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31 The Minimalist Running Trend

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.

12 Minimalist Longer Run

I ventured out for a 16 miler this morning in the New Balance MT100s. This was my first longer run in them since starting my minimalist transition to a lighter, non-arch supported shoe 4 weeks ago. I had worked up to 11 miles once so far, but have been consistently doing 7-8 miles in the minimalist set-up.

I opted to head out into the high desert in search of dry ground (so I took the studs out of my MT 100s) and went to scout the Bad Ass 50k loop for our upcoming Jan. 2nd fat ass fun run that Meissner and I organize.
The route I chose is a 16 mile lollipop loop that starts in the Badlands and hits the 9 mile Bad Ass 50k loop on it’s backside at the mouth of Smith Canyon (Basically all the elevation gain/loss in the above profile is the 9 mile course loop). It climbs 4 miles up the canyon, then around and over a large Cinder Butte on an ATV trail (the pinnacle part of the profile), before returning back to the opening of the canyon and back into the Badlands. It’s mainly soft, sandy double track and with the recent warm snap of highs in the upper 40s and mainly rain…almost all the snow is gone out there and the double track was soft…I thought it a good route to break in my first longer run without arch supports and in the light MT100s, plus I’ve been really itching to try these shoes out on some more gnarly, technical footing, which the Cinder Butte’s ATV trail has.

I had no issues today. I just concentrated on really relaxing and lifting my feet quickly. I really think my shorter runs in the Vibram Five Fingers are helping this issue and really ramping my foot strength up faster than if I had only transitioned using running shoes. To give an example of how I’ve been using the VFFs, I ran a 7.2 mile fartlek run on Wednesday in the MT100s, then a 2.6 mile cooldown on rough, frost-heave grass in the VFFs at a leisurely 9-10/min pace.

My left ankle is definitely getting stronger, it didn’t bother me today. And another nice thing—my normal left foot, arch tightness (which has morphed into Plantar Fasciitis symptoms at times) is not really bothering me anymore—unless I put on tighter shoes after I run—if I go barefoot after my runs for a while and spread my toes and work them around, they feel good. I also am finding the morton’s neuroma-type soreness I had in my right foot’s metatarsal from time to time has gone away too. The symptoms of tight, built up shoes? Hmm…suspect for sure.

I’m barefoot in my office right now, after my run this morning, picking up and dropping, working my feet on a golf ball. I’m really starting to hate having shoes on. I spent the whole day in my VFFs on Wed around town (plus my workout mentioned). However, yesterday I wore some old minimalist Saucony’s (ya know, the funky old-school stylin’ kind), as I took a day off from running, and my feet couldn’t wait to get out of them last night. They actually were kind of sore and tight feeling. But, after being barefoot last night in the house and stretching them out, today they feel good.

I’m pretty pumped about how well this transition has been going. I have to say I love the lightness of the MT100s on the 16 miler today. Nimble, both climbing and descending on technical trail. I was able to easily get on my midfoot on landings downhill vs. the challenge of getting around and occasionally catching the heel on the raised-heels of normal running shoes. Giddyup!

25 The Minimalist Running Transition Continues

I’m on my 4th week of my transition to a more minimalist running shoe and ditching the aftermarket arch supports I’ve been running in for years. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, but needed to wait until the off-season to do it so I could take it slow and allow my feet and lower legs to adapt to the new stress.

I haven’t been barefoot much for 2 years after a frustrating bout of plantar fasciitis in early 2007. I used to go barefoot always at home, but quit after that and have been shod most of the time since, except for some dabbling in my first pair of Vibram Five Finger Flows while playing with my kids or doing yard work during the past two summers.

As for my current transitional phase…

The first 2 weeks, post-Ozark Trail 100, I spent an increasing amount of time barefoot and doing things around town in the my black Vibram Five Finger KSO’s while recovering from the 100 miler. After the initial 2 weeks off running and barefoot time walking and becoming comfortable unshod again, I started to run in non-arch supports about 30 minutes every other day, with my normal running shoe set-up (e.g. arch support) on all other days.

