When you last heard from me, the bottoms of my feet felt like crunchy doughnuts, and I was grabbing for a glass of milk that was forever out of reach. I had been running singletrack trails for a year. I had run through all seasons, through summer sweat and slushy winter snow. My favorite trails were those that had thwarted the ablest mountain biker, sending them to their local bike shops with bent rims. As I went screaming pell mell down the narrow chutes, wayward squirrels gathering nuts would suddenly scatter and I would laugh heartily at their misfortune. Ha ha ha...run squirrel run! I could run 7 minute miles with my mouth closed...and a stuffy nose, and never be out of breath. Oh yes, dear reader...I was hardcore.
Why was I having so much fun? What made me hardcore? How did running evolve into such times of high mayhem you ask? My secret was that I ran BareFoot (BF). Not the kind of BF in which one wear’s thin shoes and run’s POSE style and calls it “barefoot running”. No, I was running BF, as in, naked footed. And just as the fun was really starting, just after I had passed BF trail running landmarks such as running a trail half marathon and 3 miles on snowpack...it all came to an end. My feet got greedy for speed, which is easy when BF. I went too fast, for too long and hit some very big rocks. That was what really did it. Big huge rocks, smashing into the bottoms of my feet like petrified bugs at highway speed, striking ligaments, tendons and the peroneal nerves on the bottoms of both feet. Suddenly, I was hobbled. I spent about 2 months or more just doing nothing more than gentle walking. The pain was pretty severe. But slowly I began to feel that I could approach running again. This story picks up there....
First Day Out
I simply must exceed walking speed or lose my mind! Yoga helps but I miss the full body motion workout. Yet, running on trails BF again is currently as appealing as having a foot fight with a 7-foot man in steel toed boots. Every bone in my body said NO. I do the unthinkable...pavement. I actually go out for a gingerly 2-mile BF jog. I go really, really slowly. It doesn’t help. Before I get back to my car the middle of my foot was sending up smoke signals...and I think some buzzards were circling.
Second Day Out
Repeat of First Day...some people never learn.
Third Day Out
I give up all my morals. I throw my ethics and standards over my shoulder at a 6-minute mile pace. I surrender to the Shiva of Shoedom and lay down upon my closet floor to search for...my old Nike running shoes. I just finally realized that my feet, in their current state, simply needed more cushioning, or I’d never be able to reintroduce running to my feet again. I had an old pair of Nike Bowerman Edition shoes. I’d worn them before my BF days. They are fairly lightweight and sort of squishy. I was able to run again and that was all that mattered to me at that point. I ran out on my favorite trail. I-was-ecstatic. I ended the run back at my car, exceedingly happy.
Yet, I still noted that the structure of the shoe was way too built up for me to have it work. I knew this because when I stepped out of my car, post run...my Achilles’ Tendons on both feet hurt so much that I wondered if the arrows were in fact, actually protruding from my heels. This pain sent me on a new errand: find a super lightweight minimalist shoe that has enough padding to trail run again...but with very little drop. I was certain that the increased drop was the culprit for the Achilles’ Tendon pain...pain that I had never once encountered while running with or without shoes. My theory is that running BF for so long changed my stride and gait. Thus going back to a built up shoe just threw everything off.
The Shoe Search: Merrell True Glove and Trail Glove
I walked to my nearest gear shop. Nah...that isn’t true. I limped to my nearest gear shop. Though I partially chose this store based upon the beauty of one of their sales persons, they also had the new Merrell shoe line up. So, I smiled at the woman and started trying on the new Merrell minimalist shoes. Minimalist shoes? Okay, I am no shoe expert, but the Trail Glove and True Glove are nothing more than a slab. They are the white toast of minimalist shoes. The plain white cracker at the trail running potluck. I tried them on and felt like my Grandma could have made something more original. I am not trying to be unkind. But go to your local store. Forget the hype. Ignore the advertisements. Just pick one up and ask yourself how this shoe can add to bringing you closer to running as a minimalist. I felt that they just threw this thing out on the market...threw it at the consumers, just to ride on the fad. I found it insulting actually, and I am glad it passed over me. Plus, everyone knows that zero drop really is important if one is to mimic actual barefoot gait patterns. Set this shoe on the ground and marvel at how powerfully upswept the toe box is. The thing floats above the Earth, lifting your toes up in an unnatural position. This positioning is tyrannical, and your metatarsals will be staging a coup in no time.
After you have run barefoot extensively a magical thing happens to your feet. They become unbelievably sensitive to pressure, temperature, moisture, just as much so as your fingertips. Trying on shoes with this heightened supersense is pretty interesting. I can instantly feel exactly where the soft and solid parts of the shoes are. With these particular shoes, I could actually feel the patterned rubber and the way it had gaps in it. As I stood, I could feel the way parts of my feet fell through the open portions of the sole’s misconstrued grid layout. Were they trying to lose money on this shoe? Was it a tax shelter perhaps? I could also easily imagine a nice sharp rock fitting so nicely right in between those open areas and hitting my foot. Yeah, I liked these shoes about as much as I like a flat tire at midnight. Might as well run in Birkenstocks or flip flops. Have I said enough to convey my disdain for this shoe yet?
Then I went to my favorite running store. The guy there had just been to a big shoe conference thingy and had made pals with a Merrell rep. He was sporting some prototypes for the up and coming Minimus shoe that had been given to him by the rep. Now, I can’t yet wear that shoe because I need more padding due to my injury. But if I could I would. Here is the crazy part though; there it was, a minimalist shoe from Merrell. A minimalist shoe, through and through. Yet I had just been holding their “minimalist shoe”-the Trail Glove and True Glove. So it begs the question, Merrell, which is it? They can’t both be minimalist shoes when their construction is completely dissimilar. It only adds to my feeling that I’d never run in the Trail Glove or True Glove and would wholeheartedly not recommend them to anyone. In this age where we are all curious about BF and minimalist running, I am reminded of snake oil salesman from the old West. So few people know what to look for in a shoe, when they are trying to run barefoot actually. It is an easy marketplace for large companies to throw together schlock with laces or velcro and call it an Armani. My advice will always be to not look for a shoe. Go BF, go slow, and don’t run on trails with gnarly rocks covered by leaves at 20 mph. If that truly doesn’t work, then good luck to all of us in finding a new shoe in the brave new world of shoes. Wow...thanks for listening dear reader. I really had to get that off my chest! I knew you would understand.
Tune in next time for a review of racing flats as a minimalist option, what it is like to run in shoes again, my first race and the shoe I finally DO recommend running in while recovering from overdoing it through BF running.