If you are purist and think that bare-foot running is the way to go then you may well be somewhat confused by all the current talk and debate regarding the subject. Yet to run bare-foot is inherently dangerous as there will be times when you can not see the exact nature of the ground and any hidden protrusions that could rip into your foot.
So if you take a look at runners who have taken up the policy of barefoot running using minimalist shoes, it is about protection, feeling the ground and being as natural as possible. Bare foot shoes are on there way in abundance and in America are demanded. Mainland Europe is already seeing an increase in demand with the UK lagging behind. The first bare-foot shoes were racing flats or low profile training shoes that the user had taken a knife to and stripped to the bare minimum. They were looking for less heel to forefoot differential, therefore a much lowered heel and no structure in the shoe what so ever. These runners were claiming they were less likely to be injured and if they were they certainly were not blaming their ‘minimal shoes’. It was down to them as an athlete to sort themselves out, correct muscle imbalances, strengthen and learn to help their bodies compensate naturally. They were not hiding behind talk of being ‘over-pronators’ and what-not. If nature and the human frame is so good at compensating then why have so many become reliant on modern structured support shoes? Brand marketing perhaps?
The truth is the body will compensate and will adapt. You just have to let it. So this is where the new breed of Minimalist Shoes is coming from. It is not just trail shoes, it is also road shoes as well. So what makes a minimalist shoe, well a minimalist shoe? For the UK trail and fell running footwear offerings, it is little change – yes some brands will always have a support offering as it will be needed. Minimalist shoes have always been available in the guise of ‘fell shoes’. What is happening here is the introduction of more ‘slipper like’ shoes, sock like uppers, even lower profile midsoles and close to the ground outsoles, with varying degrees of grip.
For roadies it is going to be a little more radical and I suspect the hardcore runner will take their time in making a decision about minimalism. The shoes really are not so different. The main change will be the vast reduction in components through the shoe and a lower heel to forefoot differential. A difference of 4mm looks to become the standard. The uppers will be lighter, less fancy and with a reduction in support features. Midsoles should and in most cases will be, one piece moulded injection moulded EVA. The thinking is that a lower heel on the shoe will encourage a more mid to forefoot landing, with over-striding and heel striking a big no-no.
A big advantage to all this stripping out of materials in the shoes will be weight. The Saucony Minimalist range is already available in the UK with weights starting at a racing shoe like level of a mere 220grams, with plans to shed more. Inov-8 fell shoes are already tipping the scales, just, at as little as 190grams.
One thing is for certain that any brand that is putting their best bare-foot forward are looking closely at how the ‘Human’ inter reacts with their products. They are coming at things the other way around. Instead of trying to change the runner with footwear they are more inclined to look at how the runner adapts to their products and then adjusting the product accordingly. Midsoles are being becoming firmer, soft and squidgy is going to become a thing of fashion or for those looking for instant volume sales and not performance.
So will gait analysis and a bio-mechanics check up be necessary for these shoes? Yes, as options will abound and finding the right mix and blend for any runner will still be necessary. Too much of a change too soon will cause problems as it will for runners who are just not strong enough to cope with a more natural running style. For those that have become used to their support shoes, they too will need to take things in stages and on their way to minimalist footwear may well need to introduce things gradually. Therefore there will continue to be a need for shoes with some structure and the lets be honest, some will always need a little more from a shoe, yet how much will depend on many factors. So seeking out the right advice and taking each natural step one at a time is the way to go.
Would you like to know more:
Friday 11th February, 8pm: Sheffield Adventure Film Festival: Accelerate Expert Running Night: The Great Debate: Throw Away Your Running Shoes and Go Bare Foot Yes or No?
Venue: The Showroom, Sheffield. www.shaff.co.uk
Saturday March 5th 9pm: Accelerate will launch the ‘Accelerate Natural Running and Minimalist Footwear Centre’, instore at Accelerate Sheffield.
The following You Tube clip from New Balance is well worth a watch: Here
About Stuart Hale
Stuart Hale, the founder of Accelerate UK, has been involved with adventure racing and outdoor sports for many years. He is a well known authority for all things involving bikes and running and is never happier when he's running through the hills of the Peak district.
Tuesday 6th of December 2011