While still at the finish, Tigist Assefa stretched her shoes towards the sky. She also knew that her fabulous world record at the Berlin Marathon had a lot to do with her high-tech kicks. The Ethiopian ran through the streets of the German capital in 2:11:53 hours - beating the old world record by an incredible 2:11 minutes. Runner Amanal Petros sprinted across the finish line just seven minutes earlier - and set an equally impressive German record in 2:04:58 hours. After crossing the finish line, Petros also pointed unmistakably to his white shoes, which are already considered the new "miracle weapon" in running circles: the Adidas Adios Pro Evo 1. The shoe costs 500 euros - and should only be worn once.
A lot can be seen from the new magic shoe: about the state of an industry, about Adidas in particular, but also about social trends. Because running has become even more popular due to the Corona crisis. While many gyms were closed, running trails remained open. Many people stuck with it and now, two years later, are forming a growing market for major sports brands such as Adidas, Nike and Brooks.
This was also noticeable at the Berlin Marathon last weekend. Interest in the event has been huge in recent years. The organizer does not publish official figures - but according to media reports, more than twice as many people applied for the almost 48,000 places compared to 2013. At the marathon trade fair in the former Tempelhof Airport, thousands of visitors queued up in front of the various stands at the weekend. Adidas alone had almost 50 checkouts open, but there were still waiting times. Competitor Nike opened a pop-up store on Kurfürstendamm and advertised the capital with its figurehead, world record holder Eliud Kipchoge.
“The manufacturers have made really good sales in the last 18 months,” says Urs Weber from the running magazine “Runner’s World”. "You could feel that in Berlin. I've never seen so many attempts at activation." Weber, who is one of the best-known running shoe experts in Germany, sees a positive development not only for individual brands. “Actually, everyone who sells running shoes across the board has benefited.”
The broader business is based on what happens at the top. This also explains why manufacturers invest so much money in research. Ambitious runners look at the shoes of top athletes and buy them. A rough estimate is that around two thirds of the almost 2,000 Berlin finishers who ran for under three hours wore top models from Nike (Vaporfly and Alphafly) or Adidas (Adios Pro). These were considered the benchmark until Sunday. Without discounts, they cost between 250 and 320 euros, and ambitious runners usually buy such a model at least once a year - in addition to neutral running shoes, i.e. those without carbon plates and other high technology. It quickly becomes clear how big the market is for manufacturers. In Germany alone, around 1 billion euros are sold every year with running shoes. By 2028 it should be almost twice as much.
Adidas recognized this trend early on. However, under CEO Kasper Rorsted, who will be in office until the end of 2022, the focus was more on lifestyle products such as Adidas Originals and the Yeezys produced in cooperation with US scandal rapper Ye (formerly Kanye West). This market appeared to financial professional Rorsted to have higher margins because less research had to be done. At the same time, Adidas lost touch in the sports sector in some places - especially with its competitor Nike, which clearly dominated the running market in the meantime.
The Adios Pro Evo 1 could usher in a different era (but the project was probably also initiated under Rorsted; the research cycles usually last more than a year). The new CEO Björn Gulden has now noticeably focused more on sport again.
Where there is continuity under Gulden and Rorsted, however, is when it comes to sustainability. Both rely on recycled products and use them aggressively in marketing. At this point, a disposable shoe for 500 euros may sound contradictory. But expert Weber doesn't see this as a problem. "We're not talking about relevant quantities here. This is an absolute elite model - comparable to a tire in Formula 1. It's gone even after a race, but the brand remains in people's minds. Nevertheless, a brand as a whole can become Positioning the issue of sustainability."
One thing is clear: With the Adios Pro Evo 1, Adidas has left its biggest competitor Nike behind for the first time. “Adidas has now submitted,” says Weber. "Until now, Nike was considered a benchmark because they completely reinvented the competition shoe in 2016." At that time, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge was the first person to run the marathon in under two hours. His shoes, the Nike Vaporfly and Alphafly, have since been considered an icon in the running scene. "The secret was a combination of a stiff carbon plate and an extremely reactive midsole foam," explains Weber. Or in simple words: the shoes gave the runners an extremely high amount of recoil.
As a result, almost all manufacturers followed suit, from Adidas to Asics to Brooks and Saucony. Today there is hardly a competition shoe without carbon. The iconic Alphafly or the slightly more stable Vaporfly now exists in its third version. “We can provide sufficient evidence that the times have improved significantly at all distances and in all performance areas,” says Weber.
But what Adidas has now achieved with the Adios Pro Evo 1 is, so to speak, a revolution within the revolution. The people from Herzogenaurach have saved primarily on weight. The Adios Pro Evo 1 weighs just 138 grams - which is roughly the weight of 27 sheets of paper. There wasn't even a lot of savings on the carbon, but rather on the sole. Adidas relies on the modern rocker or rocking chair construction. This means that the sole is not flat on the ground, but is slightly curved at the front and back - like a rocking chair.
What is new is how early the bend begins at the front. This forces runners heavily onto their forefoot. “Top athletes like Tigist Assefa, who have a very explosive running style, benefit from this,” explains Weber. However, to save weight, Adidas has reduced the outsole. This is also the reason why the shoe should only be worn for a marathon. After that, the reactivity, i.e. the recoil, is significantly worse.
Weber doesn't believe that the absurdly high price of 500 euros is primarily intended to attract attention for Adidas - on the contrary: "Adidas probably won't even cover its costs with that." The company sends sometimes huge development teams to Kenya and Uganda to test prototypes on top athletes - for weeks. Nike does the same. The development of the Adios Pro Evo 1 was primarily in the hands of product developers such as Charlotte Heidmann and Simon Lockett, who already worked on the important UltraBoost line. These lines, so-called volume models, are significantly more important for manufacturers because the target group is broader than for the competition models. "That's where the greatest growth has been in recent years because many volume models have become lifestyle products," says Weber. Just think of shoes from On Running or the Nike Air series.
The top models like the new Adios Pro Evo 1, on the other hand, serve primarily as a marketing tool - at 500 euros for 42,195 kilometers only very few would buy it anyway, believes Weber. The shoe was sold out when it went on sale on Tuesday. But according to the expert, the potential is limited. "There are three groups who will buy this shoe: the elite, absolute freaks or people who value status symbols. There is also the overweight triathlete who rides a feather-light racing bike for 15,000 euros." However, all three groups are manageable in size.
Note: This article first appeared on Capital.de.