‘Retro Runner Rehab’ is a column where we bungee into the world of bygone running shoes, scoop up our favourites and throw them back in the spotlight. Given that there are so many discontinued running models with extra mileage left in them that you could line them up heel-to-toe and you’d have a distance Forrest Gump wouldn’t want to run, it looks like we won't be released from rehab anytime soon.
The Aztrek is an unsung hero of 90s sneakers. The most formidable runner in Reebok's back catalogue, the shoe also acts as a worm-hole through time, linking directly to a halcyon era when 'bok was best. In a world where people camping in the streets are more likely to be waiting for NMDs than 'occupying' anything and where the uninformed slander Prestos for biting the Ultra Boost, it's difficult to think of a time when the Swoosh and Trefoil didn't rule all. But when the Aztrek was released, it was a very different story.
For a brief but poignant time at the end of the 80s, Reebok was the world's biggest name in sportswear. The clarion call to 'Pump up and Air out' was building momentum and – even after Nike had cinched the economic lead in 1990 – the Reebok 'Running Man' logo was ubiquitous. When the Aztrek arrived in 1992 the brand's running department was far from pacing itself and the InstaPump, Boston Road, and Ventilator series were all gathering steam. Each boasted its own nascent technology, but none had as individual an aesthetic as the Aztrek. And lets be honest, as much as we like to pretend to be affected by our sneaker's performance-enhancing abilities, style is always paramount.
Though it took its name from the 70s-styled Aztec, the Aztrek employed 90s futurism in spades. Streaks of 90s staples like citron and teal were accentuated by the linear Vector Logo which lunged at the toe box and was twinned by a colour pop on the midsole. A 3M ellipses was positioned on each quarter of the shoe to catch and reflect any surrounding light, and arch support was provided by an oft-grey mould of plastic so endearingly 'tech' that it looked like it could have been repurposed from Robocop's armour. Of course the shoe's most memorable facet, its defining characteristic, was its fierce toe box. While the front ends of other runners got slimmer and slimmer, the Aztrek opted for a nose informed in equal parts by Concord jets and a lorries (citation needed). The fierce peak was grabbing enough but, just in case you missed it, Reebok marked it an X. You can look through the annals of Reebok history and nary will you find a toe marked quite like it. Looking at colourways of the Aztrek, the X appears to be the centre-piece of the whole design – with nearly all make-ups showing the X dissecting the toe box, flaring up the tongue and reappearing on the heel.
Aesthetics may be the reason we're yearning for an Aztrek revival now – but given that technology was the focal point of Reebok and Nike's war for early 90s supremacy, the Aztrek had to be packed with it. As part of the wave that phased out Reebok's cylinder-based energy-returning ERS tech, the Aztrek was one the first models to be blessed with Hexalite. The impact resistant technology was the brand's answer to Air, it was Reebok's running future and they explained it as futuristically as possible. One 90s catalogue said Hexalite was 'A unique shock absorption technology comprising poly-thermal elastomers [which] produces an efficient dispersal of pressure'. Other selling points included an outsole which put the 'trek in Aztrek. If it was released today, the runner is guaranteed to adhere to pavements and roads, but Reebok fancied it a bit of an off-roader. This was facilitated by a Diamond Stud outsole which kept the wearer sure-footed no matter what ground they covered.
Reebok still produce a version of the Aztrek, but it's a shadow if its former self and this punchy form was effectively buried in the mid 90s. In 2016 Reebok and Nike aren't really in competition anymore. Crossfit has taken the attention of the former, and world domination the latter. But who knows, maybe if Reebok had taken the Aztrek design and ran with it we'd be living in a different world.