The 2nd week of running, I kept that same regimen (every other day), but added in three 6-12 minute VFF runs at the end of my normal runs as a cooldowns in the latter part of the week (3 days in a row). I would do some total barefoot running if weather would allow, but it’s winter in full swing here right now. Anyway, by this time, I was starting to feel more comfortable without my arch supports in.

Once into week 3 of running, I ditched my arch support altogether for all my runs and got up to an 11 mile trail run in 4 inches of snow in the Badlands in minimalist shoes (A very well broken in New Balance 904 Trail with the rear half of tread cut off to lower the heel). The next day I turned around and did a 7.5 mile tempo in the Inov-8 F-lite 230—which left me with really sore calves. Part of the issue is this shoe is too narrow in the forefoot for my foot shape. I couldn’t spread my toes very well right before foot strike, which you need to do to immulate an unshod foot strike.

I took an easy day the next day and only did a 2 mile easy VFF run in the evening and felt better the next day. Still had soreness, but I chalked it up to too much, too soon and the fact that there has to be some adaptation with regard to my lower legs. With a lower heel position on foot strike, you really utilize your calves and achilles much more deeply than with a elevated-heel running shoe. So, this is just part of the adaptation my legs have to deal with. Much like your first hard downhill mountain running session to prepare your quads for 100 mile mountain races. 3-4 days of deep soreness, then they come out the other side stronger. Stress and adaptation.

This week I really felt more comfortable. I studded the forefoot of my New Balance MT100s and did a nice 8.5 miler on semi-packed snow with a quick summit of Horse Butte in the middle. The calf soreness is almost completely gone and I’m feeling more natural in the altered foot strike that the low-heeled, minimal shoe requires. Anything over 1 1/2 hours of running, I’m still planning on starting in my minimal shoe and carrying the arch supports with me just in case. Just tryin’ to keep on, keepin’ on.

Lastly…I found a very interesting article on barefoot running, running injuries, and elevated heel running shoes called Athletic Footwear and Running Injuries…interesting read. Giddyup!

8 Jingle Bell 5k and Vibram Five Finger Night Run

I toed the line at the very cold Jingle Bell 5k today in Bend. A cold front blew in last night and dropped the temps into the 20s. This has become an annual tradition for me. My kids do the Kids Fun Run through downtown, I run the 5k and jog back to meet the family and watch the Christmas Parade downtown. Had a great time today. The 5k course is about a tenth of a mile long (3.2 miles), with a nice little small hill in the last 1/4 mile. Ran the first mile in 5:34, second in 5:52, and the third in 5:41. Came across the line in 5th for an overall time of 18:15. Fun day.

Went out tonight for a 1.3 mile “shake out the legs” night run in the Vibram Five Fingers. I’m really starting to like dabbling in these as I make the final transition out of my aftermarket insoles (BioFits) and to the New Balance MT100s. My goal is to get up to 20 minutes comfortably in the VFFs…once I’m there with no discomfort, I’m treating myself to a cool trail run in them. Kind of a personal gift…have to wait, if I go out too soon, I’ll get all into the run and overdo it. I know myself too well! Giddyup.

8 Minimalist Running—tapping into your natural runner

I’ve been thinking a lot about minimalist running lately and the way we are built for running. Also, I’ve been contemplating our “holistic” running system (nutrition, feet, breathing, and mind). I’m in the off-season and this is a time of year I reflect.

I just started running again after some short time off after Ozark Trail 100 and I’m using this time to transition to a more minimalist running shoe. I’ve already been dabbling in the Vibram Five Fingers. I walk around town a few days a week in them. Do short jogging sessions in them. Spend time barefoot.

I’m also weaning myself off an aftermarket insole I’ve used for years. My feet have been locked up since 2003 in some kind of insole (e.g. plastic orthotic, then flexible orthotic, then aftermarket insole)…I’ve been slowing weaning myself to more and more of a neutral shoe with a over the counter insole. Now it’s time to make the final switch. My shoe of choice to go to is the New Balance MT 100. The runs I’ve done in them have been short but good. I’m doing it slowly as my feet adjust. It definitely feels better to run without the insole in a lightweight trainer (more nimble, more sensitive to the terrain)…but, I know I have weak muscles in my feet for a full out switch over. Baby steps. Every other day. Then when I feel good, the final transition.

