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Women and the Minimalist Running Movement: Merrell Wants Your Feedback

EmilyBlue Back in September I traveled to New York City to attend a roundtable discussion hosted by Merrell Footwear. The group in attendance was diverse, and included bloggers, journalists, doctors, physical therapists, and a former Boston Marathon winner. Despite our differing backgrounds, one thing we had in common is that most of us had a Y chromosome – the group was dominated by men. Emily Snayd, the rep for Merrell who had organized the event (and a darned good runner!), indicated that despite her best efforts, she’d had a very hard time finding women to participate.

The gender bias within the minimalist movement became one of several focal points of discussion during the roundtable, and many theories were put forth as to why men seem to be more likely to ditch their traditional shoes than women. This bias was borne out the following day at the NYC Barefoot Run – though many barefoot women were present, there was clearly a decided bias toward the male side among the barefoot runners present.

In an effort to learn more about this gender bias, Emily at Merrell is going to be hosting a discussion on their Facebook page ( this afternoon (December 1) from 1:00-2:00, and tonight from 7:00-8:00 PM. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of this – if you can’t take part, feel free to share any thoughts on this topic in the comments below as well – I’ll pass them along and make sure they are heard.

For more information, you can check out Emily’s post over on the Merrell blog.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Just piping up as a minimalist (female) runner who was at the September events, wears Merrells, Vivobarefoots, Vffs, etc., but has no interest in being on Facebook.

    Perhaps the adjustment to minimalist running is more painful to those women who spend their days wearing shoes with a significant rise.   I was never much for heels – not since I was a teenager, anyway – but since I’ve taken to wearing shoes with no heel rise on a daily basis, even a low heel is uncomfortable for me.  If you have a job that requires traditional office attire (I don’t) maybe the transition isn’t as easy as it would be for men.  Just speculating.

  2. I am also now a minimalist female runner (started last February). When I first started running 10 years ago in traditional shoes, I remember reading and being told that women’s hips, etc. are weaker than men’s, and so women need more support. Also when I was pregnant with my first child and during the postpartum period I saw a couple of doctors for pain I was having and they encouraged me to wear very supportive shoes with inserts because they said that having children flattens your arches and makes it hard for them to function like normal. So…maybe it was only me, but I was sent the message that women are more fragile and need more support for their bodies to function right. That’s why I ran in heavy duty shoes for so long and it took a huge leap of faith for me to believe all the minimalist stuff I was reading. I’m sure glad I did though and maybe this is only my experience. I have no idea.

  3. Charla Welch says:

    I started my transition to minimal/barefoot running a year ago. I only started running about 1 3/4 years ago. I got my first pair of Merrells in March of this year. I’m also flat footed and have feet that turn out. Throw in weak ankles/knees and a large chest, and most “logic” says I shouldn’t be running at all.

    I think Lani Muller has a point with the high heeled shoes. I’ve noticed some women who seem to walk on tip toes even in flip flops, like their feet are so used to wearing high heels that they can’t even walk naturally anymore. I’ve never been fond of heels and have always favored barefoot when I can get away with it, to the point that my Mother wasn’t at all surprised when I started talking about barefoot running. 

  4. My wife loves her minimalist shoes, but she would never have tried them or even knew about them if not for me.  I think guys tend to geek out on equipment more than women.  At this early in the movement, people with the tinkering/engineering gene are the ones getting excited over measuring heel-toe drops in millimeters and analyzing fractions of an ounce in shoe weight.

  5. I started running in VFF’s as I was returning to running after a treatment of plantar fasciitis, in January of this year. I had a run/walk program from my podiatrist. He wanted me to wear orthotics-I did not. I wanted to figure out the cause of my PF. I thought that maybe the heel striking in running shoes may have contributed. So, I did the run/walk program in my VFF’s. I can only run in them once a week or so, or stay low mileage. As my mileage was building, the balls of my feet were a little swollen. Thanks to Pete’s suggestions I bought the Kinvaras. I ended up wearing them for work (I’m a nurse in a clinic, and these are nice enough minimalist shoes to wear at work). I do run in them occasionally still. But the rainy Northwest is not an area to wear your running shoes to work. For the past month, I’m in VFF’s for shorter runs, and Saucony Grid A4’s for longer runs. I’m up to 10 miles. All has been well until this week. I have a small tender spot on my heel again. Not quite in the same spot as my PF. I’m a fan of minimalist running. I believe that it has helped me not heel strike all the time. Why men wear them more….I agree with the other posts. Plus, most minimalist shoes are not designed for mainstream employers. 

