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Nike, Under Armour Alums Bring Equipment-First Mindset to Trail Running

After years of working together—first at Nike, then Puma and finally Under Armour—fellow footwear veterans Kevin Fallon and Dave Dombrow struck out on their own in the spring of 2019.

Free from the limitations that can come with working at a big brand, Fallon said the pair thought they had a good opportunity to try a “different approach.” Both lovers of the outdoors, the two seized upon trail running as their focus.

“While we do think there’s some good product out there for trail runners and stuff that works for people, we just didn’t see the approach that we’re taking being done, which is really more like treating it like equipment, like we’ve kind of seen happen with cycling or even soccer shoes,” said Fallon, who once was Baltimore-based Under Armour’s vice president of footwear innovation.

By May of last year, Fallon and Dombrow, the Baltimore athletic giant’s onetime chief design officer, were talking with suppliers in Asia. Nine months later, the first athletes had begun testing the product. After a couple months of social media teases and on-the-trail sightings, the public finally received its first official look at the shoe last week. Dubbed the SL:PDX, the shoe is currently available for pre-sale with delivery slated for August.

Speedland's founders, Dave Dombrow [left] and Kevin Fallon [right], designed the SL:PDX as a piece of equipment
Dave Dombrow [left] and Kevin Fallon [right] Speedland
Priced at $375, the shoe represents less an entry point for those who developed a casual interest in trail running during the pandemic than a piece of gear designed for more serious athletes.

“When it is a person’s piece of equipment, the only thing that they use that really influences the game… that’s kind of getting into equipment and then prices go up measurably,” Fallon said. “And whether it’s skis or cycling or skates, we just kind of had seen a similar thing happen in other places, but not really in trail.”

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Fallon understands why some might greet “another trail brand” with skepticism, but he believes Speedland justifies its existence by offering “a level of tunability that hasn’t really existed for trail runners.” Indeed, the SL:PDX’s versatility is its clearest selling point.

Like The North Face’s new Flight Vectiv shoe, the SL:PDX brings the carbon fiber plate first seen in road running to the trail. The Carbitex plate used in Speedland’s shoe, Fallon added, features an asymmetric design such that it can bend backwards so the wearer doesn’t lose “trail feel,” while maintaining enough stiffness in the opposite direction to deliver the propulsive benefit associated with traditional carbon plates.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the shoe’s plate is the ease with which wearers can remove and reattach it. Designed so runners can use it or not, depending on the requirements of a given route, the plate is secured simply using a quarter-turn fastening system within the shoe’s removable midsole.

Speedland will debut its first trail running shoe, the SL:PDX, in August
SL:PDX Speedland

Likewise, the lugs on the bottom of the shoe can be trimmed depending on the trail conditions on race day, an innovation Speedland drew from mountain bike racing, Fallon said. “Even people who just buy one shoe, you’re typically running the trail near your home most regularly so you can really, we think, tailor and trim it to what makes sense for where you run, and how you run,” he added.

The SL:PDX also features Boa Technology’s dial-based fit system rather than traditional laces. With two dials per shoe, athletes can tighten or loosen the fit in both the heel and forefoot depending on their specific needs at any given moment—something Fallon said can change depending on their speed and whether they’re running up or downhill.

“[It’s] another thing that kind of comes out of [the] mountain bike world or road cycling world where they’re using this technology already—we’re bring it to a new space,” he said.

Fallon noted several additional opportunities the SL:PDX’s versatile framework could bring in the future. Among these is the potential ability for Speedland to sell a selection of midsoles so wearers can swap out midsoles depending on the specific course they’re running that day. “We’re under no illusions that this will happen immediately, but, again, the platform is built such that we can do that and so we certainly hope to grow into it,” Fallon said.

The SL:PDX’s modular design—according to Fallon, Speedland can deconstruct the shoe into its individual parts “pretty easily”—also allows for potential end-of-life benefits, such as potentially working with recycling partners further down the line. For now, however, the brand’s first focus is performance. “That’s kind of the primary thing for us,” Fallon said.

“A lot of materials that are sustainable are getting close to that performance level,” he added. “As soon as we can put them in there without saying to our athletes, ‘Hey, we’re compromising performance to do this,’ we’ll do it.”

For now, Fallon said Speedland plans on remaining “hyper focused” on trail running footwear, with perhaps some room for expanding into hydration packs or socks. Even branching into something as closely related as marathon road racing shoes would be “hard to image,” according to Fallon. “Can we do it better than what Nike and some of the other brands are doing—we’d really have to ask ourselves that hard question.”

Fallon also remains doubtful Speedland might expand its trail offering to include cheaper, more casual silhouettes any time soon. Instead, he indicated the brand would rather remain focused on establishing itself and the quality of the SL:PDX for now and largely ruled out any potential releases down this road for at least the next year. “I think we would do it, but it still needs to be premium, I think we’re trying to stand for that.”