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Going Minimalist and Changing Form Help Ultrarunner Nathan Sanel Fix his Shins: Another Anecdote

Potentially Painful SummerI met Nate Sanel on a cold night in October, 2009. Nate had joined his friend Sherpa John Lacroix in his second attempt to run 125 miles across the state of New Hampshire for charity, and I and another local running friend had decided to join them for about 10 miles at about the halfway point of their trek. I still remember the night vividly – it was dark and quite cold, and I’m quite certain I saw a snowflake or two twinkle through the beam of my headlight. I recall running through downtown Concord and being harassed by a local not used to seeing guys in reflective gear and headlamps trotting down Main Street. One of the things that I remember most vividly though was the pain that Nate was dealing with. His shin was screaming at him, and he called it quits at the same rest stop that marked the end of the 10-mile leg that me and my buddy Jim had agreed to run with them. I could tell he was disappointed, but he knew this pain well, and he knew better than to push on.

Nate has gone on since that night to put up some pretty impressive race performances. He finished in 38th place at the Leadville 100 last year, 23rd in the Vermont 50, and 31st with a BQ at the very hilly Manchester City Marathon here in NH last Fall (a time of 3:15:10 – 15 minutes better than my own best on that killer course). Despite these great finishes, his shin problems never really cleared up.

Though Nate and I have only met in person a few times, we exchange emails frequently (and sometimes shoes!), and it turns out I had video of him from the Manchester race (which I recently sent him). Nate decided shortly after Manchester that something had to change – a professional triathlete friend suggested that he try flatter shoes and work on his footstrike, and he has conducted his own personal experiment with shoe and form change over the past six months in prep for a pretty audacious goal of running five 100 mile races/runs between now and October (starting with the Western States 100 next week). I helped a local chiropractor who treats runners conduct a gait analysis clinic for our local running club a few weeks back, and had the opportunity to film Nate again. He was running in an incredible pair of zero dropped Nike Frees with an impressive number of miles on them (Nate now hacks shoes in the style of Anton Krupicka), and his form was quite different. His shoes were a thing to behold – he had shaved as much of the sole off as he could without compromising the structural integrity of the shoe. It was work that any cobbler would be proud to call their own.

Rather than steal his thunder, I’ll let Nate tell his own story – you can read it in full here (with the gait videos that I shot): http://bikernate.blogspot.com/2011/06/taking-it-all-in-stride.html

Does this mean that Nate’s approach will work for you? Maybe, maybe not, we just don’t know yet who benefits best from making a switch. However, anecdotes like his are instructive, and we can all learn from each other’s successes (and failures).

Have you found going minimalist or working on form to help with shin pain? Share your story in the comments below.

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. John Robinson says:

    I’ve tried a few miles in a pair of Saucony Kinvara 2. Having a bit of a hard time. Doesn’t quite “feel” right yet, but it’s only been a few times that I’ve gone out in them. I’m taking it slow and running the vast majority (90%) of my weekly miles in my Ascis 2150. The 2150s are nearing 400 miles, so I have to replace those anyhow. I may be looking for a shoe between them and the Kinvaras. Maybe going to a running coach or seeing if someone at the running club can help figure out my gait.

    • John Robinson says:

      I’m wearing the Kinvaras around town when I’m not running, and doing short little runs across streets and through parking lots, concentrating on landing on the balls of my feet. I’m probably taking this more slowly than necessary, but my biggest fear is getting hurt. I’ve only been running since January, but I’m miserable when I have to take time off.

      • Pete Larson says:

        John,

        The Kinvara is a pretty forgiving shoe, so doing an easy run in them
        is probably not a huge risk. Just be careful and stop if anything
        feels unusual. Good to be careful, but the Kinvara is a long way from
        something like a Vibram Fivefingers.

        • John Robinson says:

          I did 4 miles in the Kinvaras yesterday. I was able to forefoot strike (with my heels never really touching the ground) for about 3 miles before my calves said “enough.” The calves are pretty sore today, but it’s just muscle pain, and I never really worry about muscle pain, especially when its cause is no mystery.

