Brewing Barefoot Brouhaha?
March 23, 2011 10:26 AM   Subscribe

A few years back MeFi'er freshwater_pr0n covered the burgeoning trend of barefoot & minimalist footwear running. The trend has continued with Fila now producing a look-alike to the popular Vibram Five Fingers shoes, but the jury is still out, scientifically speaking, regarding the impact of running in little to no footwear. One study points to low loading rate as the potential key to injuries, while longtime running researcher Benno M. Nigg's new text says just the opposite and a third (excerpted) study seems to point out that a change in footfall/strike correlates to footwear but may not reduce injuries. Given the shifting scientific analysis, runners are left with impassioned testimonials and heated debates. Nigg's advice might ring truest: shoe comfort is "probably the most important variable".

I was going to add "your mileage may vary" but I'm not quite sure how much leeway new posters are given for puns & humor.
posted by mostlymuppet (62 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
When I think of barefoot runners, I think of Hi Guy. You walk/jog/bike along the Lake Front Path in Chicago, you've passed him at some point. He likes to help keep the path clear for other bikers. Anyway, his bike always has signs for his website, I looked it up one day to discover the guy has run countless marathons barefoot (or in flip-flops).

Nothing much else to the story than that. He's just who I think of after reading about barefoot running.
posted by Windigo at 10:35 AM on March 23, 2011

I'm 51 now, with chronic pain in my right foot, right knee and left hip that I'm pretty sure is directly connected to jogging on sidewalks in the wrong shoes back in my 20s.

Life is long. Don't be careless. It can hurt you long term.
posted by philip-random at 10:37 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the comments! This is my first post and I was very nervous publishing it.

That said, I haven't made the switch to Vibram or other minimalist footwear but I have started changing to a more midfoot/forefoot strike and my bunion doesn't feel so bad anymore.
posted by mostlymuppet at 10:43 AM on March 23, 2011

Ha, I just wrote an article on minimalist running shoes that'll run this Sunday in the Oregonian. Based on my purely personal anecdotal data set, I can say that 1) switching from hugely padded, anti-roll jogging shoes to a pair of Nike Free Run+, 2) exchanging my lifelong prescription arch supports for some $7 metatarsal pads, and 3) taking a class in Chi Running means that I can now jog comfortably, several days a week, without feeling like I got hit by a bus afterward (usually) - and my feet, ankles and arches don't ache and cramp constantly like they used to.

YMMV of course. Not sure I'll ever be ready for barefoot, aside from trails and beaches, maybe. But the argument against heel-striking and overpadded shoes just makes so much sense. (Going to see this guy in Portland helped convince me too.)
posted by gottabefunky at 10:45 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

One of the main points seems to be that since going minimalist/barefoot lets you feel the ground more, you naturally start to run with a lighter stride. You have no choice, really. Kind of sucks at first, making the switch, but once you do you're like, what the hell have I been doing all this time?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:48 AM on March 23, 2011

Of course, after a lifetime of arch support and padded shoes, some people may not be able to make the switch. At 38, I feel like I'm right on the line.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:49 AM on March 23, 2011

From the (slight) research I've done, a few things can be surmised:

* Bare foot training for running can be beneficial - lots of people train bare foot (or close to it), once a week or so? I do a lot of gym work barefoot, none of it running, though.

* The idea that your average shoe actually does a great job of supporting your foot, also does a great job at weakening your foot. It's the same idea of why you shouldn't wear a knee support, if you don't need it. If muscles don't have to be strong, they well, won't.

* Shoes - and what works for you and I, is pretty individual.

* Also remember the Rule of Hype: Don't Believe It.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:49 AM on March 23, 2011

The constraints of the posting format here (and my newbie unfamiliarity) may have made me bury the lede. Scientists seem to be struggling to understand whether/if shoe technology throughout the years has any effect whatsoever on running injuries.
posted by mostlymuppet at 10:50 AM on March 23, 2011

The biggest problem I can see with the toe shoes is being seen running in them.
posted by splatta at 10:51 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

The biggest problem I can see with the toe shoes is being seen running in them.

