Why I Continue to Run in Minimal Shoes

Merrell Vapor GloveI started running in “minimalist” footwear over 4 years ago. Since that time I’ve set PR’s at nearly every race distance, and have only had one injury that bothered me enough to seek out professional help (a bout of plantar fasciitis that did not curtail my training, and that somewhat perplexingly went away when I increased my mileage). In most respects, my running has been going very well for quite a long time.

While it’s tempting to credit my good health and running success to my choice of footwear, I’d be naïve if I did so. The truth is that I didn’t get injured in two years of running prior to going minimal, and my race success is more likely due to the fact that I was becoming a more experienced runner and I was training harder. Beyond the effect of reduced weight, my shoe choices probably had very little to do with my personal racing achievements.

As a shoe reviewer, I now run in all kinds of shoes. I run in everything from ultraminimal, barefoot-style shoes to 8mm drop cushioned trainers (I still avoid more traditional 10-12mm drop trainers). The specific mix varies depending on which reviews I’m working on at any given time. Lately, however, I’ve been running a lot in ultralight racing flats (Mizuno Universe 5 and Asics Blazing Fast), and a few days ago I went for a five mile run in the Merrell Vapor Gloves (one of the most minimal shoes I’ve run in). Spending a few weeks running mostly in very minimal shoes has reminded me why I continue to do so: it’s fun!

I don’t continue to run in minimal shoes because I think they keep me healthier or make me faster than when I run in traditional shoes, I run in them because I enjoy running in them. I like feeling the ground under my feet. I feel stronger when I run without supportive footwear. And I love the feeling of freedom afforded by a pair of shoes that weighs under 5-6 oz. While I certainly see a role for using shoes as tools to mange injuries or for specific race purposes, my personal choice is driven entirely by comfort and enjoyment, and that’s good enough for me.

How about you? If you run minimal, what’s your main reason for doing so?

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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. Danny Preising says:

    About 1 year ago I read some damn book that swayed me into trying it out. Now after buying and selling 50+ minimalist & barefoot shoes (and keeping my fav 15 of the bunch), I am addicted to the feel of the road for life. And my closet is stocked for the downfall.

  2. As a new runner, I was having trouble with shin splints to the point that I didn’t want to keep running. I tried to change my form, but found it hard to do in the big stability shoes. I switched to a pair of fashion sneakers from payless and found I liked running.

    Minimal shoes keep my form in line and I like how they feel on my feet. Vivobarefoot is my brand of choice lately. They just fit my foot well. Since that switch, a good 3 years ago, I’ve done multiple half marathons and I’m now training for my first marathon.

    I had to convince my older sister to NOT switch to minimal. She was going to do it just because it worked for me, but she wasn’t having any trouble. She runs well and injury free, so I told her to stick with what’s working for her.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Shin splints on the front of the leg are one condition where I think a minimal shoe or a foot strike alteration is good advice. Not messing with success is also good advice. Glad you found something that is working for you!
      Sent from my iPad

  3. 4 years ago i got mononucleosis, didn’t know until 8 months later when i was really suffering junior year in high school track, when i finally found out i had to rest for 2 months

    i had to build myself back up, i’d been reading about minimal footwear and barefoot running for about 2 years, i wasn’t sure how long shoes would last, when i could switch etc.

    I finally did that summer to build myself back up
    mono still affected me until probably last november or december, not majorly but the remnants of my destroyed system, and crumbled mental toughness still lingered freshman year of college track

    didn’t do track this last spring semester, and i don’t think i will, especially considering the university i’m going to transfer to is fairly new and budget cuts prevented them from starting sports like they planned, don’t know when they’ll start

    anyway, since starting in then invisible shoes, fivefingers, and still having the pair of vivobarefoot neos, and now running 95% barefoot (just depends on the weather, usually minimally shod a few times in the winter now)

    i’ve become a much stronger runner, i’m more alert, better form, love the ground, and i love being closer to where i’m naturally supposed to be (almost cause my toes are a bit messed up from traditional footwear)

    i was never injured in traditional footwear before, but running is actually comfortable now, not injured one time except for like 2 times when first transitioning while figuring out how much i could actually do

    i will NEVER go back, so glad this movement has been happening, thankful for the internet for helping me find such information, thankful for the information provided by others to educate me properly
    because of the above, i’ve successfully helped convert over a dozen for sure going minimally or barefoot

    my thanks to those that have aided in my education includes you pete!!
    also thanks again for helping me with my paper last semester ( got an A btw )

