The RBR Interview: Cregg Weinmann,Looking for the Perfect Shoe, by Larry Eder

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It was about eleven in the evening on Wednesday, May 14, when I arrived in LA International, heading to Long Beach for some interviews with several top athletes, including Tyson Gay and Jeremy Wariner.

As I sped down the highway, in the back seat of a quickly moving taxi , I read an email from Cregg Weinmann, the footwear and apparel review editor for the Running Network. I then, quickly called Cregg to check in, and make sure that, with all of the things he is juggling, that he was going to make our next schedule.

It was during this check up that Cregg told me he was just about to "finish the quesitons." The 'questions" or interview are below.

Let me tell you, Cregg Weinmann is a man possessed. While some guys love NASCAR, fishing, model building, Cregg is fascinated with the combination of leather, EVA, and BRS outsoles that protects the foot of a runner, trying to get their 10k personal best.

I thought it would be fascinating to show you a bit more about Cregg, the man who has developed, with the of Christine Johnson ( managing editor for the shoe reviews), Kristen Cerer ( designer), Victah Sailer ( sometimes shoe photographer) and also Alex Larsen ( production) the columns on shoes and apparel that appear in many of our publications as well as the Spring and Fall Shoe Reviews.

Cregg is married to a woman of immense patience and devotion, Cheryl. Cheryl and Cregg have two daughters and one son, and live in Bakersfield, California. Here are Cregg's thoughts and comments:


RBR:
Tell us about your first experience in our sport?

Cregg: My father was a high school track coach with specific ideas about our participation. He was looking for a commitment, but wanted us to choose or reject the sport on our own. I remember going with my dad to the Easter Relays in Santa Barbara when I was about 7, and being dazzled by the carnival atmosphere, with multi colored pennants on the field, what seemed a million competitors in a rainbow of different uniforms, warming up, jumping, throwing. It was very exciting, and the ability level seemed frighteningly powerful. Of course the sensory overload led to exploring under the stands, scaling the bluffs above the stadium, and scampering back to the bus just in time for the return trip home.


RBR: Tell us about your dad, who was a well respected track coach?

Cregg: Chuck Weinmann at 6 foot 4, was a commanding man, with a humoring personality, and a personal coaching style. He had a phenomenal memory for times, distances, performances, dates, and engendered a tremendous loyalty in his athletes. A product of his education in track and field, he was coached at University of Idaho by Stan Hiserman, who was coached by Dink Templeton at Stanford, each generation passing on the accumulation of acquired knowledge. He continued to learn from clinics, and would engage other coaches he came into contact with to learn more. He taught me how to run cross country when I was 9 (body position in a crowd, hill running efficiency, pace judgement, etc.) and instilled a love for the hard work of distance running. I still use a raceday ritual of tea and toast he recommended to me over 40 years ago. He was a student of the sport and had athletes in all events who steadily improved, right up to helping my daughter, who became an NAIA All-American in the hammer throw in 2003.


RBR: Did you like the sport at first?

Cregg: As I mentioned I was drawn to the spectacle, and Dad's passion for the sport made that a no-brainer, so yes, it was fun for me.


RBR: How did you get into shoes?

Cregg: You sure you have time for this?

