Brooks are always looking to be innovative, whilst creating apparel to empower the wearer to ‘Run Happy’ from head to toe. They have recently launched ‘Run Signature’ which is set to shake up the way we are fitted for a running shoe’s and ensure the most comfortable running experience.
Can you share an overview of your role at Brooks?
My job title is Tech Rep Manager – UK & IE and my role is to manage our team of Tech(nical) Reps. I have 6 reps out on the road across the UK and Ireland and their job is to be part hyper-active PR/entertainer and part science geek. We love the science behind human motion and material manufacturing but we also share a determination to not take ourselves, or life, too seriously. The Tech Reps train retail staff on the science and features of our products, as well as communicating our brand message which is “Live the way you run. Run Happy” to anyone and everyone. They also attend our sponsored events to put up branding and do the brand ‘activation’ marketing stuff. I’m based at our UK office which is a shed in a field just outside of Steyning and my primary role is to set the strategy and plan of execution for the team season by season. I’m also the Run Signature lead for the UK, working on our 3-phase launch of the concept to the public throughout 2016.
Can you give me an overview of what ‘Run Signature’ is and what makes it unique?
Run Signature is essentially our product design and fitting philosophy. We can break Run Signature into 2 parts – the biomechanics of how your body wants to move, and your personal preference for how you want to feel.
It’s always best to look at where we are now in the context of where we’ve been before. Running biomechanics research in the late 20th century focussed on the ankle as it was easily accessible and much of the research was carried out in an academic environment using force plates on the floor. When technological progress brought video cameras connected to laptops into the retail environment as a means of gait analysis in the 1990s it was genuinely mind blowing. Suddenly retailers with space for a treadmill could look at movement in the ankle to gauge what was happening at the knee and further up the leg.
The general public could walk into their local running shop and see themselves running in a way that they’d never previously had access to; competent experienced running retailers could explain what running shoes were doing in a far more detailed manner. The problem is that the entire running industry – manufacturers, retailers, media, consumers – became fixated with this idea of a camera looking at an ankle. Even though it was an enormous leap in consumer access to understanding themselves and their bodies, gait analysis looking at pronation was always a simplified way of looking at a complex series of movements. 20 years later we have a situation where not only has the process not moved on, but some retailers take a ‘point & shoot’ approach of recording a video of an ankle, drawing an arbitrary straight line on the screen and then making massive judgements about that person based on one particular movement against that straight line. It’s so far removed from the principle of what gait analysis in the retail environment was intended to illustrate that it has really lost all credibility.
If you look at a picture of a mobile phone from the 90s compared to one now it’s quite scary to see how consumer tech has progressed in the last 20 years yet the way the industry guides runners to find a great running shoe has actually regressed and lost much of its meaning. Sorry that’s quite a long winded preamble to explaining what Run Signature is but it’s really really important that we as an industry acknowledge there’s a problem. The industry shouldn’t be afraid to put its hands up and admit that it hasn’t done enough to encourage progress in the way that we design running shoes and present them to the consumer. So, we’ve always known that the knee is a vulnerable joint – it has no bony structure around it to prevent twisting or contortion – and we know that the body uses movement at the hip and ankle to help keep the knee stable in whatever path it wants to follow. In 2010 a legend of the biomechanics world, Benno Nigg, published research demonstrating that the skeleton inside each human being grows and develops differently. Each joint has slightly different dimensions, and will move differently, from one person to another with a huge number of factors governing the particular movement of each joint in each skeleton: bone density, geometry, length; muscle strength, ligament elasticity, age, height, weight, diet, prior exercise, cartilage thickness and on and on. Benno Nigg called this individual joint movement the ‘preferred motion path’ and demonstrated how each body has its own preferred motion path based on all the factors that make a joint want to move in a certain way.
This was a Eureka! moment for us at Brooks. We knew that the knee should be the focus of any efforts by a running shoe to provide support to the body, but Nigg’s research showed that we couldn’t make any assumptions about which bodies might benefit from support.
This coincided with our own research efforts looking at how to decode comfort and work out precisely what makes a human brain register a given state as comfortable. If we could figure this out then we could work out how to make shoes that instinctively feel comfortable for different people. Combining our own research with that of Benno Nigg we started looking at how individual joints move. It’s a longish read but worth half an hour of your time to read our e-book on the research we carried out based on Nigg’s studies Because of who we are, we put the results of our research into the public domain in 2013 as we realised straight away that this was too important for us to keep it to ourselves. We’ve been campaigning within the industry .since then for everyone to get over their obsession with pronation and stop using it as the primary tool for assessing a runner’s need for a supportive shoe.