    • Pete Larson says:

      Excellent, glad I could help with that paper :)

      Sent from my iPad

    • just a shame there’s not enough trails within closer running distance, closest i have is about 3 miles away, but i’d like to run the majority of my runs on trails and not trespass lol

  4. Aaron Grenz says:

    My minimalist shoe of choice now is the Brooks PureConnect Drifts. They are easily the best pair of shoes I’ve ever owned since I started running 5 years ago as well – and much of it is because I truly enjoy running in them. They have just the minimum amount of cushioning I like when running on hard surfaces, but still allow for a great feel of the road.

    I’ll also add that I definitely notice how much easier it is to pack minimalist shoes when I pack for business trips and vacations. I can usually fit almost two minimialist pairs shoes in the same space as one pair of stability shoes that I used to wear – and it weighs considerably less.

    Sadly these won’t be my go-to shoe for much longer as the temps will get a lot colder in the upper midwest, and I’ll need to switch to something with better traction and Gore-tex for winter. (I have the Innov-8 Terroc 345 GTX) These are good shoes, but not perfect – wish there were more minimalist waterproof (Gore-tex) options.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Yes, one of the benefits of minimal shoes for me is I can double stack them on shelves of my shoe rack. Packability is key :)

    • Brian J McWilliams says:

      I really like the Merrell Mix Master 2 with Aeroblock water proofing. Minimalist shoes that work well for me on trails during the warmer months and through winter temps as well.

      • Aaron Grenz says:

        Thanks for the recommendation. The Mix Master 2 Aeroblock weren’t available when I was shopping, and I was able to get the Innov-8 345 for just over $50 on sale at Sierra Trading Post – hard to beat any Gore-Tex shoes at that price. I’ve previously used 2 Merrell’s in the past. I still have the 1st Barefoot Glove, and had the Mix Master 2 (no waterproofing though) for 3 months until they developed a tear in the heel, so I exchanged them for the Brooks that I’m using today. I do like Merrell and will try them again. I definitely like the sole on their shoes compared to most others that I’ve used. I do worry that my Brooks Drifts sole won’t last more than 6 months. The tread at the toes (it’s just white foam) wore off in under a month.

  5. Andrew Ward says:

    I switched to bare foot because I was tired of buying shoes every 3 or 4 months. Have done over 2500km without them and my feet still haven’t “worn out”!

  6. Absolutely! As usual, you write the good stuff, Pete!

    I think that, whatever this study or that study says or doesn’t say, in the end, it’s about how it feels.

    I don’t know why, and I’m not sure that it even really matters, but I kinda feel like a kid when I do barefoot strides on the grass, or when I run in something almost not there.

    It seems to me that far too many of us get wrapped up in the technical aspects of our footwear. If we wear what feels good, what is comfortable, what allows us to enjoy what we’re doing–whether it is for health or competitive reasons–then more than likely we have the right shoe.

    Well done, man!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks John! I think that the study thing is what triggered this post, all of the studies hone in on claims of injury reduction or increased performance. I think a lot of minimalists do it just because it feels good to our individual bodies.

  7. I started running in the late 1970′s in Tiger Jayhawks, Mexicos- shoes issued by my school in cross country. We ran on dirt roads, pine needled trails, rugged meadows and terrain in central Massachusetts. Injuries were rare, shoes were generally flat, our strides natural for the conditions we were exposed to. As my running career expanded throughout high school and college the heel height and support gimmicks grew exponentially, as did the injuries of my peers. I always felt as if the squishy, high riding shoes made me slower and recovery took longer. For many, many years I have been running in racing flats or retros if available. Nearly 30 years later flats (minimalistic) shoes are back in style, and we’re back to basics.
    There is not a day that goes by that I don’t marvel at the amazing technological advances in the flat shoes I run in now. My mind wanders to a place in my youth that if I had only had shoes like these in the 1980′s!
    I believe I have had over three decades virtually injury free by running on soft surfaces in flat shoes and very little stretching.

