Mark Mathews is one of the brains behind SCARPA’s award winning trail runner, the Spark, which won ‘Best Debut’ from Runner’s World this spring. He’s a lifelong runner who values the balance of design, functionality and reality. Working in the outdoor industry for much of his career, Mathews has come to know what works and why when it comes to trail running shoes. We were able to pick his brain about what strides are necessary to make state-of-the-art trail shoes.
What have been your primary goals (and involvement) with the running program at SCARPA? The goals are pretty simple really. We aim to bring the same quality, performance and innovation to the trail running category that we’ve done for years in our other product categories. We believe there is a very large percentage of SCARPA users out there who are also trail runners, so it makes perfect sense for us to compete in this space. As the Director of Sales and Summer Products for SNA (SCARPA North America), one of my responsibilities since joining SCARPA 4 years ago has been to conceive, develop and manage the SNA Trail Running collection. The Spark and Tempo are the first models since I joined SCARPA that I have developed from the ground up, meaning a new outsole package as well as new upper designs.
How has your experience with other brands helped shape your current vision about making the best trail shoes at SCARPA? I have been fortunate to work with some great brands in the outdoor industry, both as a sales rep and in inside roles in sales and product development. I spent some time at another trail running manufacturer helping to launch its trail running program, and learned a lot through that process. I am also an avid trail runner myself, and work hard to stay connected with new innovations and trends in trail running products.
SCARPA has a tiered approach to shoe design. Can you speak a little to the value in that approach? The majority of our product offerings are designed and developed by the R&D team in Italy. We work very closely with them to provide input and feedback relevant to North America, specifically to help with that process, and then in addition to the Trail Running and Multisport categories, do some projects on our own that are more specific to our market. This works well for us because the team in Italy has a vast wealth of experience and expertise that we benefit from on the greater product collection, but if there are specific products that we need for our market, such as trail running, we have the capability here at SNA to bring that to the market as well.
The minimalist running trend has been on the upward swing. Is it for everybody? Why or Why not? In my opinion, NO, it’s not for everyone. I think that many of the minimal and “barefoot” products in the market are probably too deconstructed for much of the running population. Certainly everyone can benefit from lighter weight footwear, but particularly for trail running, if a weight savings means a significant sacrifice in traction, protection and/or cushioning that can actually cause more harm than benefit. Also, while I think most people agree that a midfoot strike is easier on the body than a heel strike, in reality there is a significant training curve and level of determination necessary to change your running style if you are not already a midfoot striker. One of my goals with the Spark and Tempo was to develop shoes that felt light and agile, but were easy to transition into, and still met our performance requirements, which we think we achieved.
Can you talk a little about mountain minimalism? What does that look like to you? I spent a lot of time testing and analyzing different minimal running shoe models, and thinking about how the minimal philosophy would translate into the SCARPA collection, and the ultimate result is a design philosophy we call “mountain minimal”. To us, mountain minimal is where minimalism meets reality, and strikes a balance between traditional running shoe construction and a “barefoot” design philosophy. Our mountain minimal products are light and agile, but still manage to deliver on the critical performance areas of traction, protection and cushioning. We spend a lot of time on technical trails here in the Rockies and elsewhere, and in our opinion, some of the “barefoot” and minimal products in the market just don’t deliver in these areas.
What is your history with running, and/or trail running? What kinds of shoes work best for you? I have been a runner pretty much all of my life, and also played soccer at the collegiate and professional level, so I’ve logged a fair amount of miles. I began trail running in 1995, and though I occasionally run on the road still, the vast majority of my miles since then have been spent on trails. I have always been a more of a midfoot striker, so for me the Spark is perfect, and is my go-to shoe now. I do mix in the Tempo as well, especially on extremely rocky or rugged trails when I want a little extra protection.
What’s your ideal run? Where and when? Anytime I can run on a trail, that’s ideal! But a perfect run would be a 6 to10-mile run in the mountains, spending time above and below treeline, with a stream crossing or two thrown in, in 55-70 degree weather and clear skies!