A Shoe Thing: Focusing on Footwear


This post should be read with the full understanding that this is 100% my own opinion, and not based on any professional training or research.

If this is your definition of “professional,” then I’m your girl.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are well aware that one of the hottest topics in the running industry nowadays is footwear.

{How would you live under a rock? That saying makes no sense. Unless you are an ant or other small insect, there is no physical way you could live under a rock. Unless there was a cave under the rock…in which case you would be living in a cave. But if there was a rock on top of the cave…you could never get out, and who would have put that rock on top of the cave in the first place? That saying makes no sense. I digress, but THINK ABOUT IT.}

Moving on. Shoes.

The debate has been running (pun, duh) rampant, and even folks outside of the running world have caught wind of the minimalist versus support shoe debate. In a lot of ways, this ongoing controversy has done a lot for the running industry; it’s brought a lot of attention to the sport as a whole, and it’s given running the spotlight in terms of sports science research.

I don’t need to reiterate the debate between the two schools of shoe ideology, because surely you have heard them. Everyone’s seen Vibram Five-Finger wearing lagoon creatures people, and nearly every runner has read or at least heard of Born to Run. Running stores are now offering different choices of shoe support (or they heavily favor one side over the other).

Yesterday, this article came out about yet another study in favor of minimal shoes.

So who’s doing it right? Who’s doing it wrong? Is the debate ever going to come to a halting end, with one group walking away with their heads hung low?

In short, I can pretty safely guess the answer to that last question: No.

This minimal versus structure debate is very similar to bi-partisan political views, in my opinion; neither side is going to budge, and the biggest advocates for each group are going to continue to hate the other extremists no matter what studies come out.

As for the two other questions, who’s right and who’s wrong, my personal answer is that I don’t know. And honestly, I don’t actually think either is necessarily right or wrong. I can see valid points on both ends of the debate, and ultimately I think it comes down to one simple conclusion: wear the shoe that works for you.

If bare-bones, flat stanley sneakers help you run comfortably, then stick to ’em. If those chunk-mcgunk, super-shox, double cushion (Insert Brand Name) shoes have never given you problems, why switch?

Much like all other aspects of this sport (clothing preference, training schedules, fueling options, etc.) I believe everything should be up to you. It’s one of the things I love most about running—it’s all unique for everyone, and what works for someone may not work for someone else—and it’s okay. Running requires you to put one foot in front of the other, and everything else is just extra paperwork.

With all that said, it would be a lie to say that the shoe debate hasn’t peaked my own curiosity. I’m pretty consistently both a skeptic and a bandwagon-er in most hot topic areas— as in, I always take everything with a grain of salt, but I also really enjoy hearing new, innovative news and information. So, while I’ve definitely been interested in the whole “minimalist” running thing, I also believe there is somewhat of a fad element to it. Through all my scrutiny (read: talking to other runners, hounding running store peeps for information, and reading tons of stuff on the matter), I believe I have come to two conclusions that I personally believe about the whole “barefoot running” thing.

Let’s start with my argument against it: For years and years, runners have gotten faster and stronger, breaking records and setting higher standards for their competitors. And not one of them was barefoot. They were all wearing regular ole shoes with some support in them, and they are fared very well. So, obviously structured shoes have been a part of some of the most impressive running feats in recent history.

Now, for my argument for it: I do believe that running is something humans should be able to do, regularly, without pain. Our bodies are designed for it—and despite evolution and the concrete jungles most of us live in, we still have the ability to condition ourselves to run long distances. With that said, I am a proponent for recreating our “natural” running selves; i.e. without huge Nikes weighing down our feet and changing our foot strike. I do think there is something to the idea of stripping away all the cushion and allowing our feet to adapt to a freer running style, using a more natural foot strike and gait.

So where does that leave me? Well, pretty much right in the middle of it all. Which, coincidentally is the shoe I’ve now found myself wearing while running:

These are Brooks Pure Connect, which are—according to them—a good middle ground between really structured shoes and minimalist shoes. And that’s pretty much exactly what they are—there’s a good amount of cushion to support the arch of the foot, but they are really light and the toe is split a bit.

I was interested in getting into some less structured shoes for a number of reasons, but namely because something never felt quite right with my others. I’ve been an Asics 2170s devotee for some time (through both of my marathons) and on paper, they were perfect for my foot, gait, etc. And they were great—except that they didn’t necessarily feel right.

That sounds super hippy, but as runners we just know when a shoe feels right. And after experiencing some plantar faciitis, ankle pain, and my knee pain earlier this year, I knew that eventually I would probably need to try out a new shoe.

And what better time to do so than when I have lower mileage and no immediate training needs? Since I’ve slowly started running again, I’ve been wearing these puppies…and I’m realizing that I definitely wasn’t wearing the best shoe before.

I’m not saying that I (or anyone) should have been “barefoot” all along, but I have already noticed a difference in my overall efficiency and comfort. I feel faster, lighter, and I like the way I can feel my foot strengthening. I was always a heavy heel striker, and with the new shift to the ball of my foot, I can feel my pronation and general turnover changing. I’m not sure if this pattern will continue, but for right now I’m digging this new way of running.

Is it an argument for minimal shoes? No, not at all. But it is an argument for experimenting and finding what works for you. I was always too scared to try out other shoes because I didn’t want to get hurt or lower my already established mileage—but I’m realizing that one of the surest ways to save your ability to run is to focus on your footwear, no matter how chunky or bare it might be.

Now for the real reason I wanted to write this post: WHAT DO YOU THINK? Extreme on one shoe versus another? Let’s hear it. Have you gone through a drastic change in running footwear? Do you think one if better than the other? LETS GET SHOE SASSY!

2 thoughts on “A Shoe Thing: Focusing on Footwear

  1. Pingback: Chicago Marathon Training Week #3 | Run Birdie Run

  2. Pingback: Friday Favorites for Friday | Run Birdie Run

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