Adidas’ running shoes for women make me sad

Earlier this week I heard about a new pair of running shoes that Adidas created specifically for women, which is something you’d think I’d be delighted by, right?  And to a certain extent I am.  The process behind the creation of the PureBoost X represents a radical departure from “shrink it and pink it.” For a long time, sports gear has been designed with the idea of men as the default, so it’s still pretty remarkable when a sports company designs with women specifically in mind.  So props to Adidas for that.

But as much as I appreciate what Adidas has done with the PureBoost X, I had to say I was dismayed when I read Zoe McKnight’s review of the shoes, which she wrote about for the Toronto Star earlier this week. She took the shoes out for some training runs – she’s preparing for the 30K Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton – and she found that the shoes didn’t really work for her, especially when she went for a 24K training run. Which, okay, not every shoe is going to work for everyone on every run, even a shoe that is designed specifically with women in mind.

That’s not what got me, though. What got me were the company’s responses to her inquiries after she’d taken them for the test drive.

When I told Adidas about my experience, the company said through a spokesperson that my discomfort wasn’t surprising, since the shoe is really designed for distances between five and 10 kilometres, for women who include running as part of a larger workout routine.

The shoe’s marketing implies that it’s meant for a woman who runs so much that she eventually becomes fed up with those pesky shoes meant for men and demands a shoe made for her feet. And yet the company says it’s not meant to be worn for runs longer than six miles.  That’s great if you exclusively run 5Ks and 10Ks, but that’s not really in line with the big trend in women’s running, which is total domination of the half-marathon. Which, if you need a reminder, is 21.1K/13.1 miles and thus is more than twice the longest distance recommended for the shoe.

So if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of women taking part in a half-marathon this year?  This shoe ain’t for you.

The Adidas spokesperson acknowledges that women have been the driver behind the latest boom in running, then goes on to say:

“It’s moved this big, fundamental shift away from the serious, competitive aspect to much more of a social aspect dominated by female runners,” Wardlaw says.

This is where I facepalmed.

Listen, I don’t deny that for a lot of women, running and racing is very much a social thing, something they do with their friends or their family members. I know a lot of women whose only race all year long is the Iron Girl half-marathon in Clearwater, and they run it with their friends or their daughters or their sisters. This is obviously not how I roll, but that’s fine. I know this is a shocking thing to admit out loud, but not everyone has to have the exact same priorities and perspectives in life that I do.

ALL THAT SAID, I cannot be the only female runner who is tired of hearing about how we aren’t really serious runners.  I’m tired of hearing about how we’ve made the sport less competitive. The influx of women into the sport may have made it more inclusive – and thank goodness for that – but less competitive?  Less serious?  Please.

Further, I would make the argument that a lot of those social, supposedly less serious female runners?  They actually are quite serious about their running. You don’t run several times a week and follow a training plan if you aren’t serious. It’s just that their seriousness takes a different shape than what we’d historically thought of as serious running.  I mean, you don’t have to run 70+ mile weeks to be a serious runner, and you don’t have to do it in split shorts and a cotton race shirt from 1986.  That’s because seriousness isn’t about external signifiers; it’s about what’s inside your heart and your mind.

I really wanted to wholeheartedly love what Adidas is doing, because I appreciate when sports apparel companies recognize women’s bodies tend to have different needs than those of men.  That’s why I am like *flings money* at Coeur Sports and would be even if I wasn’t an ambassador, because they get that you can’t put women in tri shorts made for dudes and not expect things to get gnarly and they design their products accordingly.  I want to reward companies that do this with my money! LET ME GIVE YOU MY MONEY.

But I can’t do that when the company only meets me halfway.  Don’t tell me about how you’ve made this amazing running shoe that is meant for women, but then turn around and say this amazing running shoe isn’t actually for serious runners because everyone knows women aren’t serious runners.  You can’t woo athletes like me out of one side of your mouth and then insult us out of the other side. It doesn’t work like that.

Adidas says they have big plans for the future of women’s running. I sure hope those future plans include treating female runners like actual runners.


51 responses to “Adidas’ running shoes for women make me sad

  1. I am totally with you. Every time I see an article about how women run because they like to be with their friends and wear tutus, I want to throw up simply because those articles seem to say that’s the only reason women run. Run for whatever reason you want. Wear tutus. Or not. Wear pink. Or black. Run a mile. Run an ultramarathon. It’s all good.

    But most of the women I know run competitively. They run to become the best runner and athlete they can be regardless of their pace. These women are chasing betterment. Where is the marketing for these women?

    And I really don’t understand the Adidas’s marketing about men’s vs. women’s shoes. I’ve been running for 17 years and I have never, ever (not a single time!) had trouble finding running shoes built for a woman. Are there actually still women out there who can’t find women’s running shoes and have to buy small men’s shoes? I get that this was a problem years ago, but it is not a problem now. Every major brand has both men’s and women’s shoes. So…why is that an apparently effective ad?

    • I don’t know, to be honest. What I appreciated most was that the design process was centered around women from beginning to end, but yeah, I’ve never had an issue with any of the women’s shoes I’ve bought from Brooks, Hoka, etc. They’ve all been just fine.

