The Minimal Running Debate: What do you think?

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Since the invention of the modern running shoe by Nike in the 80s, hobby runners like me heard the same for decades: Cushioning is very important, you should land on your heel and roll over your foot to the toes. This changed dramatically with the best-selling book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall that has been released in 2009. If you haven’t read that book I strongly encourage you to do so, I’ll share a link to it at the end of this post.

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Born to Run portrayed, among other things, a hidden tribe in the Mexican Copper Canyons that run for hundreds of miles with just homemade sandals. McDougall also wrote about scientific facts supporting the opinion that barefoot or minimal running might be the way to go even for amateurs. The book started an intense debate whether running in minimalistic shoes is better and prevents injuries, or if it might harm your body.

If you research you’ll see that in pro running, training barefoot or in minimalistic footwear is quite usual. Also racing barefoot can happen as the gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Marathon showed. That year the Ethiopian runner Adebe Bikila won without wearing shoes. Four years later he won again the gold medal but this time with shoes.

When I started running some years ago, I was wearing very cushioned Nike shoes. Since then, also influenced by reading Born to Run, I switched more towards minimal running shoes and sometimes even train in Five-Fingers barefoot shoes. Here are some reasons for that change:

  • – It trains my foot muscles better
  • – Minimal shoes are more lightweight which feels great especially on longer runs
  • – Better feeling for the surface I’m running on
  • – It seems more natural as humans were running long before the invention of the shoe

 

So I really like running in lighter, more minimalistic shoes but I want to emphasize that this is an approach that works for me. In this discussion the answer in my opinion is not just black or white. Every body is different and can react in another way to different styles of running. As I started running in “ordinary” running shoes, I started running slowly in minimalistic shoes (Five-Fingers) for just a few kilometers. I increased the distance covered in this shoes week by week and ended up running a Half Marathon in Five-Fingers. I then started using different minimalistic shoes like some Nike Free or the Salomon Sense for trails.

So you now read something about my approach and I’m really curious what your opinion on minimal running is and what experiences you made with running barefoot. Please use the comments section below to tune into the discussion!

To end this post I’ll share some (affiliate) links to some great products I liked on my way to a more minimalistic style of running:

Nike Men’s Free 4.0 Flyknit Running Shoes 717075-001 Black/White (10.5)

Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit Womens Running Shoes, Black/White/Dark Grey, 7 M US

Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra Trail Running Shoes – AW15 – 9 – Red

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Happy running
mikula

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18 comments on “The Minimal Running Debate: What do you think?”

  • kim says:

    I think it’s a fad.

  • Great post – I tried out some minimal shoes and they just didn’t work for me and I wasn’t willing to “ease into them”. I find my happy place somewhere in the middle. Usually a thinner sole and a 7-9mm drop. I use to run exclusively in racing flats but found a happy home in some On Running shoes.

    • Mikula says:

      Great to see you found “your place in the middle” by trying minimal shoes! That’s I think what happens to a lot of runners who try minimalistic footwear.

  • Meg says:

    I have bad ankles/knees from dancing, so I need to run with cushioned shoes for support, especially longer distances. But I’ve always been interested in this idea of minimal running and I’m so glad you’ve shared your insight and experience here!

  • Tim Vincent says:

    Really good post (again!), thanks Mikula. I’ve never tried it myself, but am curious. I’m just nervous about injuring myself! I know a guy who runs huge distances either barefoot or in sandals! – pursuingthevoid.wordpress.com

    • Mikula says:

      Thanks Tim! I had some doubts about injuries myself. I started out real slow doing just a slow 3k run at the beginning and increased the distance by 1k each week. That also helped my feet getting some alternation.

  • tink says:

    I’ve been running (walking, hiking, … ) exclusively in Fivefingers for over 7 years now. Typically that’s ~ three runs a week (~ 20 -26 km) with a mix of road and trail and some good elevation gain.

    I’ve never looked back, even though I’m slightly slower minimalistically shoed than I was with my asics. But I lost the knee, hip and lower back pains along the way, and that alone is worth it.

    • Mikula says:

      Wow that’s great you really made the transition! I guess I went back to (minimal) shoes mostly because of rocky trails.

      What FiveFingers models are you using for trails? I used the old Speed for the road or soft forest trails.

      • tink says:

        Mikula, it depends on how hard out I want to go.

        My all-time favourite running shoe is the KSO Evo, which is fine for most of the trails I encounter in my home town. For more technical terrain (large rocks, sizable pebbles, gnarly roots, … ) I’ll choose the Spyridon or the TrekSport.

        The latter two are also my go-to shoes for tramping (hiking with a heavyish bag for several days).

    • Mikula says:

      Thanks for the recommendations! I’ll try the Spyridon/TrekSport then since I love to run on technical trails.

  • tink says:

    Should have specified: that’s 20-26Km per run, not per week ;}

  • Christy says:

    Interesting post. I have never tried minimalist/barefoot running ( except when I was a kid) but have flat feet and previous injuries that preclude me from trying this approach. Happy running to all!

    • tink says:

      Interesting comment Christy; I, too, have “flat feet”, in fact to such extent that I was deemed unfit for military service. But w/o the “arch support” my arches have actually developed in recent years (and that was in my mid 40s).

      What pre-existing conditions do you have, and who (other than people trying to make a buck [podiatrist, shoe sales person, … ]) says you can’t try that?

    • Mikula says:

      Oh that’s interesting! I have pretty “regular” feet I guess and thought that’s the perfect pre-condition to go minimal. Awesome to hear that going barefoot helped you developing arches!

      How did you start out minimal in the first place? Just slowly mile by mile or all in from the beginning? Did you mix minimal and ordinary shoes?

  • Don says:

    It’s been 4 years since I started buying zero drop shoes to run in.

    Best for fit and durabillity have been New Balance Minimus trail shoes.

    Most like going barefoot, the Bodyglove Barefoot 3T. One shoe has about a half inch of stitching that is a little rougher than the rest so I got a blister my first time out. With Injinji socks I’ve got a few 7 mile runs in, my max distance so far.

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