Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Barefoot Running In NYC and The State Of Barefoot Shoes


"Chris Hawson didn't run much in New York City until he took off his shoes. That was three years, and more than 9,000 miles, ago.

"You can blame Chris McDougall and Born to Run for that,” he says while sipping hot chocolate in a coffee shop near the Union Square Paragon Sports where he works as an outerwear buyer. “It was inspirational to me. I didn't treat it as a technique manual, but it set me off on a path.”

"A health scare in 2009 prompted Hawson, now in his mid-50s, to start running a couple of times a week, but he found his IT bands, knees, and shins started to hurt, forcing him to resort to inline skating. Then Hawson, who spent a decade leading bike and ski trips in Northern Scotland, discovered Vibram FiveFingers and ran a few hundred miles during the summer and fall, mixing them in with a couple other pairs of more traditional shoes. But winter came, so he packed the FiveFingers away because of the cold. That plan didn't last long, however, and pretty soon he had ditched conventional shoes entirely."

Read the whole thing.

I went to see In the High Country (a movie about ultra-runner Anton Krupicka) in NYC last night, and Chris was there. (Paragon organized the showing.)

Chris, as the Outdoor story makes clear, is the real deal. I've run with him a couple of time in various McDougall-organized "events". He really does do the bulk of his miles barefoot.

As a buyer at Paragon he had some interesting thoughts on the minimalist shoe market: it's fading. In large part because the minimalist shoes last so long. With no foam to break down, you replace your shoes when they tear, or when the sole wears through. Chis explained that he just tossed a pair of Altras that had 2,500 miles on them, because the sole wore through and he had torn the upper on a rock.

Given that the typical running shoe companies recommend that you replace their products every 300 miles, that's a major difference. He then mentioned that he probably had bought enough pairs of minimalist shoes to last the rest of his life, at that rate. I also have enough to last quite a long time.

Altra Torrin: not minimalist.
He explained that there are no new minimalist shoe designs coming out: even Altra's new line has a lot of cushion built in. We both wondered about the future of Merrell's Vapor Glove, one of my personal favorites. It was nice to see them in Merrell's winter catalog, but I wonder if they'll last through next summer. New Balance's Mimimus line does doesn't seem to be doing well (according to a New Balance store I visited recently), as the most minimal models are falling by the wayside.

Guess it's not too surprising... When Dr. Munson first invented the barefoot-style shoe after World War I, they put millions of them on the feet of American soldiers. They were very popular, but then the whole thing disappeared as generations turned over, and they were forgotten...

Hopefully a few companies will stick with the idea so folks like me and Chris can replace our shoes when we need to.

Luna, Russell, and Skora seem to be pretty committed to the minimalist idea. [P.S. And VivoBarefoot!]

But there's more research coming along showing the clear advantages of barefoot over shod foot-binding, so hopefully the idea will stick around.

After 10 miles running in the snow.
My running rotation has been barefoot, Luna Sandals, Vapor Gloves, and Vibram Fivefinger Speeds. None of them show much wear on the sole. If I do a trail race, I'll wear the Trail Glove, and I wore the Sonic Glove the other day when I did a 10-mile run in the snow. I can't really see any reason why I'd ever want to go back to the sort of sneaker I used to wear.

(Found the Outdoor story via Chris McDougall on Twitter.)

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