I mentioned on a previous post that I bought a pair of Vibram Bikila toe-shoes and then shortly after read the excellent “Born to Run” book by Christoper Mcdougall. Interestingly, I realised that I had done it the unusual way round of shoes first, book second. Most people read the book, get inspired and decide to run more ‘naturally’ and go out and buy a pair of ‘barefoot’ trainers (there’s an oxymoron for you), with the goal of running as close to barefoot as possible. In my case, Becca and I had already been recommended the toe-shoes by my brother-in-law as a way of running differently and potentially injury-free. It was once I’d tried the shoes that I went and did some further research, which is where the book came in.
I won’t wax lyrical about the book, that’s been done enough on many blogs and websites in the past. If you haven’t already read it and have a passing interest in running, please go read it. Sadly, I bought it on the Kindle so don’t have a copy of the book to pass around to my friends. Some people say it’s propaganda for the minimalist/barefoot running movement, and in some ways it is. What it has definitely done though is inspired a movement towards people taking time to consider what they put on their feet.
I have a pair of Nike Zoom Equalon 4 running shoes I bought after putting them on in a shoe-store, walking up and down the aisles a bit, bouncing up and down a little and feeling the lovely springy cushioning in them and thinking that the feeling of walking on clouds was what running shoes were all about. Admittedly not the most thorough way of testing.
As much as I’d love the idea of running entirely barefoot and feeling every step I run, the streets and climate of Southampton and the UK in general are not conducive to going all-in for the barefoot movement. Against my wife and my bank accounts’ better judgement, I have already tested out a few different types of running shoe to try and work out what feels best for me and settled on a minimalist-with-some-cushioning end of the spectrum rather than trying to get as close to barefoot as possible. I’ll discuss my shoe collection in a later post I’m sure.The four things I feel are important in a running shoe are the following:
- Level or minimal heel-toe drop, meaning that any cushioning/sole below the foot should be as close to the same width as possible the whole way along the shoe. A raised, excessively cushioned heel is not an option as this gets in the way of a natural midfoot landing.
- Flexibility along the sole (or last) in all directions. My foot bends naturally in multiple directions and so should my shoe.
- The sole shouldn’t be overly soft or overly thick for two reasons. Firstly, more cushioning simply weighs more, and it’s easier to run with less weight on the feet. Secondly cushioning makes it hard to feel and respond to the floor, what is known as ‘proprioception’ or ground feel. If you can feel what is under your feet better, you can respond quickly to unexpected changes in the surface you’re running on.
- Wide toe box. I don’t know about you, but my foot naturally is not the shape of the end of a pair of shoes, I like walking around the house barefoot and my toes naturally splay out to support my body weight. I want to be able to do that in my running shoes too, for stability and responsiveness.