A Sneaker History

Why I’m Not Running “Barefoot”

I gotta admit, the first thing I wanted to do after reading Born to Run was go get a pair of Vibrams and run free, free, free with only my feet to support me!!

I’m glad I did a little research before diving into the deep side of the barefoot running pool.  What I learned is that (1) you need to transition into barefoot running very slowly and (2) barefoot running isn’t for everyone.

I’ll do a quick recap for those who might be unfamiliar with barefoot running; it’s a movement based on the idea that our feet are essentially made for running (even long distances) barefoot, and that by wearing big, thickly padded sneakers, we are compromising the ability of our feet to interact with the ground they way they were made to and subsequently teaching ourselves to run with incorrect form (resulting in injury).  Proponents of the barefoot running movement wear minimalist shoes with next to no padding like Vibram Five Fingers (or no shoes at all).  These shoes protect the feet from rocks and glass but provide no shock absorption or foot support.

I do think there is some merit to the idea that barefoot running forces you to run properly; it is much harder to land on your heel when you don’t have shoes to cushion the impact.  And I like the idea that my feet are naturally strong and can take on the trails like a billy goat. But the truth is, I’ve had shoes on my feet from the moment I started walking.  The tendons and muscles of my feet aren’t strong enough to handle barefoot running because I’ve been supporting them in cushioned shoes (or putting undue stress on them in the form of heels) from day 1.  If I did foot exercises every day, I could probably strengthen them to the point that they could handle running barefoot, but then I’d also probably need to adjust my form for the lack of cushioning.

But I’m not going to do that.  I’ve been fortunate that in all the time I’ve been running (about a year and 3 months now), I’ve suffered only minor injuries.  I don’t want to risk great injury by making a huge change to the way I run – why mess with what works, right? In fact, lots of people get injured when they switch to barefoot shoes in a hurry (read about the Vibram class action suit here).

There’s also evidence that suggests that it’s not what you wear (on your feet) that matters, it’s how you run.  Want some scientific proof? Here.  Anyway, I’m not arguing for or against barefoot running in general; my point is that I’m not planning to switch to completely minimalist sneakers because I have no problems with the way I run now (forefoot strike, not much pronation).

So, what do I run in? Before I get to where I am now, I thought it would be interesting to see how my sneakers have evolved from last year.  I’ve gone through a few pairs!

My Sneaker History

I started out in the Brooks Glycerins early last year, which are super-cushioned, roomy sneakers.  They were really comfortable on the long runs.  When my first pair (Glycerin 8) wore out, I got a second one (Glycerin 10).

Brooks Glycerin 8 Brooks Glycerin 10

Around the time I got my second pair of Glycerins, I learned that it was good practice to rotate sneakers between runs, so I decided to get a different, lighter model to run in for my shorter runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I went to the Georgetown Running Store and got fitted for the Saucony ProGrid Cortanas, which were a new offering from Saucony at the time. They were a little lighter and springier than the Brooks, which made them perfect for my Tuesday/ Thursday shorter, speedier runs.

Saucony Cortana

Although the Cortanas are slightly lighter, they are still very comfortable and have plenty of cushioning, so I suspected that they would be supportive enough for and perform well during my long runs. When it came time to replace my Glycerin 10s early this year, I bought a second pair of Saucony Cortanas (still the original, I have no idea what changes they introduced in the Cortana 2) as my new long distance shoe.

So now the question became, did I want to just have two pairs of Cortanas and switch them off? Or did I want to find an even lighter shoe for my shorter runs, in hopes of increasing my speed and challenging my legs in different ways? I decided to be bold and go for Saucony’s ever popular Kinvaras, which have moderate cushioning but are considered a near-minimal shoe (Saucony puts them in the category of Natural Running Shoes, another name for minimalist shoes).  I was really curious to compare the two pairs of Saucony sneakers: Cortanas, and Kinvara 3s.

When I first took the Kinvaras out of the box and compared them side by side with the Cortanas, the first thing I noticed (aside from the difference in weight) was that the overall forms of the two shoes were very similar: similar size toebox, similar shape, similar heel profile.

sneakers

Cortana on the left, Kinvara on the right.

