Transitioning to Minimalist Running

I’ve happily adopted the concept of minimalist running, sending a few of my traditional Asics shoes to the charity shop in order to make room for the Vibram Five Fingers and a pair of eagerly awaited RunAmoc minimal running shoes.

I’m having to force myself not to throw caution to the wind and make every run an experiment in barefoot or minimalist running. Sensibly I’m following guidance and running 2-3 shortish runs a week in the VFFs and have been taking my long run in my standard shoes which are currently Asics Kayano 15s.

I’ve started to wonder what my end goal is though. I’ve got the Great North Run in two months time – am I hoping to run the half marathon in a pair of minimal shoes?

I think that would probably be a little unwise for me. For one thing it’s only 2 months away and my feet have been accustomed to wearing supportive shoes for decades. I’m also seriously overweight, I’d happily shed 7 stone and probably still qualify as obese which suggests that it might be a bit cruel to my feet to pound out 13 miles without any cushioning at all. Which is not to say that there isn’t a place for minimalist running shoes in my training schedule. I am very happy with the changes my new shoes have made to my running. I am more aware and run with lighter steps and I’m hopefully strengthening the infrastructure of my foot and preparing for a future with less pain.

So that leads me to wonder about the sense in switching between shoes at opposite ends of the structured continuum. Asics Kayanos are big shoes, I used to describe them as feet sized orthopaedic mattresses, I don’t think you can find very much more cushioning in a mainstream running shoe. Perhaps what I need instead is a mildly cushioned shoe for use in transitioning towards more minimalist running.

That of course leads me to wonder what that shoe would look like. I’m toying with the Nike free 3.0 which RunBlogger has admirably reviewed and described as a transitional shoe. My other option is to try the Newton Running Guidance shoe. A shoe designed with pose or chi running methods in mind and structurally designed to encourage forefoot striking.

I’m in two minds but think that perhaps the Newtons may be a step too far, introducing yet another style may not be ideal at this stage in my half marathon training, and besides the Nike Free is much cheaper.

Reviews will follow.

Juneathon Hiatus and Non Runner Records

There has been a paucity of Juneathon posts of late. I have to admit to bailing mid month, unable to cope with the pressure of late night running followed by early hours blogging, but it wasn’t long before we missed at least the running bit.

It’s actually refreshing to run daily and yet without the challenge of Juneathon it’s very hard to enforce the commitment. After a brief lull we tried to pick up the pace – here’s the daily running tally.

Yesterday we headed out just as the sun was disappearing for a 5k trog around the refreshingly flat Tooting Common.

Lynn led the way from the start, she’s gotten too damn fit during June and I can’t match her pace. Now she has to run a helical route while I trog straight as a dye.

It’s a strange experience to follow, I usually know exactly which path I want to take and Lynn kept refusing to take them. It felt like she was taking me on a random walk, zig zagging from one corner to the next, neatly taking in all the gravel paths with huge stones waiting to embed themselves in my minimally shod arches.

When I checked the GPS track at the end it proved to be a relatively neat route, apart from the last 500 metres where we were desperate to keep ticking over til the 5k mark.

These SW London commons are titchy compared to the likes of Bushy Park and Richmond Park, it’s tough trying to trace out a full 5k route, I don’t imagine they’ll be expanding the park runs out here.

This run marked the first non-stop 5km for the Non-Runner. I remember those early days of personal bests with almost every run, it reminds me how self-affirming this sport is.

Vibram Five Fingers – The Review

I’ve had the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) for a couple of weeks now and feel I can now cast some judgement from the standpoint of an inexperienced barefoot or minimal shoe runner.

Just as a quick aside, I believe that barefoot running applies to running sans shoes but also encompasses runners who choose to wear minimal shoes such as Vibram Five Fingers or inov8 EvoSkins or the VivoBarefoot Evo from Terraplana. There are also shoes most accurately termed Reduced Shoes such as the Nike Free but these aren’t akin to barefoot running as they have a heel pad, albeit a reduced one.

Having decided I was going to try a pair of Vibram Five Fingers I did a quick search of the available reviews and found myself overwhelmed with sizing advice. It seems that most people need to take a size down when switching to VFFs. I followed the rules and measured my feet by standing on a ruler and then ignored the advice as it was suggesting I order size 6 vs my usual size 8.

