Major Marathon season is in full swing and hundreds of thousands of participants are passing through expos and running retailers around the country. This has running shoe manufacturers working harder than ever to launch new and exciting products.

It wasn’t that long ago that “Spring” in the running shoe industry began in January or February. You had your ambitious “New Year’s resolution-ers,” early track and field athletes, and a handful of winter die-hards with leftover Christmas cash burning a hole in their pockets. “New Year” meant new shoes. Makes sense right?

Then came the explosion of the fall marathon. Running shoe manufacturers quickly realized that the new generation of marathoners were really into product, but not as excited to see shoes at an expo that were featured in Runner’s World nine months ago. The other problem for manufacturers was that stores were not willing to take the risk of stocking a ton of shoes for the marathon season. The window to sell them was just too short, with several models updating within a couple (typically slow) months. Fast forward to 2012… “Spring” now begins in October. And I’m happy to report that spring has some amazing new updates to some of the staples that have ruled the running shoe industry for several years. They aren’t your parents’ blue and white sneakers anymore.

With the New York City Marathon just around the corner, Gazelle Sports is featuring the Asics GT-2000 NYC Special Edition ($120). This shoe is the totally redesigned update to the popular Asics GT-2170. A ton of stitching was replaced with lighter and more dynamic welded seams giving the shoe a much lighter and more sock-like fit.

So… what happened to minimal???  

The best minimal shoes are going to stick around, and there is no question that there are several characteristics of minimal shoes that have influenced the entire training shoe market. Probably the best thing to come out of the minimal movement was “purposeful design.” This simply meant stripping out the junk that wasn’t enhancing the running experience, and led to sharp reductions in weight. This design philosophy makes every shoe better.

The Brooks Pure Cadence 2 ($120) is still a month away, but it is expected to pick up right where the first version left off, as a lightweight, minimal solution for runners who still need to feel some security under their feet.

Have we determined what the best “drop” is?

Legend has it that the reason 12mm became the industry standard for heel-to-toe drop is because the main factory producing midsoles sold them in 12mm sheets. So the factory simply stamped out the one piece and stacked another piece under the heel for more cushioning. At the end of the day, heel drop is going to be what feels best for the way you run. That’s different for everyone based on their preference and the environment in which they train.

The Mizuno Rider 16 ($115) is one of only a handful of updates to the neutral cushioning shoes under $130. Several Gazelle Sports staff members have had this shoe on their feet already, and we think the improvements to fit alone could make it a contender for #1 in the category. Mizuno did some very extensive wear-testing with the Rider 16 featuring various “drops” just to see if customers would possible prefer something a little lower. The folks at Mizuno discovered that the lower they made the heel, the less testers enjoyed running in it… so they kept it the same.

The Merrell Mix Master ($110) isn’t as new as some of the shoes above, but I think it needs a re-introduction. I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time with Merrell footwear product line manager, Hy Rosario, and I’ve been blown away at what a running shoe geek he is. The Mix Master is a great reflection of Hy’s knowledge of what today’s trail runners want… a lightweight shoe with a seamless upper. It’s a shoe everyone sees, but you forget you have on.