Sarah Gillam - Assistant Footwear Product Manager at Mizuno - is developing and managing the Mizuno European trail running range, controlling the complete process from market research, design and sourcing, to testing, sampling and distribution, providing a key link between design and production. Sarah explained to us the philosophy behind Mizuno’s production and market introduction procedures, gave us details about the new trail running models that we expect to see in the near future and answered some generic questions about running…and runners!
Ah … and she was tempted to run in Athens next year, after experiencing the unique atmosphere of the most historic marathon worldwide…the Athens Classic marathon!
[Advendure]: During the last couple of years we see a trend towards both minimalistic running shoes (low drop, very light, close to the natural barefoot feeling when running) and – on the other hand - shoes that provide very enhanced cushioning (Hoka, Adidas boost etc…). Mizuno seems to follow a more traditional approach at the moment, so we would like to know your opinion regarding these technologies
[Sarah Gillam]: Yes, Mizuno is sticking a little more traditional and making no drastic changes to our midsole heights. We did extensive testing on the same shoe with varying midsole height across Europe, US and Australia and in all regions the results were remarkably favorable towards our current 12-24 on (for example) Rider and Inspire. Mizuno shoes are quite different to all competitors due to the technology of the wave plate. The way that the wave compresses and the two parts of the midsole compress together, actually gives the feeling of a lower midsole than when measured statically.
[Advendure]: Mizuno is known in the Greek mountain running community from the very successful Cabrakan and Ascend series. Is there something new in your plans regarding mountain running in Greece? Perhaps a model more suitable for performance racing?
[Sarah Gillam]: Yes, Mizuno is launching an entirely new trail range in AW14. This will comprise of 4 models- the Mujin, Kazan, Hayate and Kien. All of our trail shoes have been built from scratch, specifically to cater for the off road runner. We have all new trail technology called ‘XtaticRide’, which give the smoothest trail running experience whilst still providing great grip and protection. The technology consists of three main factors – X lugs, for multidirectional grip, X groove in the forefoot to allow twisting and Concave Wave which is a trail specific wave.
The Mujin (Cabrakan replacement) is the top of the range trail shoe boasting all the new technologies and being more suitable for serious mountainous conditions.
The Kazan (new Ascend) is a lighter, more dynamic shoe with an exciting design.
Our new racer is the Wave Hayate which has a more aggressive outsole making it really suitable for cross country, fell running and I super lightweight.
Finally we have the Kien which is an entry price trail shoe for your more recreational runner going from door to trail.
[Advendure]: We will be very happy if you describe us in a few sentences the path from the initial concept of a new Mizuno shoe to product design and finally its mass production. How important is the close cooperation of the athletes with Mizuno’s R&D team during the design and production phase of a new product?
[Sarah Gillam]: If we are creating a brand new shoe, then firstly a lot of research will be carried out in the markets. For example with the trail shoes, I went on numerous store visits and runs around Europe. From this you can access the market, look for gaps, and find current strength and areas for improvement. We then use this information to write a detailed product brief – how much the shoe should cost, what it should look like, the extend of its technologies etc.
The product briefs are then sent to product managers and designers who are based in Japan and the US. We help them develop the design until we are happy to produce the first sample. The first samples are often rough to see how the drawings convert into real life, and then more consideration can be taken into how the shoe is made, what materials and bonding processes we use.
From the second development there are another few rounds where we continually adapt and improve the shoe not only aesthetically but also technically. The products get sent to athlete/ runners for a full 600 km durability test, to see how they perform over their lifetime. The products also go through vigorous lab tests in out Sozo Studios (R&D department) in our HQ. This iteration continues for 4 or 5 developments until we have a near perfect shoe ready for production!
[Advendure]: Cushioning and Stability are both very important factors in running shoes, but it’s difficult to support both effectively. Is Mizuno’s wave technology the solution for a balance between them? How important are these factors to your designs?
