Running shoes, and a journey into minimalist running.

Hello, my name is Lisa and I’m a shoe-aholic. I’m not alone in this either. There are quite a few other runners out there just like me. I’m so happy when I read shoe reviews from other bloggers, because they are usually better than reviews from magazines. I also troll websites like Zappos, Shoebuy and Onlineshoes to read about what people really think of certain shoe models I might be interested in.

Where it all started…I’ve always been a runner, ever since middle school and high school. I was also an orthotics wearer. Orthotics are prescription shoe inserts custom molded to your feet. In middle school when I was running the mile for the Presidential fitness test my heel would hurt so badly when I got done I’d be limping. I likely had plantar fasciitis. Even back then I was trying to run the fastest time I could for the mile test. I don’t recall what shoes I wore back then though. Whatever they were they didn’t cut it. At one of my scoliosis check orthopedist visits I asked about my feet. The Dr. declared them flat and ordered orthotics. From a very young age all I ever knew was sticking these thick inserts into shoes. If you’ve ever worn orthotics you can sympathize with me when I say they suck. I always looked like I was wearing shoes that were to big, because I was buying shoes a size or two bigger than normal just to fit the orthotic in there. No cute flats here.

Fast forward many years to 2011, I started running long distances. In 2011 I did my first 10 mile race, and went on to complete 5 half marathons, and start training for my first marathon. I read “Born to Run” and it literally changed my view of my feet, endurance, and my view that I really could run long distances, we really are born to run. That book is sometimes touted as the book that started the barefoot running/minimalist shoe revolution, but it’s also an incredible story of a man’s journey to run in the Copper Canyons of Mexico with the Tarahumara Indians. If you don’t know what “minimalist” is, I’m sure you may have seen those “ugly toe shoes” as many like to call them. Otherwise known as Vibram Five Fingers, and yes I’ve owned a pair (read past tense).

There are two schools of thought with regards to running shoes, possibly three. The barefoot/minimal shoe camp believes you should feel the ground and have as little as possible on your feet when you run and this will help naturally improve your running form, allow your foot to move as it was naturally designed to while running, and help reduce the chance of injury. The old school running shoe design (think jacked up heel) supports the school of thought that you need a super amount of cushioning under your foot to keep you from injury, and promotes a heavier heal strike. I’m in a third camp. I think you should where whatever you are comfortable in, though I buy 4mm drop running shoes exclusively now which I’ll explain later.

When I started running long distances I went through a variety of shoes. I started with “support” shoes, with my orthotics inside. It was almost like I was running with bricks on my feet. I tried two different pairs of Asics Kayano, moved on to two pairs of Brooks Ravenna, and eventually had two different pairs of Asics Kinsei. I was able to complete my first marathon in a time of 4 hours and 2 minutes which I was extremely pleased with except I ended up injured. I decided to take a couple months off after the marathon to regroup. After reading “Born to Run” I then read everything I could get my hands on with regards to minimal running. I came upon a website that has revolutionized my running and training. The Sock Doc In June of 2012 I decided to go minimal, and I haven’t looked back, and consequently have been running injury free ever since.

After my marathon I went to an orthopedist to get a nagging knee pain checked. His main advice was take some time off from running to rest. I had him look at my feet while there and he said I didn’t need orthotics, and I didn’t have flat feet. I chucked the orthotics and was never so glad to get rid of something in my life. Dr. Gangemi over at his sock-doc website goes into heavy detail about why people shouldn’t need orthotics and in my case getting rid of them proved his theories correct. The main point being muscle weakness is only supported and made worse by orthotics. Bracing your feet this way atrophies the muscle much the way a cast does and you need to build strength to overcome pain issues. I’ve also found this to be true.

