Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Sister Used The "M" Word

My sister called me last night and used the word "minimalist". Uh-oh.

I suppose it's inevitable given today's trends, and the fact that she's savvy enough to ask around and check forums for advice, and she had uncovered the odd and conflicted underworld of The Shoe Platform Wars. Strange words abound, such as "last", "drop", "pronation" and "proprioception" (which sounds like some kind of unseemly medical procedure to me).

She's been running for only a few months and had called to ask about a certain pair of shoes she saw in the store (Reebok RealFlex), and I found myself struggling to summarize in ten minutes an evolution that I'm still grappling with after 13 years of running.

OK then. Basically, my take on the whole issue exactly mirrors something Mr. Barefoot Book said recently in frustration: it's not about the shoe (or lack thereof), it's about how you run.

Bottom line for me: I run better in minimalist shoes.

Bottom line for you, consider the following:
  • Go easy. Go easy. Go easy. No matter how good it feels at first, your feet and legs are probably not ready for it.
  • The goal is to run in a way that does not hurt you, not to wear a certain type of shoe. Minimalist shoes can help with that.
  • Fast cadence. This is critical to help with #1. What works for me is to pick a cadence that is fast enough that I no longer have time to think about how my foot lands.
  • Pick a shoe that feels good and allows the cadence and form you need. If you find your gait is still best in a supportive shoe, great, stick with it.
  • Beware of shoes that not only lack support, but are downright squishy. I've actually had trouble with those because my foot was getting twisted all over the place and it was actually more stress than a thin, firm sole.
  • Have fun. Wearing things like Five Fingers is a blast once you've adjusted your gait and foot landing to be softer. Enjoy it.
  • Realize that there are some people who won't get it, and will rain on your parade. Even expert runners don't always get minimalism, probably because they are already good at what they do, and could run in combat boots and still win races.
  • If this isn't for you, hopefully you have the wisdom to realize that others may have legitimate reasons for what they are doing, and let it go.
I can't tell you if this is a good idea for you, you are going to have to find out for yourself.

It may be that you are already a runner, things are going well for you, and it may not be worth your while to change. Geoff Roes likes his sturdy Mountain Masochists, and I can't argue with his results. Is it worth it for him to step back, re-tool his form, and possibly get injured or become slower because it's just not working out for him? Probably not; the cost/benefit analysis may not come out on the side of minimalism there. He's already good and his shoes work for him. Cool.

Some wonder why they shouldn't wear shoes with all the padding they can. Again, if your form is good and your results are good, then go for it. This isn't about whether you should wear a helmet to a head-bashing contest; of course you should. It's more about whether you should bash your head in the first place. Whether it's going to be right for you to switch at this point in your life is far too complex a decision to make generalizations about.

If, like me, you are having trouble with your existing shoes (and gait), then you might want to give minimalism a try. But remember: it's not about the shoes; it's about how you run in them.


  1. My favorite shoes are the Saucony Kinvaras (and Peregrine) and Hoka Bondi Bs. I like both minimal and maximal shoes I guess. I think my form and foot strike is fine in pretty much any shoe. Thankfully I don't seem injury prone (except for sometimes my SI joint). Anyhow, I agree that shoe choice is pretty personal. Except for those being sponsored and obligated to stick to a certain brand shoe :p

  2. Danni - Lucky you. I've never liked clunky heels, but other than that, I used to wear whatever I wanted. Never had a problem until last year, when I sort of got lazy running in the very protective Cascadia. With me it's more a matter of form discipline than anything.

    Sponsorship is definitely not in my future. heh.

  3. I ain't looking to rain on any parade.

    I have admittedly grown tired of how some minimalists (not you) don't look at it as "it is your journey" but instead prescribe that all shoes are inherently wrong and the cause for the woes of all things in running injuries.

    If minimal shoes work for you - awesome. If another shoe works for you - great. Let's go for a run.

  4. GZ - You should see how many posts I delete that are nothing but gripes. But that's why I delete them.

    And you think about the other side, rather than just listing a bunch of stuff you don't like. It's a matter of context and presentation.

    It's also possible I haven't been exposed to the stuff that bothers people. Dunno.

    Run: yes. I'm trying to ski one weekend day and run the other. I'll pencil it in for next weekend or two (or whatever), and drop you a line.

  5. While I haven't done the scientific process that you have with the shoes, I have done pretty well in the 4mm drop stuff from Saucony. But I also just as easily slip into my trusty Masochists, which really run low to the ground and fit my wider forefoot like a dream. The low drop is good though, and I like it enough I just picked up the Pure Grit, which you may already have...

  6. HappyTrails - I don't have the PureGrit... yet.