I thought about doing this as a gear test, but really, can you do a gear test for anything without putting it through its paces for an extended period of time? Not really. So what you’re going to get here are initial impressions of the product as well as the activity.
So here’s the deal. I enjoy running, but I’m not the super runner that many of you are. Nope, no marathons or ultras under my belt. My idea of a good time is cruising out for about 3 miles in the city, or maybe 5 or so on the trails. I’m interested in those longer races, and getting my mileage up for some bigger runs is a priority. I’d really love to put together some lengthy trail runs in the Rockies.
Unlike most runners, I never developed a heel strike habit. I’m a mid-foot striker, with a tendency to edge closer to the front. What does this mean? The knee and back issues that plague many runners don’t bother me. However, it means other problems pop up.
My calves get worked when I run, more than most. And that’s OK, because I have mondo calves. But my Achilles tendons are just like anyone else’s. They get aggravated, and the angle of a traditional running shoe puts more strain on mid-foot strikers. This will be a problem for me if I want to pile up more miles.
Enter minimalist running. I’ve been told that mid-foot striking is the way to go, and having shoes that match the technique are essential. The added benefits of barefoot and minimalist running are also major: Initial studies point toward minimalist running as a great way to build foot, leg and core strength. Yes, please, to all that!
So I broke down and found me a pair of minimalist shoes and took them for a spin.
The shoes I bought are Merrell True Gloves (disclosure: I bought these with my own money; no prior arrangement with the manufacturer for a review was made). To me, they look like climbing shoes with a tread. Putting them on, they fit snug. The first thing I noticed, aside from how light they are, was how my foot was aligned. I’m so used to having my heel elevated a bit, and that’s not just from running shoes. Think of it – work shoes, basketball shoes, hiking boots, and just about anything else has the heel slightly elevated. It’s only when we’re barefoot that our feet are truly level.
I ran without any sort of socks (as close to barefoot as I could get without actually being barefoot). The lack of cushion is apparent, but not uncomfortable.
As for the shoes themselves, they are so light as to feel like they’re not even there. Their soles are stiff, but there’s enough movement to allow a natural flex of the foot.
My initial impression: As a shoe, the True Glove performed remarkably well. Time and mileage will tell the real tale.
I’ve been told that when you start the minimalist or barefoot thing, you need to take it slow. I initially thought about hitting a 5-mile trail run, but thought better of it. Instead, I chose a flat track at a local city park system’s trail I call the bridge loop – 2.4 miles where you run along the banks of the Arkansas River, cross a pedestrian bridge, run the other bank, and cross back over the river on another bridge. It’s a mellow, nice workout that seemed like a good test for the shoes and the experience.
What I discovered is that once I got going, my running form stayed fairly true and I noticed very little change from how I normally go. The lack of cushion forced me to try to tread a little lighter, but I didn’t notice too much different.
I finished the run in a pretty normal time for me, noticing a slight increase in leg muscle fatigue as my workout drew to a close. Once finished, I stopped, stretched and checked out my feet.
I did have some small blisters. I’ve been told this has something to do to my form, which is possible. But anytime you sweat, wet skin rubbing against fabric is likely to cause some sort of friction and hot spots. What’s more, warm, sweaty skin tends to inflame and become more prone to blistering or cuts.
For that reason alone, it was a good thing I didn’t opt for the longer trail run, and I’ll lay off that until my feet toughen up. That will take some time.
I also noticed more leg muscle fatigue. My thighs had to work a little harder, and my calves even more so. Without the cushion of traditional running shoes, the minimalist shoes also lacked the spring that comes with it. That meant my legs had to work harder to propel me forward.
This is a good thing because I got more bang for the buck in my workout. But it gets better.
Despite the lack of cushion, I had no back pain. What’s more: Even though my calves suffered the most – and tightened up pretty quick – I had no tightness in my Achilles tendons in the days that followed. I take comfort in the thought that there are people who log serious miles barefoot. Perhaps, as my feet get tougher and stronger, I’ll be able to do the same without worrying about an Achilles tear.
Minimalist runs will become a regular part of my training regimen. There are too many benefits to ignore. But I’m going to ease into it. Too much too fast might strain my feet to the point of injury, and then there’s the whole blister issue. Maybe I need to work on my gait or have it analyzed, but I also think a thin sock might help. I know this goes against the barefoot ethos, but I’m impatient to get this show going without blistering.
We’ll see how this experiment goes.
Until then, I’d love to hear your experiences on barefoot and minimalist running. How was your transition? Any tips? Success stories? Nightmares? Let me know.
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