When I put the shoes on, the two shoes felt similar as well; the arches felt similar to me, as did the heel cup height, which makes sense since the two shoes have the same 4 mm heel to toe drop.  I did notice that the Kinvaras had a much firmer feel (read: less cushioning!) – to my surprise, I liked the increased “ground feel” because I felt like it took me less time to make full contact with the ground and propel forward to the next step.  Here’s how the two ladies compare on the scale:

cortana

 

Size 7 Saucony Progrid Cortana

kinvara

Size 7 Saucony Kinvara 3

I can definitely feel the difference in weight when running! Overall, I found the two shoes to be similar in structure and form, aside from their cushioning and weight.  Their similarities make it easy to transition between the two shoes pretty seamlessly day to day.

I’m a nerd, so I made a graph of my sneakers’ progressions.  I think I’ll always have two different pairs of shoes for my long distances (endurance work) vs shorter distances (speed work) because I like the variety!

sneaker progression

Hope you enjoyed this post! So now I’ll ask you:

What sneakers do you run in? Have you changed the line that you wear over the years at all, or are you a loyalist to one brand/ line of shoe?

Barefoot running – are you tempted to try it?

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9 thoughts on “A Sneaker History

  1. I was running in Brooks Ghosts, but after developing leg pain I decided to purchase a more minimal shoe since I had had leg pain in the past that I associated with wearing shoes with too thick of a heel. I switched to Brooks PureFlows, and so far love them. I’ve only been able to put about 15 miles on them since my injury was too far progressed by the time I switched. I was told by someone at Fleet Feet (I wasn’t fitted) that the PureFlows are ideal for someone like me who has a tendency to heel strike. However, when I went to PT this week I was told that someone who heel strikes should have a shoe with a thicker more cushioned heel to absorb the shock. I guess the difference is that the minimal shoe will help me resolve heel striking, while the cushioned shoe will protect me from injury while I heel strike. I much prefer the idea of fixing my form over using sneakers to protect me from my bad form.

    Thanks for sharing all this information!

    1. Dawn H.

      Hey Ashley, your thinking sounds absolutely right to me. I’ve heard that hill running can help correct form, because it’s harder to heel strike on a hill. When I start getting tired, I start thinking about running lighter on the balls of my feet and leaning forward a little. Good luck!

  2. DistrictSweats

    Your reasons for not barefoot running definitely make sense. For me, though, it was a gamechanger! I’ve ALWAYS been annoyed by heavy sneakers, so when lightweight natural shoes started to show up everywhere, I was excited to try. I switched very slowly, starting with transition shoes, then minimalist. Now I use Vibrams for shorter runs and Brooks PureConnect for longer.

    1. Dawn H.

      Thanks for sharing! I’ve read lots of stories about people for whom barefoot running really works. I’m definitely seeing the difference a lighter sneaker makes, so who knows, this might just happen for time for me :) I’m really glad it’s worked for you.

  3. You are absolutely right, you can’t just jump into the 0mm drop shoes from your normal traditional cushioned runners. There is a need to transit smoothly and even then, when you get your pair of minimalist shoe, try walking in them and do shorter runs. Get your body and running stride, posture get used to it. Good luck in your transition!

    1. Dawn H.

      Thanks Barefootie! I’m sticking to my 3mm drop shoes for now, and will see what feels good next year :)

  4. Adam

    If you really are a forefoot striker, then you effectively are already a barefoot runner to some degree. However you should ignore the whole pronation thing – it’s just a gimmick to sell running shoes. Read Barefoot Running Step by Step by Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton if you want to see through the storytelling of Born to Run. Good luck.

    1. Dawn H.

      Thanks for the feedback Adam! Born to Run definitely said the same thing about the pronation thing – just let the foot do what it needs to do. I’ll have to add that book to my reading list!

  5. Pingback: May Edition: Some Favorite Things | sneaker∙therapy

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