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Barefoot Running: Going Independent

When I first visited my local independent running store, I felt uncomfortable as the only minimalist runner in the running club. Nearly two years later, the store has made a commitment to stocking a range of shoes from a manufacturer that only makes minimalist shoes. The growth of independent running stores who are making the change and educating their customers will the be cornerstone of the minimalist running community.

A couple of years ago, I joined, (albeit only temporarily) a running club organized by my local independent running store — ‘The Runners’ Den’, based in Port Moody, BC.

I went in with my Vibram Five Fingers Flows and I felt uncomfortable.  I was trying to integrate into a group of people I wasn’t familiar with — I couldn’t help wondering if they thought I was a freak for not wearing typical running shoes.

I left shortly afterwards.

A few months later, I saw the same store had begun to host a “Good Form” clinic and I decided to go along. In the time I had spent running barefoot, I had done a lot of research into running form.  Barefoot running form is just good running form. The organizers of the clinic were happy for me to share the information I had.

Over the following months, I became friends with some in the club.

I am still an intermittent but active member of the club.  Joining in when I have the free time.  Whilst most people still view me as a little bit strange – which let’s face it, is not an inaccurate assumption – I am welcomed as part of the group.

When I walk into the store, the first thing other members do, is to look at my feet.  “What is Kate wearing today?”

It’s an ironic twist that for a barefoot runner, I have more running shoes in my closet than the rest of the club combined.

They see the shoes I am wearing, and the whole idea of “crazy gorilla feet” goes out of the window, because apart from my running sandals and my Vibram Five Fingers, — which I wear on occasion — my shoes look pretty normal.

I do sometimes think that when the leaders of the club are asked about barefoot running, they respond with the phrase, “Yeah, we have one of those”.  Almost as if I am their token barefoot runner, thereby showing how cool the club is.

I don’t mind.

A couple of days ago, ‘The Runners’ Den’ received its first shipment of minimalist shoes from VIVOBarefoot.

Although the increase in minimalist shoes has been slowly building in the United States for a while, the Canadian minimalist running market is about 12-18 months behind.

The fact a long-standing, independent running shoe store is beginning to stock ranges of minimalist shoes from a company that only makes minimalist shoes is an indication that barefoot running is becoming more accepted in Canada.

‘The Runners’ Den’ isn’t a towering store over three levels.  It doesn’t have a centralized storage facility in Winnipeg.  It doesn’t have retail staff whose knowledge of running shoes is limited to the tags on the side of the box.

It’s based in a Whistler style retail area in a small suburb of Metro Vancouver.  It’s compact and personal. The storage area is creatively arranged to store the shoes they have in stock.

To stock one version of a shoe requires a commitment by the owners.  To stock a whole range from a particular manufacturer, is even more so.

So, for this store to not only stock minimalist shoes from the more traditional shoe companies, but to stock multiple styles from a manufacturer that only makes minimalist shoes.  To me, this shows a huge change of thinking.

I can’t help but applaud them.

‘The Runners’ Den’ isn’t alone.

There is a small band of independent shoe stores who are forging ahead in the promotion of minimalist running.  These stores range from the newly emerging dedicated minimalist shoe stores – like The Natural Runner, in Vancouver – to stores like ‘The Runners’ Den’ who are beginning to take a chance on minimalist running.  They are promoting the benefits of minimalist shoes as well as ensuring their staff and clients are educated on running well and safely.

This is the model most barefoot and minimalist runners would wish for in their local independent running store.

As much as the big centralized stores will offer more ranges, styles, sizes at a cheaper price, they may not offer the support that goes with the new purchase of minimalist shoes.

The small independent stores will be the bedrock of the growth of minimalist running in Canada.  These stores will be the ones that offer the groundwork and experience that will ensure future minimalist runners will leave the store not only with their new shoes, but the information they need to run for years to come.

So, let’s give a round of applause to the small independent stores who have taken on the challenge of minimalist running.

I accept I have only highlighted one store. I have a lot of experience with this store and I have seen the changes that have gone on within it. If you are a minimalist shoe store making the same commitment, then email me at katekift.crm@gmail.com; I would like to create a list of barefoot and minimalist friendly running stores.