Musings on minimalism

It’s probably safe to say that minimal shoes have entered the mainstream. As I write, most of the major shoe companies are introducing barefoot-style shoes and, more telling, it’s on the eve of the debut of a television documentary that will likely bring the philosophy and style of that particular kind of shoe and run to an even wider audience.

Because I don’t own a television, I’ll have to wait to see The Perfect Runner online, but the documentary on CBC TV generated a lot of pre-showing buzz and will likely contribute to the growing minimalism movement that’s currently underway. (Find The Perfect Runner here: http://bit.ly/y56RHn)

Barefoot running first gained traction when Vibram Five Fingers introduced one of the first major innovations in running shoe design in a number of years. Intrigued with shoes that looked like little more than colourful toe socks, people began to pick them up and try them out.

Nike Frees continued the push, but influential writer Christopher McDougall really got things rolling with his book, Born to Run, and subsequent articles by and on him in many major media outlets.

Where is it all headed? Perhaps we should shed shoes altogether and return to our hunting roots and truly run barefoot. Naked yoga is the new thing currently, after all.

But I joke. As many commentators pointed out, our feet aren’t built to run bare on asphalt, concrete and other, hard urban surfaces.

I feel like the trend’s popularity may be peaking. That doesn’t mean it’s going to vanish any time soon, just that fairly soon it will be less commented upon and more fully absorbed into the mainstream. Just today on Twitter, a call went out for people to chip in with their stories for a book that Scott Douglas, senior editor of Running Times, is working on.  He’s writing the Runner’s World Guide to Minimalist and Barefoot Running, a practical guide to using the shoes.

Can a Running Room class be far behind?

Even the beginnings, if not of a backlash, at least of a questioning of the form, have begun to develop. Over on The Gear Junkie, editor Stephen Regenold wonders if minimalist shoes haven’t gone too far. Prompting his reflections are the forthcoming New Balance Minimus Trail ZEROs.

Regenold comments that the 5.3 oz ZEROs are “nearly ridiculous,” but adds, in a good way. The literal fold-up shoe with its unusual bubble traction prompts Regenold to ask his readers whether “the barefoot craze [will] subside, or are shoes like the ZERO, foamy bubbles and all, the new running-shoe norm?” For more, go here: http://bit.ly/wyDwrA

Finally, just to stir things up a bit, Pete Larson over at Runblogger – and a very knowledgeable shoe guy – parsed a new study on light-weight, cushioned shoes versus running barefoot. I’m not going to get into the science, methodology and so forth here; that would duplicate Larson’s excellent post (which can be seen here: http://bit.ly/wMCOFN).

I like his common-sense conclusion though: “In the end, it’s always important to keep in mind that people are different, and not everybody is going to be best barefoot, and not everybody is going to be best wearing shoes (as was the case here).”

Adds Larson: “A study like this can reveal general patterns, but it cannot tell an individual runner what is best for them. It does not “prove” that barefoot running isn’t better for you. That comes instead from knowing your own body, experimenting with different footwear conditions, and finding out what works for you as an individual.”

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About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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2 Responses to Musings on minimalism

  1. Chris Murphy says:

    Good article. Funnily enough minimalist runners aren’t very fond of the new “Zeros” from the reviews that I have read.

    I have run in Vibrams for over 2 years and am not considering going fully barefoot at all, as you said the surfaces we run on are not conducive to it at all.

    While I am not convinced that the minimalist movement has peaked I am concerned with the direction that the minimalist products are going, pushed by the big companies to latch onto the movement.

    • subthree says:

      Interesting, isn’t it, to see the large shoe manufacturers jump in. As Chris McDougall has previously pointed out, companies like NIke moved from their origins of minimalism to more and more cushioned shoes and then as soon as the tide changed began producing less cushioned shoes again. There’s a lot of consumers just jumping on the idea without really realizing what it might mean and subsequently I wouldn’t be surprised if in a couple of years we see some studies showing injury rates rising.

      Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to write.

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