Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Minimalist in Me

I got into minimalism back in the early aughts when I began to read the likes of Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel, Gordon Lish, Mary Robison, Chuck Palahniuk and others. One of my favorite professors was a Hemingway scholar, and perhaps the "iceberg" principle was driven in too deep.

The desire to achieve more with less led me to running in 2006. All I needed was a pair of shoes. Now, I am starting to wonder if I need those.

Last year, before the weather got cold, I attempted my first barefoot runs. Soon, I will make more unshod attempts.

All this talk about natural vs. unnatural running, barefoot vs. shoes and minimal vs. stability cushioning has me shaking my head. The debate is pointless. Nobody has the facts. The arguments are based on limited studies, personal experience and opinion. So, here are mine.

I needed shoes when I started running. I need less shoe now. I will probably always need some shoe because of winters in Ohio.

Ever since the Akron Marathon, I have run most of my miles in racing flats. Because I was recovering from the race and entering winter, I ran a lot less. Easing into minimal cushioning allowed me time to strengthen my feet to handle the increased load.

Before I bought the low-profile Brooks T6 Racers, I became skeptical of cushioning. I have three other pairs of running shoes, and only one has logged fewer than 500 miles. I rotated between these shoes while training for the marathon and raced in the lowest mileage of the three. That pair now has logged 450 miles.

By continuing to run in well-worn stability shoes, I pounded the cushioning down until it was ineffective. My feet had to get stronger to make up for the decreased support. From there, I made a gradual shift to the racing flats.

Yesterday, I took yet another step into less shoe. I bought a 12-by-12 inches piece of 3/16-inch thick industrial rubber for $6.04. Here is why.

This minimalist trend has also been good to my wallet. I've spent about $75 dollars on running shoes in the last 22 months, during which I have run about 1,800 miles. And guess what? I haven't used my injury tag since June of last year, before I logged my highest marathon training mileage ever.

My advice for those who plan on running in minimal shoes or bare feet: Don't be stupid. Making a switch like this is like starting over. Your lungs, core and thighs might be ready to go out long and fast, but your feet and calves are not.

Start short and slow. Stop if it hurts.

This all goes back to being an Experiment of One. You are your own test lab. Listen to your body, not the so-called "experts."

[Drunkard's note: Yes, this can be summarized as, "I was into minimalist running before it was cool."]

13 comments:

Jamoosh said...

Here I am, sans alcohol, proclaiming that a guy named "Viper", who writes a blog by the title of "Booze Hounds Inc. Running Team" is a wise man.

Excellent advice for the novice. I run in all three modes (full on shoe, minimalist footwear, barefoot) depending on weather, terrain, mileage, etc. And the best advice I can give is first to see for yourself and second to take it easy introducing yourself to something new.

misszippy said...

You trend setter you! Good advice, I'm sure. Sounds like you have made wise steps to getting there. Keep us posted.

Vava said...

You lucky cheap bastard...

The Sean said...

Think of all the extra beer that equates too... I am never buying shoes again.

drdave said...

Alright Jamoosh .... what did Viper pay you for that endorsement?

I am like Jamoosh. I have all three modes also. Only problem I have is location. If I want to run barefoot or with minimalist shoes, I must drive, park and then run. I live on a dirt road 2.5 miles from any pavement. So, most of my running is still done in a stability shoe. Just simply because I really AM to cheap to pay for gas to go running. Well if I pay for the gas then I won't have any left over for beer. Come'on, I do have priorities!

joyRuN said...

By continuing to run in well-worn stability shoes, I pounded the cushioning down until it was ineffective

That approach isn't working for me. I'm left with the hefty weight with no cushioning & my achilles are killing me. My Nike Frees & Vibrams are feeling great, but not ready to use those for the long runs.

Spike said...

So I won't go so far as to say your are 'right' (because my man-pride precludes me from even considering, let alone uttering, such things), but over the winter I bought a pair of Vibram 5 Fingers, and I started running only a 1/2 mile a week in them and on a treadmill or indoor track. Now I'm up to 4M and can go outdoors with them. And, my nagging plantar fascittis has almost gone completely away. So thank you for treading this trail before me and giving me a reason to try a similar path.

Note, I still do most of my mileage in running shoes.

southofthecliff said...

Remember to get some barefoot time in too. Nag nag nag.

Xenia said...

But does barefoot running only work for people with normal or high arches? My arches are pretty low. I feel like trying this might be disastrous for me.

southofthecliff said...

Xenia - I have high arches, but on the various barefoot running forums there are people who claim to be flat-footed and have no problems. Some claim that their arches actually raise after time.

Nitmos said...

You know what I read here? More examples of your frugality. Ask yourself: If NOT having running shoes cost $75, would you own a dozen pairs?

Adam Culp (Crazy Floridian) said...

Nice post, and well said.

Chris said...

Chris - http://www.christhefoo.com
Long time lurker - 1st time commenter.
Must say that this post speaks to the cheapskate in me. I have a saying that a good running shoe is like a fine wine or cheese - better with age. I was also one who bought a stability shoe and proceeded to run about 1500 miles in it. Much to the chagrin of my "serious" running buddies who told me long ago that I needed to ditch the shoes. Funny thing is that when I feel like I have gone too hard in my Free's (technical trails are hard on the Achilles) I will still bust out the old 1500 and counting mile shoes and run a few days for some relief. Excellent post sir...experiment of one indeed. Every runner is different and I am so tired of the assertion that we aren't.