Claire Wood, Senior Footwear Product Manager (Performance Running) at New Balance
Claire Wood has spent a career working in running footwear design and sales. After stints at industry sales powerhouses Mizuno and Brooks, Claire now works with New Balance in their Boston headquarters, leading the development of some of their most popular recent styles.
rc: Sometimes when shopping for shoes, a salesperson will ask you to run a bit so he or she can analyze your gait. What types of things are they looking for to help determine the best shoe for you?
CW: In this case, the salesperson is looking to identify any biomechanical tendencies – meaning what your body and mechanics by default are doing. This could include the popular overpronation, meaning to roll inward a significant amount that could lead to injury. Overpronation is very common, and a variety of stability shoes address this. Always tell the sales person what prior injuries or areas of pain you often experience. Pain on the inside of the knees or shins could be from rolling inward upon impact and can be easily remedied.
rc: What are the key aspects of a shoe that determine what kind of runner it is designed for?
CW: Running shoes have gotten so elaborate that it can often be overwhelming to try to figure them out. Running shoes all fall within a certain category, Neutral, Stability, or Control. Neutral means that the footprint and basic design of a shoe is for a runner with a pretty efficient biomechanical gait. A stability shoe would have a higher density of material, found on the medial side of the shoe to bring additional protection to counter forces rolling inward. Control shoes are the highest degree of stability – and are less common than neutral and stability shoes. Always make sure that whatever you’re fit in feels comfortable, as nothing should hurt. In addition to the basic categories, running shoes offer a variety of heights which situate your foot in various positions off the ground. This is called “offset”, and is an important aspect of the shoe. Always make sure you’re never transitioning too rapidly from a shoe higher off the ground to a shoe much lower to the ground, also called a “minimal shoe”.
rc: What are some ways in which current shoe technology has evolved to better serve runners?
CW: The goal with any running shoe should be to make the experience better for the runner, and let the runner think about the run, not the shoe. Materials in the upper of the shoe have become much thinner and more pliable, allowing for a more secure fit with a much lighter feeling over the foot. The materials that make up the midsole – foams, rubbers, and plastics, are also significantly more innovative. The goal with technology in running shoes is that it improves cushioning, stability and the overall performance of the shoe. This could mean the protective element or the actual feel – be it bouncy or plush.
rc: What are the next frontier(s) for shoe design? What kinds of challenges are you and other shoe designers looking to tackle over the next several years?
CW: The next frontiers of shoe design are always focused around the goal of making the run better. Just as our iphones, laptops and vacuums are getting lighter – this is the goal of running shoes. It is important, however, to never sacrifice something in order to make a shoe lighter. For a runner logging a lot of miles or with an injury history – there is often a fine line. That said, the focus of footwear has shifted to not only include what is under the foot and on top of the foot, but the actual position the foot is in throughout the entire gait cycle. Having an awareness of this and helping runners better their overall form – feet, core and upper body included, is all part of what we believe is inclusive to footwear design. Thinking of the foot as an extension of the body, it is our duty to think of the footwear design as an extension of all elements that affect that foot.