          Maybe I’m running too much up on the balls of my feet? The good news is that there is none of the usual knee soreness, but I’m not sure the knee pain would show up after only 4 miles anyhow.

          • Pete Larson says:

            John,

            Be careful to not force a forefoot strike – your heel should come down and
            touch the ground, otherwise you will put lots of strain on the calf and
            Achilles.

            Pete

          • John Robinson says:

            I did end up with pretty sore calves for several days. I was able to run 14 on Wednesday night in my Asics, but stairs remain a bit tricky!

            I just got back from 6.2 in the Kinvaras. It took 59 minutes, not bad for me, but I did notice that I negative split pretty well, which I almost never do. Mile 6 was at 8:20. Maybe because the shoes are lighter?

            I tried to concentrate on reducing impact rather than how my foot was landing. I figure if it feels like I’m running “lighter” then I’m probably getting it right. It took a mile or so to figure it out.

            I think I’m going to enjoy running in the Kinvaras, especially once the newly engaged muscles strengthen up a bit. The short term goal is, “don’t get injured.” The medium term goal is, finish Montreal in Sept. The long term goal is, “don’t get injured.”

          • Pete Larson says:

            Excellent goals, don’t get injured!

            Sent from my iPad

          • John Robinson says:

            I did 10 miles in these shoes Wed night, and then ran our weekly 5K in them on Thursday night. Even after having run 10 the night before, I shaved 1:24 off of my PR for the 5K and ran my fastest single mile ever. (23:44 5k)
            I’ve only been running since January, so PRs are easy to come by for me, but I do feel that the shoes were a factor in shaving so much time, probably a big factor. Also, a big reduction (I hesitate to say elimination) of knee pain also seems to coincide with the switch to the flatter shoe.

          • Pete Larson says:

            great to hear it, Congrats!

          • John Robinson says:

            I finished my first marathon last night in the Kinvaras. I think the best thing I can say about the shoes is that I did not notice the shoes at all. It’s been just over 24 hours since the finish. Some muscle pain and stiffness, but no joint pain at all. Other than a couple of toenails that will soon be departing, the feet are good.

            Thanks for this blog, I’d probably have not tried flatter shoes had I not read it. Getting out of my 2150′s has been a big help.

  2. James Williams says:

    Although being far from an ultra runner, I can totally relate.  The whole time I trained for my first 1/2 marathon my shins felt bruised and I had achilles issues.  About a year ago I bought a pair of Bikilas and it took some transition time, but now I have no shin or achilles pain. 

  3. Charla Welch says:

    I’m definitely not a hardcore runner by any means. I started running in 2009 and had horrible shin splints and ankle sprains. I switched to my “transition” shoes and changed my form in 2010, and haven’t had the shin splints or ankle problems since then. I bought some Merrell Barefoot shoes early 2011 and love them. I’m now training for my first half marathon (in October) and will stick with my minimalist style. My speed is much better (although still slow, but I’m OK with that), and my endurance is constantly growing.

  4. theo7272 says:

    Jason touches on this a bit on Barefoot Running University.  http://barefootrunninguniversi

  5. Mad Dude says:

    Sorry but there is a fundamental dishonesty with all the “anecdotal”
    evidence on display. You say we can learn from failures? Well exactly how many have you
    posted or promoted (without criticism or the elitism that is so common).  The “don’t try this at home” routine is
    becoming increasingly unbelievable as you push your beliefs on unsuspecting
    runners and products with all the minimal shoe ads that litter your site like a
    NASCAR driver. Furthermore your limited history with running is starting to affect
    the honesty of your reporting. (Gee in the whole 5 years I’ve been running I’ve
    never saw a racing flat for sale so it must be a conspiracy). The claims you
    have (rightly) ripped shoe companies are now the same one you make (by proxy
    but thinly veiled). If your mission was to gain media attention for yourself,
    your website and cause; congrats you’ve achieved it. If it was to have an
    honest discussion about running; you’ve failed.