With Run Signature we take a baseline of the path somebody’s hips, knees and ankles want to take with a few simple knee bends, like a half-squat, and we track the movement path of the knee, the shin, the calf and the heel. The knee bend replicates the position of the knee in the mid-stance phase while running (i.e. one foot on the ground, knee bent) minus the forces applied during running. This baseline movement, whatever it is, however much pronation in the foot there is, however much rotation in the shin there is, whether the knees go in or out, is the natural preferred movement path of that body. This is how that unique individual body wants to move, the individual’s own Run Signature, and we should not try to alter that. The next step of the Run Signature process is to look at the body while running and then we compare that movement to the body during the baseline. Only if there is significant deviation from the baseline should we start thinking about how we get the body back to the preferred motion path – note that the deviation could be in any of the 4 movements that we look at: 1) knee in/out, 2) shin rotation, 3) foot roll, 4) heel rotation. It’s super important to note here that if there is significant deviation we still use the term ‘support’ in relation to a shoe but it does not necessarily mean ‘stability’, it’s support in a more holistic sense that helps the body’s efforts to move along a certain path. This support may come from increasing the amount of any of the 4 movements as much as restricting them. This gives us the runner’s unique individual Run Signature, the biomechanical aspect of how that body wants to move.
The 2nd aspect of Run Signature is the runner’s preferred experience. This is the part that has been overlooked in the past. Runners have gone into a shop, been judged on their amount of pronation at the foot, had a big label stuck on their forehead that marks them for life as a pronator or neutral, and then told what shoe to wear by the store staff. Again, this process has never been adapted or modernised by the industry at large and we want to put the decision making power back in the hands of the runner. Going back to the idea of decoding comfort, we learned that everybody has a different idea of comfort, it’s something specific to them as an individual, so we figured we could help people by clarifying what each of our shoes is designed to do so they have a better idea of which ones will offer them the experience they prefer.
We’ve re-categorised all of our shoes under 4 ‘experiences’, which actually fit every running shoe on the market so retailers can use the concept in a brand-neutral manner – Cushion, Energise, Connect and Speed.
Cushion is about having lots of shoe, lots of shock absorbing midsole that disperses impact forces away from the foot and provides a very soft underfoot sensation.
Energise is about taking those impact forces and channelling them forwards to give more bounce and a springier feel
Connect is about having less shoe between you and the ground, giving much more proprioceptive feedback and allowing the runner to feel more of the ground
Speed is about feeling fast, which is not the same as being fast, so these shoes encourage a quick foot strike and allow the foot to roll through from landing to toe-off with minimal intervention
Letting the runner drive the shoe selection puts them front and centre of the process, nobody knows what they like better than they do. It might be that they like a soft, cushioned shoe for their long runs, a bouncier energised shoe for shorter/faster training, and a speedy feeling shoe for the Parkrun every Saturday. It might be that they just want to feel bouncy all the time, or that they just want a giant fluffy bed of love for their feet all the time. The point is that the runner should get to decide and Run Signature involves the runner’s preference right from the start. We believe we are the only brand pushing this point of view and we have hung our hat on it. We hope that other brands will follow suit, and that the industry can move forward after a long period of stagnation because in the end the runner will benefit the most.
Do you feel that by analysing the runner’s requirements from a running shoe in more detail could aid injury prevention and even progression with pace due to increased comfort?
We know that if the body can stick close enough to its preferred motion path then the calf muscles will require less effort to pre-activate, the body will be in a better posture for landing and load-bearing and the overall effort level required to actually run is reduced. It stands to reason that this places less stress on the body which theoretically should lead to a reduced chance of injury, and certainly increased comfort. I should point out that we don’t have all the answers. Our research is ongoing, because we can’t stand still again, and we’re still looking at how fatigue affects the Run Signature and how the Run Signature data can be incorporated into training programmes. The human body is a work in progress and somebody’s Run Signature may be different after a winter of easy base mileage or a summer of speed and strength work, or after pregnancy or an injury, or after their first period of consistent training. We’re also still looking at the Free Moment (as in momentum, not a moment in time) which is essentially the sum of all the forces acting on all the joints in the body at one point in time, and there is some really terrific research coming from Jo Scurr’s Breast Science team at Portsmouth Uni about how not wearing an appropriate sports bra can affect posture and other performance factors that feed into Run Signature ideas. It’s ‘only’ been 6 years since we started trying to change things up but we have more than adequate knowledge and tools to get things going.
Alongside ‘Run Signature’ and the 4 categories ‘Cushion’, ‘Energise’,’ Connect’ and ‘Speed’ – Would you say that Brooks cater for every runner from beginners to elite?
We do try to cater for every level of runner, we have a team of elite female athletes in the UK to promote women’s participation in running and the US has the Brooks Beasts Track Club of professional middle distance athletes, but our products are for everybody who runs – if you run then you’re a runner, regardless of speed or distance or proficiency. I recall from my days in retail that many new runners assume only an elite athlete needs a ‘proper’ running shoe and I used to explain that gravity has no bias for or against anybody.
If you run, you’re a runner, and you deserve to be able to run in whatever makes you happy.
Finally, what are your favourite Brooks to run in at present?
Ha ha, this is a loaded question! I probably went on about the Dyad at the media drop-in – I love it for long days at expos and events – it’s got a massive slab of cushioning under foot but isn’t too soft and squishy. For short runs where I can concentrate on keeping my knees in their preferred path I love the Ghost , but if I’m going long and I know I’m going to get tired and my form goes completely to pot I wear the Addiction .
Have you recently been fitted up for running shoes? Is run signature something that would be of interest to you?