With a shoe that is designed to wrap neatly around each of your toes sizing is a bit critical. Too long and the little toe will probably float around in the body of the shoe and risk snagging, too short and the problems are obvious.

I ordered size 7 in the end and although my left foot fits pretty well my right foot feels overly snug. Not that it seems to be damaging me but I am very aware of the casing around my toes and that seems a shame when the overall effect of minimal shoe running is so freeing. I suppose the ideal would be to whip them off, throw caution to the wind and run barefoot proper. But that’s not going happen any time soon – I want a sole.

I had a number of fears when I first ran in the Vibrams, I was convinced that they would slip about on the downhills and the natural braking action would leave me without skin on my forefoot. I was really very pleasantly surprised. The shoes really did fit me like a second skin and the effect was natural and fun.

Fun is the key word, on the first run I was encouraged to run further and further than I originally intended because it felt so free and comfortable. That goes against all the advice related to beginning barefoot running but I think it says a lot for the comfort of the VFF.

Having run further than I was supposed to do, I did develop a few niggles. A forefoot blister was simply the effect of inexperienced feet on hard tarmac but I also had a few rubs on the side of my feet which I think relate to rough seams on the Vibrams.

I chose the Sprint model, which has a few straps to assist with fit. Although they fit very securely I think the additional bulk does detract a little from the simplicity of the basic model. Not that any of the range are particularly attractive. I’ve already alluded to the fact that my family thinks I’m a freak for wearing them but they aren’t anywhere near as ugly as the inov8 Evoskin shoes reviewed here by Adam at Fitness Footwear. If I’m tempted by beauty or at least the allure of a normal looking shoe I’d be tempted to go for the Vivo Barefoot Evo, reviewed here by Running and Rambling.

I’ve now had a few runs out with the Vibrams and I’m taking it easier with the distance. I’m enjoying the experience and now feel as though I am so much more aware of my running. More often than not I choose to run without the iPod, happy to listen to the gentle slapping of my rubberized toes while I tune in to how my body is feeling and what the ground is doing. It’s a very involved and yet peaceful way to run.

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Juneathon 15/20 – Dressage Ponies

Now that I’ve gone all minimalist or practically barefoot, I think the non-runner could be forgiven for expecting me to get ready just a little bit quicker.

We were only going out for a one-miler to gently stretch out the strained limbs but I still needed the GPS and heart rate monitor and the shoes aren’t helping matters much. It’s proving to be a hellish tricky job to squeeze the little toe into the little toe compartment of the Vibrams and it’s not made any easier by impatient tapping.

It’s probably a bit too early to try running in the vibram five fingers (VFF) again, but I really feel like I want to play. I was more nervous than on my first attempt and my calves and heels were so tight I ended up prancing around on my toes like a lipazzana pony.

With the n-r mocking me at my side, trotting up and down with stiff arms we could have sold tickets for our very own gymkhana.

It was our slowest mile yet but remarkably comfortable and we made it to the top of the hill, running and still just about able to talk. Perfect.

Juneathon 12/30 – Almost Barefooting

The new shoes didn’t go down particularly well at home. The kids thought I was a freak and the Non-Runner attempted emotional blackmail and then just refused to be seen with me unless it was dark.

In retrospect I probably ought to have a chosen a black pair but they’re not that hideous, and anyway, I like running under cover of darkness.

I was a little apprehensive about trying them out. Our usual route is quite hilly and all tarmac based. I expected the downhills to be particularly painful but when I relaxed into it I was fairly quick to find a flow.

The run was much easier than I anticipated, I seemed to change my form away from heavy heel striking and for some reason my breathing seemed easier as well. I assumed I must have slowed down but the Non-Runner felt I’d set a tougher pace than usual. I can’t check it out unfortunately as I managed to leave the GPS off and I haven’t yet fathomed a way of attaching a foot pod to the minimal Vibram Five Fingers (VFF).

I was really enjoying this run so we pushed on for 4 laps and then I felt a bit of a twinge under the ball of my big toe. Blister alarm bells were ringing and I’d probably overdone it for my first attempt at minimal shoe running or almost barefoot running.

We’ve got a 7 mile charity walk tomorrow for the Samaritans and I’ll probably be obliged to go with normal shoes but I can’t wait to try the VFF’s out again.

Fitnessfootwear have kindly offered up a free pair of the Vibram Five Fingers to the winner of this years Juneathon – good prize!