They definitely attract a lot of attention. One time I was running in a pair of Vibrams in DC and Owen Wilson rode by on a bike and asked me about them. True story!
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:54 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is all just magic bullet mania.

If only I can find/buy/meet/eat/believe the one magic thing/person/food/ideology my life/relationship/health/longevity/happiness will be awesome.

The thing is that chasing magic bullets means you spend all your time reading completely stupid magazines like mens health that just have goal of firing an endless stream of magic bullets at you so you stay in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction and will consume what their advertisers have to offer. Then you have to work to buy the shit thus negating any joy/health/longevity/happiness you might have gained from the snake oil in the first place.
posted by srboisvert at 10:54 AM on March 23, 2011 [11 favorites]

I get stopped on the street pretty much every time I go out in public and asked about my Vibrams. If I loved them less it would probably bug me.

The best, though, was when I went to the airport and put them through the x-ray machine. Apparently seeing a pair of feet rolling through just melted the poor security guard's brain. The look on her face, and the faces of the three people she waved over to see, made up for any amount of minor hassle.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:04 AM on March 23, 2011 [12 favorites]

I think the biggest lesson to be learned from the barefoot running hype is that no matter what shoes you wear (or don't wear) they're not going to do the work for you. I was running with knee pain in a pair of overpadded running shoes that were supposed to fix my gait "problem" until I switched to Vibrams. Of course, it also probably helped that I halved my mileage and slowly built it back up following the recommended 10 percent increase in mileage or intensity per week. Now I run in the Vibrams just because I think they're more fun.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:04 AM on March 23, 2011

srboisvert, you should probably go for a run.
posted by HumanComplex at 11:09 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

ultraviolet catastrophe, perhaps you can take credit for this!
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:10 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Totally one bit of anecdote is not a data set etc. BUT
I am an unfit reluctant runner. Started wearing five fingers and did what was suggested - started out slow and short.* Within a fortnight was running a 2.4K minutes faster than usual. Soon was running longer and faster than before. Only change - the vibrams. They changed the way I run, and made it better. Of course, probably not the same for all.

*So much of the backlash over barefoot/near-barefoot running that I have read is 'serious' runners switching straight to barefoot and trying to continue their 'serious' running just the same. Like taking up running in the first place, you have to ease in to it or you are going to injure yourself.
posted by Megami at 11:13 AM on March 23, 2011

I run in Nike Free shoes now, after running in over-padded Asics and stopping from knee/hip pain. I also used to roll my ankles regularly. Since switching to the minimal shoes I haven't rolled my ankle, and if I feel a twinge in knee/hip pain it's usually because I'm falling back on the old heel strike type of gait.

You definitely will need to build up some muscles in your feet and legs that weren't being used previously thanks to the "support" of your old shoes, but that's the whole point. What happens to an arch if you "support" the keystone from below? The whole thing loses it's strength, same deal with your feet.
posted by splatta at 11:16 AM on March 23, 2011

Strictly anecdotal evidence here, too. I was given Born to Run as a birthday present some years back. It is a fast fun read and by the end I decided to try running in old, beat up shoes. My knee pain just went away. I picked up a pair of Nike Frees (which I now wear for races to avoid the irksome Vibram comments.) Even better speed and no pain. And lastly I got some Vibrams and started wearing them for AM runs in the neighborhood with my dog. Ahhhh.

The key to bare/minimal footwear running in my experience so far is running properly, i.e. foot landing under the body on forefoot or midfoot.

I for one am never returning to buying or wearing structured running shoes.
posted by bearwife at 11:17 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Back in the 1970s when I started running we called these minimalist shoes "Nike waffle trainers." There was a minimalist movement even then - running in US army combat boots and there were plenty of devoted boot runners. Don't see them anymore and I'm pretty sure this fad will pass too.
posted by three blind mice at 11:19 AM on March 23, 2011

Hilarious, monju_bosatu. That was about a month after I ran into him. He basically asked me how I like the shoes and I told him that they were great once you get used to them and then we exchanged a few more words and he rode on and I was like, was that Owen Wilson? Afterward I wished I had told him that I'm a big fan of Bottle Rocket.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:20 AM on March 23, 2011

I'm really contemplating switching. I've just gotten my self a lovely little case of plantar fasciitis. I'm doing the stretching and all, but it's still a problem. My friend who runs marathon distances weekly on asphalt (and she's the same age as me) swears by them.

