about the same time that Converse was marketing its All Star brand. Other companies were producing tennis shoes. At first, the market for sneakers was small, but after the first World War (1914-18) the market for sneakers in the U.S. grew steadily as young boys lined up to buy sneakers (such as Converse All Stars) endorsed by American football players like Jim Thorpe and Chuck Taylor.

The 1950s gave families more leisure time and as the baby boom started more American families chose to dress their youth in sneakers as school dress codes relaxed. The rapid expansion of film in the US included films where young people were casually dressed in jeans and sneakers and as a consequence demand for both grew rapidly. Sneaker sales in the United States soared to six hundred million pairs a year in 1957, which led leather shoe makers to claim that sneakers were bad for children’s feet.

Sneakers were never as popular in the UK with young people perhaps because of the thin soles and the generally cooler, wetter weather. However, in the 1970s, as jogging quickly became popular, well-cushioned running shoes became a necessity. Suddenly there were joggers on every street in thick-soled trainers. However, their use quickly moved from sports to general everyday use, and so did the necessity to have a pair of shoes for every occasion. Until this time, factories had been concerned with high production, but now the companies started to market their products as a lifestyle choice.

By the 1980s, trainers were everywhere; Woody Allen wore them to the ballet, Led Zeppelin wore them in their 1976 documentary, and Dustin Hoffman wore them while playing reporter Carl Bernstein in the movie All the President’s Men. The shoes originally developed for sports became the mainstay for most people. Nike and Reebok were among the market leaders. Newer brands went in and out of fashion, and so to maintain a competitive advantage companies started paying out huge sums to famous athletes to endorse their shoes. Perhaps the largest payment was to Chicago basketball player Michael Jordan for endorsing a signature line of shoes and sports wear called Air Jordan. Nike maximized their profits by doing limited releases, meaning a store would only carry a certain volume of shoes and, once all stores were sold out, no more were available. This had the result of pushing up prices to mind-boggling levels as young people battled to buy the latest versions. Each year, after the introduction of the first style of shoe, Nike would name the next year’s version two, three, and so on. For example, one of the most profitable shoes was the Nike Air Jordans XXIII, the twenty-third release of Nike’s Air Jordans. Twenty-three was a significant number because Michael Jordan’s number was 23 and people camped out for hours, sometimes days, to buy these limited-edition shoes.

During the 1990s, shoe companies perfected their fashion and marketing skills. Sports endorsements grew larger and marketing budgets went through the roof. Sports shoes (trainers / sneakers) became a fashion statement, and definition of identity and personality rather than humble athletic aids. Sports shoes started to be worn by young children and even baby shoes became similar in style.

Although the manufacturers worked hard to make the appearance of their shoes look original, they also spent increasing amounts of time designing technically sophisticated shoes. As running shoes become more advanced, amateur joggers, as well as marathon runners, began to purchase shoes based on their running style and foot arch. This is often important in preventing injury, as well as to increase running efficiency. Running shoes now often come in different designs suited to different foot types and running styles. Generally, these shoes are divided into styles that are suitable to people with a neutral running style, with overpronation, and with underpronation (otherwise known as supination). The running shoes are designed to fit the respective foot strike of the runners.

Pronation refers to the way a foot lands, and the flexing of the muscles, tendons and bones around the food. Overpronation is used to describe runners who land on the inside of their foot and this may sometimes, but not always, be a result of weak ankles. These runners wear down their shoes on the inside of the sole. Underpronation describes runners who land on the outside of their foot perhaps, but not always, because their feet are slightly angled away from the direct line of travel. They often wear the soles of their shoes on the outside. A neutral style will be where runners land squarely and there is even wear across their soles of their shoes. Shoe manufacturers have worked hard to design shoes that can help runners to adjust their running style and avoid injury. The sole of a pair of shoes may be made up of several different compounds in different combinations to help runners avoid over or underpronation. It is important to buy the right sort of shoes or a runner may permanently injure themselves.

Many sports shoes were initially manufactured in the US but increasingly Japan became an important supplier. One major manufacturer is ASICS which began manufacturing basketball shoes in 1949. Soon afterwards, their range of sports activities widened to a variety of Olympic styles used throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. ASICS became particularly renowned for the Mexico 68 design, in which the distinctive crossed stripes, now synonymous with the company brand, were featured for the first time. The name of the company, ASICS, is an acronym of the Latin phrase anima sana in corpore sano, which means healthy soul in a healthy body. In 2006, 68% of the company’s income came from the sale of sports shoes.

Adapted from Wikipedia 13 April 2011.

Activity 1 – before reading the article

What do you understand by the word ‘trainers’?

Do you wear them? When? Why?

Do you ever wear them when you do sports?

Which companies do you know that manufacture trainers?

Which advertising campaigns can you remember for trainers?

Activity 2 – Read paragraphs one and two of the article and then look at these multiple-choice options.

1. Young runners in England suffered because:

a) they didn’t like cross-country running;

b) the shoes had thin soles;

c) the shoes were light.

2. Henry Nelson McKinney used the name sneakers because:

a) he liked walking quietly;

b) he could creep up quietly on his customers;

c) people could walk almost silently.

3. The word sneakers was:

a) used by the Boston Journal to describe tennis shoes;

b) used by boys who played tennis;

c) the name some boys gave to tennis shoes.

Activity 3 – Skim the remaining text in no more than 60 seconds.

Outline the main theme of the article.

Activity 4 – Scan the text

Scan the text and quickly find the significance of these dates:


Activity 5 – Read the text and highlight these words.


I came in simple clothes but she looked very _______ in her business suit and high heels.

Dyson transformed the _______ vacuum cleaner from a household appliance into a fashion statement.

This is a comfortable chair because of the firm ______.

No-one could copy my design because I ______ it.

______ we lived in London but later we moved to Edinburgh.

I ______ his plan and so we set up a business together.

I like her very much. She is a very ______ person in my life.

We ______ the space in our house by demolishing one wall.

Activity 7 – Put these sentences in logical order.

After WW1 boys and girls in the US started to copy their favourite sportsmen and sportswomen.

Nike produced limited releases of its Nike Air shoes which made them even more popular with young people.

Some tyre manufacturers started producing light shoes with rubber soles.

The manufacture of running shoes has become more technical in order to avoid injury in runners and to help them to run faster.

Well-cushioned running shoes became very popular worldwide with the enormous interest in health and in jogging.

Charles Goodyear found a way to make rubber stronger and more hardwearing. Casually dressed film stars made jeans and trainers very popular with young people in the US.

Activity 8 – Find these words / expressions in the text and mark them. Explain their meaning in your own words.

mind boggling
went through the roof
battled to buy

Activity 9 – Complete this passage putting the verbs into the correct form.

For generations leather was used for shoes but at the end of the nineteenth century Charles Goodyear in the US (discover) a way to make rubber strong and stable in form so that it could (use) for rubber tyres and other similar products. Goodyear (experimente) for years before he (discover) the right process. It (cost) him a large amount of money and perhaps even his health. Before long, shoes with rubber soles (made) all over the country and shoes for different sports (produce). Later, some of these sports shoes (endorse) by famous athletes, which (make) them even more popular with young people. Early on, many shoes with rubber soles (made) in the US but after 1945 Japan (start) to export sports shoes and many shoes (sell) around the world (make) in Japan. However, today, many shoes (now make) in countries such as China, Thailand and Indonesia.

Activity 10 – Work in small groups. You have to design a new newspaper and magazine-based marketing campaign for a new running shoe. Decide how to do this. Report back.