This minimalist approach got me thinking about how we breathe when running with regard to how to teach my son to breathe while running. My wife and I are raising two kids that are being introduced to running. My young son just completed a fall session of a kids running club and he had some issues with side cramping. I jogged next to him on one of their little XC time trials and realized he was breathing through his mouth very sporadically. Well, this got me thinking about breathing and how to teach it. I came across a very interesting article by a running coach called Josh McDougal is a Perfect Example of What is Wrong With High School Track by John Raucci and I thought I’d share it. He covers feet, breathing, mind, training…the building blocks of a lifetime of running. If you have the time, read this very long, but very good article. Giddyup!

1 Winterize Your Running Shoes

I’m giving a workshop at FootZone Tuesday evening from 6-7:30pm. How to stud your running shoes…but someone from Ontario asked today if I’d put up a post on how-to. So…

Click here to view my post from last winter on How To Screw Your Shoes. Photos and step-by-step. Giddyup!

6 Ozark Trail 100: Leaf surfin’ in Missouri—the quickie

I’m in my hotel in St. Louis, fly out early tomorrow. Will post full race report when I’m back in Bend. Short version—at least 80 of the 100 miles consisted of 4 inch deep fallen oak leaves covering rocky, rooty singletrack—trail running by braille.

Beautiful course, but definitely the most dangerous course I’ve been on at night for actual running (with all the leaves hiding the obstacles and route finding). I ended up running 18:38:59. Finishing rate was really low…not sure official finishers yet, but approximately 40 out of 126 starters finished. Big DNF rate due to the challenging aspect of the leaf factor.

Had a great time with family and the friendly folks in the Show-Me-State. Volunteers and aid stations were great and the course was marked perfectly. You would never have known it was a first year race. Like a well-oiled machine…except the leaf blower must have been broken. Giddyup!

2 Cross training by running a chainsaw

My primary heat source in the winter is wood. And, today I went up to the National Forest and threw down 8 hours of manual labor by cutting 1 1/2 cords of wood solo. Running my 20″ Husqvarna “Farm Tough” saw (yes, it actually says “farm tough” on the bar)—wheel-barrowing all the wood to my Ford F250 Diesel 4×4…and as Tim the Tool man Taylor always said—ARH, ARH, ARH! Nothing better to make you feel manly!

I AM worked, though. I busted out all that in 7 hours (+1 hour travel time = 8 hours). I took no breaks, ate while I worked. It’s funny how ultrarunning helps a day like today. I was conscious of hydration, electrolytes and calories so I didn’t slow down. Good day, all in all. Only thing it doesn’t help…upper body conditioning. My forearms and upper body are worked over for sure. I may be wrong, but working at a computer all day and typing and working a mouse really don’t seems to condition forearms. Dang.

6 20 runs in 8 days: The key to a PR?

Deschutes River Trail Profile—Meadow Camp to 0.2 past Benahm Falls out & back (to the primitive overlook above the trailhead parking). 17.4 miles.

I just posted on running mini-runs, multiple times per day to get over patellar tendonitis. But…I’m thinking I might have had an epiphany (or rather some kind of divine wisdom from above)—in any event, a cool aspect of this approach for recovery after a big race (e.g. post 100, post 50 miler). The leg speed reminder.

So many times, after a big race, I start getting back out there and slogging 7, 10, or 12 milers when my legs feel like lead weights. However, when the knee pain popped up after the 100, I did all these short runs to avoid aggravating the tendonitis in my left knee while I stretched and narrowed down the root cause of the issue (which ended up being tight hips and hamstring).

So, today I ran a staple 17.4 mile trail run on the Deschutes River Trail that is a rolling up river out and back with a lot of grunt up and downs. Normally, I would run this in 2+ hours. Maybe 2:05-2:11 if I’m keeping on my pace. Today—1:56…after running a double on Tuesday (one of which was a hard hill repeat workout), 12 miles Wednesday, and the 17.4 mile run today. A hard 3-day block of 4 runs and I feel surprisingly good.

The week block of mini-runs, post Virgil Crest 100, allowed me to never dig a hole. It forced me to run short, keep my leg speed up and continue to recover while running 6:00-7:30 pace. I think it was a blessing in disguise. This might just be a good way to recover—note to self.

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