As runners, we tend to be pretty loyal to our shoes.
I remember my first “real” running shoes, a pair of Brooks Ghosts. They were white with green and blue markings on them. I probably tried on about 10 pairs of different brands and styles that day, as a patient employee brought out stack after stack of shoe boxes, all holding size 10s in a variety of colors and shapes.
However, once I slipped these on, it was love at first step. “Yep,” I said. “These are the ones.”
They were good to me, and I was good right back at them. I attached a Road ID to the shoelaces (in case anyone would ever kidnap and kill me on a run), and dutifully replaced them every 300-500 miles. I mixed up the colors and left all race tags on for good luck. I became attached to each pair and had trouble discarding them after they had paid their dues — “Those are my Steamtown sneakers!” “Aw, I ran my fastest 10 miler in those!” My closet became a graveyard of running shoes.
But as much as I love my Brooks, my nearly constant state of injuries have left doctors and physical therapists perplexed. I’ve been told it’s my hip misalignment, my form, running too much, improper landing while running, not stretching enough … the list goes on. I’ve done physical therapy, gone to a chiropractor, adjusted my mileage, tried yoga and strength training, tried to fix my form, iced until parts of my legs went numb, and so on.
As I mentioned last month, I had my gait analyzed, and my new doctor (a fellow runner himself), recommended easing into minimalist shoes. As loyal as I am to Brooks, I was desperate to stop my stream of injuries. Minimalist shoes have been a hot topic for the past few years, especially after books like Born to Run became popular. I had wanted to try them after reading that book last summer, but my physical therapist advised me not to.
But now, with my doctor’s blessing, I have been easing into minimalist shoes for the past month. Runs are somewhat comical, as I stop between miles at my car to rotate my Brooks, my newly-purchased Vibrams and my also-new New Balance Minimus.
So, what’s the verdict?
I’m not a huge fan of running in the New Balances yet, but I am still giving them a chance. However, I have been using them for strength training, and I really like them for that. Running in them feels uncomfortable, and even though they fit, while running they feel loose at the heel, but my toes feel squished. I haven’t had any problems with them during strength training, but it feels like a different shoe than when I run.
As for running, I love the Vibrams. At first, it felt weird, and squeezing my toes into the separate spaces was way harder than anticipated. I initially missed the comfort and cushioning of the Brooks, but I’ve become more accustomed to my feet actually feeling the ground. My feet land more naturally on the ball of my foot, and my form seems instantly better as I tend to not hunch over as much as I used to. However, I’ve also accepted that I am much slower as my body adapts to the changes.
One of the most important things about this type of running is that you must ease into it. Think 400 meters at a time. I ran a solid four miles in my Vibrams, felt great and then woke up with a tight Achilles heel that forced me to miss a 5K and sit out for a two weeks. You live, you learn. Additionally, it’s imperative to prepare your body for the switch. Minimalist shoes make your feet do more work than traditional running shoes.
As for now, I am at a mix between all three shoes and hoping to continue to ease minimalist shoes into a more regular rotation over the next few months. I can only hope they too will have good memories attached.
“And those Vibrams? I ran my fastest 5K in them.” A girl can dream.
Have you ever tried minimalist shoes? Thoughts?
Kelly is our resident triathlete with a passion for happy hour. Follow her on Twitter.