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

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The "Transitional" Shoe Debate

Barefoot is the new buzzword for shoe companies.  Anything they can throw out there that is slightly lighter and even vaguely marketable toward the minimalist crowd is promoted as such.  Conventional running experts and coaches, as well as some podiatrists, even agree that less shoe is a good idea for some.  Most of them will argue, though, that in order to go from a conventional running shoe to something more minimal, you have to step down gradually through the use of transitional shoes.

For example:  If you're running in a typical 12 oz trainer with 30+mm of heel height and a drop of  ~12 mm ( these things became mainstream I'll never know), a transitional shoe might be somewhere around 9oz, have a heel of maybe ~20mm, and a drop of around six or seven.  Hypothetically speaking.  So for example, if someone is in a Saucony ProGrid Triumph 8 (just picked it off of Running Warehouse, sorry Triumph fans), a transitional shoe might be a Saucony Cortana (or Nike Free Run) with the end goal being the Saucony Kinvara (7.7oz, 4mm drop).

But is this gradual stepping down of shoes really necessary?  And is it truly the best way to go about it?  We may never know.  Personally, I wouldn't bother.  And that's not because I prefer running barefoot.  I honestly don't care what people wear, so long they're running safe, healthy, and happy.  But if you're in one of those in heavy trainers with all that material between you and the ground, and you want something a little bit more minimal (no matter how minimal), I would encourage you to consider using some barefoot training instead of a transitional shoe.

Why?  Because the less shoe you wear, the more important running form becomes, and the stronger your foot needs to be.  A heel striker in a conventional running shoe will likely still be a heel striker in a Kinvara or Nike Free 3.0.  And a weak foot won't get the type of conditioning it needs in another trainer.  Transitioning from a big trainer shoe to something lighter and more flexible really can be just as simple as taking your shoes off for a couple minutes at a time.

Just a couple of minutes at the end of your regular runs can make all the difference.  You can still maintain your regular mileage in your old shoes, but maybe twice a week or so for several weeks, take your shoes off for a cool down period at the end of your run.  Learn how to run lightly barefoot, and get comfortable with good technique like the midfoot landing, lifting the feet, cadence, etc.  This not only teaches your brain what to look for and to apply in your new shoes, but it helps condition your feet.  Gradual strengthening of the feet in this fashion will better prepare them for the workload of lesser shoe.  And you'll learn to run all over again.  After a few weeks of that, start easing into your new choice of footwear.  Maybe rotate those with your old shoes, and continue you barefoot training sessions.

Not only that, but just being barefoot (or in socks) around the house as much as possible can help.  So can using a golf ball, scrunching towels/pillowcases, etc with your feet.  Learning to exercise your feet like that can help increase strength and dexterity.

Just my two cents.  I honestly think the "transition" shoe is a bunch of marketing CRAP fed to runners who might be looking to explore the benefits of running in less shoe.  But people are constantly being told by shoe companies and running "experts" in magazines that barefoot is dangerous out in the man made world, and instead they have to use transition shoes.  B.S.  A little bit of barefoot training can educate and condition a runner to adapt to a more minimal shoe better than any transition shoe could.

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