Barefoot running and so-called minimalistic running has been all the rage the last few years. Less is more, right?
NO! It simply isn’t that simple.
If you are going to run barefoot or in minimalist shoes, you must have the right biomechanics and must have strong feet. If you do not, you are likely to find yourself injured if you jump into minimalist shoes without proper preparation.
The fact is that we all have different biomechanics. A fancy trend orchestrated by the shoe companies will not change that fact – no matter how awesome the colors those minimalist shoes come in. That isn’t to say that we can’t make ourselves stronger so we can more effectively utilize these tools.
Why do I say this? My own experience, of course. When I started running in 1998, I would go into the local shoe store and buy the coolest looking, most light-weight shoe I could find. That worked just fine for me because at the time, I was only running 3-4 miles a couple of times a week. Every 6 months or so, I’d get a new pair. But once I started logging more serious mileage in late 2005, I started having all sorts of knee pain and Achilles tendon pain. So I went to my local running store and they fitted me with Asics Kayanos. Man, I LOVED those Kayanos. They fit so great and I felt like I was running on cushiony clouds. But by the time I’d put about 120 miles on them, I’d start getting those aches and pains back again with a vengeance. This was clearly not good since I was running 50 miles a week and I simply couldn’t find a credible way to pitch to my significant other that I needed to drop $125 for a new pair of running shoes every 2.5 weeks.
How to find the right shoe?
Discover your biomechanics.
Rather than relying on running stores to watch my gait, I went to see my doctor, who could have cared less about my problem (but that is another post for another day), but fortunately she referred me to the local runner’s clinic. There, I was video-taped both walking and running on the treadmill. The good news was that, overall, my biomechanics were decent. I have a minor hip drop on the left side, but if I keep up with core work, I should be okay. The bad news was that I am a pretty severe late-stage over-pronator. This means that even though I land correctly, once my foot hits the ground, my foot/arch collapses inward resulting in knee and Achilles tendon pain.
Then shop around until you find “the one.”
I followed the trend for that time, which was seeing a podiatrist to get fitted for fancy schmancy orthotics. They were expensive, but I was excited to solve all my problems! The problem? They didn’t solve anything. In fact, they caused more harm than good. They hurt my feet. So I went on a several-month mission to find the “right” shoes. I tried motion control shoes (read: bricks) and everything that had any sort of indication of stability. I must have tried at least 20 different makes/models with no luck. But in the summer of 2006, I discovered the Mizuno Wave Alchemys (cue the clouds parting, sunbeams shining through, and angelic, bold music). These bad boys were sent straight from God to my feet. They were perfect. Lightweight, comfortable and had the perfect amount of stability. The Mizuno Wave Alchemys led me through 6+ years of running 100% injury free. I ran hundreds of races, PRs in every distance and I logged more than 10,000 miles with these beautiful shoes. During the last year, I was even able to move up to the Mizuno Elixir (more lightweight and slightly less stability) to race my marathons.
Then the unthinkable happened. As running shoe companies often do, they upgraded the Alchemys in 2012. Unfortunately, whatever upgrade they added ruined the shoe for me. EVERY time I wear them, I experience sharp pain on the inside of my shins. It is unbearable. Even worse, Mizuno does not mass-produce shoes like Asics and Nike. So once my size in the old model sold out – they were gone. I had enough foresight last summer to buy 2 extra pairs. But now, there are none left to buy.
A change in shoe type requires adaptation.
I finally had to accept the fact that there are other ways to fix pronation other than shoes. I must strengthen my feet. My legs are strong from running, I do core work, I do upper body work… so why in the world am I neglecting my feet?
To get me motivated, I promptly ordered a pair of Brooks Pure Cadence. They are not only complete eye candy (hot pink!), they also fit like a glove. They are more minimal than any shoes I have ever worn and I love them. They have a lower heel drop than conventional shoes, meaning the heel is only a little higher than the toes of the shoe. (To learn more about heel drop, go here.) Even though they aren’t as minimalist as something like the New Balance Minimus or any shoe from the Inov8 line, I know the lower heel drop and relatively less shoe of the Pure Cadence will not work for me unless I strengthen my feet. After 7 years of distance running, it is time to make these feet strong.
I started out by watching a few videos discussing basic alignment and some foot strengthening exercises (see below). I then purchased some Yamuna foot wakers and started doing strengthening exercises. I have been at it only 3 weeks and it has worked almost as miraculously as when I first found those Mizuno Alchemys. I am running in my Cadences injury- free (although I am cycling them in slowly), and the heel and calf pain I have been complaining about for months is dramatically improving. I think I am on to something!
Moral of the story:
1. Know you biomechanics;
2. Strengthen your weaknesses;
3. Get out there and dominate.
Do you do anything to keep your feet strong? Have you switched to more minimalist shoes?