Don't eschew the minimalist shoe just yet

Posted: April 08, 2013

My story is a common one. After three years of running in traditional running shoes, I read Christopher McDougall's best selling book Born to Run about barefoot runners, ditched my cushiony Adidas sneakers for a pair of low-to-the-ground Nike Frees, and set off onto the road of more minimalist running.

And hurt myself. Badly.

I can't just blame the shoes. Poor diet and an aggressive running schedule (I thought I'd qualify for Boston in my first marathon) were factors, too, but I went back to the large, cushioned shoes, thinking that minimalist running wasn't for me.

Not necessarily, says Scott Douglas, author of The Runner's World Complete Guide to Minimalism and Barefoot Running.

He's not a barefoot zealot. But he argues that running in shoes that have less weight and padding - the way most running shoes were until the mid-1970s - is better for most runners.

"Nobody can prove or probably ever would prove that one type of shoe prevents and causes injury, but there are things that logically would interfere with good running form," he said.

Padding started being added to shoes in the 1970s as a way to both combat Achilles tendinitis, a common running injury, and accommodate a new group of runners. The 1977 publication of James F. Fixx's The Complete Book of Running brought running to more people, and "the running population started to represent more closely what Americans look like," Douglas said, meaning not just 29-year-old male beanpoles. Older runners, more women, people with a variety of body types entered the fold, and shoe companies started making shoes that felt good when those new runners tried them on.

The problem, says Douglas, is that the higher your foot goes off the ground, the farther you stray from a good running form. Another aspect of shoes that still baffles him - a higher heel height than toe height - shifts your weight back, which can make you strike with your heel. This leads to less economical running, and can also lead to injury.

Minimalist shoes make up about 11 percent of the running shoe market. If you want to make the transition, Douglas says, take it slow. In the book he outlines ways that you can strengthen your feet and lower legs to prepare you to run on less cushioning.

As I read the book, I realized I've been making a slow, low progression almost accidentally. Last year, I bought a pair of lighter racing flats to wear in 5Ks, which I also brought to two 10-milers and a half marathon. In training for the New Jersey Marathon, which I'll run on May 5, I've done speed work and tempo runs in the Mizuno Wave Musha 5 which, while not advertised as a minimalist shoe, is a light little thing weighing 6.2 ounces and coming in at 22 millimeters off the ground.

Right now I'm running about half of my weekly 50 miles in them. Those tempo runs have been going so well that I've decided to forgo my larger training shoes, the Mizuno Wave Rider 16 (8.4 ounces and 28 millimeter heel height) and wear the Mushas in the marathon. They just feel right.

I've got my eye on the Mizuno Wave Evo (5.1 ounces and 15-millimeter heel height) - but not until after the marathon. I won't get a haircut leading into a big race, let alone switch shoes.

But this summer? I hope to be lighter afoot.

Running Calendar

    Sunday: Spring Training 5k, walk/run. Benefits Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Pre-registration $20, $25 race day.

Sunday: Codependency 5k run/walk, 8:30 a.m.; Cooper River Park. or

Saturday, April 13: 5k run, 2-mile walk. Wilson Farm Park, Chesterbrook, Pa. Fee $25 for Run, $15 for Walk. - Fighting Cancer Registration 9 a.m., race at 10 a.m.

Saturday: Run for the Ages, 10k run, 8:30 start, Brandywine Park in Wilmington, De. 5k run and 5k walk and 1 mile Senior Stroll at 10 a.m. Registration one hour before each race.

Saturday: Ridley Run, 5k. Register at , or at 6:15 a.m., closes at 7:15 a.m. Race begins at 8 at the Ridley Area YMCA and finishes at Ridley High School.

Saturday, April 13: Gloucester Township Scholarship Committee 5k Run/Walk and One Mile Fun Run, 9 a.m. Fee: $20 before April 6, $25 race day,

April 14: AIM Race to Read 5k, 9 a.m., Schuylkill River Trail. Preregistration is $25, $30 on race day, $10 for the 1 mile fun run/walk.

April 14: 3d Annual Enriching Lives 5K Run/Walk on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, starting at 9n a.m., at Resorts Casino Hotel. Pre-register at and , $25. Day of event, $30.

April 14: Find Her Footing 5k, walk, run, kids dash. Adoptions From The Heart, Delaware County Community College, Media. Pa. Kids Dash, 9 a.m.. 5K Walk/Run begins at 9:30.

April 14: Mission Tuition 5k and 1 mile Fun Run, registration 8 a.m. Fun Run: 10 a.m., 5k, 10:30 a.m. Turkey Swamp Park, 200 Georgia Road, Freehold, N.J. 5k fee: $25 by April 5, $30 race day.

April 14: 3d Annual Enriching Lives 5k Run/Walk, on the Boardwalk at Resorts Casino Hotel, Atlantic City. 9 a.m. start, 7:15 registration. $25 pre-registration, $30 day of event. Contact Sharon: 609-748-4614 or

April 14: SPIN 5k, Possibilities in the Park RunWalkRoll or 1 mile fun walk, 8 a.m. Register early and save $5. 10501 Drummond Road, Industrial Park.

April 20: Run For Our Sons 5k and 1.5-mile walk. Charles Patton Middle School, Kennett Square, Pa. Race: 9 a.m., register at 8.

April 20: 2d annual St. LauRUNtius Fishtown 5k,10 a.m. Starts and ends in front of St. Laurentius School, followed by a day-long block party. $30 registration includes t-shirt and timing. $40 includes beer tent for the duration of the block party. Register at

April 20: Child Guidance Resource Center's "Empower the Children" 5K Run/Walk and 1 Mile Fun Run, Westgate Hills Park, Havertown, onsite registration 7 a.m.; Fun Run starts 8:30 a.m.; 5k Run/Walk starts at 9.

April 21: 8th annual Valley Forge Revolutionary 5-mile run, 8:30 a.m., in Valley Forge National Historical Park.

April 21: 18th Annual Dash for Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness 5k run, 10k run, 3k walk. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Registration 8:30 a.m. or 800-438-5093 ext. 6142.

April 27: Fourth annual "These Boobs are Made for Walkin'" Breast Cancer 4-mile Walk/Run, 10 a.m. Sign-in at 9 a.m. Rowan University Recreation Center.

April 27: Trails 5k in Tacony Creek Park and Community Day at Friends Hospital, 9 a.m.

April 27: Apple Core 5K Challenge, USATF certified, benefits Orchard Friends School, 9 a.m., Riverton.

April 27: 6k, at the Institute Woods, Princeton, N.J. Course is on natural surface maintained trails. Preregistration required, field limited to 150 runners.

April 28: Meso no Mas 5k run/5k walk; West Chester. Register on site or at

May 5: 7th Annual Richard's River Run, 9 a.m. at Cooper River Pennsauken, NJ. Go4thegoal will host.

May 5: Long Branch Half Marathon, Long Branch, N.J.

May 5: Bucks County 10 miler, Washington Crossing, Pa.

May 11: Rock N' Run 4 Kids, 5k & Kid's fun run. Coca-Cola Park, Allentown.

May 11: Elwyn 5K, on Elwyn's campus, outside of Media, Pa. 9 a.m. start. 610-891-2298.


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Please send at least two weeks in advance.

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