Posts Tagged ‘barefoot running’

Minimal shoes vs. performance-enhancing devices

March 31, 2015

I believe in minimal footwear and if I were to live on a beach somewhere and run only recreationally, I’d probably only have two pairs of running shoes for those times when I might choose to wear any shoes at all. One would be a pair of New Balance Minimus and the other would be Luna Sandals.

But I don’t live on a beach. I live in the Rocky Mountains. And to further complicate matters, my chosen sport is pack-burro racing, which involves running long distances over rugged mountainous terrain alongside a large animal not always known for its cooperative nature.barefoot2

A few years ago in one of these races — the 28-mile World Championship up and down 13,187-foot Mosquito Pass — I watched as the first-place racer smoothly eased away from me on the descent. This eventual winner was wearing a pair of Hoka One Ones, thickly padded maximalist shoes that looked more like Moon Boots or clown shoes than running gear.

That same summer I’d also managed to bruise my forefoot badly when a rock jabbed through the soles of a pair of minimal shoes. The pain was terrible, and it seemed like I could not get in a run without finding a rock or two with that sore spot and re-injuring it. I started to look at different options. At some point out of desperation and at the suggestion of several friends I decided to try on a pair of Hokas.

At once I realized why these shoes were so popular among trail and ultra runners. They smoothed over the roughest terrain. No rocks could poke through to my feet. I likened them to the difference between a mountain bike and a road bike for off-road use.

I also quickly realized that these shoes were clearly performance-enhancing devices, allowing a person to run beyond natural capabilities and enter the danger zone where injuries happen. Were they healthy footwear? No. There are many health risks associated with wearing thick shoes like this long-term — including loss of proprioception, muscle imbalance and weakness throughout the body, increased shock (from reverberation, or bounce), and others.

In a sense these shoes were much like performance-enhancing drugs. But, unlike drugs, they were legal and other competitors were wearing them. If I wanted an equal footing I thought I should at least give them a chance. As competitive athletes many of us often make choices that improve our chances but are not necessarily healthy. Just deciding to compete in the first place is one of these choices. Training beyond requirements for health is another. Besides, my forefoot was killing me, and the increased inflammation from this injury was actually showing up in blood tests for C-reactive protein.

What would Lance do?

I now had racing fats instead of racing flats. And, in fact, the first race I ever wore them in, I won.

Another thing I quickly realized was that as soon as I was done training or racing in these shoes I wanted them off my feet — like right now.

barefootIn defense of my maximalist shoes, they did not have a huge heel-forefoot drop. They were fairly flexible, explaining why they did not tip and twist my ankles on rugged terrain. And they were so soft that they actually allowed my feet to do their own thing. In some ways it was like running in sand. They had transformed the Rocky Mountains into a beach. My forefoot even healed up without the constant strikes from rocks, and my inflammation markers returned to normal. But I remained very conflicted about using them.

So how was I to resolve this inner conflict between my natural minimalist sensibilities and my maximist racing fats?

Part of the answer was what my body had already told me — wear the fat shoes as little as possible. Run in them, then get them off my feet ASAP. And the other part of the answer was to continue doing what I had been doing — going barefoot as much as possible (see my article on barefoot therapy), choosing my workouts wearing the big shoes carefully, wearing minimal footwear to warm up and cool down, and for most of my other everyday activities like walking. By maintaining strong feet, ankles and balanced muscles through barefoot therapy and minimal footwear, my body was better able to adapt to those times I chose to wear the performance-enhancing shoes.

Along the way I also transitioned to another brand and style of maximal shoes, finding the Altra Olympus to be somewhat lower to the ground, with a zero-drop and much larger toebox.

In this manner I have adjusted to being able to wear both styles of footwear successfully, enjoying the advantages of performance-enhancing footwear for racing while also maintaining and building natural foot strength and health the rest of the time.

Barefoot therapy

October 28, 2010

How to shuck your shoes, at least some of the time

Ok, so you’ve read all about the benefits of barefoot running, the debates in running magazines, the Tarahumara (who generally run in sandals, not barefoot) and Barefoot Ted. In your mind there’s a vision of yourself running barefoot for miles across the countryside.

But in reality outside awaits a world of concrete, ice, blistering hot pavement, angular gravel, thorns, glass and many other hazards to your feet.

So, just how does an outdoor athlete go about shucking his shoes?

Dr. Phil Maffetone, health and fitness expert and author of “In Fitness and In Health” and “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing,” advocated barefoot exercise long before the current hype. Best known as the fitness coach for six-time Hawaii Ironman Triathlon Champ Mark Allen and ultramarathon record-holder Stu Mittleman, Maffetone also pointed out years ago that scientific studies showed alarming injury rates among runners wearing the most expensive shoes.

A good place for many aspiring shoeless athletes to start, he says, might be with barefoot therapy.

“Even a short amount of barefoot time initially can bring tremendous benefits in correcting and preventing foot and ankle problems. These types of problems also can cause chronic knee, hip or back problems,” says Maffetone. “Just 10 to 15 minutes a day can help balance and strengthen foot and leg muscles, allowing the whole body to better balance on its own natural support systems.

