A person recently commented on my blog and inspired me to write about my thoughts on the current trend toward barefoot and minimalist running—thanks Eric. He also mentioned being inspired after reading Born To Run to go minimalist and run barefoot. He runs barefoot in the warmer months and runs in a XC flat in the colder months (e.g. barefoot feel and less $$).
I have been interested in this for several years…ever since I read an article on Kenyan training and the fact that the average Kenyan child run commutes barefoot 7.5km (that’s 4.6 miles) to school every day—not once—but 4 times a day! To school, home at lunch, back to school for afternoon session, back home. That’s an average of 18.4 miles per day, 5 days a week. That’s 92 miles per week—barefoot—from a young age. No wonder they’re kicking American butt in distance running.
Upon reading Born To Run this fall, it became the cliched “straw that broke the camel’s back” in my mental progression toward taking the minimalist plunge. I made it my goal that after Ozark 100’s completion, I would ween myself off the high-heeled running shoes with aftermarket arch supports.
So, is this trend for real? I think so. Almost everyone in my running circle is talking about it. I just ran into Kami Semick today at Thump Coffee in downtown Bend and we sat down and talked running for a while. She’s making the transition too. She’s been in orthotics for years, but running in a 7oz. racing flat with them. She admits she’s addicted to them, but is starting to ween by spending non-running time in the Vibram Five Fingers and seeing her feet strength increase.
So, what’s my opinion on this trend—it’s awesome, as long as us longtime shod runners take it slow. Us tenderfooted Americans need to transition slowly. I think that transition can be quicker than you think, especially if you spend a lot of off-running time (as well as some running time) barefoot. I’m happy to say that my personal transition has been quicker than expected. But, overall…yes, this is an awesome trend.
Shoe companies have gone the way of fashion and marketing gadgetry and make shoes into a “techie” industry that makes some flamboyant claims at cures, corrections, and injury prevention. If these high-tech-thingamabobs are supposed to prevent running injuries by shielding us from impact, correcting our pronation, and guiding our heel to toe transition—then why is the statistical data showing that 2 out of every 3 runners are sidelined every year because of a running injury? That’s over 60%!!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a graphic designer and understand advertising, the customer, and the market. The hardcore, everyday runner is NOT the majority of the market share in the running shoe industry. Wearing those techie-looking Nike’s with your designer jeans is the market.
But, this trend and talk about barefoot running, spending time barefoot, lower-heel-less-shoe-no-arch-support, and Vibram Five Fingers is a good thing for runners. Hopefully it will get the shoe makers to come out with a few options, much like New Balance’s MT100 Trail shoe. A great ultrarunning minimalist shoe. It has a rock plate for protection for bombing off your favorite gnarly peak, a very flat-no-rounded-edges-no-arch insole and the heel is lower than a normal running shoe. We need more of that from shoe companies.
The good news is that we still have XC flats to choose from, and right now, they are relatively inexpensive compared to the normal running shoe. Not a lot of rock protection, but they’re a great shoe to have in your arsenal of minimalist training shoes. I know that more than one shoe is the antithesis of “minimalist,” but, hey, I like shoes. I can’t see my self ever being a hardcore barefoot-only runner. I’ll take a more fringe-of-the-mainstream approach and run barefoot sometimes, Vibram Five Fingers sometimes, minimalist shoes sometimes, and barefoot most of the non-running time.
With that said, I think the current trend toward less shoe, less heel, and anything else that encourages time barefoot is good for not just American runners, but running in general. The African barefoot running culture has shown us that.