Observing athletes getting ready for their events, I was fascinated by the changing into spikes from their flats. The different brands, usually adidas, Puma, Spot Built or Riddell. My first pair of running shoes was made by Dreske, an Australian brand in kangaroo leather with a thin crepe rubber sole - wish I had that pair now. This was the brand that Herb Elliot wore early in his career, ran his first sub-four minute mile in them. A store in Bakersfield, Al Kirkland Sporting Goods, had an unusual connection with some little known brands, and had a pretty good inventory of track shoes, my dad always had them come out for his first team meeting so the guys knew what was available when they were buying spikes. I was only 12, but was able to spend my own money on these racing shoes because they were only $2! The next year I got the training shoe for $4, which were a little more durable with a bit more of a heel. There was usually a good supply of adidas shoes locally, but they were quite expensive.
By high school we were ordering Tiger shoes from Blue Ribbon Sports - this was a little later than Phil Knight selling them out of the back of his car at track meets, though Jeff Johnson might have filled some of our orders. When Nike sprang on the scene we suddenly had more local options and you could get good training and racing shoes at several sporting goods stores in Bakersfield. Of course during track season we needed a good pair of spikes, and we usually sold the pair from the previous season to a teammate so we could afford the next pair. I remember the pair of red suede adidas Saturn from my Freshman year on a fourth pair of feet when I was a Senior.
I went to Finland in the summer of 1973, right after running my first marathon. The shoes available there were outstanding, great adidas and Puma spikes, some English made shoes for cross country, but the cream of the crop were the Finnish made Karhu shoes, which I brought back for my senior cross country season. Funny thing was, immediately on landing in LA from Helsinki we headed to Oregon where our family had a summer home, and I picked up a pair of Nike Obori shoes as well - you might remember they were the shoes Jon Anderson won Boston in that spring.
Runner's World always had good information about shoes, which kept myself, teammates, and running friends informed. They had a "Booklet of the Month" on running topics which included "All About Distance Running Shoes" and "Shoes for Runners," which were very helpful in selecting shoes. I still have both of those editions.
Dad always wanted us to focus on our running so did not encourage us to get part time jobs while we were in school. My senior year in high school I was running a steeplechase at an invitational meet which featured a very rudimentary water jump. I was very fit and hoped to win the mile steeplechase, but on the first lap I landed in the water jump and broke my ankle in a gopher hole! My recuperation combined with no track scholarship kept me at the community college for my Freshman year. I got a part time job which gave me what I considered "disposable income" and since I had been collecting company catalogs and from the mail order companies around in the early 70's, I began to order shoes from different brands: Lydiard (EB racers and trainers), Patrick, Reebok, Tiger.
My brother was a senior that year, and had a few schools calling him. One day the coach from Fresno Pacific called, and I told him that I knew Jon wasn't interested. He asked where I was going, and I said I was taking classes at Bakersfield College but hoped to transfer someplace. He said, "We heard you were going out of state, or I would have called you." So I went for a visit and he offered me a scholarship for Cross Country and Track. When I packed up to head to Fresno for the Fall quarter, I had accumulated 23 pairs of training shoes, racers, and spikes. Of course, this seemed normal, but raised more than a few eyebrows when people discovered that about me. I met my wife, Cheryl the day we returned from cross country camp, and I don't really recall what she thought of the whole shoe thing.
I had discovered what my own shoe needs and preferences were, so usually shopped for bargains, and kept an eye out for new shoes and some of the more exotic models. After college I continued to run but struggled a little as I tried to establish a career, and my shoe "collection" dwindled to about 9 pairs of active shoes in the rotation.

RBR: You worked at Nike for awhile, tell us about that?

Cregg: We had one child and another on the way, while taking some grad classes, I was the Assistant Track Coach at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, and was looking for a full-time job, as my wife was finishing her Master's degree. I heard through the grapevine that Nike was hiring and figured I would get my foot in the door, then move to a better job. My first day of work I had to call in from the maternity ward because our oldest daughter was born that day! I worked at the warehouse on Nicolai Street in northwest Portland, picking shoe orders - putting little orange boxes into bigger boxes which went down the line into even bigger containers and out to hundreds of stores across the country. I was one of very few employees in the warehouse with a college degree, and the work was not very challenging. I became a regular fixture in the HR office as I looked to move to a job better suited to my skill set. Though close, I was unable to connect to the right people at the right time. My best shot was probably when I had several meetings with Jeff Johnson to discuss what I thought I would like to do. That fell through because the company was rapidly expanding, but the expansion was slowing with a number of developments, which I learned later were very touch and go for Nike's survival. Jeff might still have been able to help, but about that time, he abruptly retired. About a month later Nike signed a deal with the city of Memphis to move their main distribution center there, and closed down warehousing in Portland. By the next year I had returned to California, finished education courses and was about to begin my teaching career.


RBR: How long have you reviewed shoes?

