Have you ever stopped to calculate how much money you’ve shelled out for running shoes over the course of your career? Well, I have and the numbers are staggering. Who knew that your running addiction would cost you as much as raising a child? Okay, it doesn’t cost you quite that much, but it’s not cheap!
Some people are proud of the number of trainers, flats, and spikes they’ve laid to rest over the years. They affectionately give each pair a name and track the hours and miles spent in each one as a testament to their durability. But for those of us putting in loads of miles each week, it’s more like a first date where you forget the girl’s name. You hardly feel acquainted with your sneakers before they are worn out and ready to be replaced.
While many a runner has boasted of putting a thousand or more miles into a certain shoe, in reality, most shoes don’t last nearly that long. Shoe reps will tell you that you should replace your trainers every 300 miles. While this number is often given to loyal customers to keep them buying more and more products, I’ve found that five to six hundred miles is the average life of my running shoes. Of course, this all depends on the surfaces in which you train (sidewalks and roads kill shoes faster than grass and trails).
A few years ago, while working in Portland, Oregon, someone shared a trade secret with me that would revolutionize the way I acquire running shoes. A concept so brilliant that I hardly believed in it. No longer would I have to pay top dollar to supply my running fix. With this method, I would be receiving new shoes, free of charge, whenever I needed them. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, since you’re kind enough to read this blog, I’ll let you in on the secret.
Product testing. So simple in practice that you wonder why you haven’t heard of it before. Shoe companies do years of research before they release a product onto the open market. The shoe industry is highly competitive and companies spend a lot of money making sure that their products are the best in the business. Concepts first created in a drafting room by an artist, then materialized by a machine, will undergo extensive testing and feedback by individuals before being rendered into a final product and released on the market. All of your favorite brands hire product testers to run in their shoes and provide educated feedback concerning functionality and design. While each process is slightly different, I can share my experience with the largest and most successful brand: Nike.
I started product testing with Nike during the fall of 2010. Having just graduated college, and still running competitively, I was in need of running shoes but strapped for cash. When I heard about Nike’s Product Testing program, I applied online and was testing prototype shoes within the month. The application is straightforward and easy.
Any US citizen who is serious about their running and not currently competing at the collegiate level can apply, but those who fit certain standards are asked to test more often. This is usually based on shoe size, as testers are needed more often in the Men’s Size 10 and Women’s Size 8 categories. If you agree to complete a test, you will be sent a pair of shoes with instructions to run x miles per week in the product. Logging each run you complete in the shoes, you will then answer questions pertaining to the the product’s functionality. Are the shoes comfortable? Is the toe box too high or too low? Do you notice any heel slip while you’re running?
After running in the product for the duration of the testing cycle– typically 8 weeks–you return the shoes for analysis, free of charge. Nike will use your feedback, along with the treadware analysis, to further develop the product into its final form. The entire process from concept to store shelves usually takes around 18 months.
Since joining forces with Nike, I have tested over 30 pairs of running shoes and been involved in redesigning some of their top sellers, including Air Max, Volmero, LunarFly, Lunar Racer, and Pegasus. It is a great feeling to see the result of your miles and feedback sitting on the local shelves or being worn around the neighborhood. It is even greater to know that you’ve saved thousands of dollars in doing so.
If you are a consistent runner who logs 30+ miles a week and would like to test products for Nike, check out the link below:
While this article’s focus has been on running shoes, it’s also worth noting that Nike uses testers for their running apparel. It is also possible to test products relating to many other sports, including soccer, basketball, and tennis. Other brands, like Adidas, hire product testers, and information on how to apply can be found through a simple Google search. I don’t know a great deal about product testing outside of the US, but I’m sure something like it exists with foreign brands. I do know that Nike will not ship prototype products overseas due to customs issues with intellectual property.