‘Barefoot’ in the park – first experiences of minimalist/ barefoot running

Minimalist v normal running shoe. Less is more … or perhaps less is less? They have a sort of camouflage colour scheme – but so far I’ve been able to find them OK.

I have to admit that buying the minimalist running shoes was, quite possibly, a bit of badly-judged nonsense. I’m not sure I can explain it – but it felt something of a necessary rite of passage.

My achilles tendons hurt every day for more than four months training for the Rotterdam Marathon last year and one of the things that is prescribed in such a case is a running shoe with a bigger drop from the heel to the toe, to reduce stress on the tendons.

The minimalist shoes have pretty much zero drop (perhaps 1mm?) so they do not appear to be very Achilles-friendly and do not seem to be a wise choice. However, when was I likely to be sensible when it come to this sort of stuff?

Beyond that, they are against almost everything we know about running shoes … no gel inserts to cushion the shock, no multi-layer, multi-density foams to maximise energy return, no need for gait analysis to decide whether you under or over pronate so you can buy the necessary corrective shoes or supportive arches …

Well, perhaps it’s wrong to say minimalist/barefoot shoes are against what we know about running shoes – perhaps it would be more accurate to say they are against everything the running industry tells us is important in running shoes. The industry wants to differentiate and sell products so can we always take the claims on face value?

On the other hand, if the products don’t work as they should, we will find out so the manufacturers should be kept honest by that. If the gels and foams (and, dare I say it, carbon-infused launchpads) were just Emperor’s new clothes, wouldn’t we know it?

It’s all very confusing – and if you like interesting questions, could Kipchoge have run his sub 2 hour marathon without his Nike Vaporflys?

Anyway, back to the minimal. It might sound weird but when you put them on they make your feet feel a bit over-exposed and vulnerable – the biggest reservation I had was how the seemingly thin sole and the absence of any cushioning will protect my feet when landing on a sharp stone. I think the issue would be pain and bruising rather than penetration through the sole (but I’d not want to walk on a nail in them).

The shoes I have are supposed to be trail shoes (I take the fact that they are called ‘Merrell Vapor Glove 4 Trail Running Shoes’ as a clue) but that just emphasises the stone point.

Being from the east of the Atlantic, I would prefer ‘vapor’ to be spelt correctly – but I may be able to forgive Merrell the missing ‘u’ if the shoes are good.

Monday saw the start of the minimalist experiment. The morning’s physical stocktake revealed a slightly tender left calf and Achilles (addressed by heel drops) and the usual cranky left knee. I wore the shoes for a fairly short run on the road – just under 7km (about 4.2 miles). They felt great – light and comfortable and the run felt easy and pretty fast (for me).

I may just be deluding myself by feeling that the run was easy – I could just be thinking that to justify my purchase of the shoes but I guessed the proof of the pudding would be when I woke up the following day and saw how the legs were. The rest of Monday was spent out in the garden tackling an overgrown hedge (and removing nettles, brambles and ivy – again). It was very windy and we had a power cut in the afternoon which lasted until about 10.30pm.

On Tuesday the physical stocktake was just the same as Monday’s – no new aches or pains and nothing worse than usual. I’ll take that as a victory.

Accordingly, I ran in them again on Tuesday – tame trail running doing laps of Badbury Clump (about 7.7km – 4.75miles). Yes, you can feel stones and sticks through the sole of the shoe but no problems so far and they were a joy to run in.

On Wednesday morning both calf/achilles combos were a little tight and the knee was as cranky as usual. It could just be two consecutive days of running, it could be the shoes or it could be nothing much at all – but it will be a day without a run.

I think I’ll go back to the old shoes for the rest of the week – I doubt the new ones need ‘running-in’ but if they put extra (or different) strains on my muscles/joints/tendons/ligaments/psyche I guess that it’s me that might need to be a bit cautious in attuning to them.

So far so good – I like them a lot but it remains to be seen if they like me …

12 thoughts on “‘Barefoot’ in the park – first experiences of minimalist/ barefoot running

  1. unironedman

    Well, first things first; no, Kipchoge could not have done his run in those shoes, but I suppose that’s not really the main aim. Have you read ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall yet? Very entertaining, and as an addendum, briefly describes the birth of the manufacture of the Vibrams shoe. Like many a reader, my first reaction to putting down the book was to seek out a pair, which I did, second-hand, online.
    Perhaps I didn’t really give them a good go, but what I would say is go easy! Soft trails to start with, and slowly build up the distance. The idea is reatrain the foot after years of ‘laziness’ from shoes with support for the arches. We were indeed ‘born to run’, but of course, mostly on grass and earth surfaces, nor do know how banjoed the average African plains hunter was after a few decades of chasing deer. I’d like to think they were supremely fit in running terms, with Achilles tendons like steel hawsers. But I guess we won’t know. But after a lifetime of your feet working a particular way, to change that overnight and not have repercussions… well, like I say, go easy.
    I was getting ready to run the Dublin Marathon a couple of years ago, and the bloke beside me was wearing a pair of Vibrams. He said he wore them all the time, and was banging out sub-fours regularly. Each to their own. I was back in my Sauconys by that stage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Omil Post author

      Wise words, I think.
      Instinctively, it felt that I needed to be careful and cautious about any move to the minimal. I’m wondering whether walking around the house barefoot might be an idea.
      I guess the life expectancy of the stone age hunters with steel hawsers meant they never had to worry about how the legs would be at 65! I never had steel in the legs but it would have rusted badly by now, in any event.
      It will be interesting to see if the shoes become something of a curiosity to get out for a bit of fun, or become the normal way to run. At least I suppose that if I get used to the barefoot running, it will be easy to revert to ‘proper’ running shoes when necessary.
      McDougall is on the list – I’m on the Murakami at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. unironedman

        Wise words? Very kind… I’ve had worse πŸ˜‰

        For what it’s worth, my own get used nowadays for canoeing, outdoor swimming the odd time, pootling about by the river or the beach… haven’t worn them for a run for a long time. Barefoot as much as possible would be a good idea for sure (though not while dry-stone walling!).

        Enjoy McDougall; it’s a fun read.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. bgddyjim

    Um… if the cushioning was just a way to get you to spend more money, have you ever noticed the minimalist shoes cost just as much? Maybe a little less, but zero R&D next to a padded running shoe. I don’t know. I hope they work for you. Just be careful and take it slow. I know a LOT of friends who spent significant down time due to injuries after the switch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Omil Post author

      Yes – mine have a RRP of about 80% of normal shoes (but I got them nearly 50% off). Perhaps it’s a less competitive part of the market so they take advantage of that? You speak good sense (again) and I’ll be careful (although when it comes to running, I always take it slow).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. bgddyjim

        I like to look at it this way; if it’s not “the industry” trying to convince you to spend more money on their stuff, it’s someone else trying to sell a book by claiming the industry is ripping you off. In this case of minimalist running, “Born to Run”. So the author is trying to get your money by complaining about the shoe companies trying to get your money. It’s a great racket.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. unironedman

    In Born to Run, it was a rather unsavoury character who robbed the idea for the minimalist shoe and set up Vibrams. In fairness to the author, it wasn’t McDougall. But let’s be honest, EVERY industry is trying to separate us from our money at every turn. The running industry is no different from the bike industry. Or any other business. We just have to be savvy about it. I’ve resolved this dilemma by trying to ‘buy once and buy right’. Which means spending more at the outset, and hopefully saving more in the long run. No pun intended.

    PS I haven’t spoiled the book πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person


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