  6. I’m minimalist since May this year, running mostly in racing flats (cheaper and easier available in Europe than more ‘featured’ natural/minimal shoes). I tried it by curiosity (for example after discovering Pete’s blog), also to maybe muscle a bit my feet after recovering from injury (stress fracture). Just before the transition period my problems with the back intensified – simply couldn’t run for more than 2 weeks regularly without getting awful sciatica. Neverthless I continued my gradual adaptation to small drop&light shoes (forefoot/midfoot strile came immediatelly and I never had sore calfves but I was building distance very carefully  afraid not to get stress fracture again). The last sciatica episode took place end of June, I finally abandoned completely “traditional shoes” begining of September (after using them only for sunday long runs for last few weeks). No evidence if these were the shoes that solved my problem but it simply feels so great that I have no intention to go back. I can keep my new running form also in traditional +12mm shoes but racing flats are so much more comfortable. From the other hand I don’t feel at all a need/wish to try VFF.

    Why is there much less woman in the minimalist movement? I must say that around here adopting the forefoot/midfoot strike is (still?) seen mostly in the context of boosting your performance and not getting healthier and/or more pleasent way to run – so smg that should concern only fast, competitive runners. So some people find it ridicolous when somebody running at my speed (9-10 min/mile for easy) starts to work on form and wants to wear light shoes – with such a performance it should not metter much to me what I wear…which I fully disagree with. I also often heard that it’s not possible to run on forefoot/midfoot at low speed – I have tested so I know it’s not true but ones fresh to the topic might get misleaded. I also agree that probably woman are less prompt to become running shoe geeks like Dan mentioned (although I must admit to be exception then – maybe being a scientist plays a role). 

    • Pete Larson says:


      As I know how you were struggling, this is great news that your sciatic has not popped back up, so happy to hear it! And yes, being scientists definitely contributes to our desire to experiment :)

      • I’m definitely happy about it too, especially that I was already diagnosed as ‘nothing can be done with it’ case. Yet since I ‘just’ changed my running form (not with an intention to solve sciatica problem, rather to do at least something if I couldn’t run like previously) things seem to work.

  7. I think the culprit are the directions that marketing for conventional shoes have been for each gender. It seems as though shoes marketed to men glorify performance and speed (understandably), whereas the same shoes may be marketed to women for cushioning and comfort. There are obviously exceptions to this (eg. some Nike adverts). But when a minimalistic, or even a barefoot-style shoe enters the fray, the justifications for wearing them (strength, control, basically body performance) transfers much more readily to male-aimed marketing than women’s. It might even be the complete opposite for the latter.
    I was speaking to the head of the local Barefoot Runners Society chapter (a Merrell-backed women), and her take on this issue is that minimalism currently only attracts women with a strong self of self-confidence (to be beyond the ‘norm’) and practicality. If marketing for minimalism emphasized beauty and grace, and a connection with nature, perhaps the ratios may be different. After all, efficient running is a thing of beauty and grace!

  8. Also Pete, the Mizuno ad on the top left openly dismisses minimalism as a fad and it’s bugging the heck out of me.

    If you watch their ‘brilliant run’ promo video, I don’t think it even takes a gait specialist like yourself to see how awkward their ‘brilliant’ running is.

    I rest my case.

    • Pete Larson says:


      I agree about that ad – I agonized over whether to allow it to run, but trust that I have a good reason for accepting it. Put it this way, my earnings from that ad will be redirected in a positive way – stay tuned!

      Sent from my iPad

      • Will do! I have no doubts about your intentions, I just thought I would bring that to your attention.

        I was also probing the local Salomon representative for his opinion on the minimalist movement, and his initial reply was that ultra-distance mountain running dictated their robust designs. I find this in conflict with the custom footwear they provide some of their athletes, most notably Kilian, who wears 7oz trail blazers unseen in the current Salomon lineup. Even the Fellcross is a tank in comparison. Any thoughts?

        • Pete Larson says:

          Yes, that’s one of the reasons I’ve never tried a Salomon shoe. Then again, I’m not a mountain runner so my opinion might not mean much :)

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