I mean, a barely run 10 miles a week at my best, but I really need something to change.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:22 AM on March 23, 2011

How much does size play into this? All the people I know who run in Vibrams or other minimalist footwear are on the smaller side. I worry that if I tried it, at 210 pounds, that it wouldn't work nearly as well.

I do have a pair of Vibrams that I wear to walk around in (but not for running). I like them, but I wish the top was less thick and more meshy. I find myself noticing hot feet a lot more in them than in regular socks and shoes. Maybe I need to pick up some of the compatible socks to absorb the sweat?
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:25 AM on March 23, 2011

I bought my first pair of vibrams a month ago after two friends of mine preached their virtues for close to a year. After every other day pacing back in forth in my apartment, I can almost walk a mile with no discomfort. I expect the adjustment to take a long time but am presently planning to see it out. I think the theory makes logical sense. If it turns out that time tells us it was just a fad, it seems harmless and inexpensive to me.

I will not be wearing them in public any time soon. The guy who fitted me said he only wears regular shoes to work, does 15 mile runs in the damn things. This is presently beyond my understanding.
posted by bukvich at 11:40 AM on March 23, 2011

What has bothered me a bit about the shoes versus no shoes issue is that some runners use orthotics to make neutral, or right, that is, a correction, of what podiatrists suggest is a foot not in the best running condition. Whereas the no shoes folks say the problem is caused by shoes, the other side argues that the foot is the issue and requires the insert to correct a problem. Sort of which came first issue, and I have not even fund podiatrists to be sure or clear on this issue though they might have a vested interest in supplying inserts for big bucks.
posted by Postroad at 11:42 AM on March 23, 2011

I hate my Vibrams. They seem to absorb all the fetid crap from every puddle in NYC. They are ugly and hard to get on and off.

The funny thing is that people have been making nice minimalist footwear for a looong time that doesn't involve wrangling your little toe into a tiny pocket. They are called things like moccasins. I have some Footskins moccasins I wear almost every single day it's not wet. They are amazingly comfortable, I can run in them, and my feet have gotten much stronger. For rain and snow I have some water resistant Terra Plana minimalist boots.

I ran in the NYC Barefoot Run last year and I was very impressed by Harvard Anthropologist Dan Lieberman. He ran over 22 miles with no shoes whatsoever on concrete and looked mysteriously happy.
posted by melissam at 11:47 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I never run, but I got a pair of Vibrams for hiking. If you spend your whole life walking in padded shoes you forget what it's like to feel the surfaces you walk on. I wouldn't wear them all the time, and there's a particular size of gravel that's uncomfortable to walk on in them, but they're a lot of fun.
posted by echo target at 11:50 AM on March 23, 2011

I'm not really a runner, but was motivated to get some Vibrams due to some knee pain issues. The reasoning was that my gait would change from landing on my heel to landing on the balls of my feet; indeed, after a month or two the knee pain had completely vanished. I wear them pretty much anytime it's not raining.

In fact, I also wore them in France, where I was asked about them on the subway pretty much every day. And when I told people I got them in california, they'd be all like, "Ooooh. I see."
posted by kaibutsu at 12:14 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

(I have completed three marathons wearing running shoes, and I wouldn't rule out Vibram shoes or similar.)

I worked at the Philadelphia Marathon last fall. A young guy near the Falls Bridge saw us hanging out in our white pickup truck, all stickered up, and asked us if we had any duct tape. Of course we do, we're the crew. We gave him a roll. He took off his Vibrams, and began busily duct taping his brutally blistered feet. They looked like raw hamburger. A Philadelphia Fire Department EMT stood nearby and watched, shaking her head and grimacing.
posted by fixedgear at 12:19 PM on March 23, 2011

fixedgear, my guess would be that he had bought the shoes right before the race and didn't train properly in them. That's what happened to my feet for the first few weeks that I wore them, but now it isn't a problem. I ran a half marathon in the rain in the most basic pair of Vibrams and didn't have any issues.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:23 PM on March 23, 2011

I really thought about tossing my conventional running shoes for the 'barefoot' variety. I buy the argument that God* built us to run barefoot.

