So, the questions are: Should you try to run barefoot? Or in minimalist shoes? Is it a fad? Is it a craze? Is it going to blow over in two years? Does running barefoot cause injury? Does it prevent injury? Do running shoes cause injury?
The answers are: yes, yes, no, no, no, maybe, maybe, and maybe.
Actually, let me tell you what was discussed in the minimalist running panel at the running show we attended. There was a lot more to it than the passive-aggressive PowerPointing and the silent face-making I already alluded to. Some of it may be helpful to those of you who are interested in minimalism.
First, I’ll just say that the shoe people (from New Balance and Saucony) were very well behaved, if somewhat bland. They made it clear that their job is to provide the best products for as many people as possible. So if big cushy-heeled shoes just aren’t cutting it, it’s their job — even responsibility — to provide better products for all types of runners. In that sense, they said, they are very grateful for the minimalist movement because it has shown them a population that has been neglected and forced them to rethink their offerings. It was kind of eye-opening for me. I know that shoe companies are out to make a buck (or two), so I kind of imagined them as just trying to cash in on barefoot running. But having the table turned so I could see the other perspective made me realize that it is kind of important for shoe companies to “cash in” so that a greater number of people can run in comfort.
But let’s move on to the more controversial panelists, shall we? The good doctor was there to provide his perspective as the man whom people go to when barefoot running goes wrong. The injuries he talked about (achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, etc.) are common to runners and I was unconvinced that minimalist shoes were much more of a problem than normal shoes. (My view was probably colored by the fact that I went to a sports doctor a few weeks ago. She was unable to diagnose me, but thought the shoes probably had something to do with it. Since then I’ve realized that the problem was not at all what she thought it was and that my shoes were hardly to blame — but she will probably put me in the “injured by minimalist shoes” column when she does her accounting.)
The scruffy hippie guy did his best to impress upon us the primal nature of running barefoot, the instinctive ways our bodies adjust, and how it just feels better. As someone who did have some adjustment issues, I will say that it can take time and concerted effort to revive that instinct. (But, of course, it does feel better.)
I’m pretty sure that every time the scruffy hippie guy opened his mouth, the good doctor would start clicking his PowerPoint slides. Mr. Hippie says, “There are no studies that show that running shoes prevent injuries.” Dr. Man clicks, diverting our attention from what Mr. Hippie is saying with some unrelated slide that has the word “study” in it.
Despite their antagonism (which added a nice amount of spice to the proceedings), they did come together in the final minutes of the panel to offer this helpful guidance: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if it is broke, you might as well try something new. And if you are curious about whether the unbroken thing can be improved upon, be cautious in your experimentation, lest you do break something.
Which is to say: If your normal shoes are doing you just fine, you aren’t injured, you haven’t been injured, you don’t feel like you need to change anything, then go ahead and ignore the quickly growing minimalist shoe section at your local running store. But if you are injured a lot, if you aren’t satisfied with the shoes you have, if you think there may be room for improvement, then it probably won’t hurt (and it may actually help) to test out some minimalist models.