What I didn’t find was a good plan of how to transition into minimal running. I knew one thing, that the muscles in my calves and feet were insanely weak from wearing orthotics and supportive shoes for almost 25 years. So I started small, walking around my house barefoot as much as possible for several weeks. I also quit wearing any shoes that had a heal of any kind. Luckily it was summer so Sperry topsiders, flat sandals and bare feet worked pretty well. I also went and purchased my first pair of more minimal running shoes with a 4mm heel toe drop, and went with the Kinvara 3 which I ended up hating. The fit was just not comfortable, but I ran in them for a month or so and gave them to my daughter. I also tried altering the way my feet hit the ground when I ran. Instead of striking with the heel I was trying to run on my toes like a sprinter. This felt really weird for a couple of weeks and made my calves insanely sore, even though I was doing 1-2 miles at a time. Then I read about a Newton Shoe company running clinic. So I bought a pair of Newton running shoes and went to the clinic. One very important thing I learned is that even if you are running with a forefoot strike your heel should still come all the way down, which I wasn’t doing and was just making things harder on myself. I ended up not liking the Newton running shoes. They were well made and incredibly light but the have a lug on the forefoot that’s supposed to help propel you forward, but it only made me feel off balance and I didn’t like them at all and off they went to my daughter’s closet. I was becoming quite frustrated trying to find a shoe that would help me reach my goals of running any distance at all with some modicum of comfort. I happened upon the Brooks Pure Flow also with a 4mm drop, and I ran in them for about a year. It took me approximately a year to return to the distance and speed that I had with previous orthotic shoes. But now, I have none of the issues I’d suffered while wearing orthotics, doing conventional recommended stretching, and wearing heavily cushioned shoes. Yes, you read that right. I don’t stretch, at all. Stretching makes my muscles more sore than just running.

I have incorporated a couple other things that have improved my running comfort. I wear compression socks after hard runs or long runs to improve recovery time and those things are amazing. I have a pair of ProCompression and a pair of CEP compression socks and they are well worth the $50 dollar price tag they cost. Though ProCompression has 40% off specials if you like their Facebook page so I didn’t pay full price for those. I also use trigger point therapy that the sock-doc goes over on his website. I use a foam roller and “The Stick” to roll over my calves or any other muscle that gets tight. Work out the knots and the pain magically disappears. I also have a little knobby ball you can get from Amazon made by Due North, called Foot Rubz. I rub that under my foot on any spot thats tender and voila my foot feels great.

So pictured below are some of the shoes that I currently run in. I have a couple pairs that I rotate through. Mainly for long runs for 5 or more miles I go with the Saucony Kinvara 4 (much improved over the 3), and the Brooks Cadence. I was wearing the Brooks Flow but just happened upon a pair of Cadence at a local shoe sale for 30 dollars and picked them up for my daughter. But they were a little to tight for her so I took the insoles out, threw in some Dr. Scholls and I’ve been wearing them happily for two months. After they wear out I’ll likely go back to the Pure Flow again. They are a perfect balance of cushion, and minimal shoe.

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The pink shoes below are the Brooks Cadence and the purple shoes are my youngest daughter in her Pure Flow. The white are my New Balance 10 road shoes that I wear around town.

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I use the Brooks Pure Drift for speed work or for strengthening my calves. They have very little cushion, and are zero drop. I’d love to work my way down to zero drop for all runs eventually but for long runs I like a little more cushion than the Pure Drift.

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The two pairs of shoes below are two of my other favorites. I like the New Balance Minimus 1010 Trail, a lot. It’s a 4mm drop, and is great for trail running, but I also use them for hiking and playing frisbee golf.

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And well, this pair is just cooler than cool!

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If you made it to the bottom of this one, congrats! It was a long one. My only recommendation is that if you have old shoes you don’t like, didn’t work for you or whatever donate them. Soles4Souls is a great organization that takes shoe donations and I give away quite a few pairs per year. When I run the support out of shoes, they don’t really look that bad most of the time. If my daughters don’t want them, of to the donation pile they go. I usually know that it’s time for a new pair of shoes when I’m more achy than normal after runs. I highly recommend major brands Brooks, Saucony, New Balance, and I like Nike Free too. Find what is comfortable on your foot and go for a run!

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