Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Barefoot Running Part 3: Choosing Shoes.

In the first post on Barefoot running I covered the basics of what it is and why people do it. Then I went onto look at the best technique. In this third and final part I'm going to be rounding up all the info on the various different barefoot running shoes, because for most of us actually running barefoot is not an option unless we want lacerated, infected feet. 

My Experience: 
First I'll just let you know my own experience with barefoot shoes, and give you my honest opinion. 

In 2010 while I was in America on holiday, and first really finding out about barefoot running, I bought myself a pair of Vibrams Five Fingered running shoes. They have become affectionately known as my froggie feet:

To be honest, I wasn't all that impressed. The very second time I wore them, they started coming away from the sole, and just did not seem to be that well made. Dirt got into sections that it shouldn't have got into. So I retired them to be my house building/painting shoes. They are amazingly good when on a ladder. Having the added feedback makes me feel more stable, without the fear of a nail going through my foot. 

I have to admit I don't really like things in-between my toes, so that does quite a bit of getting used to, and they are not as simple to just slip on. But after wearing them for a while you do tend to stop noticing these things. 

However, that was three years ago now, and a lot has changed. While I was at the Golden Door, one of the PT instructors there had a pair which he wore ALL the time. It turns out that he even wears them out to dinner (lucky they were black... though his girlfriend still wasn't that impressed). He's a huge fan, and his appeared to be a much better construction. 

After watching the video by Terra Plana I am interested in trying them, as they look more like a normal shoes. Will let you know if I do.

What is a minimalist shoe and what should you look for?

Peter Larson over at Runblogger, who is an anatomy professor and minimalist shoe fan, lists the following qualities for minimalist shoes: 

a. Require a runner to rely more on their own feet and legs to take care cushioning and stability. How much cushioning is necessary will vary with individual preferences and the purpose for which the shoe is to be used.

b. Provide less sensory interference between the sole of the foot and the ground. Ground feel generally increases with reduced cushion and/or a firmer sole.

c. Have a lower height differential between the heel and forefoot (i.e., a lower heel-forefoot drop). Heel-toe drop is the difference in the height of the sole at the heel as compared to the forefoot. Most modern training shoes have a drop of 12-13 mm or more, whereas a minimalist shoe should have a drop that is considerably less. There is variability, and different runners have different comfort zones (ranging all the way down to zero-drop, or flat soled shoes). Most of the shoes I run in these days have a drop of less than 6 mm, and many have a drop of 4 mm or less.

d. Be lightweight. I prefer shoes less than 10 oz in my size 10, though these days I tend to run mostly in shoes that are 8 oz or less.

e. Be wide in the forefoot to allow splay on contact.

f. Be more flexible.

There are other factors that could be included here, but for me these are the most important.

(Read more at Runblogger's Guide To Minimalist Shoes.)

So, onto the general reviews. I've done a round up of the best bits of advice about three major minimalist shoes out there.

1. Vibrams KSO

Okay, like all the minimalist running brands, there are now multiple different types of Vibram five fingered shoes. However, the KSO is the standard.
What Vibram Say:
"Voted “Most Popular” for its versatility. Over the last two years, the KSO has become our most popular model for men for its unbeatable comfort and versatility. It features a thin, abrasion-resistant stretch polyamide and breathable mesh upper that wraps your entire forefoot to “Keep Stuff Out.” A single hook-and-loop closure helps secure the fit. The non-marking 3.5mm Vibram® TC1 performance rubber outsole is razor-siped for enhanced flexibility and a sure grip on wet or dry surfaces."

Things to note:
- Make sure you don't mind things between your toes.
- Great in most conditions, but not super hot in muddy or icy terrain. 
- Some notice that you can feel the seams on the inside which could cause chafing.
- Girlfriends/wives might ridicule you, but other guys tend to think you are cool.

General opinion appears to be: yeah, it's great (except for you Ben, you would be much better off with a more normal looking pair of shoes (Happy Suse?))

2. Merrel Trail Glove:

Official Description from their website:
'Less is definitely more exploring with our Vibram®-soled Trail Glove natural adventure shoe. All the protection your feet need from rocks and roots, and an ultra-lightweight upper with a synthetic leather foot sling for stability fits like a glove.'
(Note Women's equivalent is: Merrel Pace Glove. Merrell also do a 'Road Glove'). 

Runblogger appears to be in favour of them. However, comments on Runner's World forum suggest that while it has zero-drop and no cushioning, it is too narrow and doesn't allow the foot to spread. 

It should be noted that it is specifically designed for trail running, so does have features to protect against rocks, such as increased stiffness around the arch, which does affect the feel of them as minimalist shoes.  

The general consensus appears to be that they area really good off-road, but not great for wearing as an everyday shoe or at the gym. 

3. Inov-8 Bare-X 180

Description from Inov-8:
'Designed for pure minimalist runners with a 0mm differential keeping the foot as close to the ground as possible. A 3mm sticky rubber outsole and no midsole offers a stable platform for performance when running on tarmac.'
The company started off making trail and hiking shoes. The Bare X line was their first in barefoot shoes. 

General recommendations appear to be that it is great if you really want to have no cushioning, and can be used for trails, gyming, and as an everyday shoe. Suggested to be the best minimal cushioning shoe if you don't want to go five fingered. (not sure why, but appears to be huge in the CrossFit world.)

Will update with further brands when I get more time. Until then, for a rather scary list of all the different types of barefoot, minimalist, and transitional shoes, check out the reviews on Natural Running Centre

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