      • I wear New Balance these days and love the shoes. I think NB does a good job supporting women pros (what a great team they have) and I think they have cool marketing.

    • Woman who buys men’s shoes here– because men’s are wider (I run in a men’s 8E). Personally I find adidas’ marketing really weird and full of BS, because they haven’t fixed the issue (dearth of wide, neutral women’s running shoes) that drove me to the men’s rack. My Mizunos are great, arches with feelings don’t tempt me to switch even if they come in my size…

      • I’ve found New Balance women’s racing flats are really good lightweight, neutral shoes with decent width. I have wide feet, so width is always an issue for me. I prefer neutral shoes, too. The 1400 is my go-to shoe right now.

  2. Boooo. Also, remember how the Olympic Marathon freaking Trials were last month and there were MORE FEMALE QUALIFIERS THAN MEN. Good thing I don’t like Adidas anyway.

  3. I think you pretty much nailed this. (Also, is Adidas living under a rock or something?? I know so, so many female ultrarunners that a position like theirs re: what female runners do/are like seems insane to me.)

  4. I had pretty much the same thoughts when I read the review and Adidas’s comments. Oh of course women aren’t actually about running when they’re running it’s all about emotions and social bonds and all those womanly things. It was really tone deaf and jarring when I mostly read blogs like yours and Fit Is A Feminist Issue where performance, passion, and fun are what it’s all about. Then to be confronted with this retrograde stereotype. Weird that people still think that way.

    • I’m surrounded, both in real life and online, with women who are really dedicated, passionate athletes, and it’s always a bit of a shock to see something like this. It’s like they haven’t actually caught up to us yet.

  5. I hope to not make your brain explode or anything, but for the last two years I worked in specialty running. The offset in Asics running shoes (the difference between the heel and forefoot in mm) is 1 mm higher in the women’s version of each shoe for “that time of the month” (quoting the rep). When he said it, I’m pretty certain every woman in that room had to pick her jaw up off of the floor. There’s no reason for it and it makes zero sense. So yeah, this doesn’t come as a shock to me!

      • Again, there is no reason for it. Maybe it made them feel as though they can therefore say it’s a “woman’s shoe” because of that minor and unimportant detail. Def don’t think they should direct it as being relative to our menstruation though.

  6. So I know a lot of serious runners who have dedicated interval and tempo shoes that are made for 5-10km runs. The pair of racing flats (from a different company) I own is advertised for “Long Distance Comfort” — I couldn’t take them out for more than 10km. I’m not quite sure this is condescension on the part of Adidas.

    • I have less structured, lighter shoes that are for shorter distances as well. As I wrote in my post, I could see these shoes working for someone who likes the shorter distances. My *facepalm* moment came with the part about women being less competitive and serious and more social runners. I don’t see how that could be seen as anything *but* condescending.

  7. “That’s because seriousness isn’t about external signifiers; it’s about what’s inside your heart and your mind.”

    Golly I love this so much I nearly died!!!! I will never be a speedy runner but my word, I am a serious runner!

  8. Ugh, I hate the assumption that women only like running when it’s pink and fluffy and not serious and basically because we can have brunch after and Instagram it and be all like ‘yay we went for a run’. Yes, that helps some people get into it, but for the vast majority, we need far more than that. There is a huge huge void (whether it’s magazines, marketing campaigns or general coverage) when it comes to anyone who is between the stages of ‘run your first 5k’ and ‘you’re in the Olympics’ and it drives me mad. We aren’t all about studio classes and casual cardio…Adidas, I expected more of you…have you not seen the performance some of the women running right now?!

  9. I’m an ultrarunner and I’ve had countless exchanges with various companies about their “women-specific” gear and how it doesn’t work at long distances. I’m regularly met with the virtual equivalent of a blank stare. It’s sooo disheartening.

  10. I have thighs that rub and arches that need tender loving support and boobs that yearn to be immobilized on my long runs, and so many companies offer little more than ultrafeminine athleisure, which like I’m all for us all being comfortable all the time but it makes shopping for sports wear so frustrating. Adidas has been upfront about their sexism but just about every company I’ve looked at has such a discrepancy between men’s and women’s selections.

    • There are some brands that do a good job with gear for women but they tend to be really specialized brands that you have to know about and seek out. I’ve had coworkers ask me about gear like sports bras and shoes and they’ve never heard of the brands before. I think that’s why it’s even more imperative that the big-name high-recognition brands step up their game here.

      • Sorry, I’m late to the party here but I just wanted to mention the Panache sports bra. Bra-sized, underwired, it lifts and separates, and you can get it on Amazon. I wear a 36FF or G and it’s the only thing I exercise in anymore. Compression sports bras are for yoga and garbage cans.