Maffetone suggests starting by spending more time barefoot indoors for a few days both at home and at work. Once you’re comfortable with that, venture outdoors, on a safe surface such as grass, sand or the sandy edge of a dirt road. Slowly work up to being barefoot much more of the time on your feet.

Your barefoot time can be done separately as therapy, or as part of your workout as a warm-up or cool-down, though doing so after your workout may have more benefits in resetting your feet’s sensory system after spending time in shoes.

Most of us have been wearing oversupported fitness shoes for many years. Although the foot can quickly adapt to barefoot walking — and even running — muscles, tendons and ligaments in the feet, ankles, calves — and even other areas we may not consider like our jaws — may take some time to rehab.

But not as long as you may think.

“Despite being bound for years by shoes that don’t match the needs of our feet, being barefoot can quickly help restore foot function because the muscles respond beginning with your first step,” Maffetone says. “During this process, it’s very important to find the best shoe for your feet.”

Over time many athletes who have access to safe barefoot environments may be able to build up to doing entire workouts without shoes. However, for many, shoes will remain an integral part of workout life. That’s why Maffetone says it’s important to find the right shoes, those without too much support, cushioning and other gimmicks.

“Look for the flatter more flexible, less soft shoes,” says Maffetone. “The answer may end up being cheaper models, so-called racing flats, or even shoes that are not marketed for your sport. In addition, use comfort as your guide, and realize that most people wear shoes that are too small for their feet.”

The Great Running Shoe Hunt, Part 2

June 6, 2010

My great shoe hunt may be over. Saturday a pair of Inov-8 Flyroc 310s arrived in the mail from Colorado Running Company in Colorado Springs.

Now let’s back up. When I last wrote about shoes I had been having footproblems since Nike changed its Pegasus model. I went through a pair of Nike Skylons, then a pair of New Balance TR 904, which I initially liked but then began to develop pain in the top of the foot. My feet felt pretty tortured after the 30-mile World Championship Pack-Burro Race. But the final straw was the following week when the bottom forefoot of one these shoes peeled loose somewhere on the way back down Mosquito Pass during the Leadville Boom Days Pack-Burro Race

By then I was not in the mood to buy any more new shoes, and this was only reinforced after reading Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run” over the winter. Sometime last fall I bought a pair of Land’s End Trail Runners, and for $38 they actually weren’t the worst shoes I’ve ever run in. At least they were gimmick-free and fairly low-profile. Somehow throughout the winter and spring I put in my workouts rotating these shoes with a pair of Nike Lunarglide Avants, which I destroyed in short order, and an old, old pair of Nike Free Trail 5.0s.

I even put in a couple of two-hour runs in the Frees. I’ve also been doing some barefoot therapy after some workouts, and have done some running and walking in my Crocs.

All the while I’ve been researching shoes. I even spent a few hours in some shoe stores. The thing that annoys me most is the discrepancy in sizing. I had my foot measured on Brannock Devices in two different stores. Both times it was agreed that I am just under a size 11. Still, I knew better and had one shoe-store salesperson bring out a pair of Nike Free Runs in size 12. I couldn’t even get my foot into the shoe. I asked for a size 13 and they didn’t have it in that size. I tried on a pair of Nike Lunarglides and decided that I needed a 13 in this shoe as well.

Why can’t shoe companies make shoes to standardized sizing? It seems like this is even more important in the age of Internet shopping.

Figuring that I’d take advantage of my discount at Roadrunner Sports, I decided to order a pair of Lunarglides from them. My wife also wanted a pair. They arrived. We tried them on. We looked at each other and suddenly realized how tall they are. We boxed them back up. I sent them back.

That was when I contacted John O’Neill at Colorado Running Company. The store carries the Inov-8 line and after some discussion I decided to order the Flyrocs in size 12. These shoes are low profile, flexible, and so far seem to be good. I spent three hours running and hiking in them yesterday. I wish I’d ordered them in size 12.5, but for now at least I have something I can apparently run in.

Another taste of defeet

July 6, 2009

“Feet” seems to be a major search term that brings people this site. There’s tremendous interest in the notion of running closer to barefoot, and the potential damage caused by many of the overbuilt running shoes on the market today. 


Earlier this year I wrote about some issues I’ve had with running shoes and my attempts to get closer to a natural stride. It all started when Nike made changes to its Pegasus model. I have since been running in an old pair of Pegasus and rotating them with an old pair of Nike Free 5.0 and the new Nike Zoom Skylon.

The new version of the Pegasus left me with a painful talus joint in the medial ankle/foot. I recently had this worked on by Dr. Scott Cuthbert in Pueblo. He’s performed a couple of miracle healings on me in the past and I recommend him for anyone seeking a holistic approach to their health. After treatment by Dr. Scott, muscle testing showed I was fairly strong in the Zoom Skylon. In the meantime, upon recommendation of John O’Neill of Colorado Running Company, I ordered a pair of New Balance 904 TR.

I’ve now run three days in these new shoes and I really like them. The foot actually rests way lower in these than a side view would indicate. They are lightweight and flexible but offer just the little bit more protection that I need for running over rough terrain. And, most importantly, my gait feels fairly natural in these shoes. New Balance also offers the 904 in a street model.

The only thing I really hate about these shoes is the disco color scheme. Who comes up with this stuff? Whatever, I’d probably wear shoes in fluorescent pink if my feet felt good in them.