Since the release of “Born To Run” footwear design has gone the way of lighter and lower. The “minimalist” shoe became a sort of magic pill for runners. Shoe brands rushed to follow the edicts of the minimal way (gasp, even Brooks!). Dropping the heel height, thinning the mid-sole, thinner uppers, bright colors — try finding a plain colored lightweight run trainer. Along with the shoe companies, “experts” were touting these kind of shoes as game changers and to some degree, irresponsibly doing so. Sure, it may work for Anton, but come on, the dude weighs 100 pounds and logs a hundred miles during the Winter.
So, what did all the design changes do for the recreational racer? In my opinion, not much. All the studies I’ve read had small sample sizes and generally included runners with a good running base. If anything, I think it’s slowed people’s progression to be better runners as they work their way slowly into the shoes or have been injured because of the shoes themselves.
Yes, the right shoe is important, but this doesn’t mean the “right shoe” has to be zero drop and 8 ounces. Equally important is the training method for the individual. The “right shoe” has become a sort of Holy Grail for runners and some shoe companies are more than happy to exploit uninformed and desperate runners.
I come across a lot of people who seek minimalist shoes. They say they want to run more on their mid-foot which will help them ____ (fill in the blank with any running related goal). They start throwing out terms they read in magazines or heard on podcasts. The people I encounter mostly fall into two groups, those who’ve been running for years and new runners.
The seasoned runner is looking to make a change in footwear to rise above a plateau in their running. The new runner is mostly uninformed and looking to arrive at a goal by putting too much emphasis on the shoe, neglecting to put much thought into the work and commitment that are also necessary.
For the seasoned runner: Maybe minimalist shoes will help reduce injury and get you running faster, but why not try changing the routine and diet before making a switch in shoes. For most of us, landing on the heel or slightly on the heel is a biomechanical habit. It is possible to correct the habit, but with risk of injury and decline in performance. I think minimalist shoes make good supplements to our regular trainers , but not as our exclusive trainers.
For the new runner: Public Enemy said it best, “Don’t believe the hype!” Stick with a shoe that has the traditional forefoot rocker, arch, and cushioning. You’ll love running a lot more.
As recreational racers there are many reasons we can’t trust ourselves to use minimalist shoes properly; fatigue, race distance, discipline, consistency, environment, etc. It’s time we wake up and face the truth. For every person that touts the minimalist shoe for keeping them injury free, there are more who have been injured by them. To some degree,we all fall back to landing on our heels (specially during longer races) so why not get a shoe that helps facilitate that kind of movement? What’s the use of getting a zero drop shoe or Vibrams if you’re just going to slop around on your heels and complain about some kind of injury?
This post was inspired by the know-it-all couch-to-5k type person training for the Mini who was looking for the “finger” shoe. Hope the future injury doesn’t hurt your training and you end up running that 1:30:00.