I decided to ditch the plans and stick with my current shoes when I realized God probably didn't build us to run with 40+ pounds of extra weight. Until I get skinny, I'll stick with what's been working for me.

* used Proverbially (see what I did there?)
posted by tippiedog at 12:25 PM on March 23, 2011

I am the Walrus, I'm 6' 3" and 200 lbs and most of the folks on my routes & in my gym who wear them are grown men over 5' 10" which is why I've contemplated buying something minimal/barefoot.
posted by mostlymuppet at 12:25 PM on March 23, 2011

ultraviolet catastrophe that's what I figured, but when the EMT asked him he said 'happens all the time, no biggie.'
posted by fixedgear at 12:39 PM on March 23, 2011

I've had my Vibrams for almost two years and I love them. I'm not a heavy runner, but I did do a ten-mile hike in the Ozarks in them once. When I was finished, the soles of my feet were killing me, but surprisingly, my feet stopped hurting very quickly. Like, in the car on the way back to the campsite quickly.
posted by vibrotronica at 12:44 PM on March 23, 2011

I don't run. Can't speak for performance. But I love Vibrams because they let me go close to barefoot where barefoot is not allowed. I can go "barefoot" across hot Texas blacktop (tho lingering for long gets uncomfortable) and across sticker-y grass. Comfort and flexibility are king. I love being able to feel the ground under my feet.

It wouldn't be a cool new thing without an inevitable backlash. I'm sticking with my Vibrams!
posted by cross_impact at 12:58 PM on March 23, 2011

Attention smart running people: please help me figure out what kind of running shoe I should buy over in AskMe. Thank you.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:01 PM on March 23, 2011

I wear Vibrams for running, and I like the concept a lot, but I've come to the conclusion that toes aren't really designed to have stuff stuck in between them. The actual toe separation doesn't seem to accomplish anything, that I can tell -- the rubber soles are still stiff enough that I can't really move my toes independently, very much. Mainly the toe pockets are sources of blisters for me.

I'm presently looking for something with the fit and light structure of a vibram, but without toe pockets. If anyone has personal testimonials, I'd love to hear them.
posted by rusty at 1:07 PM on March 23, 2011

I'm a moderately serious runner having booked a number of half marathons and I'm currently training for my first marathon. I've had issues with shin splints on and off for maybe the last ten years. When the snow here on the east coast got bad I took a couple of light training weeks. When I started to ramp up, my shin splints kicked in again, and I started to worry that I wouldn't be able to put in the miles I needed to.

I had been reading "Born to Run" (a book which I have mixed feelings about, but mostly enjoyed), so I decided to give minimal footwear a go.

I looked at the Vibrams and the Frees, but ultimately decided to go a different direction. I bought a pair of racing flats. These weigh about half what my normal running shoes do and cost about half as much as well. They have no arch support and the soles are thin and basically flat.

My initial runs went well. I feel like I'm in tune enough with my legs that I can tell when something is soreness I can work through, and when I am actually injuring myself, so I just slowly started working up my mileage again.

I'm about a month in, and the results are good. My shin splints are gone. For the first three weeks my calves were very, very sore, which I had heard was to be expected. I did an 18 mile run last week, and the only thing that bothered me was the fact that I'm striking with the front part of my foot puts more stress on my toes, leaving them a bit sore, which is an odd feeling.

But all in all, I'm sold. I'm doing a 22 mile run this weekend, so hopefully that will go well too.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 1:19 PM on March 23, 2011

rusty, I have found the separated toes to be beneficial. On my second toe of my right foot, I have a severe callous on my second toe of my right foot, where apparently it runs against my bg toe (still trying to figure out why this just started) but wearing the Vibrams really makes it feel better.
posted by I am the Walrus at 1:20 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

The separated toes give you more control over your foot, more gripping ability as it were. That's why Vibrams are my preferred shoe for hiking and walking on gravel and underwater walking, as well as AM runs on pavement.

