Minimalism


While in California, I tried on this pair of running shoes. The shoes are part of Brooks’ PureProject running collection. I didn’t end up purchasing them at the time, but they’re definitely still on my radar.

They’re not traditional running sneakers, they’re “minimalist” running shoes. Minimalist shoes are basically shoes that allow runners to mimic the barefoot running stride, with slightly more cushioning – a less radical version of the barefoot shoe. They’re closer to barefoot shoes than they are to the traditional running shoe. According to Sean Murphy, in the article “Much Ado About Minimalism”, the shoes

 “make the foot work as naturally as possible, and at the same time protect [it] from the elements.”

Recently, the traditional running shoe has been under fire, as some experts are starting to believe that runners would be better off running barefoot, or buying shoes that allow runners to mimic barefoot running.

Some of the best runners agree, and they’ve actively been speaking out about their run-changing shift to barefoot, or minimalist running.

For some, this means taking off shoes and socks and hitting the pavement. For others, this means purchasing a pair of “barefoot” running shoes, such as the Vibram Five Fingers.

Running barefoot, or in barefoot shoes, is becoming fairly popular among runners of all levels. Flea, the bassist for Red Hot Chili Peppers, ran the Los Angeles marathon in 3:53, wearing a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. Abebe Bikila won the 1960 Olympic marathon running barefoot.

While I don’t recall seeing anyone running completely barefoot at the 5k I ran in December, I saw tons of people wearing barefoot style shoes – both the faster runners and the slower joggers and walkers.

Boston alone must have plenty of these runners, as there is a festival dedicated to barefoot running in Boston, and a very popular meetup group for barefoot/minimalist runners to gather together for runs.

From Wikipedia:

The human mechanics of running change quite significantly in padded shoes. When barefoot (and also when wearing minimalist footwear) a runner tends to land their feet upon the lateral part of the forefoot, rolling in, allowing the heel to drop, then push off with the forefoot and/or lift with the leg. Running in padded shoes typically alters this pattern, making one more prone to land on one’s heel first and roll onto the forefoot.

I’ve heard stories about people who struggled to run wearing normal running sneakers, and after turning to barefoot running, their ailments went away almost immediately.

However, as wonderful as that may sound, it’s clearly not the case for everyone, as doctors have reported that barefoot running has caused lots of runners injuries, the most common being a very serious (and very painful) injury: plantar fasciites.

Barefoot runners argue this tends to only happen when people run barefoot “too much, too fast”, and that easing into it will significantly decrease the likelihood of this happening. Whether or not this is true is still up for debate, there isn’t enough data available to prove one way or the other – for now, it seems to be a matter of personal preference.

When I tried on the shoes, they felt pretty comfy, and the store clerk let me run outside for a bit. The feel was very different – the shoes were much lighter than I’m used to, and it definitely forced me to land on my whole foot, rather than the usual heel strike I’m used to. It felt strange, but I didn’t experience any pains at all (though I only ran for about a minute).

A huge reason I’m interested in potentially purchasing a pair of these shoes is my never ending problems with my glutes. On multiple Runner’s World forums on this injury, people have claimed their glute injuries effectively disappeared when they began to run barefoot. For me, this is hugely enticing, as I want to continue running, but don’t want to be destroying my muscles along the way.

I’m on the fence about the shoes – partially because I’m a broke college student, and they’re not exactly cheap, but also because I don’t want to buy them only to get a new injury. I’ve thought about just going outside and doing a mile barefoot, but Boston streets are definitely not the best place to do that.

I’m going to continue learning running with minimalist, and may eventually get myself a pair, but I’m a traditionalist and I’m still not convinced it’s for me. What’s your take on minimalist and barefoot running?

I will say, however, knowing that members of the Native American tribe, Taramahura, can run up to 120 miles barefoot…and do so regularly…definitely makes me wonder if traditional shoes have been wrong all along.

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About kimberlybrussell

Journalism major & sociology minor, finishing up my last year of college.
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One Response to Minimalism

  1. Hey Kimberly,

    The most injuries I see reported are not from people who start out running barefoot, there’s a self-limiting factor involved there (our senses on the soles of our feet) which not only discourages running too much too soon (at least on rough surfaces), but rather people who start out running “barefoot” by trying to avoid letting their bare soles touch the ground, by wearing minimalist footwear (which make it far more comfortable to do too much, too soon), and also allows them to ignore (or block) the valuable sensory information which the sole provides telling us to reduce the amount of stress we put on our soles (all of which pass on through the rest of the body), and thus eliminate excess stresses in the rest of our body.

    What we’re seeing is not so much Plantar Faciitis, but rather stress fractures, as people begin running barefoot with very limited information, and even less information from their bare soles (which are obviously very sensitive precisely because they are the area that interacts between us and the ground).

    The problem begins when they hears something like, “Change to a fore-foot strike”. And so they try to run up on their toes, or the balls of their feet, putting far more stress on their feet than necessary, and far more stress on their feet than they have become used to in supportive shoes.

    However, if that same runner were actually “Barefoot” instead of in “barefoot shoes”, and did not limit themselves to comfortable terrain, they would not only ease into barefoot running more gradually, but more gracefully, quickly learning that it’s horribly uncomfortable to put that much stress on an unsupported bare foot on rough terrain.

    Those who begin barefoot (not in minimalist footwear) on rougher surfaces, learn much more in less distance, and less time, and typically will be running further, more frequently, sooner, with fewer injuries.

    The soles of our feet are our quality control inspectors, and putting them in closets so they can’t sense how badly we’re running, obviously is a ridiculous idea, at least until we have learned to run much more gracefully.

    Run gently, efficiently, and gracefully, it’s the only way too run comfortably and safely while barefoot on most any terrain. And that is why so many people have solved their running difficulties by running barefoot.

    Have fun,

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