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Firms put best feet forward for Marathon

Win on Monday, sell on Tuesday.

That’s the marketing plan for sneaker makers as they gear up for the Boston Marathon tomorrow in what the running world considers the Super Bowl of road races.

To create buzz, companies from adidas to Nike are going high-tech — so much so that some of the shoes aren’t suited for regular runners. Nike is showcasing the Mayfly, a limited- edition sneaker that weighs 4.8 ounces, a third the weight of a typical shoe and lighter than a bag of potato chips. But don’t expect these to last: They’re good only for 62.1 miles. Reebok is launching the Premier Lite II, a shoe with an ultralight sole designed to make amateur runners go faster. And adidas is entering the adiStar Competition, a shoe with vents and heatde flecting panels to keep feet cool.

‘‘Many of these shoes aren’t for the everyday runner,’’ said Colin Peddie, owner of Marathon Sports, a local chain of four specialty running stores. ‘‘Companies aren’t making money on these shoes. They put them out to show the running public that they’re going after cutting-edge technology.’’

Running is the heart and soul of the athletic shoe industry. Americans last year spent $4.5 billion on running shoes, accounting for more than 25 percent of all money spent on athletic shoes and making them the top category in athletic footwear, according to market research firm NPD Group. With so much at stake, marketers line up for the Boston Marathon. In its 108th year, the race is second only to the Olympic Marathon in age and attracts some of the world’s best long-distance runners.

Like the Olympics, it also requires runners to qualify to enter. This year, the Boston Marathon is expected to attract more than 20,000 runners, including about 50 elite marathoners. Half a million spectators and more than 1,100 members of the media will be on the sidelines and at the finish line. The event is broadcast live on two local television networks and nationally on ESPN2, and airs in about 180 countries.

The Marathon also comes at the beginning of a strong selling season for running shoes. As the weather warms, weekend warriors dust off their sneakers or break out a new pair and head outdoors. The ramp-up this spring will be particularly competitive because it marks the start of a marketing blitz that will carry sneaker makers into the Summer Olympics in Athens, when Americans will tune into track-and-field events and itch for new gear.

To show off their shoes, companies outfit elite runners with their latest innovations or launch advertising campaigns. Some do both. For adidas-Salomon AG, the only sneaker company to serve as an official sponsor of the Boston Marathon, the race represents its biggest marketing effort in running.

Adidas not only is outfitting three top runners with its adiStar shoes, but the German sneaker maker also created an ad campaign specifically for Boston, featuring the stories of three local legends, including Johnny Kelly, who won the Marathon three times and finished it 58 times.

‘‘The power of advertising in- fluenced me,’’ said amateur marathoner Chris Murphy, who has been a loyal ASICS shoe buyer since Juma Ikangaa won the New York Marathon in 1989 wearing a pair of ASICS. ‘‘Quite honestly, there was a great poster of him wearing the shoes.’’

Sneaker makers spend anywhere from 12 to 18 months designing and perfecting their hightech shoes. Priced at $50 to $100, the models generally do not cost more than other running shoes. Companies declined to disclose how much they spent developing the shoes that they are promoting at the Marathon.

‘‘We’re not selling millions of these shoes,’’ said Tony Bignell, director of strategic value at Nike Inc. ‘‘The reason to make them isn’t particularly to make money. It’s to learn more about runners and how to make better shoes.’’ What Nike set out to learn with the Mayfly was how light it could go. Studies have indicated that reducing a sneaker’s weight by 3.5 ounces can result in a 1 percent increase in efficiency. That translates into critical seconds off an elite marathoner’s time.

So Nike’s designers started stripping the shoe to its barest essentials. That meant no padding, no shocks, and no devices to protect the foot from rolling to one side or another. To lighten the sole, they molded it from fine Phylon, an airy version of material used in other sneakers. To thin the upper shoe, they used the sort of cloth employed in parachutes. The Mayfly could be the lightest racing shoe ever made.

And like its namesake — an insect that is born, breeds, and dies in the course of a single day — Nike’s Mayfly is fleeting. Because the shoe lasts 62.1 miles compared with 300 miles for most running shoes, the company gives runners the option of recycling it or displaying it as a trophy. The shoe even has a place for runners to write in the date and location of the race as well as their finishing time.

At adidas, designers set out to create a shoe that could withstand the intense heat of Athens, site of the Olympics this summer. They put vents in the shoe’s sole, punched holes into the sock liner, and used a see-through mesh on the shoe’s upper to release heat and circulate air around the foot. Designers also added reflective panels to the sole to deflect heat from the road. They used a patented material to absorb shock in the heel and add some spring to the forefoot. Given the 80-degree temperatures predicted for the race tomorrow, three of adidas’s elite runners plan to wear the shoe.

Meanwhile, at Canton-based Reebok International Ltd., designers went to work on a lightweight running shoe with enough support and cushion for an everyday runner. They created the midsole and outer sole of the Premier Lite II from a single piece of material, reducing the number of layers and lightening the shoe. Designers created a bridge from the forefoot to the heel to support the foot, allowing them to use less foam in the sole. And in case none of that improves race times, Reebok embossed the Chinese characters for ‘‘speed’’ on the heel.

‘‘The magic shoe is one that keeps you on the road,’’ said Patrick O’Malley, Reebok’s director of running. ‘‘Runners come in all shapes and sizes and foot types. Ultimately, we want to put them in a shoe that’s right for them.’’ Let the competition begin.

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