I'd add that I've run far enough in my Vibrams that I'm mystified how someone could get holes in them and turn their foot into hamburger.
posted by bearwife at 1:32 PM on March 23, 2011

For those interested in minimalist footwear other than the Five Fingers, this might be of interest: More geared to adventure/hiking type wear.

I forgot to mention that I have worn my five fingers for hiking as well. It is a bit weird at first (previously wore Scarpas for hill walking and hiking) and if you are on gravel you REALLY feel it, but once you are used to it, it's good.
posted by Megami at 1:37 PM on March 23, 2011

I run a fair bit in standard running shoes and am taking the "if it's not broken, don't fix it" approach.

That and the look of misery on a fellow racer's face as he slithered around at mile 30 of a very muddy 50-miler have kept me from venturing into 5-finger land.
posted by dolface at 1:39 PM on March 23, 2011

I do mostly sprint work and martial arts training and I use the Nike Frees. I'm on my second pair. I like them because they help strengthen the arch of the foot. The first month I would wear them when I would do 20 minutes of shadowboxing. By the end my feet would be sore so I would then roll my feet out on a softball. Along with some proprioception exercises, I found that it helped me get over my flat feet-- without orthotics.
posted by wuwei at 1:41 PM on March 23, 2011

I've been fitted for running/walking shoes multiple times, at the fancy running stores, and I CAN NOT FIND a pair that fits my feet properly and doesn't result in excruciating pain. I do better in cheap-o sneakers with no arch shaping or anything, or in plain flat sandals. I'm barefoot all the time when I'm at home.

I've been thinking about Vibrams for a while, since the padded, supportive running shoes don't work for me AND make my feet feel hot and uncomfortably heavy. But since I'm not ALREADY a runner, I hesitate to spend money on shoes for running when I have no idea whether I'd like running if it didn't end up with me crying tears of foot-pain agony from ill-fitting shoes. I'd probably hate it less, but I don't know if I'd like it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:43 PM on March 23, 2011

I'm 51 now, with chronic pain in my right foot, right knee and left hip that I'm pretty sure is directly connected to jogging on sidewalks in the wrong shoes back in my 20s.

Life is long. Don't be careless. It can hurt you long term.

Seriously. I've done a lot of digging around the various shoe designs and their impact on foot/leg health, and have since adhered to a strict 'never run anywhere' policy. If I need to get anywhere faster than a saunter, I'll remember to bring my car keys.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:09 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

You know what FiveFingers are great for? TRAIL RUNNING.

Sure, it hurts like hell at first because you're plowing your feet into sharp rocks and roots, and at some points you find yourself walking across tough sections, but eventually you adapt and you find yourself prancing through the woods like a goddamn forest nymph.

And you know what? It's awesome. I have a friend who I'm on par with as far as running ability goes, so when we go for a run on a trail we can generally stay within sight of each other. Most runs are totally noncompetitive. We've stopped wearing watches or GPS devices and have just focused on running through the woods as competently and smoothly as possible.

Some days are short, some are long, and sometimes it gets competitive and we haul ass chasing each other down, not knowing if they're just around the bend feeling like they're going to puke or if they're cruising twice as fast as you, just destroying you because they're having a totally rad day and you're not.

Shit man, trail running is the thing.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:13 PM on March 23, 2011 [16 favorites]

I have Vibrams and I love them. But I have to admit, when I first got them, within a month I was diagnosed with a stress fracture.

That said, 6 months later, I started running in them again. No pain yet, knock on wood. Trying to take it easier and not break my foot.
posted by CrazyJoel at 2:59 PM on March 23, 2011

srboisvert, you should probably go for a run.

I run every second day and today is my off day.

I don't have any issue with exercise. I have an issue with faddish exercise equipment and thinking it will makes things better for you. I wear running tights in the winter and lower-middle cost running shoes all year long. I got past a lifetime of shin splints stopping my running attempts not by buying some shoes or finding a secret but by being reasonable about exercise and following a program to gradually increase my running over a couple of months. No secret and no gimmick. That's it. You don't need anything fancy.

