Minimalist/barefoot running, thoughts so far: really good, but …

After using the Merrell minimalist shoes for several runs over the course of a few weeks, and reading and thinking about ‘barefoot’ running, I’ve reached some tentative conclusions.

Of course, they are only really relevant for me because running shoes are a very individual thing, but I thought I’d record them anyway.

I run mainly because I enjoy it and it helps keep me fit. Beyond that, it’s motivational to run fast (by my own low standards of ‘fast’), I enjoy running with others and it’s another source of challenges – and I’m a bit addicted to challenges

The minimalist shoes certainly fit with my reasons to run – other than them not the best way of running faster. Their lightness is a bonus but I doubt they are the fastest shoes out there by a long way.

Of course, there is a huge range of ‘normal’ running shoes and my barefoot ones are probably better than many of the bad ‘normal’ ones – but they are certainly not likely to be as ‘good’ (ie fast) as the top-end shoes which have technology for ‘energy return’ from the layers of foam making up the sole (or the carbon in the sole). I must ask Mr Kipchoge what he thinks.

I think the minimalist shoes do bring really useful things to the party in terms of improving running form, strengthening the feet and lower legs and helping to avoid heel-striking.

Originally, my concerns were more about wear and tear on my ageing body – I guess the lack of cushioning must put more stresses on my hips, calves, Achilles’, knees, feet etc. Presumably, there’s a delicate balance between strengthening all those and putting too much stress on them. Starting the minimalist experiment at nearly 65 might not have been the best timing in the world in terms of my body’s ability to adapt to something so different – but I’m pleased I did.

I expect those concerns are probably valid to some degree – but the biggest drawback I’ve found with the shoes is that they are not at all good on stoney tracks. My one run with them down the farm track beyond Puddleduck Lane was very painful indeed and the soles of my feet were (literally) and I was (metaphorically) bruised by the experience. I suppose there will be minimalist shoes with thicker or more rigid soles – but that would seem to miss at least part of the whole reason for running in shoes like this.

I’m sure there are many people who run on minimalist shoes all the time and I applaud them – but at the same time I don’t think I will be one of them.

I think the minimalist shoes will become part of my regular running programme with ‘the minimalist shoe run’ taking its regular place alongside the hills session, the long slow run and the intervals. That should keep keep reinforcing the learning from them in order to constantly take it back to running in more ‘normal’ shoes.

I’ve been trying to work out how to think of the minimalist shoes – I keep coming back to a skiing analogy.

My ‘proper’ skis are Black Crows Vertis 170.3cm – but I have a pair of Salomon 90cm snow blades. The blades are tremendous fun – quick to turn but not as fast or as stable as ‘proper’ skis and mainly suitable for a day’s pure entertainment on the slopes – partly as a break from ‘real’ skiing.

Beyond the entertainment factor, there is certainly some benefit from the blades in that they do remind you to keep your weight forward, which is also a key aspect to skiing on full length skis.

For me, the minimalist or barefoot shoes come into the same category. They are really good fun to run in (I don’t know why but perhaps it’s the sense of foot-liberation) and I believe that they will help in tuning my running posture, avoiding heel striking, and in strengthening my foot and lower leg – all of which will be useful for when running in normal shoes.

However, just as I don’t use my snow blades all the time, I don’t think I’ll be using the minimal shoes for every run – and certainly not the runs on the sharp, rough stuff.

African proverb: A monkey walking behind another laughs at the other’s tail.

5 thoughts on “Minimalist/barefoot running, thoughts so far: really good, but …

  1. unironedman

    We’ll never know, but I wonder what the bush hunters of the Serengeti from a 100,000 years ago would have made of a nice pair of Nikes? Probably would have loved them!
    (And for the record, I have a pair of Vibrams 5 fingers too…)

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    1. The Omil Post author

      … I guess that Michael Jordan would have been endorsing them and Amazon would have been delivering them even then. I suppose that if you never wear shoes your feet simply become stronger and harder – but the thought of the thorns makes me wince.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. unironedman

        I guess many a bushman’s wife pulled many thorn from a foot in those days. And apologies in advance if turns out that we discover all along that the men of the tribes back then stayed at home cooking while the women went out hunting. If current endurance event results are any indication, they would have made excellent hunters over distance.

        Liked by 1 person

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