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The company that would become one of the biggest names in sports began with a guy selling imported shoes from the back of his car. Phil Knight, a former runner for the University of Oregon, started Blue Ribbon Sports in 1962 to sell Onitsuka (later known as Asics) shoes in the US. In 1964, his former coach, Bill Bowerman, joined him and began experimenting with new running shoe designs, and that itch to push the envelope has been a Nike hallmark ever since. Although it’s now a global behemoth, Nike has maintained a strong commitment to creating shoes that help runners go faster and longer.

There is no such thing as a large-scale randomized control trial for marathons and shoes, but there is Strava , a fitness app that calls itself the social network for athletes. Nearly each weekend, thousands of runners compete in races, record their performance data on satellite watches or smartphones, and upload their race data to the app. This data includes things like a race name, finish time, per-mile splits and overall elevation profile. And about one in four races includes self-reported information about a runner’s shoes.

Flight Club was the original consignment store for rare and collectible sneakers. People like Cohen, who were buying with the intent to resell, would bring their shoes to the store and wait for them to sell. They mostly sold to everyone who couldn’t — or just didn’t want to — wait online or enter a raffle to be able to buy them from Nike itself. Strava is very popular among runners. At last year’s Berlin Marathon, for example, more than 10,000 runners uploaded race information to Strava, and this year, more than 14,000 did. Crucially for our purposes, about a thousand of those runners ran both races, and a subset of them reported racing in different shoes.

The Air Jordan III is Cohen’s “favorite shoe of all time.” It was the first shoe to feature the Jumpman logo on the tongue. Anyone who saw Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya break the two-hour marathon barrier in October very likely saw something else, too: the thick-soled Nike running shoes on his feet, and, in a blaze of pink, on the feet of the pacers surrounding him. Since 1971, Nike and its famous Swoosh logo have become global powerhouses in the sportswear industry, supporting athletes from grass roots to elite as well as producing streetwear for the coolest of cats.

Nike created the Air Zoom Pulse, a shoe designed specifically for nurses, doctors and health providers. Kids who grew up between 1984 and 2003 — the year Jordan left the NBA as a player for good — were a huge part of the success of the brand, according to a sneaker resale expert. To see what doctors, nurses and other health-care workers actually need in a shoe, the swoosh brand took to a familiar place , OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Nike has a longstanding partnership with the Portland, Oregon, medical facility in which child patients design shoes for Nike. Proceeds from the sales go to benefit the hospital.

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