    • Jeff Bradford says:

      I’m feeling a bit sorry for this guy. Mad Dude needs to chill out. I’m pretty sure he’s just trying to stir the pot and get a rise out of us since his entire comment boils down to an unsupported, name-calling, poop-throwing paragraph. I’m unsure what exactly makes Mad Dude think that Pete wants any media attention for himself. His only desire, in my humble opinion, is to educate others and provide another voice to us minimalist runners who have actually found joy in running with as little as possible on our feet.
      Minimalism is here to stay Mad Dude. The status quo in the shoe industry is coming to an end. You can either embrace the increased diversity in shoe choice which others (like Pete) have helped bring to us, or you can continue banging your head against the wall. I hope you’ll choose to do the former rather than the latter. Unfortunately, based on your comment, I think it’ll be the latter.

    • Nate S. says:

      Failed?  Mad Dude, you just don’t get it.  I run 100 miles a week now.  That would have been impossible before.  The truth is that I don’t care what you think.  In Ultrarunning there is an expression that we use when somebody asks advice about moving to these kind of diststances.  We say that it is “an experiement of one”.  I, as well as Pete, are simply just sharing our experiences.  When you find something that works and it is 180 degrees different than what tradition has taught us you feel compelled to share it.  Do with it what you will.   The day you compete against me in a 100 mile race and whoop my ass is the day that you gain crediblilty with me. 

    • Pete Larson says:

      Please enlighten me as to how I have been dishonest “Mad Runner,” whoever
      you are. I have discussed on repeated occasions the potential risks of
      minimalist running. People do hurt themselves when they try it, and I don’t
      think everyone needs to run in them. Nor do I think the model that fills
      most store shelves these days is right for all. Do I promote minimalist
      shoes? Yes, because I believe in them. I’ve never hidden that. Do I review
      non-minimalist shoes? No, because I don’t like to run in them and this is a
      personal blog with no staff other than me. If I have to put a decent number
      of miles on a pair of shoes, you can be sure it’s probably going to be one
      that I like. This has been a minimalist running blog since nearly day one.

      Should I go tell Nate (or any of the many people with similar stories who
      contact me) that he’d better go back to doing what he was doing before
      because this is all a giant sham orchestrated by me to gain media attention?
      And how long must one be a runner before they are allowed to share their
      thoughts on topics like these? If anything smacks as elitist, it’s the I’ve
      been running longer than you argument.

      Pete

      • theo7272 says:

        It is funny Pete,  I was just thinking that the people who seem resilient to the “minimalist” movement, are those that have been running many years. (Not all life long runners are resilient.)  I think that many of them don’t want to change or acknowledge that what they have been doing over the past 10-20 years may have been wrong.  People like you and myself that have not been runners for that long, I believe are much more open to the idea of trying something “new” or different.  I know when I started running a little over a year ago, I had no idea what I was doing so I bought big cushioned, stability Nikes.  But because I didn’t have any real preconceived notions on running I was very open to minimalist/barefoot running.  I read Born to Run and stumbled upon your blog.  I have since made the switch to running barefoot and in minimalist shoes.  I have had some setbacks on the way but I’m okay with that because running is now fun for me.  It is now a passion for me.  Before running was just something I did to stay in shape.  Many people are just simply scared of change or admitting they are wrong especially when many have dedicated their lives to a certain belief or dogma.  We can’t and won’t convert everyone.

      • Robert Osfield says:

        Hi Pete,

        You’ve got yourself your first Troll! ;-)

        link to en.wikipedia.org

        It could even be a case of astroturfing – i.e. someone paid by a company to distrupt and discredit discussions of what it sees as disruptive to its business model.

        Mad Dude has just started tweeting so it looks to me like a shell for throwing mud, perphaps specially created to attack the mimialst running moving.

        I am actally surprised that this type of trolling has been so absent from your blogs comment section.  I have loved the high signal to noise ratio, far higher than any tech website that I read, alas trolling and astroturfing is sad fact life in the world of IT.

