The first time I encountered a minimalist footwear/barefoot runner was in college. Steve was on the cross country team and he trained 100% barefoot. He was also a tall, lanky guy with a beard so naturally, he got the nickname “Jesus”. You would see Steve running all over campus sans shoes. He was a rarity at that time. Nowadays, minimalist footwear and barefoot running are all the rage. As an economist and a marketer, I am naturally inclined to trace things back to their logical origins. I toss out conspiratorial hype about the BIG SHOE corporations out to cripple us all! Please. Big Government? I get it. Big Pharma? Ok, there are good arguments there despite all the good the industry as a whole does. Big Agriculture? Sure, arguments can be made there as well. Big SHOE? Give me a break! This argument would hold a tiny bit of water if A) there was only a few companies making shoes and B) if we were all built exactly the same from top to bottom and C) we all had the exact same physical experiences.
People began wearing footwear for a reason, to protect themselves so that they could travel farther, harder, and faster with less risk of injury. The tempermental nature of our feet is probably also why ancient man looked at a donkey, a horse, or a camel and said, “I should jump on his back!” I digress. I don’t buy the one size fits all mentality of purist zealots when it comes to what products people choose to buy and sell.
I have bad feet. I have struggled with plantar fasciitis for about three years. I’ve had orthotics do wonders for months only to eventually cause pain elsewhere. I run in a supportive shoe, the Mizuno Wave Inspire http://bit.ly/KgJwbB. I tried custom and OTC orthotics in them and then one day on a run I ditched them because they caused my heel to get “hot” from rubbing. I have not put them back in. I do however wear them in my work boots and they seem to help as I work mostly on concrete surfaces all day. Overall, since I began running, my plantar fasciitis has become LESS irritating. Some mornings, when this ailment is typically the worst, I don’t feel any pain in my feet. I am convinced this is due to using stress, in my case RUNNING, to build the plantar region back up.
Enter Jason Fitzgerald of www.strengthrunning.com and this post on minimalism: http://strengthrunning.com/2010/03/using-minimalism-as-a-tool-not-a-way-of-life/
I had always kind of held the same thoughts on minimalism as Jason, but it was good to read his thoughts on the subject given his success as a runner and coach. I decided I would give minimalism a try, not in my workouts, but in my day to day. Could a minimalist shoe worn a couple days a week or while doing errands help my feet? I was skeptical.
Problem one: I work in a tough guy industry. You don’t walk around here wearing your neon green Saucony’s or your Vibran Five Fingers without getting made fun of. So I found the only shoe on the market that I felt was a fashion compromise, the Merrell Tough Glove in black http://bit.ly/rHrWWF .
I only wear this shoe to work on days I know I won’t be out in the fields and I wear it when we go grocery shopping or out to eat. They are more inconspicuous than any other shoe in the barefoot style. A few folks have noticed them and asked abou them, but they mostly go unnoticed. To buttress against work teases, I referred to them as my “Ninja Shoes” and did the Karate Kid “Crane” pose the first time someone at the shop asked me about my strange new shoes. I HAVE NOT RUN IN THESE SHOES. After my Frederick Half, I am going to run in them for short distances once in a while for training purposes, but I really like the comfort and cushion of my Mizuno’s on long runs.
While I haven’t been magically relieved of all of my ills by minimally adding minimalism to my life, I have noticed even less foot and ankle pain since I incorporated the Merrell’s into my weekly footwear. I also notice that if I wear them for too long the pain in my plantar region can get pretty intense, at which point I break out the frozen ice bottle. What I LOVE about these shoes is how light and comfy they are. They have also forced me to walk with less heel strike which has led me to run with less heel strike. The bottom line is, I’ve noticed a marginal benefit via less pain, since adding these shoes to the repetoire. If anything, teh fact that the zero heel drop makes me conscious of foot strike while walking, which follows me into my runs, has been the biggest help. While I don’t know that pure minimalism will ever be possible for me (or necessary for that matter), the idea of rotating shoes and using minimalism as a tool (see www.strengthrunning.com) seems to be working for me in practice and not just theory. The real test will be doing a few short runs in them, but I ultmately think for me, minimalism will never be more than a tool in my training.
Enjoy the gorgeous day and get some miles in! Regardless of what you do or don’t put on your feet!