I cycle 15+ km a day riding a mtb I bought for £10 off ebay wearing cycling tights and rain jacket. You don't need better than that unless you are racing. I maintain my upper body strength with pushups and chips on a £10 door frame bar. I lost 50lbs just counting calories and not doing atkins, south beach, paleo or wahoo diets.

You seriously don't need all the gimmick crap. I got in the best shape of my life after I stopped reading Mens Health and worrying about this or that technique/diet/equipment and just went and did the dumbass basic stuff.

If you want this crap at least admit you are absorbing a mental Happy Meal. It's like a fitness version of Sex in the City. Also if you are evangelizing a shoe style then I suggest you pause for a moment and think about that.
posted by srboisvert at 3:00 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Until this jury reaches a decision, I'm just not running. Imagine if I ran and it turned out I had the wrong shoes.
posted by oxford blue at 3:04 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was just thinking about this very topic, because I need to buy some dress shoes for a conference and would really like to find some minimalist dress shoes. Any advice?
posted by rebent at 3:05 PM on March 23, 2011

Onitsuka Tigers Tai Chi model is a nice lightweight, simple leather flat for running that is a bit less strange-looking than the Vibrams, and at a lower price. Have been able to get up to 8 mile runs on them without any joint pain, and my shin splints are a thing of the past.

zappos link:
posted by fraxil at 3:13 PM on March 23, 2011

I weigh quite a bit more than 200lbs and run in vibrams just fine, though I'll admit that I walk more than I run. (It's not my feet or knees that are the issue, it's that I find that the bouncing adipose tissue is uncomfortable.) I didn't experience the problems that a lot of people report, but I also already go barefoot as much as I can get away with. The Vibrams are just the least amount of shoe I could find that doesn't flop around (how do people stand flip-flops?) I certainly like being able to feel the ground without worrying about broken glass.

I won't go so far as to say that barefoot running is some magic solution to gait issues, but they are the most comfortable walking/jogging shoe I've worn. Whether this is because of the magic of barefoot or that nobody in the freaking world makes a women's sneaker that's wide enough in the toebox without sliding around at my heels, I couldn't say. (Triangular feet run in my family. Argh.)
posted by Karmakaze at 3:39 PM on March 23, 2011

Rusty: I am absolutely in love with my Saucony Shay XC Flats. No toe separation and a sole very nearly as this as Vibrams.
posted by 256 at 4:22 PM on March 23, 2011

I ran approx 800km in racing flats until I got a terrible case of burstitis/capsulitis in the ball of my foot that prevented me running for nearly six months. A podiatrist fixed me - despite my skepticism. I get the impression he makes a lot of money from barefoot converts.

I have nothing against barefoot style running - it certainly took care of my ITB, though at a crushing cost - however I think it's really important to stress the ambiguities surrounding most research into shoes, and the multitude of vested interests caught up on promoting the next big thing.

The reality is all our feet are different - hell, my left foot is different to my right - and different feet respond to different things in different ways. Not everybody is biomechanically suitable for five fingers; just as not everybody is biomechanically suitable for stability shoes, and trying to jam a square peg in a round hole can result in serious injury, and the depression that accompanies it.

I think the take-out is that any kind of running and running style needs to be adopted slowly and steadily, and everyone should pay attention when their body is sending a message. It doesn't matter if you're in flats, clodhoppers, or clown shoes. The diversity is something to be celebrated rather than quashed.
posted by smoke at 4:51 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: prancing through the woods like a goddamn forest nymph
posted by bwg at 5:34 PM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

I've had my vibrams for 2 years now and love them. I use them for occasional jogging, more hiking and pottering around. I used to run around barefoot as a kid, and this is the closest I've come to it. Yes, I get weird looks, especially in China (look at the gwai lo with the weird feet); but they are supremely comfortable and my trainers haven't been used since I got them.
They do require a break in period as you get used to them, but I'm a convert.
posted by arcticseal at 8:41 PM on March 23, 2011

I loved Born to Run and yeah, it's anecdotal, but running quit sucking once I switched to doing it barefoot (well, with padded socks only). It was painful and unpleasant before.
posted by Nattie at 8:53 PM on March 23, 2011

just an fyi for anyone considering buying a pair of these things, REI currently has a 20% off for members, so instead of $100 you can get a pair for $80..
posted by dancestoblue at 12:42 AM on March 24, 2011

Key thing here is it's not the shoes but the part of the foot that strikes the ground first.

