As my birthday approached, I decided that I wanted to treat myself to a nice pair of shoes. I set out to get a new pair of shoes and decided to get properly fitted again at The Running Room.

Getting fitted for running shoes is important, for the obvious reasons, and I had been having trouble with my outer toes feeling numb-ish as I ran (which I figured was just due to the longer distances I’ve been logging).

However, I quickly learned from the helpful staff that this feeling was happening because when I step, I my outer heel hits first, putting more pressure on my other toes as my foot takes the step. I tried on about six pairs of shoes before finally settling on a pair of Asics. They were like walking on a cloud and I figured that cushioning would help.

After a one-hour run (on a treadmill, so I could try them and take them back if I needed to), my toes got the same numb feeling and I had to stop running. I took them back and my dad persuaded me to try some Nikes, since that’s what he has always worn and swears by.

Now, I personally have always felt uncomfortable in running shoes. I’m used to activities such as yoga where I usually go barefoot or wear something super light and flexible. I was immediately attracted to the new Nike Free Run+ shoes. They looked amazing (coming in pink and purple) and I started reading about what people were saying about barefoot/minimalist running, such as Canadian Running’s barefoot blogger Kate Kift, to really see if it was for me.

I saw a woman on the bus wearing a pair and asked her how she found them. She said they were “great for working out, but absolutely kill my back when I run.”

She said she doesn’t wear them for running. Only for walking and training since they are really comfortable but don’t offer a lot of support she feels is needed to run.

The saleslady at the Nike store said they were great, but not something to jump into since it takes a while to get used to and since I’m training for a half-marathon, I could injure myself and risk my training.

However, she said eventually I should make the switch over since I might prefer to be barefoot.
I ended up on getting a pair of regular (and awesome, pink and white) Nike shoes.

But, all of this made me think of where the minimalist shoe movement is headed. The success of barefoot athletes is well known and I’ve seen people wearing the Vibram Five Fingers for working out and running. Many other shoe companies also have a running version of a “minimalist shoe”.

I read a great blog post by Pete Larson, who reviews tons of shoes, and he said these minimalistshoes are much different than running barefoot since they do have some sort of heel on them.

The heel is an interesting quality, he says, quoting an article that was published in Nature; “For most of human evolutionary history, runners were either barefoot or wore minimal footwear suchas sandals or moccasins with smaller heels and little cushioning relative to modern runningshoes.”

All of the reading I’ve done has basically just left me feeling like I should stick to the normal shoe. Maybe, after I finish the half-marathon, I will treat myself to a pair of Nike’s for short runs and working out, since they are supposed to be comfy and I’ve been drooling over them for weeks.

However, I wanted to reach out to the Canadian runners out there to hear your thoughts on ‘minimalist’ running shoes:

Would you run a marathon in them? Or are we just asking for injury? And of course, are they just a fad?

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  • kenny says:

    I am by no means a long distance runner however I do enjoy running and its benefits. I have been wearing Asics shoes for years and the Gel-nimbus has always worked great for me.However like yourself after reading so much about minimalist running shoes I dedcided to try the new “Gel Blur”. They felt great on my feet and were very light. However after one short run I developed a sharp pain in my right achilles tendon.The next run it moved into my lower calf and I even developed some tenderness in my lower back. I went back to my Gel-nimbus for the next 3 weeks and had No issues. I decided to try the “Blur” one more time…I ended up finishing my run as a walk…as the pain in my calf returned halfway through the run to the point I could no longer stand it….needless to say..the “Blur” is now a gym shoe…running will be done in “gel-nimbus”.

  • Katie Petersen says:

    Hi Samantha! Thanks for the article! Minimalist footwear is something I’ve also started experimenting with recently. I think there’s a lot to be said for barefoot running/Vibram Five Fingers/minimalist running shoes in terms of foot and ankle strength, however, from what I’ve read and seen, the feasibility of these approaches for longer distances seems to be a very individual thing. I’ve seen people run marathons completely barefoot, in VFFs, and with lighter shoes, but I’ve also read reports by people who found minimalist footwear completely unbearable over longer distances. I’ve not tried any longer runs in my VFFs yet, but they’re great for shorter distances, and especially on grass and softer surfaces. I think the best approach is just to see how far and how well minimalist footwear works for you and then to use it to whatever extent it’s beneficial.

