Barefoot / Minimalist Running – My Experience

When I started out to run again, it wsa partially fueled by a book a friend of mine suggested that I read.  You’ve probably guessed already that it was “Born to Run,” and if so – you guessed right.  I love that book for many reasons.  That friend took it more to heart than I did.  He made his own sandals, and as far as I know, to this day, he runs in nothing but those thin, rubber-soled throwbacks to a different time.

I tried the sandals.  They never worked out for me.  What I did instead was move on to VIVOBAREFOOT shoes, which are about as close to barefoot as you’re going to get (there is tread on their trail shoes).  I found all of the warnings to be true.  My calves killed me for a very long time.  If I didn’t pay attention and avoid heel strikes, my feet hurt.  Rocks became a problem.  I stuck with it.

neo

By May of 2014, I had run several hundred miles, all of them in a variety of Vivobarefoot shoes.  Here is the important takeaway from that period.  My form improved drastically.  I moved to a mid-rolling to toe strike.  Most of the pain in my legs, feet and lower back disappeared.  I still wear Vivobarefoot casual shoes to work and for day-to-day wear.  To my knowledge, this is the only company providing a variety of attractive shoes you can wear to work and still experience a nearly barefoot feel.

gobi

At the end of May, however, I had a sort of forced epiphany.  It really isn’t a stretch to figure out that if you are running close to barefoot, your feet are in danger of injury.  Constant pounding on pavement can cause stress fractures.  Rocks and other fobjects in your path are a much bigger dea.  In May, I was flying through the first of several really big challenges.  5K a day in May.  At least 3.1 miles every day.  I was up near the very end.  I had a couple of timed 5K races at that point, and I was determined to do well in them.

Except I stepped on a rock right after the first one.  My foot hurt.  I knew I should have stopped running for a while, but I had a race coming up that Saturday.  I ran it, and actually even got a good time, but I knew before and ABSOLUTELY knew after, that my foot was messed up good.  Pretty sure it was a hefty stress fracture.  I was off running completely until almost halfway through June.

I knew I had to something for my feet, so I went back to the research – as always – reading reviews, studying reports.  I found ALTRA Lone Peak trail running shoes.  These were “Zero dro” – meaning, there is no drop off from the height of your heel to the height at mid-foot or toe.  Just like Barefoot.  There was cushioning in the shoes, and at the time, the more important thing – a metal rod running down the center (a thin one) to protect you from rocks.  I ran in those shoes nearly a month, and was able to get back up into higher mileage, though very slowly.  I noticed recently that during that recovery, my form went ot hell.  The heels on my Lone Peaks are worn half away, and I *never* strike my heels anymore.

2014-06-04 07.54.32

Since then, I have come to understand that it’s the form that matters.  Zero drop shoes promote a natural mid foot to toe-strike stride, but they also provide some protection against pavement pounding.  I now runin a rotation of shoes – the Lone Peaks (though I’m phasing them out due to the heel wear) – Altra Torin running

torin

shoes (very comfortable) Altra Intuition shoes – more of a standard, day to day shoe – not quite as comfortable as the Torin because they don’t have as wide a toe-box, but solid protection.

intuition

I’ve just ordered The Paradigm – another Altra model, but one with more cushion (and still Zero drop) for protection on the longer runs I’m going to be needing to prepare for the Newport News One City Marathon next March.

paradigm

The bottom line is, I think that the barefoot running is a great training tool…  I believe absolutely in keeping your heels off the pavement, and I think flat – zero drop shoes with wide toe boxes so your feet can naturally spread out – are the best bet (for me they are aboslutely the best).  The key is not improving your form at the expense of your feet – learning from the barefoot style and form, while keeping the “common sense” notion of protecting your feet in the forefront of your mind.  There is no one perfect shoe – everyone evolves through a string of them before finding a perfect fit .  My hope is that – from my own experience (over a thousand miles of it now) I’ve cleared up how minimalist running has improved my life, and my fitness, and how I’ve combined that with lessons learned through pain and many miles to conclude that whatever type of shoe you choose, it needs to protect your feet.  If you mess them up – you can’t run.  Sorry Roger – no more sandles for me.

-DNW

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