WisBusiness: NxtMile making strides as developer of Baby Boomer running shoe

By Leslie Vos

Did you know that most running shoes are designed for people between the ages of 18 and 30? Waunakee resident Michael Miller learned that the hard way.

In his late 30s, Miller picked up the sport of running as a recreational activity and as a way to incorporate cardiovascular activity into his healthy new lifestyle.

While Miller was training with a running partner he was noticing a few aches and pains along the way. He talked with a friend, Sean Ebert, and they did a little research on basic running shoes designed and constructed by the major shoe companies.

Their conclusion: Runners over 40 were not running in the shoes designed for their older bodies.

Miller and Ebert seized the opportunity in 2007 to establish NxtMile. Managed by Miller, Ebert and consultant Bryan Heiderscheit, NxtMile manufacturers custom-fit running shoes engineered to meet the specific biomechanical and orthopedic needs of over-40 runners.

The shoes should help prevent age- and overuse-related injuries common among runners, extending their participation in the sport and improving performance, Miller said.

NxtMile’s shoes feature a custom-fit orthopedic insole combined into a replaceable outer shoe. The design enables each pair of shoes to be precisely tuned to match the customer’s unique physiology and stylistic preferences. That should provide a near-perfect fit while improving cushioning, motion control and stability, Miller said.

“Runners love to run, and we want to help people continue to do that for the rest of their lives as long as their body lets them,” Miller said.

A comprehensive problem-solving analysis is performed to determine each runner’s activity level, prior injuries and biomechanics. Exact measurements of foot dimensions are gathered and used to assemble the appropriate components to match the shoe to the runner’s needs.

Each runner molds an impression of their foot which creates a custom orthotic to match the outer shoe. In addition having the shoes fit precisely, each runner will have the opportunity to tailor the outer design of the shoe with color combinations and styles.

The average age of runners is 44, he said, and the shoes being made for the masses do not cater to the majority. Among over-40 runners, injuries increase over 400 percent in an eight-year period. Research shows that aging joints lose the capacity to absorb shock while deteriorating muscles, he said.

These changes increase the likelihood of a running-related and overuse injuries, which threaten athletic participation whether it is marathon, a local 10k (10-kilometer), or a casual morning run. NxtMile shoes serve these customers by helping prevent the common injuries that pressure a runner’s love for the sport, Miller said.

NxtMile shoes will be introduced at running events and trade shows around the country in 2009. Aside from that, Miller said the NxtMile Brand will position them to be sold in high-end running specialty stores across the country as well as online at nxtmile.com.

This will allow their target market optimal access as they will be customers who maintain high levels of recreations and wellness spending.

As far as competition goes, currently, the only other brand of shoes experimenting with mass customization is Adidas, Miller said. NxtMile will also experience competition from manufacturers of custom-built orthopedic insoles.

So what’s next for NxtMile? The company is a finalist in the 2008 Governor’s Business Plan Contest. A design of the shoes is on the move and will be completed by August 2008.

Some parts of production will occur in Asia. However, the final assembly will take place in the United States. Testing of the first prototypes will be completed at the end of 2008, and NxtMile shoes will be available to purchase in April 2009.

Runners share a common love and commitment to their sport, along with a strong desire for lifelong participation. NxtMile is excited to improve the quality and enjoyment of those runners who may be older, but still young at heart.

“It’s always about the next mile, not the one you just finished,” Miller says.

Vos is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication