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Shoe Variety (and Sean O’Brien race shoe choice)

When I plan for a race, and even training runs, I wear shoes to match the intended pace and terrain. This means I sometimes wear two different type of shoes running the same route on different days. For instance I love to wear my Saucony Rides on days I want to work on faster downhill running on the Mt. Wilson Toll Rd. On the same course I’ll wear my Mizuno Kazan, Montrail Bajada, or Brooks Cascadia on days I need better grip to work on speed hiking or faster uphill running. On streets I’ll either wear Mizuno Wave Sayonara or Saucony Triumphs depending on distance/time-on-feet and pace. I’ll even wear Sayonaras on trails for speed workouts (Brown Mt., El Prieto, Sam Merrell, Cheseboro, and Griffith Park). So, all this to say you should be varying your shoe choice. Shoe variation improves strength, helps with injury prevention, provides specific feel for different surfaces, and extends the life of a shoe. At the very least have a second pair that is the opposite of your regular trainer. If you run in a supported shoe, keep a second pair that is more flexible or less cushioned or a lower ramp height for recovery runs or for speed work. It will activate, stretch, and strengthen muscles, tendons, and joints that normally wouldn’t be in a more supported shoe.

At the very least have a second pair that is the opposite of your regular trainer. If you run in a supported shoe, keep a second pair that is more flexible or less cushioned or a lower ramp height. Use the less supported shoe for recovery runs or for speed work. It will activate, stretch, and strengthen muscles, tendons, and joints that normally wouldn’t be in a more supported shoe. Running in minimalist or barefoot shoes? Try a firmer shoe for racing so the shoe can help with biomechanical efficiency. Softer/minimalist shoes use more muscles and more joint movement from foot plant to toe-off in slower paces.

What you’re all dying to find out, what shoe did I use for Sean O’Brien 50 mile race a couple of weeks ago? I wore the Mizuno Kazan. Same shoe choice as Bulldog 50k. Picked this shoe mostly for the outsole. I wore the Montrail Bajada and Saucony Rides on all trail runs leading up to the race. I knew I needed a shoe with a firmer and cushioned heel for the downhill running, but also having some flex in the forefoot for steeper climbs. Cushioning would also be key because of the rocky terrain and the walking I would do at some part of the race. The Kazan only became an option when I wore it on my last training run up Mt. Lowe. Although it wasn’t as cushioned as the other shoes, it provided the best grip. I would sacrifice comfort in the Kazan (especially when running downhill), but the shoe’s flex through the forefoot provided better options overall for faster running.   Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 8.12.43 AM




The Minimalist Shoe, Reborn!

The minimalist shoe is reborn! Tell your injured running friends, ex-barefoot runners, cross-fitter; spread the word!

It’s that time when shoe companies begin to release their Spring/Summer shoes. What’s very noticeable is a move away from a true barefoot platform by the big running shoe brands. I’m guessing the same people who jumped on the barefoot shoe bandwagon are quickly jumping off after injuries. The industry folks noticed and have moved quickly to redefine what “minimalist” is and offer shoes that aren’t completely bare.

What we’re seeing is a move to a cushioned platform with a flatter heel/toe differential. Most shoes being released tout a heel/toe differential of 12mm or less. So, yes, it’s possible to have both a zero drop shoe  along with a higher platform height for cushioning.
New Balance Minimus 001

The marketing standard of the new “minimalist” shoe is to “get the best of both worlds” or something like that. The shoe, in most bulleted texts about the new shoes, is to have the benefits of barefoot movement and feel with some cushioning and support. Hey, I think Brooks got it right the first time with the Pure Series.

Saucony, for instance, leads the way in its “Geometry of Strong” campaign. They’ve built their whole line of shoes around the idea of a cushioned and/or  support shoe that sits flat (8mm drop or less), giving the runner the benefits of a natural running motion without going totally “minimal” (zero drop, no cushioning). Every brand has their own version: Mizuno, New Balance, Asics, SKECHERS!

The industry has grown past the “Born To Run” phenomenon and have redefined what “minimalist” is. This is good for their core customers who are recreational runners who don’t have the time and patience to fully embrace the barefoot movement. These same people also happen to spend the most amount of money for running products. Yes, I’m talking to you 10 mile a week couch to 5k runner!) Wise move shoe companies! — BTW, I’m supportive of anyone new to running, just not barefoot, please! I don’t care what Barefoot ____(Insert generic first name) has to say about how it’s worked for him.

I like where things are going. It’s a shame we had to go through the barefoot phase that alienated some potential runners to our sport. Hopefully the shoe companies can keep in mind who their customers are and act responsibly with each new running fad that may arise.


The Minimalist Shoe Hype

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.

Vibram Heel Strike_thumb[1]

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.

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New Kicks

Below are a few videos of shoes that have been released within the last 4 months. The Brooks Ghost 5 is a bit older, but worth the mention, the most recent being the Mizuno Wave Rider 16. I’ve had the opportunity to try on all of the shoes, personally owning the Ghost 5 and New Balance MT1010.

Why these shoes? Working in the footwear industry, I have the opportunity to try most of the new running shoes. I find each shoe mentioned below are the best in their class. Think of them as “Choy’s Picks”.


The Brooks Ghost 5 is the most comfortable of all the shoes mentioned. The shoe rides higher than most because of the plush cushioning. It’s like wrapping your foot with pillows! The Ghosts are great for long runs on hard surfaces.

The Mizuno Wave Rider 16 is built a bit closer to the ground while maintaining the same firm bounce as its predecessor. Even the upper rides lower. The whole shoe feels and looks more sleek. Great transition to toe off! Great for faster running and long races.

The Saucony Kinvara 3 is tops in the lightweight shoe category. Great transitional shoe for those looking to get into minimalist running. My biggest gripe about past versions of this shoe was it wore down too quickly. By strictly using a blown rubber compound low weight weight was achieved, but durability was an issue. They addressed this problem by adding a harder rubber compound to the outsole. For those of us that have a slight heel strike, this shoe helps with a better cushioned heel that transitions smoothly to toe-off. The only thing is the upper feels a bit firmer, but it does hug the foot securely. Great shoe for 10ks and other short races. This shoe is also ideal for track workouts.

The MT1010 is New Balance’s answer for people looking to transition to a minimalist trail shoe. They achieve this by adding a little cushioning in the midsole. When I say “little”, I mean little! Most of the cushioning is derived from the raised lugs, but NB added a padded insole instead of going directly to the midsole. It’ll still feel like your classic zero drop minimal shoe for people new to minimalist running, but for seasoned barefoot/minimalist runners, the added thin cushion is very noticeable. The thin upper wraps around the foot securely and fits light on the foot. The single directional lugs on the forefoot is the only problem I have with this shoe. For people who prefer to run on the forefoot/mid-foot on descents, this may cause some slipping. The rock plate holds up well to small rocks and other debris and the forefoot retains flexibility even with the presence of a rigid plate. The shoe feels and runs fast.