There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.
- George Sheehan

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Barefoot or shoes? It doesn't have to be "all or nothing."

I greatly prefer running barefoot to running in any type of shoe, but I'm certainly not blind to the fact that not everyone feels the same.  I know that barefoot running is, and very well may always be, a fringe activity.  But I, like other barefoot and minimalist runners, know that it doesn't have to be all or nothing.  There has been a lot of discussion over at the Barefoot Runners' Society about whether or not the "barefoot running movement" is going about it the right way.  It's easy to be purist and preach "barefoot is the only way to go," but maybe it should be "try less shoe."  I try not to preach at all; if someone's healthy and happy running in shoes, then great.  If someone expresses interest in trying barefoot or minimalist, then I'll talk to them as much as they want.

But it really doesn't have to be one side or the other.  Yes, I think the vast majority of "traditional" runners (those in typical modern running shoes and trainers) would greatly benefit from stepping down to a simpler, lighter, and more flexible shoe.  A little education in running form, and less cumbersome choice in footwear is a good choice for most.  So here are a couple of options:

Nike Free - probably the more recognizable shoe trying to appeal to the "barefoot" runner.  I consider this a "reduced running shoe," and not minimalist, because it's really a stripped down trainer.  Minimalist, in my opinion, is something more akin to the Vibram FiveFingers, Merrell Trail/Pace Gloves, and ultra light racing flats with 4mm drop or less.  The Free, on the other hand, weighs much more and has more midsole padding than anything of that sort.  It is lighter, more flexible, and contains fewer gadgets than most of the trainers on the market today.  The various models feature different levels of heel-toe drops, with the lowest being the Free 3.0 (the lower, the better!).  Lower drops encourage a midfoot/forefoot strike and get runners off of landing on the heel.  I applaud Nike for taking advantage of a potential opportunity, and creating a simpler and very functional shoe that does encourage a healthier stride.  Would I run in them?  Not unless I have to.  But I have seen and heard some success stories with the Frees, and so long as they have a positive impact on people's running, that's the most important thing. 

Saucony Pro Grid Kinvara - The Kinvara is yet another shoe company's attempts at getting in on the minimalist pay day.  While advertised by Saucony as a "minimalist" shoe, the Kinvara is yet another reduced running shoe.  Weighing in at just over 7oz, it's a very lightweight trainer with a wide and very stable landing area.  It also features a 4mm drop.  I had a pair of Kinvaras last summer, and while I didn't run in them much, I ran enough to know that they are a HUGE improvement over the traditional trainers I ran unsuccessfully in during 2009.  The low drop encourages a natural midfoot strike, and the light, airy mesh upper allowed great airflow.  I really think that Saucony got it right with the Kinvara, as here is a shoe that appeals to the traditional runner that might insist on a certain amount of material between their foot and the road, and yet the shoe does encourage a healthy stride.  Having said that, and being a barefoot runner, they did feel like foam boats.  If I had to run in them I could, but I still prefer less (ie. ultra light racing flats) or nothing at all.  Still, if you're a runner used to heavy trainers and are looking for a graduated step down to less shoe, the Kinvara is a great bet.  It was one of the hottest shoes on the market in 2010 for good reason.  It could be more flexible, but in that respect it's very appealing for those looking to transition to less shoe, without going minimalist.

INOV8 F-Lite 195 -   This UK company has a lot of choices for those looking to run in less shoe.  The 195 features a 3mm drop from heel to toe, and weighs a whopping 6.8oz.  Other Inov8 options include the Road X-Lite 155

Somnio NADA - Now THIS is what I'm talking about!!  If I wasn't already very happy with my Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats, the Somnio NADA would be my next shoe.  A combined 6mm thick midsole, zero drop, and only 4oz...these seem like the perfect racing flat.  There's a slight toe spring (upturn of the toe), but the reviewer wasn't impacted by that.  I will consider these in the future.


What to consider in a reduced running shoe or racing flat?
Look for a light, flexible shoe with a drop of less than 6mm if possible.  The toe box should be wide and roomy, to allow your toes to splay (spread out) as they naturally would.

Other shoe possibilities include the Saucony Grid A4 racing flat, Saucony Kilkenny cross country flat, and a plethora of other options available for review at

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