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Inside Man: The Runner

Adidas' global director of running innovation wants you to feel like a runner.
Photo by Joseph Eastburn

Running is so simple. All you really need is a good pair of shoes, a healthy set of legs, and maybe a slight penchant for punishment. So how much more can you innovate in an activity we’ve done for the entire duration of our existence?  A lot, according to Mikal Peveto, Adidas’ global director of running innovation. That’s partly because while we’ve been running to survive for thousands of years, we’ve only started to run for fun on a massive scale in the past half-century. We no longer need to run for survival (survival here being a predator in hot pursuit, not the laundry list of health benefits that go along with running). So we spoke with Peveto about how he is helping to design products that will make us want to run.

Is there a limit to what you can innovate or invent in running? 

Well, you can innovate the experience. There are people who run who do not define themselves as runners. People run to either feel better, look better, or to get somewhere faster. That’s how I see it. A lot of people who do it don't enjoy it. They enjoy the outcome of it, but the act of doing it is not as enjoyable. So if we can make that experience better – what's important for us right now is the experience of landing at 3.5 times your body weight when you run. We want to make them enjoy that feeling for 20 minutes or 40 minutes or two hours. That's a meaningful innovation.

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Your latest running innovation is the Adidas Boost technology, where you fuse thousands of pellets that store and return energy in the sole. This is a departure from previous sole manufacturing; how does this change the way people run?

It really was a true innovation, not only that we found out it cushions better than any material we have ever tested and it returns more energy than any material we've ever tested, but we are also finding out that it’s inherently stable. It also slows the rate of pronation, which is simply landing on the outside of your foot and rolling to the center plane. We have found this material that has amazing benefits beyond even what we originally thought it had.

With no material or technological limitations, what should the perfect running shoe accomplish? 

The perfect running shoe should allow you to enjoy the act of running. It should make you say, “I feel like I’m floating.” You’ll get the experience of being almost outside of your body, of being confident and comfortable. 

Where do you think the future of running shoes is headed?

What I see is a much more personalized experience. Our original personalized approach allows you to design your own shoe through graphics. But we are talking about really personalizing a training program and how you want that product to be. I believe we'll finally understand the value of personalization in the course of the next decade.

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So you are saying in the next decade we could see shoes personalized to our own fit and running type, not just the look?

Why not? Look back ten years and look back ten years before that and see how far we’ve come. I think it's possible.

Let’s talk about your running background? Did you run as a kid?

I was really good as a high school kid. I ran a 2:29:00 marathon in high school . Running was my thing. I grew up in the south so it was my escape. My parents were divorced and I was living in oil refinery towns. My dad was a chemical engineer so we went around to not the most amazing, beautiful places in the world. Running was my escape.

What would you consider is your measure of success?

On a basic level it’s that I know I’ve done my best to be a good father, a good husband, and a good man. Success to me is feeling like I lived up to my own personal values, which I set very high for myself. My philosophy in business is have fun, do good things, and try to win. 


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