Cregg: I started writing a monthly shoe column, called Mostly Shoes, for California Track & Running News, in 1995. That summer I made my first shoe company contacts and wrote a review of about 20 shoes. The monthly column was more about the industry or topics which might be covered in a website FAQ, but it was a good start, maybe something which should be revisited.

RBR: You have apparently made part of your house a footwear research center, how have you not been murdered by a) your patient wife, b) other family members?

Cregg: We are in the final stages of a major remodel of the house, and there might be a little area for some shoe evaluating. All right, I designed two layers of shoe room, which extends to the attic. I also have an office and library in another corner of the house. I have probably escaped bodily harm by allowing a spacious master suite and loft/overlook of our expanded living room, which my wife is thrilled with. The other family members are happy with the new home theater/media room. My wife is a quilter, and there is also a newly designed sewing room which is back to back with the expanded laundry room. So I was thinking of others and there was some negotiation.


RBR: What truly drives you in reviewing footwear?

Cregg: My day starts with a run, and between teaching and coaching, running is pretty well sprinkled throughout. The progress of the product, and educating runners about what will work for them, has evolved from my career as an educator.


RBR: Tell us how a typical shoe review works?

Cregg: I take the opportunity to sit down with developers, designers, marketers, etc. from the various companies to get at their essential aim for a given product. Understanding the various materials and construction techniques gives me a good idea of what to expect, performance-wise from a given shoe. I am often asked "What is your favorite shoe?" and I truthfully have to say that every brand makes some shoes I can run in, but the more important aspect is that every running shoe produced by the brands we review will be the best shoe for somebody, and my job is to direct runners to that shoe. We take the variety of shoes to review and match them up to weartesters who can give us meaningful feedback about the performance of the shoe.


RBR: You have evolved your reviews over time, take us through that process?

Cregg: When a shoe is produced, it has been designed for a group of runners who are going to make it financially successful. This is affected by feedback the companies have received, and it drives the changes that we see in updated shoes, as well as new introductions. My early reviews were probably influenced more by my own preferences and prevailing thought regarding the management of biomechanical differences between runners. One thing that has been unchanged throughout is the method for determining and placing testers in the proper shoe for their biomechanics, and this makes it easier to zero in on which runners will find the shoe to meet their own needs. Over the past several years I have developed several tools which have improved the reporting process, my long term contact with many of the key developers in the industry has eliminated much of the "start from scratch" aspect of shoe briefings, and the process of putting together the review has streamlined as we are able to rely on "the process" working well. The evaluating matrix has become very accurate, which makes it easier to be impartial when shoes must be cut to match the available space in the review.


RBR: What responsibility does a footwear company have to the consumer?

Cregg: Provide quality footwear with a specific purpose that is clearly described and priced fairly. They also need to make enough pairs so they can be found without turning over every stone.


RBR: How competitive is the running footwear business?

Cregg: In the US market the competition is very intense. Trying to gain wall space in a running specialty store is very difficult even if it just a new offering from an established player. It takes many years to merit the reputation which proves a brand is established.


RBR: Can a new company make it in this day and age?

Cregg: There are some very talented designers and developers who would cause any brand to thrive, even a new company. The key is to attract those type of people and make sure you understand what is involved and how long it might take. Purely from a quality, distribution, and pricing aspect it would be easier to produce the shoes than to establish the confidence that the product was as good as it could be.


RBR: You ran over 55 races last year, so you are still obsessed, which I think is a good thing, how has your love of running changed?

Cregg: When I was 10 years old I recognized that to race well you needed to be very fit. My understanding today is just that much better educated about what the definition of "very fit" is. When I first began running, I used to take great pride in being able to run away from most of my competition, now I find that I have a goal of not allowing anyone older than me to finish ahead of me. Getting out almost every day and running is as joyful today as it was when I first started more than 40 years ago, and racing is more fun than the daily running. A friend of mine loves to quote George Sheehan as saying "Racing is the lovemaking of running," I think of it more in terms of racing being to running what a gourmet meal is to your daily fare - a little more intense, flavorful and enjoyable.

For some of Cregg's shoe reviews, please check out www.runningnetwork.com

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