[Sarah Gillam]: Mizuno Wave is a unique technology, since it does provide both cushioning and stability, which no other brand has achieved. The corrugations in the wave compress when it is impacted, which is how the shock is absorbed. On the other plane these ‘waves’ can also be used for stability, especially if the material is reinforced or the amplitude of the wave is greater. Mizuno wave is therefore a key part of all our running shoes.
[Advendure]: This year Mizuno celebrates the 30th anniversary of its first Runbird Shoes. After 30 years, running – both in streets and up on the mountains - is developing very rapidly worldwide but also here in Greece with hundreds of races and thousands of new runners each year. We like to hear your opinion regarding this important development.
[Sarah Gillam]: Mizuno has always been a big brand in Japan and it is now becoming even more recognized worldwide. The company may have ‘globalized’ a little later than some of the other big brands, so some smaller countries are still being introduced to Mizuno now. The concept was all to do with Run equating to health and sports and Bird which in Japan symbolizes the expansion of free spirits.
[Advendure]: Is the price of a running shoe a real indicator of its quality? Is there a real difference between 60-70 euro shoes and 130-150 euro shoes? How about the beginners, do they need high-end shoes or they can start with something simple and move later to a high-quality and price shoe?
[Sarah Gillam]: As with any products I’m a true believer in ‘you get what you pay for’. With a cheaper shoe there simply would be less technology and it is too expensive to put it all in. However with Mizuno being a technical running brand, none of our shoes are really inexpensive and they should always be suitable for runners especially if they are only just starting out. We find cheaper ways of still creating a great running experience in a comfortable shoe.
[Advendure]: Minimalist, performance, stability, neutral, cushioned shoes etc…etc…How easy is for the new runner to choose what to wear for his/her training or racing runs? Lots of new technologies and acronyms for something – running – that should have been the easiest sport! What are your thoughts about it?
[Sarah Gillam]: I think it can be rather difficult and confusing for new runners trying to find the correct shoe. I think that the internet is a big problem for these types of people who don’t know which shoe they should have. I would always recommend going to a running specialist where the staff is trained and they can help to find the correct shoe for you and explain it all in simpler terms. If you can find somewhere that does gait analysis then even better, it is really important to see what type of runner you are before choosing a shoe.
[Advendure]: Wave Sayonara seems to be Mizuno’s new race performance solution, compared to the racing flat shoes that athletes use in distances up to the marathon. Tells us a few things about the all-new U4ic midsole, which seems to be the fundamental design characteristic of this shoe.
[Sarah Gillam]: U4iC is a new midsole compound that Mizuno has spent time developing and perfecting. Whilst maintaining the same cushioning properties, the material has a weight reduction of around 30%, which can make huge reductions on shoe weights. It is our secret formula though so I can’t tell you any more details!!
[Advendure]: Dynamotion Fit™ seems to be a very promising technology, especially for mountain runners, as we have tested it recently with the Wave Ascend 8. Tell us a few things about the initial conception of this idea and what feedback you’re receiving - from athletes or special reviews - regarding its efficiency.
[Sarah Gillam]: Dynamotion Fit™ is all about the shoe fitting well whilst you are running. A lot of other brands will have a great shoe fit, but only statically and they don’t consider moving! So all our testing is done dynamically, to check the seams, the comfort, the fit and support all remain the same and compliment your running and foot movements. Yes we have very positive feedback from runners and athletes across categories.
[Advendure]: Athens Classic Marathon is one of the most iconic and historic marathons around the globe. Tell us a few things about this event and the feelings that someone experiences when visiting (as a runner or spectator) this historical race.
[Sarah Gillam]: 2013 was my first year to visit Athens Classic Marathon and I was pleasantly surprised with how busy the expo was and how many runners partake. It is great to see international runners too, visiting Athens for the weekend for the iconic race but then also having time to visit the city. I watched the race at the end and there is a great atmosphere, it’s an impressive finish in the stadium…. I am tempted to run it next year!