  • Jen says:

    I am on my second pair of Saucony Kinvaras – I believe they would be similar to the Nike Free. I love them. I run in them exclusively and have run and trained for two half marathons in them. Now when I try to wear an older pair of regular runners, they feel too clunky and heavy.
    I’m not sure if I’ll ever drop down to the Vibrams or to running barefoot, but I do really like the more minimal shoes.
    They could totally be a fad, there is certainly a lot of hype going on now about the barefoot movement. But I do really like my light weight shoes.

    • graham says:

      I agree on the weight issue, after my Kinveras there’s no way i could go back to a heavier shoe. Every ounce makes a difference when you’re running 42.2k.

  • mike says:

    will let you know! Ran Asics for a couple years and switched to NB minimum which is a low drop shoe for the last 6 months and just switched to the Merrell road glove (0 drop shoe) , cut down on my mileage this week and plan a slow ramp up.

  • graham says:

    I am training for the Bluenose marathon in Kinveras. Last year I was a bad heel striker in my Saucony Progrid Rides and wound up injured. To me, the Kinveras are a stepping stone to a minimalist shoe. I also have 2 pairs of five fingers that i was running 5k in before the winter. I also love the new balance MT10’s minimus shoe and have run 5 or 6k in those as well (mostly slow, recovery runs). The secret with these minimalist shoes is to slowly transition over to them. At this point I’m wearing them for 10% of my mileage. This spring, i’ll try 20% and so on. After wearing my five fingers and minumus shoes I find my toes cramped in the Kinveras.

  • Kate Kift says:

    Going barefoot whilst running is a very personal choice and the decision to run barefoot should not be undertaken lightly. It does require time to adjust and you do have to start from scratch.

    In the minimalist community we call shoes with NO heel or cushioning “minimal” shoes, i.e. Vibram Five Fingers. Shoes with a heel, or cushioning are what we view as “Reduced”running shoes – a bit like the old racing flats runners had in the 1950’s. i.e. Nike

    “Barefoot shoes” as a term, is a bone of contention because many purists (and I am not one, but I have been flamed enough by them) believe barefoot is best and that if you wear shoes you aren’t barefoot.

    Regardless — I am going off-track here — there is the ideology in the barefoot/minimalist community, that if you aren’t broken, then there is no reason to change unless you want to. If you are happy running in the shoes you have, then continue.

    However, what we do stress now, is that everyone — no matter what they wear on their feet — learns about running form. Find the most efficient and less stressful way to run. Admittedly it is easier to do with less on your feet but not impossible.

    Learning to run well is the key to a long running life with less injuries. Good running form shouldn’t be a fad. It’s learning your craft — honing your skills. Everyone should make this their aim. It’s only that way, we can spend more time drooling over the newest running gear and less time in the Doctor’s office.

    Thanks for reading my blog BTW. I secretly read yours too 😀

  • Dana says:

    Off the topic of barefoot/minimalist footwear: if you are continuing to have the numbness you described, it likely isn’t 100% being caused by the shoe. Numbness, tingling, burning or aching at the ball of the foot and/or into the toes is a very common problem for runners with misaligned metatarsal arches (arch that runs across the ball of the foot). Some diagnosis call this metatarsalgia, or more specifically a neuroma or nerve impingement. It can be easily taken care of by visiting your local pedorthist or chiropodist for placement of a metatarsal pad on the insole of your shoe. This pad realigns the metatarsal arch and reduces the impingement on the nerve. It does not mean you need orthotics or arch supports necessarily, but a small modification to the shoe will solve this issue…especially if you have tried replacing your shoes with no luck. No running shoes available on the market have this built in, and proper placement is critical for success.

  • Mike says:

    Kate is bang on, if it is not broke don’t fix it. I change to Fivefingers due to poor form that I seemed unable to break in regular shoes. My poor form lead to sore shines and knees, but after adapting my form with my new “shoes” and a little barefoot I am running further with next to no issues. This took the better part of a year before I ran a 5km race and even then it was slow. Now I am onto 10km and hopefully a half at the end of the summer. So fad I say no, but a different way to improve and learn better form, YES. Hopefully you can figure out a way to improve yours and aviod numb toes.

  • Paul says:

    Although I am a purist by Kate’s definition, I agree with what she’s saying. It’s very important for all runners to learn proper biomechanics, and better form. After you have good running form the type of shoe you use doesn’t really matter much. In fact you may be suprised how “little” of a shoe you can actually get away with.

    By the way it isn’t a fad, people have been running barefoot or in some type of minimalist shoe for millions of years. It’s actually the modern day running shoe that’s the fad (it’s only about 50 years old).

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