Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shoes that Mimic Barefoot Movements: Running and Walking

I gave up on running shoes a few years ago. As much as I enjoy running and trying out the newest technologies and shoe designs, I was becoming completely frustrated with what the running shoe companies were coming out with as training shoes. I could not find a running shoe that I was comfortable running in at all. It all came to a head a few years back when I was training for a Fall marathon and I was in decent shape. I had no training shoe that I liked and Nike just came out with something called the Shox. I tried it out and thought it was pretty comfortable at first. Then I went for a 25 mile workout with some friends in them. I thought I was fine, but the next day I had my problems with my knee that kept me out of running for a few months.

I decided to go with what I enjoyed running in. I always liked running in racing shoes. Of course, I was always told not to do that as they would wear out too quickly and that I would harm myself from too much pounding. I found that with my weird stride the racing shoes had the least amount of support and that allowed my feet and my foot muscles to "do their own thing" as I ran. I started using up all the older pairs of racing shoes I had around. Then I had to find shoes to buy. Unfortunately stores around here don't well racing shoes. I found some models I liked such as the Asics Tiger Paw, but then Asics would stop making them and after using up all the last ones I could find online, I still had a tough time finding shoes. I tried some retro shoes. I found some Tiger 81's that I wore for awhile and some retro waffle trainers from Nike. I had wore many pairs of these when they were the current technology back when I was in college. The funny things about the retro version was that I got blisters on the same spot on my foot as I had when I wore the real versions years earlier. I still could not find a shoe that I really enjoyed running in.

I tried out some Puma H-Street "fashion" shoes that some minimalist runners were using and very much enjoyed them (except for the colors). They were basically a thin layer of rubber sole with a track spike upper. They weren't made for running in but they were great for running in. I used them for a few years including racing in them up to 1/2 marathons. I still have a few pair for walking around in (the slightly heavier leather ones) and one good pair left for running, but like all good shoes, Puma stopped making them and I could not find them cheap on eBay any more.

This summer I started using Asics Hyperspeeds for all of my running. The model I liked was upgraded to a model, Hyperspeed 2, that I didn't like as much, but that I have been wearing since October. Oh my, it is time for a new pair as most of my training and racing have been in that same pair. I tend to get plenty of miles out of a pair of racing shoes. There is a Hyperspeed 3 and I guess that is what I will have to try next, even though I read it is a narrower fit. The other thing about the Hyperspeed 2 is that it has holes in the bottom. This is not a good thing for winter running here in New Hampshire.

What I really like is that it is not just some runners who are getting into minimalistic shoes. It seems that shoes companies (and not just Nike with the Nike Frees) that are making shoes that allow your feet and and the muscles of the feet do the work when walking so as to strengthen your feet like you would do if you were walking barefoot. I have had 3 pairs of Nike Frees, but my favorite was the original which they don't make anymore (isn't that a common thing with running shoes?). The thing with the Nike Frees is that "you can leave your old self behind".

I wrote how much I enjoy using the Vivo Barefoot Dharma shoes here. They are a definite hit with my feet. There are other companies following similar ideals in the design of their shoes to give your feet a more natural stride. Here are some interesting shoes that I have found.

The Sanuk sandals look like an interesting shoe. It is really a sandal base with a canvas upper. I don't ever wear flip flops or sandals but these seem like they would be comfortable for kicking around in when you are wearing shorts in the summer. I think my Vivo's just wouldn't make the cut. But what do I know about fashion. I am most interested in comfort!

Feelmax is a shoe company in Finland that is coming out with shoes that simulate barefoot movement. These look very light and flexible, sort of like the pair of wrestling shoes I had in high school. I am not even sure if you can get these in the United States yet, but they look comfortable.

The Ecco Biom is a shoe I first heard about on ruuner author Matt Fitzgerald's blog. The Ecco Biom Project website is fairly graphics intensive (sort of like Nike's) so it is hard to move around quickly. It looks to be quite a technical and expensive running shoe, particularly if you get the Yak leather version. Although it doesn't look like it in the pictures, it claims to have a low heel where the heel remains close to the ground. The web site claims it allow natural foot movement. The concept is that excess cushioning and external support is not what is needed in a running shoe. They claim that the shoe allows your foot to do what it was created to do, because the bones, muscles, and ligaments of the foot were designed to run, let them run. I like this philosophy so it is interesting to see how this will translate into a running shoe that looks pretty technical and includes a training plan to adjust your feet to the shoe. Of note is that when the Nike Free first came out and I bought a pair a training plan was in the box to slowly help you adjust to the shoe. It worked fine for me from the first 8 mile workout I did in them. The are supposed to debut in March this year, so it will be interesting to read the reviews. I bought a pair of Newtons when they first came out and they were just as expensive. They sit in my closet unused because me feet were too wobbly in them.

Then there is the Vibram Five Fingers shoe. Some runners swear by these for the ultimate barefoot running experience without being barefoot. They seem really weird looking to me. Maybe I'll try a pair someday because the concept sounds natural.

If it is the upper of the shoe that bothers you, you could try out these topless sandals from You just stick them on the bottom of your feet and go.


Zataod said...

I've been going barefoot for nearly 2 years now, but this past Winter I ran in the Hyperspeed 2. I didn't notice the holes when I bought them, but definitely did when I ran in snow and slush. Still, better than barefoot in the snow, at least for me.

Luckily, I won't have to be concerned with snow for many months.

Jamison said...

Thanks for the information about different style of shoes!! I have Puma shoes... They are comfortable and best for running!!

BareFootWannaBe said...

Great post.. I really think the vibram's are only going to get more popular though. I have friends that do Crossfit and they say that most people at the gym switched over to Nike Frees a while back... the trend seems to be occurring with the vibram five fingers shoes as well.

check out this site for more information

Anonymous said...

hmm interesting, I saw a couple posts about heel strike on that site and looks like vibram is the way to go for real barefoot training.

how durable are these things though? the new ones on that site look a little crazy!!