  8. William Teng says:

    Another reason to run in minimalist shoes (VFF)! During the 2-week taper before Wineglass and the night before an 8K race, I stubbed my right little toe. It wasn’t anything serious but it was swollen. No problem walking or running if barefoot. But, when I put on my Merrell Trail Glove, the top of the shoe would press down on that toe with each step, which made it uncomfortable and somewhat painful. Fortunately, I also routinely train in my VFF, and, with its own toe pocket, that little toe was a lot happier, throughout the entire 8K! In fact, I ran a course PR, by ~30-sec/mi faster pace, compared with last year.

  9. DannyDingus says:

    i love running in zero drop, no-cushion shoes so much, and have been doing so since i bought the first version of the saucony hattoris years ago. for the last 2 years i’ve been running in inov-8s – first the 150s and now the 180s with the insoles taken out. i just bought a backup pair of 180s because i have a feeling inov-8 isn’t updating them.
    it’s really upsetting to see brands shy away from barefoot shoes and head to more cushioning. i love feeling the ground underneath me. i tried the mizuno cursoris, but they felt like mush.
    i REALLY hope inov-8 and a few other brands continue making barefoot style shoes. maybe the nike hyperfeels will inject some life into the category. i havent seen them in person yet, and theyre way out of my price range, but they seem interesting.

  10. Joachim Landström says:

    People have asked me the same, considering the return of more cushioned shoes. My take on it is something like: why run in “more” shoes when I don’t need to. I did not get injured before, running in cushioned shoes, nor do I get injured now with minimalist shoes. Adding cushioning, motion control etc is for me reserved as a remedy to fix a problem. Why fix something that is not broken?

    • Pete Larson says:

      I think the advice to run in as little shoe as your body needs is excellent. I get a bit of satisfaction from running in shoes without lots of tech in them, simple is fine with me :)

  11. kellydomara says:

    I don’t run in them exclusively. I mix it up. But, I do run primarily in minimalist shoes just because they feel lighter and easier and more normal, almost. Going back to the shoes I used to wear feels really heavy and bulky and like I have lifts under my feet.

  12. Marty Roddy says:

    I have seen a lot of injuries from the minimal switch- folks should learn to run with minimal , rather in a style to accommodate the new type of shoes. Once that happens- you can run injury free- if smart- with any shoes.

    I wear size 17- so none of these fancy new shoes will work for me—I had 7 knee and 2 other leg surgeries during my football days BUT have been running pain free for more than 20 years. I have been running in the style that is recommended in POSE running or CHI running and for running with minimalist shoes– Midfoot/full foot strike- little or no sound on impact and of course no pain.

    werunusa.wordpress.com has more of what i think about

  13. Damien @ ToeSalad says:

    When I first started writing about minimalist footwear, it had nothing to do with running. In fact I couldn’t run due to some physical issues I was dealing with. The exploration of minimalist footwear enabled me to work through those issues and eventually begin running again – I started easing myself back into running two years ago. I am going to continue to run, walk, hike, and do everything in as minimal a shoe as I can handle because overall this philosophy has been good to me. I have grown to enjoy it, and too much shoe now feels confining.

  14. Adolfo Neto (UTFPR) says:

    That’s the point! I run in minimalist footwear and barefoot because it is fun. Not because of scientific evidence.

    By the way, have you read the latest Noakes-Tucker paper on barefoot running?

  15. Robert Osfield says:

    I certainly enjoy my runs in light, flat, minimally cushioned shoes with anatomical last far more than any other running shoes I’ve ever worn. Comfortable, fast and connected to my environment is how I feel when I run.

    Any time I stick conventional trainers on now they feel unstable, heavy and uncomfortable and they look fecking ugly too with all that foam and “technology”. Slender form hugging shoes are sexy.

    I quite simply adore the best of my minimal shoes. Not all minimal shoes get this level of affection, the fit, grip and general function all contribute to a shoe that will work for me, if it doesn’t tick all the boxes then I just don’t grow fond of them. For instance my F-Lite 232′s I adore for their comfort, flexibility and looks, while my Trailroc-255′s are perfect good shoes but are just that shoes that do a job – provide a bit of grip, a bit of protection but there isn’t any irrational connection to them.