        General recommendation is to not feed the troll.  Just ignore them.

        The fact that you are getting trolled does mean that the mimialist message is starting to create waves in the “mainstream” shoes market. So you can take it as a compliment that you are having a positive impact :-)

  6. Indika McCampbell says:

    As I commented in Nate’s blog, this in incredibly timely for me as I’m making the same change. It really gives me hope and motivation to stick with it and transition slowly and that it’ll be all worth it in the end….even if I have to skip a summer of big miles ;) Thanks so much!

  7. Jmarshall says:

    Hate to bring up “BTR”…but that was me 9 years ago.  Heel striker, got PF, Dr. said buy a bike and I did.  Rode road/mnt hard for the last 8 years.  Had 10 pair of orthotics, wore Berk’s – never barefoot for more than 2 minutes…but missed running.   Read the BTR book 11 months ago, started running again, moved to “barefoot” style, studied BF Ted, BF Ken, Prof Jason, Michael Sandler, etc. Started very SLOWLY, did daily foot exercises like Sandler told me to, ran my 1st 50K in MT101′s last month – PAIN FREE…at age 53.  Now switching between the NB Minimus and Luna Sandals and feeling great.

  8. The videos point out two glaring thoughts that may attribute to what he was dealing with. First his running form was too far back. Working on his form was the right thing to do. But you can also see that he is a super strong runner and that no matter what his feet are doing, his strong body stays rather neutral. Strong body, and overbuilt shoe for him don’t make sense.  It then makes sense that he’s in a neutral shoe and finding out the least possible shoe he can run in. That foot strike with a softer core and leg strength will see different results for sure. 

    • Pete Larson says:

      Dave,

      We actually noted that he holds his torso almost slightly backward at times
      - just goes to show how indivudal all of us are, and how are needs might be
      uniquely different as well. The positive thing is that the changes he made
      seem to be working!

      Pete

  9. Mike Medved says:

    Actually, I don’t have shin problems, but would like to get a quick opinion from the masses – I’ve been running in Nike Frees for over a year now and have moved to a fore foot strike (at least I think I have, I haven’t managed to get any good video).  I ran the Cleveland 1/2 a month ago and put up my best time yet (1:39).  I’m going to run my first marathon in October.

    I’ve encountered some pain in my right foot, on the top, more towards the inside.  I can run on it, but it has been lingering for over a week now.  It seems like if a take a day or two off it feels better, then if I run hard or long on it, the pain returns.  It is definitely a little inflamed.  The pain isn’t bad – kind of dull.

    Run through it?  Take a week off to try and let it heal completely?  I’m thinking I jumped back in to things a little to quickly after the half…

    • Pete Larson says:

      Best advice if you are truly worried about it is to see a doc who can give
      you a proper diagnosis. Are you trying to force a forefoot strike or just
      letting your feet do what comes natural in the Frees?

      • Mike Medved says:

        Wow, don’t think this is anything that requires a doc visit… just soreness/inflammation/dull pain.  I was really thinking about whether I should take a week off or not to try and rid myself of the inflammation.

         By this point a midfoot (which is what I really meant to say) strike is pretty much what comes natural to me in the frees.  I wouldn’t say that I’m forcing the midfoot strike – over the last year I’ve slowly switched from a heel striker to midfoot striker, all in the Frees.  My last pair became a part of me when I ran – I don’t even think about them when they are on.

        • Pete Larson says:

          Don’t be alarmed, that’s usually my default response when it comes to
          injuries since I’m not a medical doc and it’s hard to say for sure what an
          injury might be in a venue like this. I’ve had my share of aches and pains,
          but have never required a doctor’s visit. I just try to be smart about
          things, and often even find that switching to a shoe with different
          properties can allow me to run until the ache heals up. As you said, couold
          just be that you’re pushing too hard after a solid race effort. Rest is
          important!

  10. This is a great story! One of my neighbors was trying to run more but her knees hurt to much so I suggested that she move to a more forefoot strike and she says she can run without knee pain now. Your blog is great Pete.

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