The Minimalist Running Shoes Quest
Every runner should look into minimalist running shoes. They are lighter, have a smaller heel, promote a healthier running stride, and some of these minimalist shoes look pretty cool.
Before you run off to the store and get a pair, make sure you follow a few steps along the way. You aren’t going to be successful with these types of shoes unless first you take a good hard look at your own running stride. Here are my tips to make the transition into minimalist running shoes nice and smooth.
1. Work on your foot strike. You have to strike the ground with your midfoot first, not your heel with a minimalist shoe. This sounds simple, but it has taken me over two years to perfect my new an improved healthier and faster running stride. Yes, I did say “healthier.” A more efficient stride actually decreases your chance of injury. Minimalist shoes can help you get there.
2. Go to a running specialty store and run in some before you buy a pair. Don’t settle on a pair that doesn’t feel right. I own Vibram KSO’s and don’t really enjoy them that much. I also tried out Newton’s and didn’t like how they felt. Right now I am running with the Saucony Kinvara 2 and they feel fabulous.
3. Once you have your minimalist running shoes, wear these shoes for faster workouts first. If you are running with the correct form, more stress will be on your calves. This will make them hurt quite a bit. You will have to build up the strength gradually so you don’t get injured.
That’s it for my tips. It really is that simple. The biggest step really is improving your form. You will have to shorten your stride and be lighter on your feet. Quicker shorter strides will help you land right under your body with your forefoot first. Then you gently push off with you heel gently tapping the ground once, or not touching the ground at all.
It sounds easy in theory, but I have been working on this for over two years now. Improving and keeping good running form is something all runners should do. Excellent form means less energy is spent, yet you will travel faster. Think about that for a second. You could run a faster race with the exact same training plan if you improved your form.
Here is my whole story as I worked towards better running form and minimalist running shoes. Two years ago, I received a free Chi Running book and DVD. I was deciding on if I should promote their program here at Tips4Running.com. After reading the material and watching the entire video, I agreed with most of the concepts they were after, and wrote an article about it. Am I a Tai Chi Master now? Far from it. The most important thing that I took away from the DVD and Book was that better running form can lead to less injuries.
A few of the concepts that Danny Dreyer, the creator of Chi Running, didn’t really sit well with me, so I did some more research. Along the way, I was running with more of a midfoot strike. This really made my calves hurt, but I gradually built up the strength in them.
My continued search lead me to a very informative website called, The Science of Running. The author behind this site is Steve Magness. As I read some of his very scientific studies and reports, I was able to apply this knowledge to my own running form. I even contacted Steve and interviewed him about running form and several other running related issues.
After talking with Steve, I took a major leap and tried barefoot running for a bit. To be honest, I didn’t really like it. Barefoot zealots want you to run on hard pavement and build up your distances gradually. I started at 1/4 of a mile and worked my way up to one mile barefoot.
After a month of this (I was running with my shoes for most of my runs, but would take them off for the final portion), I decided that Vibram Five Fingers were the way to go. What are Vibram Five Fingers you ask? It basically is like a glove for your foot. They even have a slot for each toe. I still followed the advice of several barefoot runners and ran with my Vibram KSO (keep stuff out) shoes for distance runs on hard surfaces. It still hurt and I wasn’t patient enough to stick it out.
Instead I started using my Vibram’s for trail runs. I still do on occasion. The barefoot purists say this won’t help you run with perfect form. The soft ground will correct mistakes that the pavement instantly teaches you is wrong. They maybe right, but running just wasn’t that enjoyable on the pavement barefoot or with Vibrams.
Back to the drawing board for me. Over the last winter, instead of running, I just played a lot of basketball. I heard about shoes like Newtons, and though this might be the answer for me. Newton shoes have a lower heel drop. This means that the heel height of the shoes cushioning is very similar to the heel height of the forefoot area. In most shoes there is around 20 millimeters of cushioning by the forefoot, and around 30 millimeters in the heel. This equal a 10 millimeter heel drop. Minimalist shoes have less cushioning in the heel so there isn’t any difference in height from the heel to the midfoot.
Back to the shoe store I went, Performance Running Outfitters in Brookfield, WI to be specific. I tried on some Newtons and gave them a spin on the treadmill… and I hated them! They felt awful. They have these things on the bottom of the shoe by the forefoot area called “Actuator Lugs” that protrude from the outer sole. Landing on them felt awkward. This doesn’t mean they won’t work for you I guess minimalist running shoes weren’t for me.
Not so fast, I found out. I read some more and found that other shoe companies were falling in line and started producing shoes with smaller heels. One month later I was back to Performance Running Outfitters. I tried on some shoes and picked the Saucony Kinvara 2 model. They are light, fit right, and look tight. That last sentence was pretty ridiculous sounding, but it is true. These minimalist shoes work for me.
I continue to run with a midfoot strike. My calves and the rest of my leg muscles have adapted. The biggest bonus in all of this is I am finally convinced that I will avoid injury. In an act of faith I registered for my first competitive race in almost 20 years. Come late August, I will be running my first ever half marathon. Since I ran the mile and half mile in college, I didn’t want to run a race that was short like a 5k. Whatever my finishing time will be is a new personal record. Maybe I will build off of this race and start competing in several road races. Who knows? One thing is for sure, my quest for minimalist running shoes has led me into another exciting running chapter in my life. I’m no longer Coach Tief this summer. I am a competitor!
Want some tips on how to improve your running form? Watch the video below.
– Written by David Tiefenthaler