Did I say minimalist running shoes? I meant barefoot “shoes.”

Okay, now I really but my foot in it…..(literally).

A while back I discovered the secret to getting my old, MS diseased, thick legs back into jogging form: Minimalist running shoes.

Skecher Mid-Strike Shoes.

Also known as Zero Drop shoes, the theory is that modern running shoes have a built up heel so that the shoe actually angles your foot down from heel to toe as much as 25 mm. The theory goes on to say that this is bad.  According to researchers at Harvard University (also known as “the Harvard” of running research), the extra padded heel of most running shoes encourages us to run heel to toe. Yet if one were to run barefoot, chances are one would NOT run heel to toe. They would run, toe to heel to soften the blow (actually it’s more like the ball of your foot, not literally your toes). Running heel to toe, however, is actually like abruptly stopping and then going on every step, and that leads to injury.

According to this research, which has spawned books, articles, a subreddit and this video; by encouraging us to run heel to toe, the athletic shoe industry has been doing us a great disservice, and worse, lead us to countless knee, ankle and other injuries. After all, humans have run for millions of years before the development of the modern-day running shoe, which did not exist before the 1970s.

1978 running shoes.
Apparently, Disco and Jogging DID mix at one time.

After a reading about this research a while back, I  thought, “makes sense, but there’s not a chance in hell I can run barefoot!” Not only did it sound crazy, but my MS makes just walking in regular, nicely padded shoes painful as hell. But after running a 10K in my old Skechers, and running along a gravel trail next to the LA River and feeling every god*&%! rock as if I WAS running barefoot, I decided to give it a try…sort of.

LA River Gravel Path
LA River Walk/Run path, paved with modern gravel!

At the race I met a couple of folks wearing odd-looking slip-ons that actually had individual toe slots. They were kind of like a glove for your foot. One guy next to me, who was not the picture of a typical elite runner (he was a bit rounder and thicker than I), swore by them as having cured his life long knee ailments. Those “shoes” are known as Vibram Five Fingers and they look odd as hell.

Vibram Five Fingers
Odd but comfortable running “shoes.”

I wasn’t sure about trying to force each of my toes into a separate slot, so I opted for a competing brand of barefoot “shoes” made by ZemGear.

Zem Gear
Zem Gear Collection

To call ZemGear “shoes” is a bit of a misnomer. They’re more like padded socks, but I like the fact that you can get them in closed-toe or “Ninja” toe (big toe separate from the rest), rather than the Five Fingers from Vibram. I opted for the Ninja Toe as a compromise.

Bottom line

After walking, then running short distances and then finally getting in three miles in my new ZemGears, I’ll never go back to regular running shoes. The sensation of having nothing but a few millimeters of padding between my foot and the ground was a bit of a shock at first, and learning to run differently took a while to both get the hang of it, and condition my body to use the new muscles required. At first, I’ll admit that the pain from so little padding was more intense with my nerve damage in my feet and legs. But the shock is that after about a month of walking and running in almost barefoot shoe covering, my feet and legs actually hurt less than before. I’ll finish a run, come home and forget I have them on.  I have more balance, more confidence in my stride (I used to fall down quite a bit), and I’m actually moving faster. Go figure. (oh yeah, and they’re vegan.)

If you want to try out some barefoot and minimalist shoes, see the resource list below.

Caveat, it may not be for everyone, but the “shoes” can be less expenses than most running gear, so try out a pair. It’s recommended you start slow as you’ll be using different muscles when you run. Start by walking, then jogging a half mile, and work your way up to your normal routine. Also, you’ll want to give your feet at least a day to recuperate at first because they’ll be sore as hell the first few times you run in them.


Barefoot Running Resources

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