The Only Running Shoe You Need (for Now): Nike Huarache
Just as 2011 was rounding into 2012, I wrote a post for my personal blog opining that this would be just the right time for Nike to bring back their Huarache line of running shoe. I wrote about it being the first running shoe I ever truly coveted, and the last; I wrote about the sui generis quality of its slipper-like design; and I wrote about how the barefoot craze inspired by Born to Run (2009) had brought a fervor for ultra-minimalism to running shoes. I had no way of knowing that, as I wrote, Nike was already shipping the Huarache to stores.
This wasn’t the first time they’d brought the shoe back. After yanking it in the early nineties, the Huarache reappeared, mysteriously, in 2000, only to disappear once again, just as mysteriously. This isn’t the kind of behavior that builds brand loyalty, which is why I’d never worn a pair of Nikes since.
But when Nike made the Huarache reappear this year, I put all such high-minded principle aside. Not only had they reintroduced the world’s greatest running shoe; they’d actually improved upon it. The upper still consisted of a poly cloth-like material supported by leather and plastic straps, but the toe material had been replaced by a mesh that allowed for greater breathability. (Breathability was an issue with the original Huarache, according to Running Times, which, in a post-mortem for the shoe several years back, identified this as a factor behind its obsolescence.) That’s a relatively minor change, but the other change was anything but minor: the Nike Air technology in the midsole replaced with Nike Free technology.
Stilted stiffness, in other words, had been replaced with a pliant but cushioned flexibility. I’d never worn Free before, with its sole sectioned off in a grid designed to allow for supreme conformity of foot with terrain. As I took the shoes out for the first time in all kinds of terrain–grass and dirt and concrete and, yes, rubber tread–the old freedom of weightlessness was there, but it was accompanied by an altogether different freedom: the freedom of uncanny balance and traction. I felt like I was prancing with a cat’s paws.
This was no minor matter. Shoe-design technology, by now, has become so refined, any improvement that occurs from one shoe to the next is infinitesimal to the point of imperceptibility. It’s a game of centimeters. Which was why it was so breathtaking to see Nike make it once again a game of inches. I don’t know if the shoe’s selling well enough to warrant further production. Or if it’s selling so well that Nike (as they’ve been rumored, from inside, to do) will discontinue it with the express intention of creating more fervent demand. I want to say to Nike that if you pull this shit again, we’re through—that I won’t come running back next time.
That’s what I want to say, even as I know that life is too short–and there’s just too much running to do–for such high and heavy inflexibility.
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