Having experienced a number of injuries in recent years – ITBS, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures – I have explored a variety of therapeutic options to heal my wounded body parts, including PT, orthotics and new shoes. My goal in buying new shoes has typically been finding a pair that is more supportive and more protective. After all, prevailing thought in the 80s and 90s was more is better. Terms such as “motion control,” “stability,” “and “cushioned” were music to my ears, albeit somewhat confusing as well.
Then books like Chi Running and Born to Run were released in 2009 and 2011, respectively, taking the running world by storm. More people have questioned the validity and mechanics of a supportive shoe as a result of their findings, and minimalist has come to mean a lot more than racing flats.
In fact, Knocking Down Walls contributor Barefoot Angie Bee doesn’t wear shoes at all, and she finds great liberation in contacting a running surface directly. Many more, like Aimless Runner Harold Bradnor, experimented with the next step up, Vibram Fivefingers. Others, like Tricia Minnick and Anne Lacasse, have used minimalist shoes to correct their running form and overcome injuries.
But do these minimalist shoes work? Do they serve a purpose beyond fixing problems?
Less is More
Iris Sutcliffe, author of blog Stet That Run and editor of my upcoming book, has a wonderful post about her transition to minimalist shoes. Initially experimenting with the Champion C9 Rebecca Retro Jogger from Target, she quickly discovered that minimalist shoes allowed her “to learn how to run and continue to run with good form and in a way that minimizes further injury and agony, not only to my back, but also every other part of my person.”
Iris runs exclusively in minimalist shoes and maintains a “Shoes I Love” sidebar on her blog to share her current favorites for various surfaces.
When I asked for her advice on making a switch from a more supportive shoe to a minimalist pair, she had this to share:
“I would never advocate wearing both minimalist and traditional running shoes. It’d be extremely difficult to learn good form that way, and the foot muscles won’t get stronger as quickly. If a person wants to make the switch, I usually recommend doing it outside of race season and essentially starting over like a new runner.
The C25K program makes an excellent transition program because it keeps you from the old “too much too soon” syndrome.
Merrell has excellent tips and a transition program on its “Pretty Strong” page.”
Take the Plunge?
Though I don’t have any injuries right now, I have still been curious to try minimalist shoes myself. To answer my curiosity, I recently received a pair from Li-Ning, a Chinese manufacturer. Li Ning himself is a famous Chinese gymnast who won six medals in the ’84 Olympic games in Los Angeles. Several years later, he created a global sportswear company that is now making inroads in the United States.
A little skeptical at the start, I am pleasantly surprised by how much I love them. They are so light on my feet that my legs feel bouncy and free. They are very comfortable and snug to wear. It’s really strange how the shoes feel supportive even though they are less so than the ones I’m used to wearing.
The pair I tried was the Liede running shoe which costs $79. Though not Iris’ Target bargain, they are less expensive than many of the shoes on Competitor Magazine’s list of the best, averaging $100+.
Get on the Right Track
Though I love my new Li-Ning shoes, I’m not yet brave enough to wear them on all my runs like Iris. I think I’ll stick to shorter distances and speed workouts for now. Perhaps I’m too old and set in my ways – or have simply worn supportive shoes for too many years with a decent track record for injuries. (Come ‘on, some of the recent injuries are because I’m not a spring chicken anymore!)
But what is the prevailing wisdom for converting to a less supportive shoe?
Competitor Magazine recommends a gradual transition. They suggest: “Just as it takes someone new to running to adapt to the stress of pounding the pavement, going to a minimalist shoe almost always requires a cautious approach of progressive exposure.”
I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experience with running shoes that lighten the load!
Runner’s World: Is Less More?
Washingtonian: Experts Pick Best Minimalist Shoes