  11. To give another perspective… I am not a long distance runner. I run a mile or two when I can, and that’s after putting in a huge amount of work to get there (I remember, vividly, the days of huffing and wheezing after a minute of jogging). It was terribly embarrassing work and due to that I am STILL not a “social runner,” and maybe never will be. Running is an independent activity for me, and for me to make it that entire mile? I have to be serious about it, focused and dedicated to the 12 minutes it takes me. So what the Adidas rep said is insulting to me because it implies that I’m not serious about my short distance. There’s nothing wrong with not being serious – and props to those people who can run short distances and it be, truly, a “fun run.” But it feels like it isn’t acknowledging those like me who have to train seriously in order to run the entire 3k, or whatever distance it is.

    • Thank you for your perspective! And keep working at it! I still remember when I first started running and how hard it was for me to go a block without keeling over. Here’s hoping you continue to improve.

      • Thank you! I really appreciate it. Life’s been crazy the past couple of months and I’m hoping I can get back on my schedule as the weather gets warmer 🙂

    • I am a bit late to the party, but the first time I ran a mile (other than those forced things in gym class on the Worst Day of the Year) it was a really big deal for me. I was very proud of it. When I started, a block was about all I could do. I took pride in that accomplishment, and that allowed me to go on to longer distances.
      Also, FWIW, some of us just aren’t social runners. The only one I run with is my dog. I like my alone time, regardless of the distance.

      • I hear you on taking pride in that first block without running, and using that to build up to bigger distances slowly over time. (And also hating the days when we had to run the mile in gym – ugh.) Thanks for your comment.

  12. This is all so important! I think more running shoe companies should be transparent about the distances their shoes are designed for, anyway. I got plantar fasciitis as a newbie distance runner in part by wearing less supportive shoes. What a disappointing response on their part.

    • I agree entirely. If your shoe is meant for low-mileage runners who go for a quick run between lifting or yoga sessions, then say it in the actual marketing and not only when a journalist reaches out to you about it. Don’t just lump all female runners into one monolithic group. Recognize that we have as many different needs as athletes as do male runners.

  13. Wow, that’s really eye-opening and I really hope that that Adidas takes on feedback after this first product, so that the next set of running shoes will be better and more suitable for us long distance female runners. Don’t be sad, there’s still hope!

    • I hope they do too. Contrary to what some of the other commenters think here, my goal isn’t to make Adidas feel bad – as if one lowly blogger could do that – but to get them to do better.

  14. What a staggeringly sexist and judgemental bunch of comments.

    Both women and men run for fun, it is the major growth area of running and many women we serve in store want a shoe that works as a runner and a gym/circuits shoe. Many people cannot afford 2 pairs so need something to work for their 1 hour run after work and their gym session.

    Get rid of the chip on your shoulder, just becausw this shoe isn’t for one person doesn’t mean you need to get abusive and aggressive toward the design team. It does your arguments no good at all.

    You will, however, be pleased to see what adi are launching in 2017 if your prejudice, sexism and ore conceived ideas allow you to.

    • Do you really consider this to be abusive and aggressive? Really?

      If the design and marketing team wants to appeal to female runners, it would do them well to hear what actual female runners have to say about their products. I will remain open-minded for next year but if they want my money they’re going to have to do better than this, especially as they’re competing against companies that do actually cater to runners.

  15. I’m a woman. This shoe is great for me when Im doing a short run or gym session. Other adidas shoes are great for longer runs. Just because this specific shoes is not made for long runs doesn’t mean adidas are being ‘sexist’. This article is just a bit embarrassing. If you actually knew how much more effort adidas is putting into women’s kit than men’s I would hope you would be appalled on behalf of all men. Stop being so angry about issues that don’t exist. I don’t work for adidas by the way.

    • “They work really hard on this” does not mean they are impervious to criticism. That’s not how the working world works. In fact, I would think that if they care that much and are working that hard on their women’s kit, they would want to know when their products and marketing are missing the mark with their target audience.

      I’m glad the shoe works for you, btw.

  16. All of the ridiculous standards women are held to needs to stop. It’s 2016. We need to stop being seen as less than equal to men and companies can “shrink it and pink it” all they want as long as the designs are otherwise equal. It’s like how men’s pants are actual measurements in sizes but we get arbitrary 0,1,2,3,4,5,6, etc. Except this takes it further to say that women on the whole are less than men in their athletic abilities and desires, so much so that we don’t see the need to make equipment for those that are on the same level, which is probably a lot more than they think.
    Their responses just imply that they take women less seriously than men (even though they did design a new shoe, that does not mean they take women’s running more or even equally seriously as men’s.) which is something that is still seen across the board

  17. Haha when I read the rep’s statement that the shoe was for like 5-10k distance only, I thought, “oh they’re like more distance-y racing spikes?” Ugh indeed

  18. We talked a bit about this on Twitter, but I’m dropping by to put a couple pennies’ worth of thoughts here:
    – I get the point of different shoes for different purposes. (Don’t ask me how many pairs of shoes I have for long runs, speedwork, and of course I need two pairs because I’m transitioning from an older pair to a newer pair…) BUT the stuff coming out of that Adidas strategyperson’s mouth is sort of astounding.
    – This is the shoe equivalent of the study that found when women enter male-dominated professions, pay actually drops. Women are doing it? Oh, it must be a trivial pursuit and not actually worth that much. (Except when it’s worth a lot of $ to corporations, but then they still won’t take you seriously.)

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