I've run since high school and up until three years ago was a dedicated heel striker. I eased into forefoot striking at age 53 and I can note that knee pain vanished.

I'm 6'2' and weigh around 200 lbs, but I don't think that height or weight make a difference on whether this is going to work for someone.

Once one converts to this style of running it just becomes obvious that heel striking with padded heel shoes is wrong.

Without writing a treatise, pre-1970's track shoes had basically no built-up heels and were designed for forefoot landing - it was the way everybody ran until Phil Knight and Bob Browerman redesigned the running shoe in the early 1970's...and Browerman, while a wonderful track coach, wasn't really much of a runner himself. Phil Knight was an excellent businessman.

There were no long term studies that analyzed the effect of heel striking on a padded, built-up heel. The only long term study that I'm aware of was the course of human evolution which developed the foot that we all share.

The best way to find out how to run with that foot is to go outside on a dirt path and run on it barefoot. Within a few hundred yards of starting one will adapt a running style that incorporates forefoot striking.
posted by mygoditsbob at 5:31 AM on March 24, 2011

Impassioned testimonials, for sure. I went barefoot or near barefoot all day, every day for years until pain snuck up on me. It took me a long time to realize that what I needed was a pair of "normal" shoes, but once I gave in it was shocking how quickly my feet stopped hurting.
posted by anaelith at 9:08 AM on March 24, 2011

I'm a reasonably serious trail runner who's run with Chris McDougall and all those folks -- I actually passed up an opportunity to have dinner with Caballo Blanco last night, although I've met that dude before. I think a lot of people kinda missed the point of the book... it's not about minimalist footwear or something you can buy... it's more about getting out, hitting the trails, and running free. Trail running is fucking awesome.

Now, to some extent, all of us are going with more minimal shoes in a general sense... and while the Vibrams are still relatively rare in longer trail races, they're not particularly uncommon, either. I still recommend the Brooks Cascadia to anyone who's just getting into running trails, particularly in AZ.

... I mean, in the end, you should always go with what works... but a lot of us who do ultramarathons are really loving the newest offerings from New Balance -- principally, the MT101 and the Minimus series. They're lighter than the Vibrams, but offer much better protection.
posted by ph00dz at 10:18 AM on March 24, 2011

I am the Walrus said, How much does size play into this? All the people I know who run in Vibrams or other minimalist footwear are on the smaller side. I worry that if I tried it, at 210 pounds, that it wouldn't work nearly as well.

I weigh in at 220 lbs., and have been wearing my Vibrams for almost 2 years. I haven't had any problems with them, and I've run up to 2 miles in them. FWIW, I have flat feet, which I believe makes the transition easier. If you have high arches, I think the transition period might be longer; it seems that people with high arches have a harder times getting accustomed to wearing them (that is purely anecdotal; I have no facts or figures to back that up.)
posted by KillaSeal at 11:41 AM on March 24, 2011

What smoke said.

I got all excited about the barefoot/minimalist thing 18 months ago and bought myself a pair of Newtons. I took my time switching over and tried to concentrate on good form with a mid-foot strike. For four months I was like a religious convert, telling everyone how it had cured my hip/back pain and everything else. Then I started getting an ache in my arch that turned into a chronic issue for the past year. I finally went to a podiatrist recently who told me I'd damaged my plantar fascia. Switching to supportive shoes and orthotics (for day-to-day wear too, not just running) has made a massive difference. Fortunately he thinks if we off-load the stress for a couple months, I should be able to heal without having to stop running.

I still wish I could be one of you fleet-footed nymphs zooming along trails in your Vibrams. But I learned the hard way it's not for me right now...
posted by web-goddess at 4:55 PM on March 24, 2011

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