Run For All
UA Infinite Elite Running Shoes, $160.
Attracting new runners, making products for entry level runners, and marketing to new consumers are concepts that brands across the industry are all keenly invested in. Strava’s annual Year in Sport report released in January revealed that running was the most-uploaded sport in 2023. Not only that, nearly a quarter of runners ran at least one race in 2023, which was a 24 percent increase over 2022. Indeed, running is a sport that is more accessible and less cost-prohibitive than many other activities. It is perhaps for these reasons that it attracts so many athletes of every caliber and experience level to pound the pavement.

With brands constantly looking for ways to build a deep bench, bringing entry level and recreational runners into the fold and working to design top-of-the line products that appeal to this demographic is key. Things like comfort, functionality, and innovation are of the utmost importance. Devising ways to market to and communicate with these runners is also top of mind for brands. The result is a healthy marketplace that caters to runners at every level of the sport, inspiring more miles, greater health, and an ever-growing global community of harriers.

Saucony Ride 17, $140.

Design with Comfort in Mind

In hopes of breaking down barriers to entry into running, brands are cognizant of designing products that are comfortable right out of the box. Employing lightweight, soft, breathable fabrics is particularly important no matter what the product. “Struggles in the first few runs with clunky gear can discourage new runners, so we create product solutions to give runners confidence and keep them motivated,” explained June Angus, Amphipod’s co-founder and president. “This is even more important for entry level and recreational runners to ensure they don’t feel encumbered by their gear which can inhibit just getting out there.”

“We think about the construction of the flask and the carrier, so it is comfortable to hold and squeeze,” explained Jenn Rust, senior product line manager for Nathan Sports. “I work with our design team to identify pain points for our novice runner by mixing stretch and non-stretch materials and making sure it breathes and wicks.”

Comfort is especially vital for running footwear, which is arguably the most important piece of gear a runner owns. “When someone first dips their toes into running, we know they’re looking for shoes that can provide them comfort as they go new distances,” said Sylvia Baeyens, product line manager for Brooks. “The best shoe is one that provides a comfortable ride that keeps you looking forward to your next run.”

Jonathan Hutnyan, senior product line manager of Run & Train Footwear at Under Armour, also underlined the importance of offering a comfortable out-of-the-box experience, saying, “we stress general comfort and protection. We want that first step into the shoe and the feeling hundreds of miles in to feel equally comfortable and enjoyable.”

“Comfort and cushion are paramount to each shoe we design,” added Ted Fitzpatrick, Saucony VP of product management. “Cushion can mean different things for different shoes. For instance, in a shoe like the Triumph, we focus on everyday cushion that is comfortable, soft, and bouncy for easy runs, longs runs, and casual wear.”

Amphipod HydraForm Ergo-Lite Insulated Handheld, $26.50, and AirFlow MicroStretch Belt, $20.

Innovation for All Runners

Brands agree that while an experienced runner might be more in-the-know about the latest and greatest technologies, innovation is just as important for the entry level runner. “As we build cutting edge or pinnacle product, we can also tier that technology down to the entry level,” said Hutnyan at Under Armour. “Innovation plays a vital role at all levels, enhancing the running experience for everyone and anyone.”

John Ealy, category director of performance at ASICS North America, agreed saying, “The design process goes through the same strict guidelines and testing at our Institute of Sports Science to deliver on our promise of craftmanship and durability. Typically, our newest technologies are implemented into our legends models first and we then utilize our learnings about features like fit, foams, designs and what runners enjoy and cascade those learnings into every model for future seasons.”

Indeed, innovation is the life blood of product design and if brands hope to entice new runners, they must be on top of their game when it comes to peddling the latest and greatest. Dave Spandorfer, CEO and co-founder of Janji said that the brand team thinks about innovation from the standpoint of what a runner might need for exploring their surroundings and potential, regardless of their experience level. “They could be doing their first vacation run, their first run around a different part of town, their first half marathon,” he explained. “What we know is that whether you’re a newbie—or expert—you’ll want pockets, fast drying materials, and a design that doesn’t sacrifice performance for aesthetics.”

Fitzpatrick echoed this point, saying that every runner craves innovation. “Innovation is at the root of everything we do,” he said. “Our relentless pursuit of the next great foam technology allows us to make running easier and more comfortable. We are also focused on bringing innovation to our core everyday product and not simply high price, racing, elite product.”

On Cloudmonster 2, $179.99.

Function and Fashion

Accessibility is especially vital for the newer runner. “Generally speaking, it’s more important to deliver an intuitive and easy-to-use product to entry-level athletes over more advanced athletes,” said Jeremy Nelson, Founder and CEO of ROLL Recovery. “This means not only placing in their hands a well-designed and well-built product, but the entire experience from ordering, shipping, delivery, opening the packaging, and understanding how to use the product is key.”

Not only is ease-of-use important, part of appealing to the entry-level and recreational runner is functionality and versatility. This means creating products that can go beyond a workout. “Recreational runners want to more seamlessly integrate their fitness activities with their lifestyle,” said Angus of Amphipod. “Many of our top-selling products are designed to take someone straight from their run to the pub to meet up with friends.”

Baeyens at Brooks said the same goes for footwear. “Our merchandising team does a great job ensuring our shoes come in approachable and wearable colorways to take runners on and off the run. We want to meet every runner where they’re at in their running journey so that they don’t have to compromise,” she said.

Color and aesthetics play a major role in telling that story, whether it be neutral tones or a more traditional design. “A shoe wall full of various shoes can be intimidating, so making our footwear approachable and understandable is crucial,” added Hutnyan.

“A progressive neutral color can make a shoe feel inherently more wearable and stylish which allows our product to reach more consumers,” explained Fitzpatrick. “A bright, bold color can convey high performance for race day for the runner looking to stand out and be seen. We spend a lot of time finding the right assortment for each model to make sure we will strike an emotional chord with the consumer so the visual of the shoe on the shelf or on screen grabs their attention.”

Roll Recovery R1 Percussion, $129.

Getting the Word Out

To design the best products for entry level and recreational runners, brands must work directly with this demographic. “Education is especially important for these novice runners,” said Rust of Nathan Sports. “We do staff trainings at running retailers and connect with local run clubs to encourage runners to think about their hydration plan and how to execute it.”

Education is the name of the game. To do that, brands must put boots on the grounds. “For new or entry-level runners, it is important to be accessible and help educate,” Hutnyan said. “The industry is so vast; it is important to simplify our offerings and help the runner understand what our brand can do for them in their running journey.”

Angus also emphasized the importance of leveraging specialty retailers in educating consumers. “Specialty shops provide an invaluable space for all runners locally for great guidance, the ability to get started in a training group, provide support and motivation, and talk through technical gear,” she added.

“While utilizing influencers and partners on social media for marketing purposes is definitely helpful in our marketing efforts, I believe it is very important to actually understand what a new runner is going through when they’re getting into the sport, the inevitable aches and pains that come along with it,” said Nelson. “That means being able to educate them, nurture them, and help them succeed in the sport. Nothing beats face-to-face experiences and connections.”

In the end, Spandorfer asserts

that that the key to appealing to recreational and entry level runners is to balance approachability and aspiration. “We focus on the human universality of running and how the best way to see the world, whether quickly or slowly, is on two feet.”

Oiselle Flyout Bra, $64.
Nathan QuickSqueeze Plus Insulated Handheld, $40.
Brooks Adrenaline GTS 23, $140.
Asics GEL-Pulse 15, $100.