  16. Zedric Dimalanta says:

    I’m at a point where my main motivation for running is recreation and fitness maintenance… I don’t really think about setting PRs or placing in races anymore, and what I’ve found is that running in “just enough shoe” allows me to get the most enjoyment out of running.

    I don’t know if it’s the enhanced tactile feedback, the greater activation of certain muscles, the lower weight I have to carry, or any of the other differences, but I do agree that most of the time, running with the least amount of cushioning I can tolerate on a particular surface feels more fun and rewarding than running with thicker-soled conventional shoes.

  17. BryanEW710 says:

    You’re preaching to the choir, Peter. I was just discussing this on a run with a co-worker today. He runs in traditional trainers, while I’m the lone “minimal” runner in our group. I explained that, while I am no more or less injured in minimal shoes, I’ve become more in-tune with strength and my body (at least I think I have) and I enjoy the aesthetic that goes with minimal shoes.

    In other words…they look cool, feel cool, and make ME feel cool–all the while leaving me no less or more injured than I was before :-)

    • Pete Larson says:

      Yep, it’s all about what feels right to you!

      • Pete, would you say you have changed your stance on minimalism since you wrote “Tread Lightly”?

        • Pete Larson says:

          No, not really at all. In fact I don’t think if change anything I wrote based on what I have seen since then. Basic message was different needs for different people, experiment and avoid dogmatic stances.

  18. Michael Anderson says:

    The Vapor Gloves were my last try at running truly minimal … and while i love them for walking, they are just too little shoe for my running routes. I am happy with the more ‘lightweight’ types.

    But like everyone else is noting- my thoughts echo yours: it is all about how it feels … and what works for the individual.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I wore them with some padded socks and they felt pretty good, definitely the most minimal shoe I’ve run in since maybe some of the Vivobarefoot stuff.

      • BryanEW710 says:

        One little editorial on Minimal shoes…if I have to wear socks to make them comfortable, they’re not “minimal” to me. IMHO, they should have just enough shoe that I don’t need the extra cushioning AND (looking at you, SKORA) volume of socks to make the shoes fit and work.

  19. I run minimalist when running on the local track or road running relatively short distances A few years ago I ran a long race (for me maybe a 15K) with minimalist shoes and I ended up with some pretty bad pain in the bottom of my foot that kept me from much running for several weeks. Since then I stick with traditional shoes for longer road runs (and rough trails)

  20. William Teng says:

    I too like the feel of the ground and the light weight of minimalist shoes. In all my decades of running, I’ve very seldom gotten injured (knocking on wood right now!). I’m not sure if that’s because of the way I naturally run, but my transition, over the past two years, to minimalist shoes was obviously not the reason. I finally retired my Merrell Trail Glove (after the recent Wineglass) and switched over to a pair of NB Minimus 10, for the long runs (other runs still with VFF). Minimus 10 is pretty good, but I definitely like the Trail Glove better. I can feel that 4-mm drop difference! I’m considering the Vapor Glove for the next pair. I find your shoe reviews very useful!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks William!

    • Joachim Landström says:

      The Trail Gloves are my preferred shoes but with the fall I have had to start to run on the roads again and therefore got myself Vapor Gloves. They are lovely although I have yet to do any longer runs in them. So far I have not gone for longer runs than 1h in them but feel confident that I can easily extend the runs to 2h.

  21. This may sound odd, but I do random minimalist shoe runs (usually on dirt or trails) because barefoot running was killing me. But not how you think. I took up barefoot running to “reduce” a horrifying heal strike and at one point was running up to 13 miles sans shoes. However, once I slipped on a pair of shoes – regardless of how minimal, my heal strike would be horrible (I think sub-consciously my brain reasoned that since I had “protection” I could revert back to the norm). So I have had to do reduce my heel strike in a different way, which seems to be working.

  22. Christian Messerschmidt says:

    Hi Pete,
    I really enjoy your perspective on running and running shoes because it lacks the fundamentalist zeal of many other minimalist runners.
    I switched from heavy support trainers about two years ago. I like running in VFFs and Tabi-shoes since they align my bunions. I like racing flats and the likes of NB Minimus Zero since they just “get out of the way” and let the body run the way it is meant to.

  23. I run in minimal shoes because I like lightweight flat footwear than anything but I think it is still very confusing for some people to choose a pair of minimal shoes successfully.

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