Home > Minimalist & Barefoot Running > Less is More, More or Less

Less is More, More or Less

I am a minimalist runner.  There.  My secret is out.  I’m one of those runners.  But before you judge, or imagine me as some nature crazed, hemp smoking lunatic running naked through the enchanted forest, hear me out.  First and foremost, I’m a runner just like you.  I run because I can, because I must.  I run because running moves me (pun intended).  The only difference between me and the majority of runners, including most of my heroes, is that my gait simply happens to favor a forefoot strike, instead of a heel strike.  That wasn’t always the case, though. 

In fact, I was a heel striker my whole life until about 18 months ago.  What happened that caused me to so radically alter how I run, you ask?  You probably already know the answer, but I’ll confirm your suspicion:  You guessed it, I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  For the one or maybe two runners left on the planet who have never heard of Mr. McDougall or read his magnum opus, Born to Run is the New York Times #1 Best Seller that launched a global minimalist running movement, which, as nearly as anyone can tell, is continuing to grow in popularity.  For the rest of you, the fact that you rolled your eyes when I disclosed that I’m a minimalist runner, and ground your teeth when I confirmed that it was due wholly to the impact of Born to Run on my running style, tells me that I’m not likely to win you over here.  In fact, I wouldn’t presume to even try.  I have no interest in engaging in what seems like an ongoing, and increasingly unfriendly debate among runners and other experts over minimalist running.  I will simply tell you that it works for me.  Like many runners, I suffered from running related injuries for years.  But then, after reading Born to Run, I engaged in a months-long transition from padded, supportive running shoes, to (again, you guessed it) Vibram Five Fingers, and I have been running almost injury free ever since. 

Here, I think a bit of clarification is in order.  First, I said above that I’m a minimalist runner.  I am not a barefoot runner.  Not that I have anything against barefoot runners.  In fact, I find them positively inspiring.  Greats like Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic Marathon sans shoes, or modern visionaries like Barefoot Ted whose efforts have led scores of runners to rediscover the sheer joy of forward self-propulsion are themselves evidence of the sheer genius of the human machine.  I simply lack the chutzpah of such running luminaries.  Besides that, I have neither the podiatric fortitude nor the desire to endure the countless shards of glass, rocks, or other debris in my soles that would be necessary to toughen up my gringo feet (yes, that’s another Born to Run reference).  So, like most runners, I wear shoes.  Granted, my shoes have little pockets for each individual toe, but aside from making me look like a ninja-in-training, they’re just another (altogether different kind of) running shoe.  But that’s another post for another time.

Second, it’s not as though when I read the book, the clouds parted, a bright lite shone down, and I heard the distant beating of Tarahumara drums (seriously, you two, read the book so I don’t have to keep explaining my references) compelling me to take up the mantle of my barefooted running ancestors.  The book did speak to me, though.  Like most runners, I’ve suffered my share of injuries.  So the notion that simply changing my form could help seemed too good to be true.  Actually, it was.  But not for the reasons you might think.

I did not immediately shed my thick, padded, supportive running shoes.  Instead, I ran in those shoes, but on my midfoot.  At first, for very short distances.  This gave my feet and calves time to adapt to the new stresses.  I took the first 3 months REALLY slow.  By the time I could run 2 miles comfortably, I removed my insoles and repeated the process until I could run comfortably for 3 miles.  My lovely bride gave me a pair of VFF Bikilas for Christmas, 2010, and I incorporated them into my training by running in them once or twice a week.  Eventually, I was running in the crazy looking toe shoes exclusively.  I never experienced any pain or injury, until…. 

I eventually decided to try a different “minimalist” shoe.  One with little support, but with a wide toe box and also with a bit of a heel rise.  This was a huge mistake.  By the time I donned the new shoes, my gait had changed so dramatically that I was unable to immediately change my stride to account for the marginally raised heel.  After a single week, my right medial meniscus was torn.  I’ve now recovered (mostly), and, needless to say, I’ve returned to my trusty Vibrams.  Actually, I’m splitting my runs between the VFF Bikila’s and another actual zero-drop shoe that I’m really digging so far.  More about that in an upcoming post on running gear.

Anyway, the moral of the story for me has been that minimalist running works…for me, and has helped me become a mostly injury-free runner.  But not all that glitters is minimalist gold.  I had to find that out the hard way.  Gotta run.

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