Running is supposed to be an easy sport to get into. All you need is a pair of shoes, and clothes to run in, no other equipment (ya right! but that will be another post). But with changes in shoe technology, fashion, running science, and lots of (sometimes not so polite) opinions, shopping for running shoes can be pretty stressful.
When Roger Bannister ran his historic four minute mile, the shoes he wore were about as minimalist as you could get. As a matter of fact, except for the spikes, they looked like ballet slippers. I ran on and off from the time I was a kid, and until I was in my mid 20’s, I always ran in whatever sneakers I had at the time. I don’t remember ever having any running related injuries from my not-so-specialized shoes.
I bought my first pair of running specific shoes in the late 1980’s. I bought what was advertised as the best new running technology, the Nike Air Max. This shoe was supposed to offer all the best in cushioning and support. At the time I had young, healthy joints, and weighed all of 115 pounds. Why did I need such a huge, bulky shoe? Because that’s what the experts said would prevent injury. Over the next few years, I developed foot pain, and experimented with many different brands and styles of shoes, eventually adding arch support insoles, not only to my running shoes, but to everything I put on my feet. I even put arch supports in the wrestling shoes I wore on the karate floor!
When I first started running trails, there were very few trail-specific shoes being offered. After much experimentation, I settled on the addidas Terrain Lite. This was one of the lightest tail shoes offered, and the uppers were made of mesh so they drained easily. But, you’ll notice, even though they were called “Lite”, they were still very bulky shoes. Even with my great shoes, I suffered injuries to feet, knees, and hips. Not a great advertisement for shoe technology!!
Fast foward a few years, and I stumbled onto a website called Mark’s Daily Apple. Here I learned about a great new idea called Minimalist Running. Mark’s favorite shoes seem to be Vibram Five Fingers, which I thought looked really odd, but anything that reduces injury was worth a try. The Vibrams seemed pretty expensive, so instead I tried a pair of Fila Skele-toes: same idea, much cheaper. My feet were much happier closer to the ground with a wide toe box. However, I like socks, and they are hard to wear with toe shoes. But this started my journey to less bulky shoes. The first change was to wearing soft, Kung Fu shoes for karate, and taking the insoles out of my running shoes.
When I deided to try running in minimalist shoes, I realized that there was a lot of conflicting information out there. I found great info from Dr. Mark Cucuzzella at The Natural Running Center. I decided to try the Merrell Barefoot Trail glove. It was a great choice, light and soft, with a wide toe-box, and a snug fit around the heel (I hate it when my shoes slide around during a run!) I like these shoes so much that I bought 2 pairs to rotate for running, and a pair for work that I use to teach karate, and cardio kickboxing. I’ve run a little on the road with them when our demo team marches in parades, but I’m primarily a trail runner and they are great.
Seth (who loves to go barefoot) was interested in some minimalist shoes for running and parkour. He’s always run in New Balance, and is very happy with his New Balance Minimus Trail shoes. The most common reaction I get when people see my shoes is “Do you really run in those? Do they have any support?” The answers are Yes and then No. Or people tell me they could never even walk without their insoles or prescription orthotics. Check out the the links in my sidebar, and do some learning about how are feet were designed to run. Then step out of your comfort zone (pun intended) and free your feet!