Running in the Dazzle of Neon

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Y-NEON-1-articleLargeAs fall marathon season unfolds, tens of thousands of runners thud along trails across the country.

Squint, and the races look like bags of tropical Skittles, or perhaps an outtake from a lost 1980s music video. Hello, neon. It is everywhere this year.

Flip through a shoe catalog, browse the shelves of a running store or check out the winding roads of Central Park’s jogging paths, and you are likely to see eye-popping running gear brightening an otherwise staid sport.

Alison Feller, 28, ran the New York City Marathon this year in head-to-toe electric tangerine gear. “It’s totally silly and fun to wear,” she said.

The color was meant to help her loved ones spot her in the marathon crowd. Instead, she blended in with the sea of neon.

“I thought I would be obvious,” she said. “But with everyone out there, they told me I wasn’t easy to spot at all.”

Are the bright shoes here to stay or destined to be the acid wash jeans of tomorrow? It is hard to say, but shoe companies are selling as much neon as they can, even if some executives, like Patrick O’Malley at Saucony, find the shoes at times “borderline obnoxious.”

O’Malley, senior vice president for global product at Saucony, said he first saw fluorescent shoes in Europe. “We looked at them and said, ‘They’re crazy,’ ” he said. But now, citron is about as common as navy blue, he said.

Newton Running of Boulder, Colo., offered four styles of bright shoes back in 2007. Today, it offers 30, most of which have neon. Brooks, a shoe company based in Seattle, Wash., sold four styles of running shoes last year; this year, it is up to 11. And Nike, the biggest player in the field, sells more than 100 neon shoe styles on its website, at least half of its total lineup this year.

Running shoes have featured bright colors for years, often for safety so runners are visible in the dark. But many say neon took off with the 2012 London Olympics, when several high-profile runners wore bright colors. The trendsetters were Allyson Felix, who won three gold medals, Sanya Richards-Ross and Tyson Gay.

“Your eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to these bright shoes,” said Jennifer Escalas, an associate professor in the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University. “Competitors and consumers see them and start to like them.”

Most analysts do not track shoe sales by color, but it is clear that the shoe business is booming. NPD Group, a retail analyst firm, said sales of retail goods in the running category were up $472 million, or 12 percent, in the 2012 fiscal year from the 2011 fiscal year. Some attribute that, at least in part, to the new palette.

“When there’s a visual change to a product, it can have a dramatic impact on sales,” said Marshal Cohen, the chief retail analyst at NPD Group. “The key is that the shoe is different. It looks like you want another new pair of shoes.”

Kira Harrison, an executive with Brooks, said she had seen a huge surge in the demand for neon. The company produced its brightest line last fall, she said.

“They’re not simply training tools,” Harrison said of the shoes. “They’re running buddies.” She added, “The No. 1 theme when we ask about shoes is ‘we just want to feel motivated,’ and bright colors do that.”

Joe MacGown, a runner from Starkville, Miss., said his colleagues sometimes teased him about his bright blue shoes.

“People who run long distance tend to be wired differently than ‘normal’ folks,” he said. “And I think these wild colors give them a way to express their differentness.”

He sighed.

“The nonrunners just don’t get it,” he said.

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source: The New York Times by Mary Pilon

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